The Legacy of Vince Lombardi in the NFL

Lombardi celebrates 1966 NFL title

Vince Lombardi got his first taste of the NFL, when he became an offensive assistant under Jim Lee Howell of the New York Giants in 1954. Before then, Lombardi built his coaching resume by coaching at St. Cecilia in New Jersey for eight years (five as head coach), two years at Fordham University (his alma mater) and five years at Army under legendary head coach Red Blaik.

Lombardi was basically the offensive coordinator for the Giants under Howell, as he built the offense of the G-Men around running back Frank Gifford. In the five years Lombardi was running the offense for the Giants, the team became very successful. In 1956, the Giants won the NFL title and Gifford was the NFL MVP. In Lombardi’s last year in New York, the Giants played the Baltimore Colts in the NFL title game, but lost 23-17 in sudden-death overtime.

By then, Lombardi’s coaching talent was well known throughout the NFL and he was endorsed by both Paul Brown of the Cleveland Browns and George Halas of the Chicago Bears for the head coaching job with the Green Bay Packers. A meeting between Lombardi and the Packers was arranged by Jack Vainisi, who was in charge of scouting in Green Bay, and before long, Lombardi was hired as both head coach and general manager of the Packers starting in 1959.

The Packers had finished 1-10-1 the year before Lombardi arrived in Green Bay. Plus, the 1950s as a whole had been an abysmal decade for the Packers, as the team was just 32-74-2 before Lombardi came to town in 1959.

As bad as the results were on the field, Vainisi had accumulated a lot of talent for the Packers in the NFL draft in the years prior to Lombardi’s arrival. Vainisi had drafted players like Bill Howton, Bobby Dillon, Dave Hanner, Bill Forrester, Jim Ringo, Max McGee, Forrest Gregg, Bob Skoronski, Hank Gremminger, Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Ron Kramer, John Symank, Dan Currie, Jim Taylor, Ray Nitschke and Jerry Kramer.

All told, Vainisi drafted six players (Ringo, Gregg, Starr, Hornung, Taylor and Nitschke) who would later be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, while two other players, Jerry Kramer and Dillon, certainly belong in Canton as well.

When Lombardi looked at the film of the offense of the Packers from 1958, one player in particular caught his eye. It was Hornung.

When I talked to Jerry Kramer about the arrival of Lombardi in Green Bay, he made a point of talking about why Lombardi was so enamored with Hornung.

“When you talk about Paul, you have to remember how critical he was in the decision that coach Lombardi made to come to Green Bay,” Kramer said. “If you think back, Bart Starr was methane. He was colorless, odorless, tasteless and virtually invisible. We didn’t know who Bart was then.

“Bart was competing with a few other guys like Babe Parilli, Joe Francis and Lamar McHan. Bart was back and forth the first couple of years after Lombardi became the coach.

“But I do remember Lombardi saying, ‘That Hornung was going to be his Gifford.’ And remember how critical the sweep was to the Lombardi offense.

Paul Hornung vs. the Colts

“As coach said quite often, ‘This is a play we will make go. This is a play we must make go. We will run it again and again and again.’

“So Hornung may have been the key to getting Lombardi to come to Green Bay.”

The power sweep was indeed the signature play for the Packers under Lombardi. The early success for the Packers running that play supports Kramer’s supposition. For one thing, the power sweep averaged 8.3 yards-per-carry the first three years the Packers utilized the play.

The Packers became a force in the running game during that time, as the team averaged 178 yards a game on the ground from 1959-1961. Taylor gained 2,860 yards during that time, but Hornung was the star of the offense for many reasons those first three seasons under Lombardi.

During that same time, Hornung gained 1,949 yards rushing, plus scored a whopping 28 touchdowns on the ground. No. 5 was also the kicker for the Packers and Hornung led the NFL in scoring for three consecutive years from 1959 through 1961.

Like Gifford did in 1956, Hornung won the NFL MVP in 1961, as the Packers won their first NFL title under Lombardi, as the Packers beat the Giants 37-0 in the first NFL championship game ever played in Green Bay. Hornung scored 19 points in that game just by himself.

