When the 1-1 Detroit Lions play the 1-1 Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday, the game will be the 2016 home opener for the Pack. Green Bay opened this season with two games on the road. The last time that the Packers had opened the year like that was way back in 1924.
The game on Sunday will also be the annual alumni game for the Packers, when former Green Bay greats will be on hand to watch the Packers.
One of the greats who will be attending is Jerry Kramer. Kramer played on five NFL championship teams with the Packers, which included the first two Super Bowls.
The Packers also won three straight NFL titles from 1965 through 1967. No team has ever duplicated that feat.
Unfortunately, a number of players from those three championship teams have passed on. The list includes Henry Jordan, Ron Kostelnik, Lionel Aldridge, Ray Nitschke, Tommy Joe Crutcher, Bob Jeter, Max McGee, Fuzzy Thurston, Elijah Pitts, Travis Williams, Gale Gillingham and Don Chandler.
The list also includes Lee Roy Caffey, who tragically passed on at the age of 52 in 1994 due to colon cancer. That same affliction cost Vince Lombardi his life at the age of 57 in 1970.
Caffey came to the Packers in 1964 in a famous trade. This was the trade when Lombardi traded center Jim Ringo and backup fullback Earl Gros to the Philadelphia Eagles for Caffey and a future No. 1 draft pick, which turned out to be Donny Anderson.
Caffey was a rookie in 1963 with the Eagles and had a fine rookie season. He had the longest interception return for a touchdown that season in the NFL, as Caffey ran one back to the house on an 87-yard jaunt. Caffey also recovered five fumbles that season.
Caffey then became a big part of the Ringo trade the next season.
The mythical story was that Lombardi traded Ringo because he was being represented by an agent. Actually, there was no agent involved, but Ringo did want a hefty pay increase, as he was coming off seven straight appearances in the Pro Bowl, as well as being named first-team All-Pro for five consecutive seasons.
But Lombardi wouldn’t meet Ringo’s demands and he made the trade. The move caused all sorts of issues on the offensive line for the Packers. Rookie center Ken Bowman wasn’t ready to play yet, so the Packers had to move left tackle Bob Skoronski to center for awhile.
In addition to that, Kramer was undergoing some intestinal issues which caused him to miss almost the entire 1964 season, as well as having to undergo nine medical procedures. It’s no wonder that the Packers started out 3-4 that season, before finally finishing 8-5-1 and missing the postseason for the second consecutive year.
Caffey immediately became a starter at right outside linebacker in ’64, opposite Dan Currie, who played left outside linebacker. Ray Nitschke manned the middle as usual.
The Packers had the No. 1 ranked defense in the NFL that season, as Caffey picked off another pass and was a great fit for the Packers at linebacker.
Before the 1965 season, Lombardi made another trade, this time sending Currie to the Los Angeles Rams for wide receiver Carroll Dale.
Replacing Currie at left outside linebacker was third-year linebacker Dave Robinson.
Over the course of the next five seasons, the trio of Caffey, Nitschke and Robinson was considered the best set of linebackers in the NFL.
From 1965 through 1969, the Packers were ranked third, third, first, third and fourth in total defense in the NFL.
Over that time period, Nitschke was named to four All-Pro teams, including first-team All-Pro by AP in 1966. Robinson was named to three All-Pro teams, including being named first-team All-Pro by AP in both 1967 and 1969. No. 89 also was named to three Pro Bowl squads
Caffey was named first-team All-Pro by AP in 1966, plus also went to the Pro Bowl in 1965.
In his career in Green Bay, Caffey had nine interceptions for 177 yards and two touchdowns.
I was there to witness one of them. It was the home opener for the Packers in 1966 and Green Bay would be facing the Baltimore Colts at County Stadium in Milwaukee on a Saturday night.
The Packers were losing 3-0 that night when Caffey made a huge play for the Pack. No. 60 picked off a Johnny Unitas pass and ran it back for a 52-yard touchdown. Not long after throwing that pick, Johnny U threw another one, this time to Bob Jeter, who also ran it back for a 46-yard touchdown. The Packers ended up winning the game 24-3.
Just three days before that game, Caffey’s daughter Jennifer was born. The pick-six by Caffey turned out to be a wonderful birthday present. Years later, Lee Roy told Jennifer that he dedicated that touchdown to her.
Caffey was also an outstanding tackler and blitzer when he played with the Packers. No. 60 was one of the heroes in the 1967 NFL title game between the Packers and the Dallas Cowboys. The game is better known as the “Ice Bowl”, as it was played in truly frozen tundra conditions at Lambeau Field. The game-time temperature was 13 degrees below zero.
Caffey had a great performance in that game. The Cowboys dominated the third period, but thanks to Caffey, Dallas never scored in that quarter. Caffey stopped one drive by forcing a Don Meredith fumble and another drive by sacking Meredith.
In the end, and in the final seconds of the game, the Packers won 21-17, thanks to the classic block by Kramer on Jethro Pugh. The block by No. 64 allowed quarterback Bart Starr to score the winning touchdown on the most famous quarterback sneak in NFL history.
Speaking of Kramer, I talked with him recently and he shared his thoughts about playing with Caffey.
“When Lee Roy joined the team, there was an immediate connection with him,” Kramer said. “He was about my size. He was friendly and always had a big ole smile. Plus he was a hell of a ballplayer.
“He was a funny guy and I really enjoyed him. Lee Roy and Tommy Joe Crutcher played at high schools in Texas which were about 40 to 50 miles apart. Tommy Joe used to bust Lee Roy’s ass all the time.
“Lee Roy went to Thorndale High school. The school mascot was the Little Red Rooster. Tommy Joe would get Lee Roy going in the locker room or on the bus when he would sing, ‘Little Red Rooster sitting on a fence. Root for Thorndale, he’s got sense.’
“Lee Roy would then shout out to Tommy Joe, ‘Damn you Crutcher!’ And then the two of them would get into it with each other a little bit. But it was all fun.
“Lee Roy was also part of our poker-playing group. I spent a lot of time with him over the years. Lee Roy also looked like me. We were mistaken for one another quite a bit.
“But Lee Roy was just a good all-around football player. He had great reflexes too. I remember walking down the sidewalk in Cleveland with him one day and a pigeon flew up while we were walking. Lee Roy instinctively jumped at it like it was a pass play, and he hit the pigeon with his hand. He didn’t catch it, but that was an amazing display of athleticism.”
In 1970, Caffey was traded once again, along with Elijah Pitts and Bob Hyland to the Chicago Bears for the second overall pick in the 1970 NFL draft. That pick turned out to be defensive tackle Mike McCoy of Notre Dame.
Caffey spent one year with the Bears and then played with the Super Bowl champion Cowboys in 1971, before finishing his NFL career with the San Diego Chargers in 1972.
But it was Green Bay where Caffey made a name for himself in the NFL. In six seasons in Titletown, Caffey showed off his athleticism time and time again at right outside linebacker for one of the NFL’s most dominant defenses.
Caffey was rewarded for that play with three championship rings, plus was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1986.