Green Bay Packers: Ted Thompson Has Changed His Modus Operandi in 2017

Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy

Going into the 2017 NFL season, general manager Ted Thompson of the Green Bay Packers had built up a very solid track record in terms of doing his job. Especially since he hired head coach Mike McCarthy in 2006, a year after Thompson took over control of the front office.

Since that partnership took place, the Packers have had 115-61-1 regular season record, with six NFC North titles, nine playoff appearances (including eight straight currently), four NFC title game appearances and one Super Bowl win.

For the most part during his tenure as GM, Thompson has utilized a a draft-and-develop program under the guidance of McCarthy and his coaching staff.

The Packers also were a team that retained a lot of their own core free agents and the team almost never cut a draft pick in the season they were selected.

In that time, it’s been rare that Thompson would dip his toes into “pure” free agency, when he picks up a veteran NFL player who has had decent success with another team or teams in the NFL. Instead, Thompson depends much more on the draft and signing “street” free agents or undrafted rookie free agents.

When Thompson does sign a veteran free agent, he usually goes the route of signing a player who was released by his former team. Examples are defensive back Charles Woodson (Oakland Raiders) in 2006, defensive lineman/linebacker Julius Peppers (Chicago Bears) in 2014 and tight end Jared Cook (St. Louis Rams) last year.

Every one of those three examples turned out great for Thompson and the Packers, especially Woodson and Peppers.

In his seven-year career with the Packers, Woodson put together a brilliant resume. Woodson picked off 38 passes, including nine for touchdowns. Woodson also forced 15 fumbles, recovering six more. Woodson had 11.5 sacks to boot.

In addition to that, Woodson was also named the 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Plus, Woodson was named to four Pro Bowls and finally won a Super Bowl ring.

Peppers had a great three-year run with the Packers as well. Peppers had 25 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and two interceptions, which were both returned for touchdowns. The Packers were in the NFC championship game in two of the three years Peppers was a Packer.

Cook was also a good signing, even though his stay in Green Bay was only one year. Cook suffered an ankle injury early in the 2016 season, but once he returned to action in late November, the offense of the Packers became a force with his addition.

Also, in three games in the postseason, Cook had 18 catches for 229 yards and two touchdowns, as the Packers advanced to the NFC title game.

Thompson likes signing players who were released by their former teams because they won’t have an impact on the compensatory picks a team will receive in the NFL draft the following season.

Signing a free agent who wasn’t released by his team does factor into the compensatory picks equation. An example of signing a player like that was in 2006, when the Packers signed defensive lineman Ryan Pickett (St. Louis Rams), who had a nice eight-year run in Green Bay.

But things changed a bit for Thompson and the Packers in 2017. For one thing, the Packers lost a number of their own free agents. The list included Peppers, Cook, guard T.J. Lang, running back Eddie Lacy, offensive lineman JC Tretter, defensive back Micah Hyde and defensive lineman/linebacker Datone Jones.

The Packers also released Sam Shields, their top cornerback, due to concussion issues.

Thompson used both the draft and free agency to offset those losses. In free agency, Thompson shocked the football world by signing free-agent tight end Martellus Bennett after negotiations with Cook broke down.

The Packers signed Bennett to a three-year deal that will figure into the compensatory formula because he was hadn’t been released by the New England Patriots at the time of his signing.

But that signing will definitely be offset with all the losses the Packers had in free agency.

After signing Bennett, Thompson kept adding veteran players who were released by their former teams. This list included tight end Lance Kendricks (Los Angeles Rams), cornerback Davon House (Jacksonville Jaguars), Ricky Jean Francois (Washington Redskins and recently released by Green Bay), guard Jahri Evans (New Orleans Saints), linebacker Ahmad Brooks (San Francisco 49ers) and defensive lineman Quinton Dial (San Francisco 49ers).

That free agent group is by far the largest assortment of players that Thompson has ever signed in his tenure as GM with the Packers.

Bennett, House and Evans will all be starters, while Kendricks, Brooks and Dial figure to get more than ample playing time during the season.

In addition to the free agent news, the Packers also released three of their ten draft picks from 2017, which is almost unheard of under Thompson’s watch. Two of the three released players (wide receiver DeAngelo Yancey and offensive lineman Kofi Amichia) were signed to the practice squad however.

What does this all mean? It appears that Thompson realizes that the Packers have been knocking on the door of getting to the Super Bowl in two out of the last three years with teams which have been among the youngest in the NFL.

In 2017, he has added more of a veteran presence to the squad, which will hopefully help out at crunch time.

Aaron Rodgers and Martellus Bennett

Add to that, quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be 34 in December, and although No. 12 is still playing at an elite level, the Packers need to surround Rodgers with as many still-effective veterans on both offense and defense.

Thompson has tried to help that cause going into the 2017 season.

It’s still very early in the 2017 season, but the 17-9 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in the season opener at Lambeau Field was a very positive start to the season.

In fact, Bennett made the game-clinching catch for 26 yards late in the game which allowed Rodgers to use the kneel down to run out the clock. No. 80 was also a very effective blocker during the game.

The Packers will need that type of performance by Bennett and the other veteran newcomers to the team throughout the course of the season and postseason. If so, the Packers will have a chance to do what Bennett did after Super Bowl LI when he was with the Patriots.

That is, hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Minneapolis after Super Bowl LII.

A Scout’s Take on Undrafted Rookie WR Michael Clark of the Green Bay Packers (Practice Squad)

Michael Clark

If you attended the training camp of the Green Bay Packers this summer, you saw that one player certainly made a name for himself. I’m talking about undrafted wide receiver Michael Clark, who played his college football at Marshall.

Clark had a number of plays in camp that reminded some people of another NFL wide receiver out of Marshall…Randy Moss. Clark sometimes looked like a man among boys with some of his acrobatic catches, which highlighted his size and jumping ability.

Clark also had four catches this preseason for 34 yards and a touchdown.

But seeing that wide receiver is one of the deepest positions on the Packers, and also that the Packers selected two wide receivers in the 2017 draft, the odds of Clark making the final 53-man roster were somewhat slim.

In the end, Clark did not make the final roster, but he did find a spot on the 10-man practice squad. And if history is a blueprint for the future, things could get interesting for Clark and the Packers down the road.

Case in point, look at wide receiver Geronimo Allison. The former Fighting Illini star had a great training camp with the Packers in 2016, as he was also undrafted, but Allison missed out on getting on the 53-man roster.

But the Packers were able to keep Allison on their practice squad and then elevated him to the roster in late October last season. Allison then had 12 catches for 202 yards and two touchdowns in the regular season, plus had five receptions for 65 yards in the postseason.

Allison will be serving a one-game suspension in Week 1 of the 2017 season, but has established himself as the fourth wide receiver in the pecking order of the Packers, behind Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb.

Allison and Clark have a couple of things in common. One is size. Allison goes 6’3″, 202 pounds, while Clark is even bigger, as he’s 6’6″, 217 pounds.

Both players are from the Tampa Bay area. Allison is from Tampa, while Clark is from St. Petersburg.

I wanted to get a good read on Clark, who only played one year of college football, by talking to NFL scout Chris Landry.

I had an opportunity to talk with Landry about Clark last week on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show, as we also talked about the Packers signing outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks.

I mentioned to Landry that Clark had shown real athleticism in training camp with his size and leaping ability, but still was a bit raw, due to his lack of experience, as he also played some college basketball. I also asked what type of future Clark has in the NFL.

“Well, you described him [Clark],” Landry said. “He’s very lanky. He can elevate. He’s got very good natural hands that can catch out of frame. Very raw as a route-runner.

“But he’s is certainly a guy who is going to make it and be a big slot and can play X. He’s really a good physical specimen with some ability.”

Clark now gets to practice and keep learning under the guidance of his wide receivers coach Luke Getsy, along with getting some tutelage from the veteran receivers on the team.

Clark and fifth-round draft pick DeAngelo Yancey were the only wide receivers that made the practice squad, as both seventh-round draft pick Malachi Dupre and Max McCaffrey did not.

McCaffrey had an exception training camp as well, and he ended up signing with the New Orleans Saints to join their practice squad.

Meanwhile, Clark has a great opportunity to shine in Green Bay down the road. He has the natural athleticism and size to be a force in the passing game, but needs to continue to get better in running routes and learning the nuances of playing wide receiver in the NFL.

Time will tell what will happen down the road with Clark and his future with the Packers, but this past training camp tells us that Clark can be a real weapon at some point fairly soon.