Winning became a habit in Green Bay under Lombardi’s leadership. In Lombardi’s first year with the Packers in 1959, the team finished 7-5, which was the first winning record for the team since 1947.

The Packers went on to an 8-4 record and the Western Conference title in 1960, but lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1960 NFL title game 17-13. The game ended with Taylor being tackled on the Eagles’ 10-yard line by Chuck Bednarik as time ran out. That would be the only loss that Lombardi and his Packers would ever have in the postseason.

In the regular season during his tenure in Green Bay as head coach, the Packers were 89-24-4, plus won six Western Conference titles. But it was in the postseason that Lombardi and his team really shined. After that loss to the Eagles, the Packers went on to win nine straight playoff games, which included five NFL championships and the first two Super Bowls.

That included winning three straight NFL titles from 1965-67. No team in the modern era of the NFL has ever duplicated that.

Is there any doubt as to why the Super Bowl trophy is named after Lombardi?

After spending a year as just the general manager of the Packers in 1968, Lombardi left Green Bay to become the head coach of the Washington Redskins in 1969. The team went 7-5-2 that year, which was the first winning record for the Redskins in 14 years.

Lombardi tragically died of colon cancer in 1970, at the young age of 57. A year later, Lombardi was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

There is no doubt that Lombardi was the best of the best in terms of being a football coach, but he was more than that. He was also a leader of men, both on and off the football field.

Just ask Kramer.

“Coach Lombardi had a tremendous impact on my life,” Kramer said. “The fundamentals that he taught us were fundamentals for life. They were about football, but also about business or anything else you wanted to achieve.

“You would use the Lombardi principles. He believed in paying the price. He believed in hard work and making sacrifices for the betterment of the team. His principles were preparation, commitment, consistency, discipline, character, pride, tenacity and perseverance.

“Those things are still helping me today.”

Vince and Jerry IV

Kramer also talked about Lombardi’s doctrine about life in general.

“Coach Lombardi use to share a philosophy about life with us,” Kramer said. “He said, ‘After the game is over, the stadium lights are out, the parking lot is empty, the fans have all gone home, the press has done their job and released their information, you are finally back in the quiet of your own room looking at the championship ring on the dresser. The only thing left after that was to have a standard of excellence in your life. Make sure that the world is a better place because you were in it.’

“The coach taught us to leave a positive impact on society,” Kramer said. “The world would be a much better place if we did that. That’s what I have tried to do all these years.”

Kramer then talked about Lombardi’s background which helped him achieve great success in the NFL.

“Coach Lombardi read ancient Greek and Latin, plus taught chemistry and algebra,” Kramer said. “He was a very bright man. In a lot of ways, he was more like a teacher, as opposed to a coach. He believed that he was a teacher, first and foremost. For him, teaching and coaching were one in the same.”

Yes, Vincent Thomas Lombardi was a great coach and a great teacher. But he had an additional attribute. He was also a great man. A man who molded great football players to be sure, but more importantly than that, he molded great people.

Jerry Kramer and so many other men who played under Lombardi are a testament to that.

Why Jerry Kramer Belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Jerry on a knee

Around the third week of August, the Senior Selection Committee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame will make their one and only Senior nomination for possible inclusion for the Class of 2017 in Canton.

Normally there are two Senior candidates nominated, but this year there will be two Contributor nominees, which is part of a five-year temporary process which allows a Contributor- defined as an individual who has “made outstanding contributions to professional football in capacities other than playing or coaching”, a chance to get in the Hall of Fame.

This is the third year of this process, which allows two Contributor finalists in years one (starting with the Class of 2015), three and five, of the next five years. In years two and four of that same period, there will be just one Contributor finalist. At the end of the five-year period, the number of Contributor finalists going forward will be one per year.

To keep the maximum number of nominees elected at no more than eight per year, the Senior finalists will be reduced from two to one per year in years one, three and five of the same five-year period. In years two and four and each year thereafter, there will be two Senior finalists, as is now the practice.

