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.

4 thoughts on “Green Bay Packers: Dan Devine’s Quarterback Miscalculations

  1. Pingback: Jerry Kramer Talks About Gale Gillingham | Bob Fox

  2. Pingback: Don Horn to be Inducted into the Gridiron Greats Hall of Fame | Bob Fox

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