A Scout’s Take on the Addition of OLB Ahmad Brooks by the Green Bay Packers

Ahmad Brooks sacking Aaron Rodgers

The Green Bay Packers addressed a depth problem at outside linebacker on Wednesday, as they signed Ahmad Brooks, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers. The Niners cut Brooks last week, which gave the Packers a chance to add some sorely needed help at the outside linebacker position.

Injuries have been piling up at the OLB position, as Clay Matthews suffered a groin injury against the Denver Broncos last weekend in Green Bay’s third preseason game, plus Nick Perry suffered an ankle injury the week before playing against the Washington Redskins.

Head coach Mike McCarthy indicated to the media that both Matthews and Perry should be ready to go in the season opener versus the Seattle Seahawks at Lambeau Field on September 10.

Still, there is cause for concern, as the team expects the brunt of the pass pressure on opposing quarterbacks to come from Matthews and Perry, who both have had been somewhat injury prone in the respective careers.

In the past five seasons, Matthews has missed 13 games due to a variety of injuries, while Perry has never played in all 16 games in any given season in his career and has missed 20 games in his five years in Green Bay.

Matthews has 72.5 sacks in his eight-year career in Green Bay, but only has 11.5 sacks the past two seasons combined. It’s important to note however, that No. 52 was used mostly as an inside linebacker in 2015, plus also started three games there again last season.

Perry had a career year in 2016, as he had 11 sacks, which is almost as many sacks (12.5) as No. 53 had in the four previous seasons.

In 2016, Matthews and Perry were joined in the outside linebacker rotation by Julius Peppers and Datone Jones. Both Peppers and Jones left the Packers via free agency this past offseason, so the Packers were hoping that both Kyler Fackrell and Jayrone Elliott would step up their play in 2017.

In addition, the Packers also drafted Vince Biegel of Wisconsin in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL draft.

Fackrell has been sort of a non-factor so far in his development, while Elliott has been hampered by a back injury.

Biegel has not been cleared to practice yet due to having foot surgery back in May and will most likely start the season on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list.

That made the signing of someone with the background of Brooks somewhat imperative. The 6’3″, 255-pound Brooks was originally drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2006, but was waived in his second year and picked up by the 49ers. It was in San Fransisco where the career of Brooks blossomed.

In eight years with the 49ers, playing OLB in a 3-4 front like the Packers use, Brooks had 370 total tackles, 53.5 sacks, three interceptions (one for a touchdown), 12 forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

Brooks was also named to the Pro Bowl squad in 2013, plus was named second-team All-Pro in 2012 and 2013.

Ahmad Brooks sacking Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau

I wanted to get the take on the addition of Brooks by the Packers from one of the best in the business, NFL scout Chris Landry.

I had another opportunity to talk with Landry shortly after the Packers signed Brooks on Wednesday, on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show.

“Ahmad Brooks has not played real well for the Niners,” Landry said. “He is someone who I expected to get another chance, as they [49ers] are getting a little younger there.

“We’ll see if Green Bay can get something out of him. Situationally on a better team, it makes more sense. They [49ers] were rebuilding and he really wasn’t all that thrilled with being a kind of guy who was going to lead a bunch of young guys in San Francisco.

“So we’ll see if it will work out. I would temper my enthusiasm. Other than getting him spot play, which he can be very effective in doing, his play has regressed quite a bit.”

The Packers plan to utilize Brooks in just the way Landry believes he will be effective. That is getting him on the field on a situational basis.

Before the Packers signed Brooks and he was just in for a visit, associate head coach/linebackers coach Winston Moss said this about the possibility of Brooks playing for the Packers.

“He can do everything that we would ask him to do in our scheme,” Moss said. “He can play to the tight end side, he can play to the open-end side. He can play the outside linebacker, he can play the elephant. If he were to be placed on our roster – however that decision goes down – he could come right in and fit right in.”

Time will tell how things will work out with the 33 year-old Brooks playing for the Pack. Green Bay signed Peppers when he was 34 years-old and got three productive seasons (25 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and two interceptions for touchdowns) out of him.

No matter what happens with Brooks, the Packers still need to get some production from Fackrell, Elliott and Biegel at some point during the 2017 season.

But at least the team now has a solid veteran who has only had less than six sacks in a season once in his career in San Francisco. That was when Brooks had five in 2010. Other than that, Brooks has always had at least six sacks per season in eight years with the Niners.

Brooks also plays the run well, which is also an important asset to have at OLB.

Bottom line, expect Brooks to be part of a four-man rotation at OLB in 2017 for the Packers, along with Matthews, Perry and Fackrell. Matthews and Perry will get the bulk of the snaps. If Fackrell doesn’t step up his play, Elliott will get his shot in the rotation, plus Biegel will get his opportunity as well once he is cleared to play.

Jerry Kramer’s Nomination for the Pro Football Hall of Fame: ‘A Wonderful Honor’

Vince and Jerry after Super Bowl II

The moment that so many people had been waiting for actually happened on Thursday afternoon, August 24. Yes, right guard Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers was nominated by the Seniors Selection Committee for possible induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Besides Kramer, linebacker Robert Brazile of the Houston Oilers was also nominated as a senior candidate. On Friday, former Washington Redskins and San Diego Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard was named as a contributor nominee.

Kramer, Brazile and Beathard immediately became finalists for enshrinement in Canton. The modern group of finalists is yet to be determined. The entire group will be voted on by the 48 members of the entire Selection Committee of the Hall of Fame on February 3, the day before Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.

This process has been a long road for Kramer, who is now a finalist for the 11th time, but only the second time as a senior candidate.

I tried to lay out the reasons why Kramer deserved to be a senior nominee this year in a recent story, as I wrote a presentation piece as to why No. 64 should be one of the two senior candidates.

Here is part of what I wrote:

In 1969, Jerry was named the best player ever at the guard position in the first 50 years of the NFL, when the Pro Football Hall of Fame named their NFL 50th anniversary team.

The first team consisted of Jim Thorpe, Johnny Unitas, Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, Cal Hubbard, Don Hutson, John Mackey, Chuck Bednarik, Gino Marchetti, Leo Nomellini, Ray Nitschke, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Emlen Tunnell, Lou Groza and Kramer.

Every one of the members on that legendary team are now enshrined as players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. All except one. That would be Mr. Kramer.

Plus, let’s not forget that Kramer was also named to the NFL All-Decade team for the 1960s.

Looking back on the players who were named First-Team All-Decade through the year 2000, there were 145 players who were given that designation.

And up until now, 134 of those players have been inducted into the hallowed halls in Canton.

Kramer is one of those 11 First-Team All-Decade players who have yet to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Now looking back on Kramer’s career with the Packers, No. 64 was a six-time AP All-Pro and was also named to three Pro Bowls for the Packers. Kramer would have had even more honors if not for injuries and illness. Kramer missed half of the 1961 season due to a broken ankle and almost all of the 1964 season due to an intestinal ailment which took nine operations to resolve.

Kramer also played a large role in the success that the Packers had under head coach Vince Lombardi in the postseason. The Packers were 9-1 under Lombardi in the postseason, which included five NFL championships in seven years. That included victories in the first two Super Bowls.

Kramer was a huge component in the NFL title victories in 1962, 1965 and 1967.

In the 1962 NFL Championship Game versus the New York Giants at very cold and windy Yankee Stadium, Kramer doubled as a right guard and as placekicker. Kramer booted three field goals on a very difficult day to kick, as some wind gusts were over 40 mph during the contest.

Kramer scored 10 points in the 16-7 victory for the Packers, plus helped lead the way for fullback Jimmy Taylor to gain 85 yards rushing and also score the lone Green Bay touchdown. As a team, the Packers gained 148 yards rushing that day.

jerry-in-the-65-title-game

In the 1965 NFL Championship Game versus the Cleveland Browns at snowy and muddy Lambeau Field, Kramer and his teammates on the offensive line had a sensational day.

Taylor and halfback Paul Hornung led a rushing attack that gained 204 yards, as the Pack won 23-12. The power sweep was especially effective, as Kramer and fellow guard Fuzzy Thurston kept opening big holes for the backs as the Packers gained big chunks of yardage past the line of scrimmage.

Hornung scored the last touchdown of the game on one of those power sweeps. Kramer pulled left and first blocked the middle linebacker and then a cornerback, as the “Golden Boy” made his way into the end zone.