I’ve talked to Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News, who happens to be on both the Senior Select Committee and the Contributor Committee and he disagrees with this current process. Gosselin believes that there are far too many Senior candidates who deserve a bust in the Hall of Fame, as opposed to the number of Contributors who the Hall of Fame should consider.

One of those Senior candidates is Jerry Kramer.

There is absolutely no doubt that Kramer had a superb 11-year career with the Green Bay Packers. Not just in the regular season, but also in the postseason when the lights are the brightest and the pressure to win is extremely high.

Especially when your head coach was named Vince Lombardi.

In his career with the Packers, Kramer was a five-time (first team) All-Pro and was also named to three Pro Bowls. No. 64 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 was also named to the NFL All-Decade team for the 1960s, plus he was also a member of the NFL’s 50th anniversary team in 1969, where he was the lone offensive guard on that illustrious squad.

Kramer is the only member of that 50th anniversary first team not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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

In addition to that, the Packers became the only team in the modern NFL to win three straight NFL titles, when Green Bay won it all in 1965, 1966 and 1967.

No. 64 played a big part in a number of those championship game victories.

In the 1962 NFL Championship Game versus the New York Giants at 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.

The Packers rushed for 204 yards behind Taylor and halfback Paul Hornung, 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, mowing down defenders so the Packers gained big chunks of yardage on the ground.

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” found the end zone.

In the 1966 NFL Championship Game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, the Packers outlasted the Cowboys 34-27. Kramer and the rest of the offensive line had a large impact in that victory, as quarterback Bart Starr threw for 304 yards and had four touchdown passes, plus the running game picked up an additional 102 yards.

In the 1967 NFL Championship Game (better known as the “Ice Bowl”) versus the Cowboys at frigid Lambeau Field, 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.

Jerry's block on Jethro

In the closing moments of the game, down by a score of 17-14,  the Packers had to drive 68 yards down the frozen field to either tie or win the game.

It all came down to 13 seconds to go with no timeouts at the 1-yard line of the Cowboys. The Packers could have kicked a field goal at that point to tie the game at 17-17.

But coach Lombardi decided to go for the win. If the Packers run the ball and are stopped short of the end zone, the game is over.

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 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.

Even with all that, Kramer has not yet been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Between 1974 and 1987, Kramer was a finalist for induction into Canton nine times. That in itself tells you that Kramer was a tremendous player.

But as this was going on, a lot of Kramer’s teammates with the Packers were getting inducted. This included players like Taylor, Starr, Hornung, Forrest Gregg, Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderley, Willie Davis and Jim Ringo.

But Kramer’s name was never called for induction. In 1989, another former teammate was inducted. Safety Willie Wood finally heard his name called, after also being a finalist nine times, just like Kramer.

In all, Kramer has seen 11 of his former teammates get inducted, as well as his legendary head coach, yet Kramer still waits.

In 1997, Kramer was a Senior finalist, but once again he did not get the votes necessary for induction. So, why is that?

It’s hard to fathom the reasons why. It really is. But let’s try. Cliff Christl, who was the long-time Green Bay representative as a voter for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and is now the official historian for the Packers, wrote an article in 2014 which attempted to give the reasons why Kramer has not yet been inducted.

Basically, here are the reasons that Christl has heard through the grapevine as to why Kramer is still not in Canton:

1) There are too many Lombardi-era Packers are already in the Hall of Fame.

2) Kramer may have struggled against Merlin Olsen and Alex Karras.

3) Kramer may not be the best Lombardi-era offensive linemen not in the Hall of Fame.

Let me address each point.

As to the issue that there are too many Lombardi-era Packers in Canton, I have already addressed just how important Kramer was to the success for the Packers, not just in the regular season, but also in the postseason.

One could make an argument that the Packers don’t win the 1962 and 1967 NFL title games if it wasn’t for the great contribution by Kramer. How would the great legacy of Lombardi and his Packers look if they only won three NFL championships in seven years, as opposed to five?

The three field goals that Kramer kicked in very gusty conditions in the 1962 title game at Yankee Stadium were the difference in the outcome of that 16-7 game.

