I've been a Packers fan since before I knew anything about the game of football. And the older I get, the more important the team becomes. Yet the current season and the future players aren't the only things I find significant. The Green Bay Packers have a rich, almost mythical history, one that lends itself to biographies and history books, and one that has always piqued my interest.
Now, NFL Films has put together an amazing two-disc DVD set that chronicles this storied franchise. For a Packers fan, the footage and interviews found on these two discs are nothing short of amazing. Watching the sandlot team grow into a powerhouse then fall onto hard times only to be reborn on the arm of a farm boy was actually just as emotional as any Hollywood drama.
Before I get into what these discs have to offer, I should point out that these DVDs aren't just for Packers fans. Sure, they'll get the most out of this set, but die-hard football fans can't help but enjoy this jaunt back through time. And for those Cowboys fans out there, even though your team lost in the Ice Bowl, the reconstruction of the game found on disc two is definitely a sight to behold.
Disc One: The Complete History of the Green Bay Packers
Call it Packers History 101 if you'd like, but no matter what you call it, The Complete History of the Green Bay Packers is a great course for football fans. The 58 minute feature, narrated by Earl Mann, is like watching ESPN in a time machine. It uses old footage along with new and old interviews with players, coaches, and reporters to tell the team's story. The key moments of the Lambeau and Lombardi eras are covered in great detail, but the dreadful days of the 70s and 80s are not forgotten (ouch!). From the humble beginnings as the Acme Packers to the team's recent Super Bowls, this documentary covers it all.
Without a doubt the coolest part of this testament to the Packers is the old footage of the early teams. Ray Nitschke. John "Blood" McNally. Clarke Hinkle. You name him, there's footage. Watching Cecil Isbel throw the ball to the swift Don Hutson is truly a beautiful thing. And then learning that Hutson, one of the best receivers of all time, only earned $175 game (nearly double what some other players earned) brought a smile to my face.
With the help of fast, deep beats during the winning years and slow, melancholy tunes for the losing seasons, this story actually becomes a bit of an emotional ride. Watching the years of 8-8 seasons roll by is almost comical (but still depressing) only because I knew the times would change in a 1992 game against the Bengals. Seeing Don Majkowski, the leader of a young Packers team, go down with an injury was a bittersweet moment since Brett Favre, an unproven 2nd year quarterback, stepped in to lead the team to a late fourth quarter comeback. These clips are definitely worth repeating. I only vaguely remember the specifics of that game, but watching them here made me pump my fist in the air. Yes! The Pack is most definately back.
Although the new highlights are obviously more fresh in my memory, that doesn't make it any less exciting. Watching Antonio Freeman's spectacular touchdown play against the Vikings in 2000 is just as thrilling as seeing Bart Starr toss the ball to Max McGee. All of the footage, new and old, has something to offer. For that very reason this history lesson takes viewers to not only to the Green Bay Super Bowls XXXI and XXXII, it also mentions of the current stars, such as Ahman Green and Mike Mackenzie.
This is fascinating stuff. All of the great players and coaches, all of the big games and championships are here. With the amazing highlights and insightful interviews, The Complete History of the Green Bay Packers helps fans relive some of the best (and worst) moments of Green Bay Packers football, even if you weren't around the first time.
Disc Two: The Ice Bowl
The 1967 NFL Championship Game that pitted the Green Bay Packers against the Dallas Cowboys is arguably one of the best games in the history of the NFL. There is no doubt, however, that the game epitomizes Lombardi's Packers. Dubbed the Ice Bowl due to the frigid cold and the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, the game showed just how tough these guys were. They were gladiators.
I can't believe how much footage NFL Films managed to piece together for this presentation of the game. The entire game is reconstructed, from the opening kickoff to the final game-winning touchdown to the post-game interview. Heck, there's even a clip from the post-game party held at coach Lombardi's home. Sure, most football fans have seen this thrilling game's key plays, but this presentation shows us the plays that set up those big plays, many from alternate angles to show key blocks.
If additional footage wasn't enough, NFL Films really went that extra yard by making this game feel like a live broadcast. Ray Scott voices the play-by-play in a recreation of the original broadcast as if the game is actually unfolding before your eyes. Whenever there's a pause in the action, Earl Mann's narration details subplots of the game and gives the inside scoop no sideline reporter would expect to uncover. Add some very insightful interviews with the players and coaches, and you have something much more special then the typical highlight reel.