Then came the 1967 NFL Championship Game (better known as the “Ice Bowl”) versus the Cowboys at frigid Lambeau Field. In that legendary contest, Kramer made the most famous block in the history of the NFL.

The playing surface that day was truly a frozen tundra, as the game-time temperature was 13 below zero.

It all came down to 13 seconds to go with no timeouts at the 1-yard line of the Cowboys.

Quarterback Bart Starr called a 31-wedge play in the huddle, which calls for the fullback to get the ball. However, Starr decided to keep the ball after conferring with Lombardi on the sideline about the play.

Starr thought it would be better to try to get into the end zone himself due to the slippery and icy conditions near the goal line. He followed Kramer’s classic block on Jethro Pugh and found a hole behind No. 64 to score the winning touchdown.

When one looks back on the consistent success of those great Green Bay teams under Lombardi, there are two points which certainly have to be made.

The power sweep was obviously the signature play for the Packers under Lombardi. Plus, Starr’s quarterback sneak with just seconds remaining in the “Ice Bowl”, had to be the signature moment of the Lombardi legacy.

Kramer played a prominent role in both of those instances.

Finally, besides being named to the NFL 50th anniversary team and being named All-Decade in the 1960s, Kramer also has the respect and admiration of many of his peers who he played with and against during his era.

Peers who now have busts in Canton.

Kramer has been endorsed by legendary defensive tackles such as Merlin Olsen and Bob Lilly, who were not only All-Decade in the 1960s, but also in the 1970s. Kramer was also endorsed by Alan Page, who was named All-Decade in the 1970s.

Kramer was really honored with the endorsement he received from Olsen, as Merlin was the finest defensive tackle he ever faced. In fact, there are many who believe Olsen was the best defensive tackle in NFL history.

Olsen went to 14 Pro Bowls, plus was named AP All-Pro nine times in his career as well.

In his endorsement of Kramer to the Hall, Olsen says:

“There is no question in my mind that Jerry Kramer has Hall of Fame credentials. Respect is given grudgingly in the trenches of the NFL and Jerry has earned my respect as we battled eye to eye in the pits on so many long afternoons.

“Jerry Kramer belongs in the Hall of Fame and I hope you will put this process in motion by including his name on the ballot for this coming year.”

Kramer has also been endorsed by other contemporaries who are already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

Kramer has been recommended for the Hall of Fame by teammates like Starr, Hornung and Willie Davis, along with opponents like Frank Gifford, Chuck Bednarik, Doug Atkins, Joe Schmidt, John Mackey, Raymond Berry, Mel Renfro, Mike Ditka, Jim Otto, Tom Mack, Dave Wilcox, Tommy McDonald and Lem Barney.

he absolute proudest endorsement Kramer ever received came from his head coach.

This is what Vince Lombardi said about Kramer in a 1969 article in the Chicago Tribune:

“Jerry Kramer is the best guard in the league,” Lombardi said. “Some say the best in the history of the game.”

Jerry pulling in Super Bowl I

I do know from talking with Rick Gosselin, who was at the Seniors Selection Committee meeting on Thursday, that he along with Bernie Miklasz, were the two people responsible for convincing the other three members of the committee gathered in Canton that day that Kramer deserved to be one of the two nominees.

I also talked with Kramer himself and he shared his thoughts about how this all went down. My first question was where Kramer was when he heard the news.

“I was having lunch,” Kramer said. “Chad Ovitt from Kenosha called me. I had done an autograph session for Chad on Sunday. Chad said, ‘Congratulations!’ And I said, ‘For what?’ He said, ‘The nomination.’

“I was caught a bit off-guard, as I was somewhat aware of this situation, but I made it a point to not focus on it. Not to pay a lot of attention to it. Not to participate. And to not get all worked up emotionally about it.

“When I put my phone down after I hung up with Chad, I saw I missed a couple of calls from David Baker (President/Executive Director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame). And I couldn’t believe it. It really did happen!”

Kramer related his thoughts to me about the conversation he had with Baker about his nomination.

“I had a nice chat with David and others in the room,” Kramer said. “There were congratulations all around. My stomach was doing flip-flops. My heart was pounding a bit. It was sort of surreal setting. Like is this real? Is this my imagination again or am I really on the phone with David Baker, thanking him for selecting me as a nominee?

“I had played that scenario in my head a number of times. Sometimes, I got real nasty and would tell them to stick it in their ear. And sometimes I’m very polite, thoughtful and considerate and all that. I go back and forth depending on my mood I guess.

“But when the moment came, I became all wishy-washy, all gooey and all emotional with them on the phone. I allowed my emotions to come out. I gushed a little bit. It was really a wonderful moment for me. I thanked them and thanked them and thanked them.

“All the bad and the negative stuff I might have said didn’t appear. It was all thank you and I appreciate it. And what a wonderful honor this is. I was just very happy about it all and the negative guy didn’t show up and didn’t even get in the room.”

The people who Kramer talked with included Baker, Gosselin and the other committee members, consultants Art Shell and Carl Eller, plus Executive Director for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Joe Horrigan.

During the conversation, Horrigan told Kramer, “Jerry, this will reduce my mail by 90 percent!”

As we talked, Kramer made it a point to thank all of his fans, especially those in America’s Dairyland.

“Wisconsin fans are absolutely sensational,” Kramer said. “You can’t define them well enough for people to understand how wonderful they are and how wonderful they have been to me. Specifically over the years. We are still having that love affair.”

Kramer also mentioned how his phone has been blowing up with calls of congratulations from so many people.

“There are so many people who have come forward with congratulations, best wishes and all kind of things,” Kramer said. “It’s heartwarming. Especially at this particular point in time in my life.

“To have so many people weigh-in and say, ‘Hell of a job’ or ‘Congratulations’ mean a lot to me. You can feel their happiness. They are pleased just like they were nominated. In a sense, they were. They were part of the process, writing letters and they helped. It is really a state-wide, nation-wide and even world-wide effort on behalf of these people.”

Still, the job has not been completed just yet. Kramer needs to get at least 39 members of the 48-person Selection Committee to vote for him on February 3 so he can get his rightful place in Canton.

That is the second step of this process. But the first step was taken care of on Thursday, when Kramer was nominated.

Jerry's block on Jethro

In terms of where Kramer is, regarding his enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, using an analogy, the ball is now inside the one yard line with just seconds remaining in the game. It’s definitely time to call the 31-wedge play.

It will be very apropos that 50 years and basically a little over a month after that famous play was called on December 31, 1967, that Kramer finds himself in the end zone once again.

But this time the end zone will be an entrance to be among the best of the best in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

My Presentation for Jerry Kramer to the Seniors Selection Committee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017

Jerry on a knee

On August 24th, five members of the Seniors Selection Committee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame will meet in Canton, Ohio to discuss and then name two senior candidates for possible induction.

The entire class of 2018 (including two senior nominees and one contributor nominee)  will be voted on the day before Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.

One of the five members who will be present for the meeting is Rick Gosselin. I’ve have gotten to know Gosselin over the past few years and he has really educated me on how difficult the process is for naming senior candidates.

All that being said, although I will not be in actual attendance, my story below is written like I was doing a presentation for Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers for the committee. Having a background in sales, I have done dozens of presentations to numerous businesses.

I normally would hand out an agenda to the members of the company or corporation I would be presenting to and then do a PowerPoint presentation.

I would do the same with this committee if possible, but for this piece, I will just give you my verbal presentation with some photos.

Good morning. I appreciate you allotting me some time for my presentation today.

I know you folks have to go through a very difficult process before you can name a senior nominee or nominees.

I have been able to become acquainted with one of your committee members, Rick Gosselin, over the past few years and he has explained to me how extremely arduous your course of action is in determining a senior nominee, due to all the many worthy candidates who somehow have fallen through the cracks over the years.

Rick has told me about the proposal he has made to David Baker (President/Executive Director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame) about nominating several senior candidates in the centennial season of the NFL.

I had an opportunity to speak with Mr. Baker earlier this year and we discussed Rick’s proposal. Mr. Baker told me that he was definitely considering Rick’s recommendation. That would be fabulous if that comes to fruition and that a number of deserving seniors get their rightful inclusion into the Hall of Fame.

This morning, I want to talk to you about a very worthy senior candidate…Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers.

In 1969, Jerry was named the best player ever at the guard position in the first 50 years of the NFL, when the Pro Football Hall of Fame named their NFL 50th anniversary team.