Plus there wouldn’t have been the three straight NFL titles without that epic block by Kramer in the “Ice Bowl” as the closing seconds of that classic game were running down.

In terms of struggling versus Olsen and Karras, I would disagree. First off, both Olsen and Karras were the two best defensive tackles in the NFL in the 1960s. That is why they are on the All-Decade team at that position, along with Bob Lilly of the Cowboys. But Kramer was also on that team at right guard and he had nice success against both Olsen and Karras.

Yes, there were times when the two got the best of Kramer, but that is what they did on a consistent basis with all the right guards in the NFL. In the games where Kramer was matched up against Karras, the Packers won nine games, lost five and tied three with Detroit. The Lions were the biggest threat to Green Bay in the early 1960s, as they finished second to the Packers in the Western Division three straight years from 1960-1962.

Merlin Olsen vs. the Pack

When Kramer and the Packers went up against Olsen and his Los Angeles Rams in the regular season, Green Bay won seven games and lost just three against the Rams. Plus, the Packers also beat the Rams 28-7 in the 1967 Western Conference Championship Game in Milwaukee. Kramer did not allow a sack to Olsen in that game, plus the Packers piled up 163 rushing yards and 222 passing yards.

Plus there is the fact that both Olsen and Karras have endorsed Kramer for the Hall of Fame.

Olsen is considered by many to be the best defensive tackle of all time. Olsen went to 14 Pro Bowls, which is the all-time NFL record shared by Bruce Matthews, the uncle of Clay Matthews of the Packers.

Olsen 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.”

There are also quite a number of Kramer’s contemporaries who are already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame who likewise believe Kramer belongs in Canton. Randy Simon has put together a great book that shows all the endorsements.

They come from teammates like Starr, Hornung and Davis, along with players like Lilly, Frank Gifford, Chuck Bednarik, Doug Atkins, Alan Page, Joe Schmidt, John Mackey, Raymond Berry, Mel Renfro, Mike Ditka, Jim Otto, Tom Mack, Dave Wilcox, Tommy McDonald and Lem Barney.

In addressing the final point that Christl mentioned in his story about whether Kramer may not be the best Lombardi-era offensive linemen not in the Hall of Fame, I would fervently disagree.

I certainly agree that Thurston was an excellent left guard for the Packers. In his career, Fuzzy was an AP All-Pro once, but he unbelievably never went to a Pro Bowl. Bob Skoronski was a solid left tackle in Green Bay but was never All-Pro and only went to one Pro Bowl. Both Thurston and Skoronski were very good offensive linemen for the Packers, but they were not up to the level of Kramer overall.

Now guard Gale Gillingham did have a Hall of Fame career in my opinion. He was All-Pro a number of times and went to five Pro Bowls. Most of that was done after Lombardi left Green Bay, however.

As much as Gillingham deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Kramer needs to get in first for all he has accomplished, much of which was done well before Gillingham became a starter in 1967.

The bottom line is that Jerry Kramer should have been inducted into the Hall of Fame decades ago along with the rest of his teammates. No. 64’s importance and contributions to those great Packer teams under Lombardi have been noted.

Until the Senior Selection Committee and the rest of the voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame right this wrong about Kramer and his place in NFL history, there will always be a dark cloud which will hover over that prestigious building in Canton.

Gosselin said this about the issue in one of his chats with his readers at the Dallas Morning News:

“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?”

I couldn’t have said it better, Rick.

The NFL’s 50th anniversary team was named 47 years ago. Kramer became eligible for induction five years later. That means Kramer has patiently waited 42 years for the Pro Football Hall of Fame to open it’s doors for him.

Vince and Jerry IV

Kramer has remained classy and stoic throughout this ordeal. When I talked with him recently, Kramer told me that he sees the glass as half-full, talking about his football life and his time with Coach Lombardi.

“I’ve pretty much accepted the fact that it’s [his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame] not going to happen,” Kramer said. “I’ve gotten along fine without it. I still feel that…I’m going to pull a Lou Gehrig on you…that I’m one of the luckiest guys in the world.