As a Packers fan, it was very exciting to watch the game actually progress instead of seeing typical clips. Although I've read about the game and seen plenty of still images and film footage, I actually found myself getting excited and cheering for the Packers. Sure, the game took place long before I was born, but with this presentation I felt like I was there. For example, I understood that the Cowboys' Doomsday Defense held the Packers in check much of the second half, but until seeing all of these clips, I had no idea to what extent. Watching a live game allows viewers to see the ebb and flow of the game, to see the shifts in momentum, and to play along with the warriors on the field. This presentation did the same for me 35 years after it was played.
I must admit that I do have two minor problems with this feature. One, Scott's broadcast comes across as a little flat. If this is a strict recreation to the original I would've liked some information about it. If not, I would've liked the announcer to get into it a little more and show some excitement. Second, it's obvious a lot of time and effort went into the making of this reconstruction. This all but begs for a featurette detailing the process of uncovering the footage as well as putting it all together in the style of a live game. I'm very surprised more information on both of these issues wasn't presented somewhere on these discs, even if it meant adding an insert with descriptive text.
Despite these minor grievances, the Ice Bowl recreation earns high marks in my book.
NFL Films and Warner Bros. Pictures present The Complete History of the Green Bay Packers in all of its full frame glory. With so many old clips from various sources, I wasn't expecting much from this feature, but I was pleasantly surprised at how nice it looks. For the pre-Lombardi era, the black-and-white footage is relatively clean and crisp, and the blacks generally look great while the whites aren't too bright. Naturally, there are some grainy moments, as well as some instances of dirt or scratching. However, this is never a distraction. Instead, it adds to the nostalgia of the piece.
Most of the older color footage looks great too, with a surprising amount of bright colors. You still get some blemishes here and there, but highlights from 1960 to the 1970s looks good. Naturally, the more modern image look even better, with bright colors and proper darkness in the shadows.
The Ice Bowl footage looks great too, with sharp detail throughout the presentation. The colors aren't vibrant by any means, but the somber color tone actually adds weight to the frigid temperatures.
Despite boasting only a Dolby 2.0 track, The Complete History of the Green Bay Packers actually sounds pretty good. The boom boom boom of the NFL Films music sounds really nice here, but I can only imagine what it would've been like with the woofer taking charge. But that shouldn't count against this track. The music is deep and powerful, and the interview voices are crisp, clean, and easy to understand. At times I would've liked more audio to come from the field, but with this old footage, that's asking too much. There's no static or other interference, and I can't imagine any of these features sounding better.
The menus on disc one feature the pulse-pounding music associated with an NFL Films release along with imagery of Green Bay legends and a diagram of Lambeau Field. The menus on disc two offer the same tone, but with images from the Ice Bowl. Neither are astounding, but they definitely got me excited to watch the features.
THE BONUS FEATURES
NFL Films managed to squeeze a lot onto these discs, and they really went deep into the vault for some of these bonus items. All of the extras, which are spread over both discs, run at around 3-5 minutes (unless noted) and feature the typical NFL Films style of talking heads, cool footage, and voice-over narration.
On disc one you'll find Packers Follies, a look at some of the Packers miscues through the ages. You get the fumbles, slip ups, and zany music you'd expect, but unfortunately, the humor factor is kept to a minimum. The Lambeau Leap takes a look at the popular touchdown celebration, from its beginning at the '93 Raiders/Packers game to Robert Brooks' awful rap song (the clips of the music video are nothing short of hysterical).
Also on disc one is Lambeau Field, which features glimpses of possibly the most important stadium in all of football, and Packers Fans, which looks at possibly the best fans in all of sports. Willie Wood features interviews and highlights of the Hall of Fame safety and includes some insight into what it was like to be an African American playing football in the '60s in the small town of Green Bay.
Super Bowl XXXI is the longest of the special features found in this set, and deservedly so. This 13 minute featurette is basically a highlight reel of the Packers victory over the Patriots. I must say, it's nice to relive those key moments that brought the Lombardi Trophy back home.
Over on disc two, you'll find Weather Theater, a look at some of the cold, wet, muddy, and snowy games held at Lambeau Field. Willie Davis features clips and interviews concerning the aggressive defense end.
The inclusion of the final bonus item is a bit of a mystery. Don Meredith details the rise and fall of the popular Dallas Cowboys quarterback. Although this featurette is found on the Ice Bowl disc, it still feels out of place. It was nice to see footage of this great QB, but unless this disc will someday be a stand alone DVD, I don't think it belongs.
Packers fans will love this set, but thanks to the inclusion of the Ice Bowl reconstruction, so will hard-core football fans and die-hard Cowboys fans. Highly recommended.