The first team consisted of Jim Thorpe, Johnny Unitas, Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, Cal Hubbard, Don Hutson, John Mackey, Chuck Bednarik, Gino Marchetti, Leo Nomellini, Ray Nitschke, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Emlen Tunnell, Lou Groza and Kramer.

Every one of the members on that legendary team are now enshrined as players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. All except one. That would be Mr. Kramer.

As I am a regular reader of Mr. Gosselins’s fine work, I recall a statement by him regarding Kramer’s omission in one of his chats with his readers.

Jerry pulling in Super Bowl I

Rick told his readers,I think Jerry Kramer is the biggest oversight in Canton — if only for the fact that the Hall of Fame selection committee voted him the best guard in the first 50 years of the NFL. Yet he’s gone before that committee something like 10 times and can’t get the votes for induction. It becomes a credibility issue. If you’re going to tell us a player is the best at his position in the first 50 years of the game then not stand behind that selection when it comes time to hand out busts…why even pick an all-half century team?”

In addition to that, Rick recently wrote a story, as he conducted a poll on his fine site, Talk of Fame Network. The poll was about who was the most deserving senior candidate in 2018.

Rick’s candidates in the poll included quarterback Ken Anderson of the Cincinnati Bengals, linebacker Robert Brazile of the Houston Oilers, defensive tackle Alex Karras of the Detroit Lions, defensive lineman Joe Klecko of the New York Jets, defensive end Jim Marshall of the Minnesota Vikings, safety Johnny Robinson of the Kansas City Chiefs, linebacker Andy Russell of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kramer of the Packers.

The poll story ran about a week and Kramer won in a landslide, as he received 86 percent of the vote. I’m sure that doesn’t surprise you, as I’m sure everyone of you have received  hundreds of letters or notes from fans endorsing Kramer’s induction to Canton.

Plus, let’s not forget that Kramer was also named to the NFL All-Decade team for the 1960s.

Looking back on the players who were named First-Team All-Decade through the year 2000, there were 145 players who were given that designation.

And up until now, 134 of those players have been inducted into the hallowed halls in Canton.

Kramer is one of those 11 First-Team All-Decade players who have yet to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Now looking back on Kramer’s career with the Packers, No. 64 was a six-time AP All-Pro and was also named to three Pro Bowls for the Packers. Kramer would have had even more honors if not for injuries and illness. Kramer missed half of the 1961 season due to a broken ankle and almost all of the 1964 season due to an intestinal ailment which took nine operations to resolve.

Kramer also played a large role in the success that the Packers had under head coach Vince Lombardi in the postseason. The Packers were 9-1 under Lombardi in the postseason, which included five NFL championships in seven years. That included victories in the first two Super Bowls.

Kramer was a huge component in the NFL title victories in 1962, 1965 and 1967.

In the 1962 NFL Championship Game versus the New York Giants at very cold and windy Yankee Stadium, Kramer doubled as a right guard and as placekicker. Kramer booted three field goals on a very difficult day to kick, as some wind gusts were over 40 mph during the contest.

Kramer scored 10 points in the 16-7 victory for the Packers, plus helped lead the way for fullback Jimmy Taylor to gain 85 yards rushing and also score the lone Green Bay touchdown. As a team, the Packers gained 148 yards rushing that day.

In the 1965 NFL Championship Game versus the Cleveland Browns at snowy and muddy Lambeau Field, Kramer and his teammates on the offensive line had a sensational day.

Taylor and halfback Paul Hornung led a rushing attack that gained 204 yards, as the Pack won 23-12. The power sweep was especially effective, as Kramer and fellow guard Fuzzy Thurston kept opening big holes for the backs as the Packers gained big chunks of yardage past the line of scrimmage.

Hornung scored the last touchdown of the game on one of those power sweeps. Kramer pulled left and first blocked the middle linebacker and then a cornerback, as the “Golden Boy” made his way into the end zone.

Then came the 1967 NFL Championship Game (better known as the “Ice Bowl”) versus the Cowboys at frigid Lambeau Field. In that legendary contest, Kramer made the most famous block in the history of the NFL.

The playing surface that day was truly a frozen tundra, as the game-time temperature was 13 below zero.

It all came down to 13 seconds to go with no timeouts at the 1-yard line of the Cowboys.

Quarterback Bart Starr called a 31-wedge play in the huddle, which calls for the fullback to get the ball. However, Starr decided to keep the ball after conferring with Lombardi on the sideline about the play.

Jerry's block on Jethro

Starr thought it would be better to try to get into the end zone himself due to the slippery and icy conditions near the goal line. He followed Kramer’s classic block on Jethro Pugh and found a hole behind No. 64 to score the winning touchdown.

When one looks back on the consistent success of those great Green Bay teams under Lombardi, there are two points which certainly have to be made.

The power sweep was obviously the signature play for the Packers under Lombardi. Plus, Starr’s quarterback sneak with just seconds remaining in the “Ice Bowl”, had to be the signature moment of the Lombardi legacy.

Kramer played a prominent role in both of those instances.

Finally, besides being named to the NFL 50th anniversary team and being named All-Decade in the 1960s, Kramer also has the respect and admiration of many of his peers who he played with and against during his era.

Peers who now have busts in Canton.

Kramer has been endorsed by legendary defensive tackles such as Merlin Olsen and Bob Lilly, who were not only All-Decade in the 1960s, but also in the 1970s. Kramer was also endorsed by Alan Page, who was named All-Decade in the 1970s.

Kramer was really honored with the endorsement he received from Olsen, as Merlin was the finest defensive tackle he ever faced. In fact, there are many who believe Olsen was the best defensive tackle in NFL history.

Olsen went to 14 Pro Bowls, plus was named AP All-Pro nine times in his career as well.

In his endorsement of Kramer to the Hall, Olsen says:

“There is no question in my mind that Jerry Kramer has Hall of Fame credentials. Respect is given grudgingly in the trenches of the NFL and Jerry has earned my respect as we battled eye to eye in the pits on so many long afternoons.

“Jerry Kramer belongs in the Hall of Fame and I hope you will put this process in motion by including his name on the ballot for this coming year.”

Kramer has also been endorsed by other contemporaries who are already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

Kramer has been recommended for the Hall of Fame by teammates like Starr, Hornung and Willie Davis, along with opponents like Frank Gifford, Chuck Bednarik, Doug Atkins, Joe Schmidt, John Mackey, Raymond Berry, Mel Renfro, Mike Ditka, Jim Otto, Tom Mack, Dave Wilcox, Tommy McDonald and Lem Barney.

Vince and Jerry after Super Bowl II

The absolute proudest endorsement Kramer ever received came from his head coach.

This is what Vince Lombardi said about Kramer in a 1969 article in the Chicago Tribune:

“Jerry Kramer is the best guard in the league,” Lombardi said. “Some say the best in the history of the game.”

In summation, I know that you are going through a very challenging situation here in recommending senior candidates because they are so many worthy ones.

Again, I hope Rick’s proposal about having a number of senior candidates nominated in the NFL centennial year becomes a reality.

But for the Class of 2018, in my humble opinion, there is no senior candidate who can match the achievements, the awards and the success that Jerry Kramer had in his NFL career.

That is why Kramer was named to the NFL 50th anniversary team in 1969 and that is why his head coach called him the best guard in the NFL that same year and perhaps the best of all time.

The bottom line is Jerry Kramer deserves to be one of the two senior candidates who you will nominate this year.

I certainly appreciate your time and your consideration.

Thank you.

Jerry Kramer Ranks the Top 5 Defensive Tackles He Played Against in His Career

Jerry in the '65 title game

Jerry Kramer played right guard and at times as a kicker for 11 seasons for the Green Bay Packers from 1958 through 1968. In those 11 seasons, Kramer was part of five teams under head coach Vince Lombardi which won five NFL titles in seven years, which also included the first two Super Bowls.

In addition to that, the Packers won three straight NFL championships from 1965 through 1967, which makes them the only NFL team to ever accomplish that feat since the playoff era started in the league in 1933.

Kramer was honored for his stellar play at right guard during that era, as he was named AP first-team All-Pro fives times and AP second-team All-Pro once. No. 64 was also named to three Pro Bowl squads.

The former Idaho Vandal star also came up big in championship games, as he played a key role in the victories in the 1962, 1965 and 1967 title games for the Packers.

After his career was over, Kramer received more honors, as he was named as a guard on the NFL All-Decade team for the 1960s.