“The opportunity to play for Coach Lombardi and the timing of it was just so perfect. I arrived one year before him, played nine years with him as coach and then one year while he was the GM. I was really able to watch his impact and learn from his philosophies, beliefs and principles. It was as much an education, as it was an experience.

“I was very fortunate to have been a part of that.”

Speaking of Coach Lombardi, and before I spoke to Kramer, I found a quote from Lombardi talking about Kramer from 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.”

I told Kramer about that quote and asked if he had heard it before.

“I think I have,” Kramer said. “But coming from that source, it’s always nice to hear it again.”

I only wish the Senior Selection Committee and the rest of the voters at the Pro Football Hall of Fame would heed the words of Lombardi and many, many others. Besides all the great salutations Kramer has received from his peers, the bottom line is that he was the best player at his position when he played in the NFL.

Not just in the regular season, but in the bright lights of the postseason as well when his team was so dominant. Kramer played a huge role in championship legacy of the Packers in the 1960s.

Which is why he was named to the NFL’s 50th anniversary team in 1969.

It is high time that Kramer gets the honor which he so richly deserves. That being, induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a place where the best of the best get recognized.

And Kramer was the best of the best.

Green Bay Packers: Dan Devine’s Quarterback Miscalculations

Dan Devine

When it comes to having great quarterbacks, Packer Nation has been pretty spoiled. Since 1992 up until today, the Packers have been led under center primarily by Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.

Starting in 1992, Favre had 160 wins over 16 seasons, with 96 of those wins occurring at Lambeau Field (.762 winning percentage).

The former Southern Miss gunslinger also started 253 straight games (275 including the postseason) for the Pack in his career in Green Bay.

Favre also threw 442 touchdown passes for 61,655 yards while he was a Packer and also won three straight NFL MVP awards in 1995, 1996 and 1997.

The Packers went to the postseason 11 times under Favre and won the NFC Central/North seven times.

The big prize was the victory in Super Bowl XXXI.

Favre also had his No. 4 jersey retired by the Packers, plus was also inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016.

Rodgers took the reins at quarterback in 2008 after Favre and the Packers had a messy divorce. No. 12 has kept the winning ways of his predecessor intact.

Rodgers has a 80-39 record as a starting quarterback and has led the Packers to four NFC North crowns.

Rodgers has also led the Packers to seven straight appearances in the postseason.

Like Favre, Rodgers has won multiple NFL MVP awards, as he won the honor in 2011 and 2014.

Rodgers is also the highest rated passer in the history of the NFL with a 104.1 mark.

Rodgers also led the Packers to a victory in Super Bowl XLV, when he was named MVP of that game.

Then there was the Bart Starr era. In the 1960s under head coach Vince Lombardi, Starr led the Packers to five NFL titles in seven years, which includes the first two Super Bowls.

Starr was NFL MVP in 1966, plus was also the MVP in both Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II.

The former Alabama Crimson Tide star was 94-57-6 as a starting quarterback with the Packers and was an amazing 9-1 in the postseason.

No. 15 also had his jersey retired by the Packers and was also inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.

Bart, Brett and Aaron

The wins and postseason appearances were hard to find between the Starr era and the one that began in 1992 with the arrival of Favre.

So was the uneven play at the quarterback position. Nothing illustrated that more than the play at quarterback during the Dan Devine era from 1971 through 1974.

Devine became head coach and general manager of the Packers in January of 1971. That was about three weeks after Phil Bengtson resigned from both positions.

Devine had three quarterbacks on the roster at the time he was hired. One was Starr, who was physically a shadow of his former self due to a shoulder injury. Plus, there was also Don Horn, who had played very well for the most part when given the chance to play from 1967 through 1970.

In addition to Starr and Horn, there was Frank Patrick, who only played sparingly.

Horn looked to be the quarterback of the future under Devine. Horn had been 4-2 as a starter in 1969 and 1970. No. 13 was remembered most for the performances he had versus the Chicago Bears in the last game of the 1968 season at Wrigley Field in relief of Zeke Bratkowski and also the game he had against the St. Louis Cardinals in the last game of the 1969 season at Lambeau Field.

