One of the strengths of the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s under head coach Vince Lombardi was the defensive secondary of the team.
In the 1966 and 1967 seasons, Adderley and Wood were joined by safety Tom Brown, along with conerback Bob Jeter.
A key reserve for the secondary on those two teams was Doug Hart, who played both cornerback and safety in his career with the Packers.
Hart started at cornerback in 1965 and then played a reserve role for the next three seasons. From 1969 through 1971, Hart started at strong safety before he retired from football after the ’71 season.
Like Wood, Hart was not drafted. He was signed by the then St. Louis Cardinals in 1963 before being released. Hart went home to Arlington, Texas and got a job at Bell Helicopters.
Right around that very same time in mid-August, the Packers were in Dallas to play the Cowboys in a preseason game. The Packers contacted Hart and had him tryout for the team by practicing that week and by playing in that game.
Hart made enough of an impression to be signed to the team’s taxi squad for the ’63 season.
I had an opportunity to talk with Hart this past week and he reflected about how he became a Packer.
“The Packers came to Dallas to play the Cowboys in a preseason game,” Hart recalled. “Pat Peppler (personnel director) of the Packers called and told me that Green Bay wanted me to try out.
“I also had to meet Coach Lombardi, who was at the team hotel. I told Coach that I didn’t want to try out and get cut again. Lombardi said, ‘Okay. Let’s see what you can do.’
“I played in the last quarter of the preseason game and did okay. After the game, Phil Bengtson (defensive coordinator) came up to me and said, ‘We want you to come back to Green Bay with us.’
“That’s how it all started.”
In 1964, Hart made the actual roster and played behind a cornerback who also went to Texas-Arlington. That player was Jesse Whittenton.
After Whittenton retired after that season, Hart became a starter at right cornerback in 1965, when he had four interceptions. The Packers won the first of three straight NFL titles that season.
In his career with the Packers, Hart picked off 15 passes, three of which were returned for touchdowns. No. 43 also recovered five fumbles and also returned one of those for a score. Hart also scored another touchdown after a blocked kick, plus also had a safety in his last year with the Packers in 1971.
One of the players who associated with Hart quite often while he was with the Packers was guard Jerry Kramer. Hart would often hunt and fish with No. 64, plus was part of the gang who used to play poker as often as possible.
I also talked with Kramer recently and he shared some of his memories about his time with Hart back in the day.
“We called him Little Brother,” Kramer said speaking of Hart. “Anything you wanted to do, he wanted to do it with you. If you wanted to go bow-hunting, he wanted to go bow-hunting. If you wanted to go fishing, he would go fishing with you. If you wanted to go golfing or shotgunning or whatever the hell you wanted to do, Doug wanted to go.”
That also included being part of the poker club.
“Doug was one of the regulars,” Kramer said. “The group included Fuzzy and I, Ski (Bob Skoronski), Ron Kostelnik, Tommy Joe Crutcher and Lee Roy Caffey. It was different guys at different times, but that was the base.
“I bought a poker table after the first Super Bowl. It was a beautiful oak poker table with seven chairs. I still have the table in my basement at home.
“Coach Lombardi arranged our lives so it seemed like we didn’t have more than an hour free. We would play poker when we got on the plane. Most planes at that time had a table in the back of the plane and that’s where we played when we would fly to away games. Sort of like a cocktail table I guess.
“Just the poker players would sit there. Jim Taylor played quite a bit with us too. So we would get to our destination and get on the bus and play poker until we got to the stadium to practice. Then we would get on the bus to the hotel and play poker again. And then at the hotel we would go to somebody’s room and play poker again until dinner time.
“Dinner was at 6:00 or 6:30 and Coach would have a meeting like from 7:30 to 9:00. Because curfew was at 11:00, we didn’t usually go out anywhere, but instead usually played poker again.
“Everyone had a little saying at the poker table as well. Little Brother (Hart) used to say, ‘My daddy used to say stick and play and it’s bound to pay.’ And we would say, your daddy’s right, put your money in and stick around as long as you can!”
Hart was also a great teammate. The mantra of those great Packer teams of the ’60s was all for one and one for all. Fuzzy Thurston proved that when he was coaching up Gale Gillingham after Thurston had injured his knee and Gillingham became a starter at left guard in the 1967 season.
Hart did the same thing in 1966, when Jeter became the starter at right cornerback.
Kramer recalled that situation.
“Doug would sit besides Jeter when we would watch film, just like Fuzzy did with Gilly in ’67,” Kramer said. “They would discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the various receivers. What to look out for in this formation and that this guy liked to do this and that guy liked to do that. Doug just opened up his mind and gave it all to Jeter.”
Hart also recalled that scenario.
“Bobby was really a great player,” Hart said. “He could move easily and he was aggressive. Bobby was also intelligent and he was just made for the job. It was easy to help him out.”
Even though Hart was not a starter in 1966, I was at one of the games when Hart returned an interception for a touchdown that season. The Packers were taking on the expansion Atlanta Falcons at Milwaukee County Stadium. The Packers throttled the Falcons 56-3, as Hart returned a pick for 40 yards and a score in that game.
That was also the game where another Texan, rookie running back Donny Anderson, returned a punt for 77 yards and a score.
Hart and Kramer still get together on occasion. That includes time hunting, fishing and golfing. Kramer who lives in Boise, Idaho, often gets to Green Bay, where he sometimes connects with Hart, who lives now in the Minneapolis area.
“Doug and I have been going fishing for the past six or seven years,” Kramer said. “We’ve fished in Florida, we’ve fished in Idaho and also in Wisconsin. In fact, Doug is supposed to be coming out to Idaho late in November or early December for some steelhead fishing.”
Kramer and Hart have been friends for 53 years now. That friendship blossomed under the watch of Coach Lombardi and still lasts to this day.
Hart talked about that brotherhood that grew among the players who also became multiple champions in their sport.
“We had a great comradery as players,” Hart said. “It all started with Coach Lombardi. We enjoyed playing together and we also enjoyed hanging around together off the field. It was truly an enjoyable time in my life. And it still is.”