Plus, there was the NFL 50th anniversary team named in 1969. The first team, which consisted of the best players ever at their particular positions, included Jim Thorpe, Johnny Unitas, Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, Cal Hubbard, Don Hutson, John Mackey, Chuck Bednarik, Gino Marchetti, Leo Nomellini, Ray Nitschke, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Emlen Tunnell, Lou Groza and Kramer.

For some unfathomable reason, Kramer is the only member of that 50th anniversary team who has not been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I had an opportunity to talk with Kramer again recently, and I wanted to get Jerry’s take on who were the five-best defensive tackles that No. 64 faced in his career. Here is the rundown of that group according to Kramer:

  1. Merlin Olsen
  2. Alex Karras
  3. Leo Nomellini
  4. Art Donovan
  5. Charlie Krueger

Of that group of five, three (Olsen, Nomellini and Donovan) are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Karras deserves to be in Canton, as does Kramer. Like Kramer, Nomellini was also on the 50th anniversary team.

Nomellini and Donovan were both on the NFL All-Decade team for the 1950s. Olsen and Karras were both on the NFL All-Decade team for the 1960s.

Kramer added some commentary on each one of these stalwart opponents who he faced on so many occasions.

Merlin Olsen vs. the Pack

Merlin Olsen

The 6’5″, 270-pound Olsen was named AP first-team All-Pro five times and AP second-team All-Pro four times. In addition, Olsen was named to a whopping 14 Pro Bowls.

“At a Pro Bowl once, Merlin weighed in at 300 pounds,” Kramer said. “Just think about the measurables you were up against versus Merlin. He was 6’5” and close to 300 pounds near the end of the season.

“Add to that, Merlin was a Phi Beta Kappa who had a bright mind and an incredibly competitive spirit. He was smart enough to be a great movie star and smart enough to be a great football player.

“He also had a vibe and an energy about him that just drove him. He never let up. If a game was 65 plays, Merlin was going to come at you 65 times. So with the brains, the physical abilities and the heart, Merlin was just a complete player.

“Merlin and I were great pals. We hung out together. I actually did a sales film with Merlin and Don Shula in the recession of the mid-70s called, Defense, Defense to help companies to better take care of their customers and their business.

“But in terms of being a player, Merlin brought it all day. The was no rest when you were going up against him.”

Alex Karras vs. Pack

Alex Karras

The 6’2″, 248-pound Karras was named AP first-team All-Pro three times and AP second-team All-Pro four times. Plus, Karras was named to four Pro Bowl squads.

“I knew Alex and Merlin very well,” Kramer said. “I studied them. I dreamed about them. I spent hours and hours studying their tendencies. And there was not a hell of a lot of difference between the two of them. Alex was maybe not as consistent as Merlin.

“Alex and I first played against each other in the East-West Shrine Game and we were both on the College All-Star team.

“Alex was very strong in the upper-body. He also had a wrestling background and also had good feet. Alex also brought a lot of emotion when he played. He just hated Green Bay, just like my old buddy Wayne Walker, did who recently passed away. All of the Lions just hated the Packers.

“Alex and I had some great battles that got a bit testy at times, but later we became good friends. Both us of were doing color commentary for CFL games in the ’70s. In our first game together, it didn’t go well, as Alex would say the players were doing this and I’m saying no, that the players were doing this instead. We were basically sniping at each other.

“The next week, as I was trying to get better as a commentator, I was watching the practice of one of the CFL teams. As I’m doing this, Alex walks up and sits down besides me and says somewhat uneasily, ‘We sure had a lot of great games against one another didn’t we?’ And I responded that we sure did.

“I also reminded him of the last game that we played against each other. I was trying a 52-tard field goal and Alex broke through the line and hit me with a forearm right in the chest. As he did that, Alex said, ‘Stick that in your book you ******cker!’

“After Alex heard me tell that story, he sort of blushed, but we both giggled and it broke the ice. From that point on, we became really good pals.”

Leo Nomellini vs. the Pack

Leo Nomellini

The 6’3″, 259-pound Nomellini was named AP first-team All-Pro six times and AP second-team All-Pro once. In addition, Nomellini was named to 10 Pro Bowl teams.

“Leo was also a professional wrestler,” Kramer said. “He was always in great shape. One time he cussed out the officials in a game against us once and he called them every name in the book. I was shocked, as this happened in my first or second year and I was always respectful to the officials.

“Leo had great upper-body strength that made him tough to play against. But he did one thing that made it easier for me to play against him. The San Francisco 49ers ran a 4-3 defense almost exclusively. The only variation from my standpoint, was whether Leo went inside or outside.

“If Leo went inside, the middle linebacker would cover the guard-tackle hole on either side. If Leo went outside, the middle linebacker would cover the center. So as I’m watching film of Leo and the 49er defense, I noticed that Leo normally lines up with his right foot back. But then I also saw a play where Leo put his right foot parallel to his left foot.

“I soon realized that Leo would line up with his feet parallel if he was going outside. But when he went inside, his right foot would be back. That film study by me catching that key made it a bit easier for me to handle Leo. I was a lot more confident in going up against Leo after that.”

Art Donovan vs. the Pack

Art Donovan

The 6’2″, 263-pound Donovan was named AP first-team All-Pro four times and AP second-team All-Pro two times. Plus, Donovan was named to play in four Pro Bowls.

“Most of your NFL defensive tackles are big, strong bull-rushers,” Kramer said. “They don’t dance. Henry Jordan was a dancer. Henry beat you with quickness, not so much with strength. Artie was the same way. He also had quick feet.

“Artie would stand up and wiggle and shake. He was like a matador. He would move back and forth and wait for you to hit him. Then he would dodge you and push you aside with his arms and head towards the quarterback.

“I had never played against a defensive tackle like that was a shaker like that. I always went up against big bulls. Now Artie was a big guy, but he could really move. The first time I played against him, I wanted to touch him after the game to see if he was real. Because during the game I lunged at him many times and never touched him.

“I was sat down in the second half of that game against Artie. I studied that film for quite awhile and got better playing against Artie after that. But it was still hard to play against him. You had to wait on him to make his move and eventually he would because he was running out of time.”

Charlie Krueger

Charlie Krueger

The 6’4″, 256-pound Krueger was named AP second-team All-Pro twice and was also named to two Pro Bowl squads.

“Charlie was a Texas A&M boy,” Kramer said. “Charlie was lean and mean. Like Merlin, Charlie would come after you play after play. He just never let up. He never took a play off.

“I remember that when I would pull to the right, Charlie would go down the line instantly. He pulled almost with me. He had great quickness and great reflexes. So I got the idea that on pass blocks sometimes against Charlie, I would throw my right leg and shoulder out like I was pulling and Charlie would be outside the defensive end just like that.

“After that, I went back into normal pass protection mode, but by then Charlie was out of position and couldn’t recover in time to rush the passer. You couldn’t do that with very many guys.

“In Instant Replay, I wrote about Charlie when he and I played together in the College All-Star game. His wife kept calling to find out if Charlie was there. She would ask, ‘Is Charles Krueger thayuh?’ When he finally showed up, we called him, “Charles Krueger thayuh” after that.

“In the book, I talked about my mental preparation going into a game against an opponent. I didn’t want to look at my opponent and I didn’t want to see him. I wanted to build up an anger and emotion. So before we are going to play the 49ers in ’67, I was standing in the tunnel ready to take the field when I felt a presence behind me. Then I heard, ‘Is Gerald Kramer thayuh?’ It was Charlie.

“That completely threw off my mental preparation for the game.”

Kramer went to battle in the trenches many times with Olsen, Karras, Nomellini, Donovan and Krueger. As you have read, Kramer has the highest level of respect for each one of those players.

But the opposite is also true. In fact, the top two defensive tackles who Kramer faced in his career, Olsen and Karras, both endorsed Kramer for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In his endorsement of Kramer to the Hall, Olsen said:

“There is no question in my mind that Jerry Kramer has Hall of Fame credentials. Respect is given grudgingly in the trenches of the NFL and Jerry has earned my respect as we battled eye to eye in the pits on so many long afternoons.

“Jerry Kramer belongs in the Hall of Fame and I hope you will put this process in motion by including his name on the ballot for this coming year.”

Karras said this about Kramer and why he belongs in Canton:

“As you well know, Vince Lombardi was in fact a great coach and won so many games. The reason Lombardi had such an outstanding record was due to the players: Jimmy Taylor, Forrest Gregg, Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderley, Willie Davis, Jim Ringo and Paul Hornung.