In the game against the Bears in 1968, the Packers were already eliminated from the NFL Central Division race and had a 5-7-1 record going into the game. Da Bears, on the other hand, were 7-6, and a win would give them the NFL Central title.

Bratkowski started the game but was injured and Horn came into the game as a surprise backup, as Billy Stevens was also an option. Horn had just gotten out of the Army 10 days earlier and he had missed most of the season up to that point due to his stint with Uncle Sam.

When the game was over, the Packers had beaten the Bears 28-27. Horn ended up throwing for 187 yards, plus had two touchdown passes without throwing a pick. Horn’s quarterback rating for that game was 142.4.

Don Horn

Then came the 1969 season. Horn started five games that year, with the Packers winning four of those games. The capper was the final game against the Cardinals.

That game was also the day the Packers honored Willie Davis, as No. 87 had announced that he was retiring after the season.

The Packers whipped the Cardinals in that game, 45-28. Horn had a fantastic performance, as he threw for 410 yards and also threw five touchdown passes. At the time, Horn was the first quarterback of the Packers to ever throw for more than 400 passing yards.

1970 was not a particularly good year for Horn or the Packers, which led to Bengtson’s resignation and the hiring of Devine.

Horn told me about a conversation he had with Devine about a week before the 1971 NFL draft.  Horn told Devine that he was happy in Green Bay and wanted to get his contract situation resolved and was looking forward to working with the former Missouri head coach. Devine seemed pleased with the discussion and told Horn he would fly him into Green Bay after the draft to get a new contract done.

But on the morning of the draft, Horn received a phone call from Devine. In a very short conversation to the best of Horn’s recollection, Devine said this, “Don, this is Coach Devine. I’m just calling you to let you know that I just traded you to the Denver Broncos. Good luck.”

That was the end of Horn’s career in Green Bay. And that also started the merry-go-round of quarterbacks under Devine in Green Bay.

In the 1971 NFL draft, Devine did draft quarterback Scott Hunter of Alabama in the sixth round. Although Hunter had broken a number of Joe Namath’s passing records at Alabama, he had also suffered a shoulder injury which hindered his development in the NFL.

To bolster his depth at the quarterback position, Devine also traded a third-round draft pick to the Minnesota Vikings to get back Bratkowski. That would be the first of five trades Devine would make to get another quarterback in his tenure in Green Bay.

In the 1971 season, when the Packers went 4-8-2, the cumulative passer rating of the Packers was 48.4. Bratkowski led the way with an 80. 7 mark, as he threw four touchdown passes versus three picks for 298 yards. Bratkowski started only one game due to injury that year.

Hunter was next with a 46.1 rating, as he threw seven touchdown passed versus 17 interceptions for 1,210 yard in 10 starts.

In three starts, it was quite apparent that Starr was playing hurt with his shoulder woes. No. 15 had a passer rating of 45.2, as he didn’t throw one touchdown pass, but did toss three picks for a total of 286 yards.

After the 1971 season, both Starr and Bratkowski retired, so Devine needed to add to the quarterback depth chart. With his second first-round pick (overall pick No. 11) of the 1972 NFL draft, Devine selected Green Bay native and former Nebraska star Jerry Tagge.

Although the Packers won the 1972 NFC Central Division with a 10-4 record, the success was mostly due to a great running attack led by John Brockington and MacArthur Lane, plus a very solid and opportunistic defense.

The quarterback play improved slightly, as the Packers had a cumulative 58.6 passer rating, as Starr was Devine’s quarterback coach for the 1972 season only. Hunter started all 14 games and threw six touchdown passes versus nine picks for 1,252 yards and a passer rating of 55.5.

Tagge had limited playing time, as he completed just 10-of-29 passes for 154 yards with no touchdown passes or interceptions.

After the Packers were beaten by the Washington Redskins 16-3 in the 1972 postseason, when Washington dared the Packers to throw the ball, Devine decided that more change was coming to the quarterback position.

