Green Bay Packers: Remembering Scout Jack Vainisi

Vince and Jack

Vince Lombardi with Jack Vainisi

We are exactly one week away from the 2016 NFL draft. General manager Ted Thompson of the Green Bay Packers held a press conference on Wednesday to discuss the preparation for this year’s draft.

Per his usual routine when he speaks with the media, Thompson kept things very general about how he and his scouting staff prepare for the draft.

“We try to draft the best player available,” Thompson said. “We think it’s important to stay focused and try to take the best player. I think that from a personal standpoint. Situation about needs isn’t normally a temporary one. As long as you’re taking really good players and best players you can identify, then you’re in some respects you’re able to stay a little bit in front of the curve. There can be some of both. You can be in a position where this solves problem A on our roster, but he’s also the best player available. If you get lucky where you can address both – if it comes to one or the other, I prefer to take the best player.”

Thompson also talked about when his scouts get together to discuss the upcoming draft. Counting Eliot Wolf, who is now Director of Football Operations, there are 16 people in the scouting department.

“It’s good. It’s not always comfortable because there are disagreements where people, rightfully so, think differently. They’re paid to do so. They’re encouraged by everybody, myself included, to make sure their voices are heard. … You still want to have the passion and energy to stand on the table and say, ‘This is what we need to do, and this is the reason we need to do it,’ Thompson said.

Back in 1950s, only one voice was heard in the scouting department of the Packers. That’s because one man pretty much did all the scouting. That man’s name was Jack Vainisi.

Vainisi was the talent scout for the Packers from 1950-1960. In those 10 years, Vainisi picked six players for the Packers who would eventually be selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Sadly, Vainisi died of a heart attack in 1960 at the young age of 33, just prior the championship run of the Vince Lombardi-era Packers.

Vainisi did a terrific job overall in his scouting, but he had two draft classes which were certainly among the best in the history of the Packers, if not the NFL.

In 1956, Vainisi and the Packers selected two future Hall of Famers. Those players were right tackle Forrest Gregg (2nd round) and quarterback Bart Starr (17th round).

Starr won five NFL championships as a quarterback, more than any other quarterback in NFL history. Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Tom Brady have all won four championships, but Starr is still all alone with five titles. In addition, Starr quarterbacked the Packers to wins in the first two Super Bowls, winning MVP in each game.

Starr was also the league MVP in 1966, plus led the NFL in passing three times. Starr is probably best remembered for his thrilling quarterback sneak with 13 seconds remaining in the legendary Ice Bowl.

Bart Starr QB Sneak in Ice Bowl

Starr was named All-Pro four times and was also named to the Pro Bowl four times. Starr was 9-1 as a playoff QB. Starr also had his number retired (No. 15) by the Packers.

In his book Run To Daylight, Lombardi said, “Forrest Gregg is the finest player I ever coached!” Gregg played 14 seasons for the Packers.

Gregg was named All-Pro nine times and was named to the Pro Bowl nine times as well.

Also in this draft, Vainisi was able to select two very solid starters in left tackle Bob Skoronski and defensive back Hank Gremminger, both of whom started for the Packers for 10 years or more.

As good as the 1956 draft class was, the 1958 class that Vainisi selected was even better.

In the first round, the Packers selected linebacker Dan Currie. In the second round, the Packers selected fullback Jim Taylor. In the third round, the Packers selected linebacker Ray Nitschke. In the fourth round, the Packers selected right guard Jerry Kramer.

All four of those players had excellent careers in the NFL, with two of them (Taylor and Nitschke) getting inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There are many, including myself, who believe Kramer should also be in Canton based on his outstanding NFL resume.

Taylor is the second all-time rushing leader for the Packers with 8,207 yards. Taylor also scored 91 touchdowns in his career, including 19 in 1962, the year Taylor was named MVP in the NFL.

Taylor was named All-Pro six times and was also named to the Pro Bowl five times. No. 31 led the team in rushing seven times, and also led the NFL in rushing in 1962. He probably would have led the league a few more times if not for the presence of the great Jim Brown in his era.

Taylor had five seasons of 1,000 yards or more, plus gained over 100 yards in a game 26 times.

Nitschke was the face of the defense in the Lombardi era, which was then coordinated by Phil Bengtson. No. 66 also played in an era that had some excellent middle linebackers like Dick Butkus, Sam Huff, Bill George and Joe Schmidt.

Nitschke was named All-Pro six times and was named to only one Pro Bowl squad for some ridiculous reason. Nitschke was also MVP of the 1962 NFL Championship Game against the New York Giants, as he deflected one pass for an interception and also recovered two fumbles.

No. 66 also had his number retired by the Packers.

Currie was All-Pro three times and was selected to one Pro Bowl. Currie was later traded to the Los Angeles Rams for wide receiver Carroll Dale in 1965.

Kramer was first-team All-Pro five times and was named to three Pro Bowl teams. He was also named to the NFL’s 50th Anniversary first-team. Kramer is the ONLY member of that squad not in Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Kramer also kicked three fields goals in the windy and chilly conditions at Yankee Stadium in the 1962 NFL Championship game. Those three field goals were the difference in the game, as the Packers beat the Giants, 16-7. No. 64 received a game ball for his efforts on that blustery day.

Jerry's game ball from 1962 NFL title game

Kramer is most famous for his classic block in the 1967 NFL Championship Game, better known as the “Ice Bowl.” With 13 seconds remaining in the game and the Packers trailing 17-14 to the Dallas Cowboys, Kramer got great leverage with his block on defensive tackle Jethro Pugh, and Starr happily followed his right guard into NFL immortality by scoring the winning touchdown on a quarterback sneak.

Kramer related to me how he found out he was drafted by the Packers and Vainisi in 1958.

“I was in class at the University of Idaho when I was drafted,” Kramer said. “I came out of class and Wayne Walker, who was my classmate and who was also drafted by the Detroit Lions, told me I was drafted by Green Bay.”

Kramer had received a letter from Vainisi prior to the draft to let him know that the Packers were interested in his services.

Letter to Jerry from Jack Vainisi

Besides selecting  Gregg, Starr, Taylor and Nitschke who all ended up in Canton, Vainisi also selected center Jim Ringo in 1953 and halfback Paul Hornung in 1957, both of whom would join their teammates at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Vainisi also had a very nice draft in 1952, when he was able to select wide receiver Bill Howton, defensive back Bobby Dillon and defensive lineman Dave Hanner among others.

It was the great draft work by Vainisi in the 1950s, which set the foundation for all the championships which were won by the Packers in the 1960s under Lombardi.

Plus, it was Vainisi himself who played a big role in getting Lombardi to come to Green Bay in 1959. Vainisi called Lombardi, who was then an assistant coach with the Giants, to interview for the head coaching job in Green Bay.

That hiring of Lombardi led to five NFL championships in seven years, along with victories in the first two Super Bowls. The Packers also became the one and only team to win three consecutive titles (1965, 1966 and 1967) in the NFL, since the league went to a playoff system in 1933.

Unfortunately, Vainisi wasn’t around to witness the glorious legacy that Lombardi and many of the players he drafted would leave behind in Green Bay.

19 thoughts on “Green Bay Packers: Remembering Scout Jack Vainisi

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