“With all the players listed above, someone has been left out. But, why? Jerry Kramer is one player that should never be forgotten. The “best” pulling guard in his time.

“Let’s don’t pass him up for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, just because he played with so many greats. Jerry made all of them better.”

Kramer appreciates all of the kudos and endorsements that he has received from all of the great defensive tackles of his era, which also includes Bob Lilly and Alan Page, who also have busts in Canton.

“That’s such a great thing,” Kramer said.  “To know that those guys, guys that I respect, also respected me. It is wonderful to know that. That’s as good as it gets.”

Green Bay Packers: Getting Into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Has Not Been an Easy Process for Some

hall of fame packer logo 2

With the induction of Brett Favre to the Class of 2016 for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Green Bay Packers now have 24 individuals who have busts in Canton.

Those individuals are Curly Lambeau (Class of 1963), Robert “Cal” Hubbard (Class of 1963), Don Hutson (Class of 1963), Johnny “Blood” McNally (Class of 1963), Clarke Hinkle (Class of 1964), Mike Michalske (Class of 1964), Arnie Herber (Class of 1966), Vince Lombardi (Class of 1971), Tony Canadeo (Class of 1974), Jim Taylor (Class of 1976), Forrest Gregg (Class of 1977), Bart Starr (Class of 1977), Ray Nitschke (Class of 1978), Herb Adderley (Classof 1980), Willie Davis (Class of 1981), Jim Ringo (Class of 1981), Paul Hornung (Class of 1986), Willie Wood (Class of 1989), Henry Jordan (Class of 1995), James Lofton (Class of 2003), Reggie White (Class of 2006), Dave Robinson (Class of 2013), Ron Wolf (Class of 2015) and Favre.

In addition, there are five other players who ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and who briefly played for the Packers for a period of time. Those players are Walt Kiesling (Class of 1966), Emlen Tunnell (Class of 1967), Len Ford (Class of 1976), Ted Hendricks (Class of 1990) and Jan Stenerud (Class of 1991).

Only the Chicago Bears have more individuals in Canton now, as da Bears have 27 enshrinees. Following the Bears and the Packers are the Pittsburgh Steelers (21), New York Giants (20), Washington Redskins (19) and Los Angeles Rams (18).

Prior to 1970, there was not a “Finalist” designation like there is now when they vote on a particular class.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame became an entity in 1963. Lambeau, Hubbard, Hutson and McNally were all part of that inaugural class.

Hinkle and Michalske followed in 1964, while Herber joined them in 1966.

Starting in 1970, the Hall started naming “Finalists” to determine the class for that given year.

Some individuals on the Packers made it into Canton on their first try. This would include Lombardi, Gregg, Starr, Nitschke, White, Robinson (senior), Wolf (contributor) and Favre.

For others, it was a little more difficult. Adderley and Lofton were both inducted on their third try. It took four times for Canadeo, Taylor and Jordan (senior) to get enshrined. It took six times for Davis to get a bust, while Ringo had to wait until his seventh attempt to get into the Hall.

Then there are the two double-digit guys. Wood didn’t get into Canton until his 10th try, while Hornung had to wait until his 12th attempt.

Which takes us to Jerry Kramer. No. 64 has been a 10-time finalist, but has never been given his rightful place among the best of the best in pro football for some unfathomable reason. Kramer was a finalist in 1974, 1975, 1976, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1984, 1987 and 1997 (senior).

Maybe the 11th time will be the charm for Kramer, when the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 48-person Selection Committee votes on the Class of 2018 the day before Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis. But before that can happen, Kramer must first be nominated by the Seniors Selection Committee around the third week in August as one of the two senior nominees.

In an upcoming story, I will put out my presentation for Kramer to that committee, just like I was there in front of them.

Kramer deserves a bust in Canton, just like the 24 other individuals who were associated with the Packers. No. 64 deserves to be No. 25.

I don’t want to give away my entire presentation, but here are just a few reasons why Kramer should be a slam-dunk for enshrinement in Canton.

In 1969, the Pro Football Hall of Fame named their NFL 50th anniversary team. The first team consisted of Jim Thorpe, Johnny Unitas, Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, Cal Hubbard, Don Hutson, John Mackey, Jerry Kramer, Chuck Bednarik, Gino Marchetti, Leo Nomellini, Ray Nitschke, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Emlen Tunnell and Lou Groza.

Every one of the members on that legendary team are enshrined as players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. All except one. That would be Jerry Kramer.

Kramer was also named to the NFL All-Decade team for the 1960s.

Looking back on the players who were named All-Decade through the year 2000, there were 145 players who were given that designation.

And up until now, 134 of those players have been inducted into the hallowed halls in Canton.

Kramer is one of those 11 All-Decade players who have not yet received their deserved honor as being a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In addition to that, dozens and dozens of peers of Kramer, who all have busts in Canton, have endorsed Kramer for enshrinement.

No endorsement was bigger than that of Merlin Olsen, who many consider the best defensive tackle in NFL history, as he was named to 14 Pro Bowl teams and was also named All-Pro nine times.

This is what Olsen said about why Kramer deserves his place among the greats in Canton:

“There is no question in my mind that Jerry Kramer has Hall of Fame credentials. Respect is given grudgingly in the trenches of the NFL and Jerry has earned my respect as we battled eye to eye in the pits on so many long afternoons.

Jerry Kramer belongs in the Hall of Fame and I hope you will put this process in motion by including his name on the ballot for this coming year.”

Vince and Jerry after Super Bowl II

Kramer also shined big in championship games. The Packers won five NFL championships in seven years under Vince Lombardi in the 1960s, but without Kramer’s big contributions in the 1962, 1965 and 1967 NFL title games, that legacy of greatness may not have occurred.

Speaking of Lombardi, he once said this about Kramer in a 1969 article in the Chicago Tribune:

“Jerry Kramer is the best guard in the league,” Lombardi said. “Some say the best in the history of the game.”

Finally, looking back on the Lombardi’s tenure in Green Bay, there are two points which certainly have to be made.

The legendary power sweep was obviously the signature play for the Packers under Lombardi.

Plus, Starr’s quarterback sneak with just seconds remaining in the “Ice Bowl”, had to be the signature moment of the Lombardi legacy.

Kramer played a prominent role in both of those instances.

Bottom line, it’s quite simple. Kramer most definitely deserves to be among the best of the best in Canton, Ohio at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Donald Driver Personified Hard Work as a Member of the Green Bay Packers

Donald Driver 2007 NFC title game

Donald Driver had a 14-year career with the Green Bay Packers and is currently the all-time leader for the team in terms of receptions (743) and receiving yardage (10,137).  Driver was also named to four Pro Bowl teams.

Driver had 61 TD receptions, which is the fourth-best mark in Green Bay history, only behind Don Hutson (99), Sterling Sharpe (65) and Jordy Nelson (63).

The 14 seasons that Driver spent with the Packers only puts him behind notable legends such as Bart Starr (16 seasons), Brett Favre (16 seasons) and Ray Nitschke (15 seasons). Forrest Gregg also spent 14 seasons with the Packers in his career.

That all led to Driver being inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame on Saturday.

But nothing came easy for Driver when he joined the Packers in 1999 as a seventh-round draft pick for the Pack out of Alcorn State when general manager Ron Wolf selected him.

As a rookie, Driver was way down on the pecking order at wide receiver, as Antonio Freeman (74 receptions for 1,054 yards and six TDs), Bill Schroeder (74 receptions for 1,051 yards and five TDs) and Corey Bradford (37 receptions for 637 yards and five TDs) were all above him on the depth chart catches passes from Favre, a three-time NFL MVP.

Driver only had three catches for 31 yards and one touchdown as a rookie.

But Driver kept working hard and he got more opportunities in 2000, as he had 21 receptions for 322 yards and one TD.

But in 2001, Driver took a step back and only had 13 catches for 167 and one TD.

The first three years of Driver’s career in Green Bay weren’t exactly eye-opening.

But that all changed in 2002, when No. 80 worked his way up the depth chart. Driver had 70 receptions for 1,064 yards and nine TDs that season.  Driver also was named to the Pro Bowl squad for the first time.

But then Driver took another step backwards in 2003, as he had only had 52 receptions for 621 yards and two touchdowns. In addition to that, Driver suffered a scary injury against the Minnesota Vikings. But no matter, Driver was both resilient and persistent in becoming a better player.