Packers-Redskins Playoff game in 1972

That was when Devine made his second trade to acquire another quarterback in the offseason. Devine trade two second-round picks to the Miami Dolphins for Jim Del Gaizo.

The Packers struggled to 5-7-2 record in 1973 and the bad quarterback play was a big reason why. As a team, the Packers had a passer rating of 46.9.

Tagge had five starts at quarterback and had a passer rating of 53.2. No. 17 threw two touchdown passes versus seven interceptions for 720 yards.

Hunter had six starts and had a quarterback rating of 46.8. No. 16 also threw just two touchdown passes versus four picks for 442 yards.

Then there was Del Gaizo. The former Dolphin also threw just two touchdown passes versus six interceptions for 318 yards. That led to an abysmal passer rating of 30.9.

After the lack of production at quarterback for his entire tenure in Green Bay, one could sense that Devine started to panic, especially when one looks at the trades he made to find a quarterback who could lead the Packers in 1974.

First, he traded Hunter to the Buffalo Bills. Then he traded a fifth-round pick to the Dallas Cowboys for Jack Concannon. But Devine wasn’t done just yet.

He also traded a third-round pick to the Kansas City Chiefs for Dean Carlson. Finally Devine made a trade that will live on in Green Bay infamy. He traded two first-round picks, two second-round picks and one third-round pick for aging veteran John Hadl of the Los Angeles Rams.

So, what did those trades do for the Packers in 1974? Not much. The Packers finished 6-8 and once again the passer rating for the team was horrid, as it was 47.6.

Hadl started six games after he was acquired after the midway point of the ’74 season. Hadl threw three touchdown passes versus eight picks for 1,072 yards. That adds up to a 54.0 passer rating.

In 1975, after Devine has resigned to become the head coach at Notre Dame and had been replaced by Starr as head coach and general manager, Hadl was even worse. No. 21 threw six touchdown passes versus a whopping 21 picks for 2,095 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 52.8.

Meanwhile, the ridiculous trade made by Devine to get Hadl, not only set the Packers back in 1974, but also the first two years of the Starr regime in the draft.

John Hadl

Besides Hadl’s sorry performance in 1974, Tagge was even worse in six starts, if you can believe that. Tagge threw just one touchdown pass versus 10 interceptions for 709 yards and a 36.0 passer rating.

Concannon also started a couple of games in 1974, as he threw one touchdown pass versus three picks for 381 yards and a 57.7 passer rating.

All told, Devine just didn’t have the eye for quarterback talent in Green Bay. First, he traded a guy who had some real talent in Horn without even giving him a chance.

Devine also drafted Hunter and Tagge. Both were given ample opportunities to succeed, but never did.

But it was the five trades that Devine made to acquire other quarterbacks which really set the Green Bay franchise back. In trading for Bratkowski, Del Gaizo, Concannon, Carlson and Hadl, Devine gave up two first-round picks, four second-round picks, three third-round picks and a fifth-round pick.

Together those five quarterbacks contributed 10 touchdown passes and 20 picks when they played under Devine. They were also 4-8 as starters.

Bottom line, the great play by Starr, Favre and Rodgers during their time in Green Bay has been a real delight to Packer Nation.

But the opposite held true in the Devine era in Green Bay, when it seemed like a never-ending Twilight Zone episode was on from 1971-1974 at the quarterback position.

Green Bay Packers: Vince Lombardi Was the Very Best in His Dual Roles as Head Coach and General Manager

Vince at the Ice Bowl

To illustrate that Vince Lombardi was the greatest coach in NFL history, it’s quite apropos that his name is on the Super Bowl trophy that is awarded each year to the NFL champion. That tells you all you need to know about his excellence as a head coach.

That’s what happens when you coach a team to five NFL titles in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls.

Lombardi had a .754 winning percentage in the regular season as head coach of the Packers, as the team had an 89-29-4 record over nine years.

But in the postseason, the Packers really shined under Lombardi, as the team went 9-1.

Lombardi liked to win. That is obvious. Even in the preseason. Vince had a 42-8 record in those games as well.

