The Green Bay Packers own more championships than any other NFL franchise with 13. And yet, if not for an old league rule, it’s possible the franchise could have had one more.
In the National Football League’s 101 seasons, only twice has a team won three consecutive championships: the Green Bay Packers in both 1929-31 and 1965-67. Yet, if not for a now-removed rule, it’s possible the Packers would have won four-straight titles.
Heading into the 1932 season, the Packers were a bona fide dynasty, accumulating a combined 34-5-2 record and three NFL championships over the previous three seasons and showing no signs of slowing down. After all, the team boasted five future Hall of Famers in Arnie Herber, Clarke Hinkle, Cal Hubbard, Johnny “Blood” McNally and Mike Michalske, plus finished no worse than second in scoring offense since 1929.
Things continued as expected in ’32, as the Packers outscored the opposition by a 124-23 margin en route to an 8-0-1 start. Despite a 6-0 defeat at the hands of the New York Giants in Week 10, Green Bay rebounded with convincing wins at the Brooklyn Dodgers and Staten Island Stapletons to enter the season’s final two weeks with a 10-1-1 record.
A fourth-straight title, though, was far from guaranteed. Right behind the Packers in the standings were the Chicago Bears at 4-1-6 and Portsmouth Spartans (the franchise now known as the Detroit Lions) at 5-1-4. Even more daunting was Green Bay’s final two contests; both of which were road games at Chicago and Portsmouth. While one win in the final two may have clinched a title, it wasn’t a guarantee.
Those two weeks didn’t go as planned, though, as the Packers suffered a 19-0 rout to the Spartans and a 9-0 loss at the Bears. Thus, Green Bay ended the year at 10-3-1, the same record they had when they won the league crown in 1930. This year, though, was a bit more complicated.
Despite having far more wins than both Chicago and Portsmouth (both had six through Dec. 11), the rules at the time stated ties weren’t counted when calculating winning percentage. Thus, the combined 10 draws between the Bears and Spartans had no impact on the standings.
As a result, the Packers were leapfrogged in the final standings, as their .769 winning percentage came up short to Chicago’s and Portsmouth’s .857 mark. That tie resulted in the NFL’s first, albeit unofficial, playoff game, as the Bears took a 9-0 decision over the Spartans inside Chicago Stadium – a game that is quite interesting in its own right. Because of the increased interest surrounding the game, the NFL instituted a league championship game beginning in 1933.
Had the NFL counted ties in the standings, the Packers would have claimed a fourth consecutive title. Given the rules in place since 1972 where ties count as half-wins, Green Bay’s winning percentage would have dropped to .750. However, Portsmouth would have come in a clear second with a .727 winning percentage and Chicago in third at .692.
Under 1932 Rules
Chicago 7-1-6 .875
Green Bay 10-3-1 .769
Portsmouth 6-2-4 .750
Under Current Rules
Green Bay 10-3-1 .750
Portsmouth 6-1-4 .727
Chicago 6-1-6 .692
So how might this change have impacted NFL history? Not only would the Packers now have 14 titles rather than 13, but the Bears would only own eight. Additionally, with no need for a playoff between Chicago and Portsmouth, it’s hard to say how long the NFL would have gone before implementing a playoff system.
So, while a simple rule change may have given the Packers another title, it’s also possible such a shift may have had far-ranging ramifications on the history of the NFL.