From 1965 through 1969, the Green Bay Packers had the best set of linebackers in the NFL without question. Ray Nitschke was the middle linebacker, while Lee Roy Caffey played right outside linebacker and Dave Robinson played left outside linebacker.
The Packers defense was ranked third, third, first, third and fourth in the NFL, respectively, when the trio of Robinson, Nitschke and Caffey started together.
All three linebackers were excellent tacklers who also had a knack to create turnovers for the defense.
Take a look at their stats during that time.
Nitschke had 10 interceptions (one for a touchdown) and had seven fumble recoveries in the five years the trio played together.
Caffey had eight interceptions (two for touchdowns) and had three fumble recoveries.
Pretty good numbers for both Nitschke and Caffey, huh?
Now look at the stats for Robinson during that same time. Robby had a whopping 14 picks and also seven fumble recoveries.
Can you see why this trio was the best in the business?
Caffey was named first-team All-Pro once and also made one Pro Bowl appearance.
Nitschke was named first-team All-Pro twice and unbelievably only went to one Pro Bowl. But No. 66 was good enough to be the the All-Decade team of the 1960s, plus was on the NFL 50th anniversary team.
That all led to Nitschke getting inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Robinson was named first-team All-Pro twice, plus went to three Pro Bowls. No. 89 was also on the All-Decade team of the 1960s.
Robby was also inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013.
Nitschke (1978), Robinson (1982) and Caffey (1986) were all also inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame.
Nitschke, Caffey and Robinson all had something in common, besides being great playmakers. They all stood 6’3″ and all of them went between 240 to 250 pounds.
Big men who made big plays.
Robinson was the first selection for the Packers in the 1963 NFL draft out of Penn State. No. 89 played behind Dan Currie in his first two years in the league, but then took the NFL by storm after he became a full-time starter in 1965.
Robinson could go sideline to sideline, both in stopping the run and in coverage. He was a complete linebacker who could do it all.
Jerry Kramer talked to me recently about his time with Robinson in Green Bay.
“Robby was a bright kid. He just loved to argue. I think he would rather argue than eat I believe,” Kramer chuckled. “And Robby loves to eat. He would spit facts out at you that you would check out later and he was generally right on target.
“He studied engineering at Penn State. He was a good thinker on the football field too. He followed his keys very well and was tough to block. He was a really good football player.
“With Robby, Nitschke and Caffey there, that was maybe the best linebackers corps we have ever seen.”
Kramer then talked about when Robinson first joined the Packers in 1963.
“He was kind of a quiet kid. At first. But once you became friendly with him, you couldn’t hush him up.”
Robinson played on the College All-Star team that played the Packers in the first preseason game of 1963. The All-Stars shocked Vince Lombardi and the Pack, as they upset Green Bay 20-17.
Kramer recalled that evening.
“Robby had to join the team after the game and come and have dinner with us afterwards,” Kramer said. “When he came into the locker room he was full of piss and vinegar, smiling and laughing because of the win.
“Coach Lombardi glared at him and Robby looked around the room and he realized that he was now in the losing dressing room after coming from the winning dressing room.
“Bottom line, there was no laughter in Lombardi land that night. Losing to the College All-Star team was embarrassing to the coach and he was very pissed.
“Robby picked up that attitude very quickly and quieted down.”
In 1963, Robinson also kicked off at times for the Packers.
Paul Hornung was suspended for that season for gambling. That meant that Kramer would have to continue to be the placekicker for the Packers that season, just like he was for most of the 1962 season.
Kramer made 9-of-11 field goals in the1962 regular season, plus was 38-of-39 in extra points. No. 64 also added three more field goals and an extra point in the 1962 NFL Championship Game at windy and frigid Yankee Stadium, as the Packers beat the New York Giants 16-7.
Kramer wasn’t quite as accurate in the 1963 season, but he still made 16 field goals and 43 extra points for a total of 91 points, which was the fourth-best mark in the NFL.
While Kramer did the bulk of the kicking for the Packers, the Packers used other players for the actual kickoff, as that part of his kicking game was not Kramer’s strongest suit.
Kramer talked about that situation.
“We were looking for somebody to do that,” Kramer said. “When Hornung was kicking, they would take Hornung out of the game on third down often times and let him catch his breath.
“They never gave me a blow or took me out of the game. So I’m running the sweep 40 yards downfield and I came back to the huddle huffing and puffing. The next thing you know I have to kick. I was at a bit of a disadvantage there.
“I was not a deep kicker on the kickoffs. So we were looking for someone to take over that role. We tried Willie Wood out. And we tried Robby out. I still did the bulk of the kickoffs that year. We were looking for someone to kick the ball to the end zone and that wasn’t me.”
I talked to Kramer a couple of years ago after Robinson was inducted into Canton. Kramer told me about being with No. 89 in New Orleans (the site of Super Bowl XLVII) the night before Robinson heard that he was actually selected for a bust in Canton.
“Robby and I and some friends went to dinner at Commander’s Palace on Friday night and we just had an incredible dinner,” Kramer said. “The folks that ran the place came over and fussed over us a little bit, and then they started bringing us over shrimp, craw fish, pompano and this and that, and we just had a great time. I toasted Robby about his induction during the dinner and there were 13 of us there, and Robby teared up a little bit. It was a nice moment.”
Here’s hoping that Robinson can return the favor to Kramer in the very near future, because No. 64 has waited far too long for his rightful induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.