Lombardi inherited a team that went 1-10-1 in 1958. That team also had a lot of untapped talent then. On that squad were a number of players who would later be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Players like center Jim Ringo, offensive tackle Forrest Gregg, quarterback Bart Starr, halfback Paul Hornung, fullback Jim Taylor and middle linebacker Ray Nitschke.

That’s six players who are now in Canton who were already on the roster when Lombardi took over the team in 1959. There should be a seventh player. That would be right guard Jerry Kramer, who should have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame decades ago due to his stellar play.

Vince and Jerry IV

Lombardi took that 1-10-1 team from 1958 and immediately brought a winning tradition to Green Bay.

In 1959 the Packers went 7-5 under Lombardi. A year later they played in the NFL championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles. That would be the only postseason game Lombardi and his Packers ever lost.

Then came the run starting in 1961 of seven years that brought five NFL titles, including the first two Super Bowl wins.

The excellence of those teams was helped a great deal by the players Lombardi had inherited when he joined the team. But he also added to that excellence by acquiring some great talent himself through the draft and trades, plus free agent and waiver acquisitions as general manager.

First, let’s look at the trades and the other additions to the roster.

In 1959, Lombardi made several trades. Three of the players Lombardi acquired were left guard Fuzzy Thurston, safety Emlen Tunnell and defensive tackle Henry Jordan.

Thurston, along with Kramer, were the best set of guards in the NFL for several years. The staple play of the Lombardi Packers was the power sweep, and the success of that play was largely due to the great blocking by Thurston and Kramer.

Tunnell was near the end of his career when Lombardi acquired him, but he helped mentor a young safety named Willie Wood, who Lombardi signed as a free agent in 1960. Wood, like Tunnell, would be later inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame because of his hard-hitting presence and his ball-hawking ability.

Jordan also was inducted into the Hall of Fame because of his great play on the inside of the defensive line for several years.

Lombardi celebrates 1966 NFL title

In 1960, Lombardi also acquired defensive end Willie Davis from the Cleveland Browns, the same team which had traded Jordan to the Packers. Davis also would later be enshrined in Canton because of his dominance at defensive end.

In 1963, Lombardi picked up Zeke Bratkowski on waivers, and he later became the ideal back up to Starr at quarterback for a number of seasons.

In 1965, Lombardi made three key trades which would help the Packers win three consecutive NFL titles from 1965-67. Vince acquired outside linebacker Lee Roy Caffey, kicker Don Chandler and wide receiver Carroll Dale in three separate deals.

All three of those players played big roles in the Packers winning those three consecutive titles.

In 1967, Lombardi’s last season as head coach of the Packers, he also picked up free agent fullback Chuck Mercein, who played a huge role in the success of the team late in the season and the postseason.

In the draft, Lombardi could also spot talent. In 1961, he drafted a halfback from Michigan State named Herb Adderley in the first round. Lombardi later turned Adderley into a cornerback, and Herb’s fantastic career also got him enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Adderley was the best cover-corner in the NFL in the 1960s. Not only was he great in coverage and in picking off the ball, No. 26 could also deliver a vicious blow to opposing players.

In the first round in 1963, Lombardi drafted linebacker Dave Robinson. Robinson also has a bust in Canton now, as he, Nitschke and Caffey were the best set of linebackers in the NFL for a number of years.

Vince and the Pack at Super Bowl I

In 1966, one of Lombardi’s two first-round draft picks was Gale Gillingham. Like Kramer, Gillingham was one of the elite guards of his era, and he also belongs in Canton.

Lombardi also drafted other players who also played a big part in the success of the Packers under his watch. The list includes running back Tom Moore, cornerback Bob Jeter, defensive tackle Ron Kostelnik, halfback Elijah Pitts, safety Tom Brown, defensive end Lionel Aldridge, tight end Marv Fleming, center Ken Bowman, halfback Donny Anderson, fullback Jim Grabowski and halfback/kick returner Travis Williams.

Bottom line, we all know that Vince Lombardi was the best of the best as a head coach. His record of excellence proves that.

But he deserves even more recognition because of his prowess as a general manager as well.