“I think everything in my career has been truly a blessing,” Driver said Saturday. “I made a way out of no way. I remember 2003, when I fell on my neck against Minnesota, I remember being on a stretcher going through that tunnel, my wife told me that my career was over. She wanted me to retire and put the cleats up. I told her, ‘I don’t think God’s done with us yet. If I can recover from this, let’s just see where God takes us.’ Eleven years later, he took us to places where we never thought we would go. It’s been truly amazing. I can look back and appreciate every opportunity that I’ve had.”

But all his continued hard work paid off, because from 2004 through 2009, Driver averaged 82 catches for 1,141 yards and six touchdowns per season. Driver was also named to two more Pro Bowls during that period.

The 2010 season would be a special one for Driver. Not so much for his production, as he had just 51 receptions for 565 yards and four touchdowns (and another Pro Bowl selection). No, it was because his team was able to win the Super Bowl.

In Super Bowl XLV, Driver was injured early in the game and only had two catches for 28 yards. But even with the disappointment of being injured, Driver cheered on his fellow receivers, as Nelson (nine catches for 140 yards and one TD), Greg Jennings (four catches for 64 yards and two TDs) and James Jones (five catches for 50 yards) put up some big numbers.

Donald Driver Super Bowl XLV

The Packers ended up beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in that game of all games 31-25, behind the MVP performance of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who threw for 304 yards and three TDs without a pick.

Speaking of the postseason, in his career, Driver had 49 catches for 675 yards and three TDs. One of those touchdowns was when he caught a 90-yard pass from Favre in the 2007 NFC title game against the New York Giants at frigid Lambeau Field.

In his last two seasons with the Packers in 2011 and 2012, Driver had just a combined 45 catches for 522 yards, but did have eight touchdowns.

But all in all, Driver had a tremendous career in Green Bay which eventually put him among the best of the best in Green Bay lore. But when did Driver ever imagine being enshrined in the Packers Hall of Fame?

“I don’t think it ever crossed my mind until the day that I was up for breaking Sterling’s record,” Driver said. “I think that’s when I said, ‘OK, maybe there’s an opportunity for me to be in the Packers Hall of Fame. I remember getting that phone call from Sterling. He said, ‘Listen, if you break my record, you better score a touchdown, because just a catch is not going to do it.’ I remember catching the ball against Detroit and made one move and I thought, ‘Oh, I scored. It’s easy.’ Seven guys hit me and I didn’t score on that play. At that point, I think that’s when I started to think about it. Then I knew I was only 3,000 yards away from breaking James Lofton’s record. At that point, that’s when I started thinking, ‘This could be possible.’

“To be the all-time Packers leading receiver in franchise history, that tells you that you’re among some of the greatest icons and legends that ever played in the Green and Gold. To surpass those individuals is something I’m going to cherish for a long time. The day will come when somebody will break mine. I hope they cherish it as much as I cherished it when I broke theirs.”

When Driver retired from the NFL, I happened to chat with Jerry Kramer, another member of the Packers Hall of Fame and someone who definitely should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, soon after that occasion. Kramer obviously was impressed with Driver as a person, both on and off the field.

“Donald is an exceptional human being, and obviously a sensational ball player, but he’s also just an awfully nice man,” Kramer said. “He’s well-grounded and he has some character about him, and also some class. Plus I think of grace. Grace off the field, and obviously grace on the field, with the beautiful moves, and the tippy-toes, the great hands and the intelligence to run the route, but there’s a grace, which is the only word I can use to describe his attitude off the field. That’s with the fans and with everyone. He treats everyone with dignity and class.”

A Scout’s Take on the Football Teams to Watch in the B1G Conference in 2017

Paul Chryst

The B1G football conference had a pretty good year in 2016. Yes, no team from the conference played in or won the national championship game, but overall from a record standpoint, it was a very solid year for the Big 10.

That being said, teams from the Big 10 did not do very well in the bowl games.

The Ohio State Buckeyes made the four-team playoff to determine the national champion, even though the 8-1/11-2 Bucks didn’t even win the East Division, as the 8-1/11-3 Penn State Nittany Lions won the tiebreaker.

Maybe that was an omen, as the Buckeyes were spanked 31-0 by the eventual national champion Clemson Tigers in a semifinal game in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl.

Meanwhile, Penn State, after beating the 7-2/11-3 Wisconsin Badgers in the B1G title game, played in the Rose Bowl, but were beaten by the USC Trojans 52-49 in a thrilling contest.

The Badgers played in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl against then undefeated Western Michigan, as the Badgers beat the Broncos 24-16. That victory was the third consecutive bowl win for the Badgers and the second under head coach Paul Chryst.

The 7-2/10-3 Michigan Wolverines, who narrowly lost out to Ohio State and Penn State in the East, played in the Orange Bowl, but lost 33-32 to Florida State in another exciting game.

In terms of other B1G teams playing in bowls, two teams from the B1G West didn’t fare well in their games, as the 6-3/8-5 Iowa Hawkeyes were throttled 30-3 by the Florida Gators in the Outback Bowl, while the 6-3/9-4 Nebraska Cornhuskers were beaten 38-24 by the Tennessee Volunteers.

Two other teams from the West fared better in bowl games, as the 5-4/9-4 Minnesota Golden Gophers beat the Washington State Cougars 17-12 in the National Funding Holiday Bowl, while the 5-4/7-6 Northwestern Wildcats beat the Pittsburgh Panthers 31-24 in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

Two other B1G  teams from the East played in bowls, but neither came away with a win. The 4-5/6-7 Indiana Hoosiers lost 26-24 to the Utah Utes in the Foster Farms Bowl, while the 3-6/6-7 Maryland Terrapins were beaten 36-30 by the Boston College Eagles in the Quick Lane Bowl.

When it was all said and done, the Big 10 conference was only 3-7 in bowl games, with only Wisconsin, Minnesota and Northwestern coming away with victories.

Going into the 2017 season, I wanted to get a take from NFL scout Chris Landry as to how he sees the conference shaping up this year in football.

I had an opportunity to speak with Landry last week on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show.

I asked Landry how he thought the Badgers would do this year in the West, after being 21-6 in two years under Chryst, plus having a favorable schedule this upcoming season.

“I like them,” Landry said. “They are the favorite in the West for me because of their schedule. They’ve got a good team.

“I think there is, in my view, four really good teams in the Big 10 conference. Wisconsin is one of them and the other three are in the East. Ohio State is really good. Penn State is really good. Michigan is getting better and better. So, there are four teams who are really good.

“I think Wisconsin, because of what you mentioned with the schedule, and the fact that they have some good players, probably wins the West, although I think Northwestern and Nebraska will be pretty good. I’m curious to see how Minnesota does this year with P.J. Fleck, who is going to be an outstanding coach.

“But it’s still really strong in the East and not nearly as strong in the West. Ohio State is loaded. Penn State team took a big step last year. Saquon Barkley, if you haven’t seen him folks, he’s one of the best running backs I’ve seen come out in years. Juwan Johnson is an outstanding receiver. The quarterback Trace McSorley is outstanding, so they’ve got two Heisman Trophy candidates [Barkley and McSorley].”

Talking about the Badgers and their schedule, the non-conference schedule sees Wisconsin playing Utah State and Florida Atlantic at Camp Randall Stadium, and then playing on the road at Provo to take on BYU.

The conference schedule does not have either Ohio State or Penn State as opponents, while the Badgers will play Michigan at home.

The Badgers will be bringing back most of the starters on offense from last year, with the biggest change being at running back, where Bradrick Shaw (457 yards and five touchdowns), Chris James (transfer from Pitt) and Taiwan Deal (503 yards and six touchdowns) will battle each other for carries.

James played in 23 games at Pitt and rushed for 690 yards and four touchdowns in two seasons there.

Expect a lot of carries, as Wisconsin will always be a physical, pound the rock, type of football team behind their always massive offensive line.

<> at AT&T Stadium on January 2, 2017 in Arlington, Texas.

Alex Hornibrook and Jazz Peavy of the Wisconsin Badgers hold up the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Trophy.

Plus with Chryst running the offense, the passing game can be dangerous as well. Alex Hornibrook will be the quarterback in 2017, as he got plenty of experience last season as he threw for 1,262 yards with nine touchdowns versus seven interceptions, as he split time with Bart Houston.

Hornibrook will look to connect with wide receiver Jazz Peavy (43-635-5) often, as well as tight end Troy Fumagalli (47-580-2), who had a monster game in the Cotton Bowl.

The Wisconsin defense was just outstanding in 2016, as they were ranked fourth in the FBS in scoring defense (15.6 points) and seventh in total defense (301.4 yards). But in 2017, there will be a number of key changes. For one, the Badgers have a new defensive coordinator, as Jim Leonhard takes over for Justin Wilcox, who now is the head coach at Cal.

The Badgers also lost talented bookend outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel to the NFL, as well as safety Leo Musso and cornerback Sojourn Shelton.

But the Badgers should still be very good this year on defense. On the defensive line, Alec James, Chikwe Obasih, Conor Sheehy and Olive Sagapolu all return.

Wisconsin also will bring back a talented group of linebackers, even with the losses of Watt and Biegel. The group will include Garret Dooley, T.J. Edwards, Ryan Connelly, Jack Cichy and Chris Orr.

The secondary will also bring back some talent, led by cornerback Derrick Tindal and safety D’Cota Dixon.

All in all, the Badgers will return seven defensive starters in 2017 and should be among the best in the FBS ranks.

Time will tell how the Badgers will fare in 2017, but Landry certainly likes their chances to be successful. Winning the West will be goal No. 1 for the Badgers versus solid competition like Nebraska, Northwestern and Minnesota.

But beating whoever wins the Big Ten East in the B1G title game will be a much tougher task.

If that happens, there will most likely be a place in the four-team playoff with a chance to win a national championship.

Zeke Bratkowski Talks About Playing for Both George Halas and Vince Lombardi

Halas and Lombardi

Zeke Bratkowski played quarterback in the NFL for 15 years. In 10 of those years, Bratkowski was coached by either George Halas or Vince Lombardi. Talk about playing under two of the greatest coaching icons in NFL history.

I had an opportunity to speak with Bratkowski recently, and he talked about playing under these two head coaching giants.

“Both Coach Halas and Coach Lombardi were very similar in their style of discipline,” Bratkowski said. “They were both very demanding and were coaches of repetition.”

Bratkowski originally played under Halas, as the Chicago Bears drafted the former Georgia Bulldog star as a junior in the second round in 1953 as a “future pick”, which was allowed in that era. Bratkowski played his senior year and joined the Bears in 1954.

Bratkowski talked about the start of his NFL career and how Halas helped him.

“In my rookie year, the Bears also had Ed Brown and George Blanda at quarterback,” Bratkowski said. “I learned a lot from Coach Halas. He told the whole team that year when we were 4-4, that if we win the last four games, we could win the conference.

“Coach gave me the chance to start those four games and we won them all. But unfortunately Detroit, who we beat on the last week of the season, won the conference when the kicker from Philadelphia missed an extra point against them the week before. So basically one point kept us out of the championship game.”

Bratkowski’s career in the NFL was put on hold in 1955 and 1956, as he served in the Air Force. While Bratkowski was serving his country, the Bears played in the 1956 NFL title game against the New York Giants at Yankee Stadium. The offensive coordinator for the G-Men was none other than Vince Lombardi, as New York won 47-7.

While in the Air Force, Bratkowski continued to play football and one of his teammates was wide receiver Max McGee of the Green Bay Packers.

“We went to the championship game when I was at the Air Force and Max was on our team,” Bratkowski said. “We also had Jim Dooley playing wide receiver. Jim eventually became head coach of the Bears. But both Max and Jim caught a lot of balls, as we threw a lot.

“Max and I were in the same squadron as pilots and we flew together. We were in the original drone squadron.”

When Bratkowski came back in 1957, it took awhile to become as proficient as he was before he left for the Air Force.

“When I came back in ’57, Coach Halas had me doing a lot of film study,” Bratkowski said. “I lived in Danville, Illinois which is about 110 miles south of Chicago. Coach had me doing film studies of all the games that the team had played while I was gone. I had to fill out this big form that he had created for me.

“So I would be in Chicago from Monday through Friday doing that exercise. The train out of Chicago went right into Danville, so it was an easy ride. Anyway, I had a lot of catching up to do, even though I was in great shape. But it took awhile for me to catch up to Ed [Brown] and George [Blanda] again.

“But Coach Halas helped me catch up. He set up a regimen for me to be better prepared. I would take notes and Coach Halas would answer my questions. He also watched film with me and would help out there as well.”

Zeke with da Bears

Bratkowski spent four more years with the Bears before he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams in 1961. In his five years with the Bears, Bratkowski was 11-5 as a starter, so it was a bit odd that he was shipped out to Los Angeles.

As a Ram, Bratkowski started 11 games in 1961 and then split time with rookie quarterback Roman Gabriel in 1962 and part of 1963 before he was placed on waivers.

It was at that point that Lombardi, then the general manager and head coach of the Packers, picked up Bratkowski on waivers and he became the backup to starting quarterback Bart Starr.

Lombardi used a similar film study routine for his quarterbacks, similar to what Halas did. Brakowski talked to me about that routine in a previous story I did about being in the QB’s meeting room with Lombardi.

This is a portion of that piece:

“We had to be there at 8:00 am to meet with Coach Lombardi,” Bratkowski said. “Then, we didn’t have quarterback coaches. But back then, the quarterback meetings were with Coach Lombardi. It was all him.

“He always started the meetings with the defensive frequencies of the upcoming team we would be facing. We would take notes on the fronts that they ran and also how they would cover.

“Coach was an excellent teacher. He was a great coach, but he was even a better teacher. He was obviously a great motivator, but he also explained how and why certain plays would work.”

Bratkowski talked about one of Lombardi’s techniques for teaching.

“All of his information was on cards,” Bratkowski said. “He didn’t show the cards to us, but he talked about what was on the card. We took notes. That is what we did consistently. Every game we had a notebook, that we ourselves had made.

“We had perforated notebooks where you could take that sheet and use it for the next time you played an opponent. Like Detroit for instance. Then we could see if our information matched up the second time or if they had changed their tendencies.”

In the five years Bratkowski played under Lombardi, No. 12 only started three games, winning two of them. But he came in for an injured Starr on a number of occasions and Bratkowski often brought home a victory.

One of those games was in the 1965 Western Conference Championship Game. Starr was injured on the first play of scrimmage for the Packers versus the Baltimore Colts in that game at Lambeau Field, but Bratkowski led the Packers to a 13-10 overtime win, as he threw for 248 yards against one of the top defenses in the NFL.

The next season, in 1966, Bratkowski had to come in another game when Starr was injured and this time it was against Halas and the Bears at Lambeau Field. Bratkowski threw for 190 yards and two touchdowns, as the Packers beat da Bears 13-6.

“I enjoyed that victory more than most,” Bratkowski said.

Bratkowski also came in relief of Starr in the second-to-last game of the season against the Colts in Baltimore in 1966. Once again, Bratkowski led the Packers to a win, as Green Bay scored a fourth quarter touchdown in a 14-10 victory, which also clinched the Western Conference title.

Zeke playing the Colts in Baltimore

Bratkowski then talked about the close friendship that Halas and Lombardi had.

“Coach Halas and Coach Lombardi were good friends,” Bratkowski said. “At least until they played each other. But they had great respect for one another. They had the same character. Both of them were devout Christians.

“When I was with Coach Halas, he would go to mass every morning in Chicago. Likewise, Coach Lombardi did the same thing in Green Bay. Both were very conscious of their character and their team’s character.

“We had some pretty good games when they coached against each other.”

Lombardi and his Packers were 13-5 against Halas and his Bears from 1959 through 1967. During that period, the Packers won five NFL titles, which included the first two Super Bowls, while the Bears won the 1963 NFL title.

Halas, along with Paul Brown of the Cleveland Browns, were largely responsible for the the Packers hiring Lombardi in 1959, as both gave big endorsements for the former offensive assistant of the Giants.

In his 15-year career in the NFL, Bratkowski had threw for 10,345 yards and 65 touchdowns. He later became an assistant coach in the NFL for a number of teams for 26 years, which included both the Bears and Packers. The lessons he learned under both Halas and Lombardi as a player came with him when he became a coach.

“It was a honor for me to play under both Coach Halas and Coach Lombardi,” Bratkowski said. “I learned a lot from each of them. Both were very disciplined and so were their teams. They had us doing the same play over and over again until it became second nature. Those practice habits helped us when we played the real games.

“Bottom line, we were always prepared.”