Like the 1958 draft class of the Green Bay Packers, which I wrote about three months ago, the team also hit gold in the 1956 draft class.
This was all due to the great scouting which was done by Jack Vainisi.
Like he 1958 draft class, the selections that Vainisi made in 1956 were outstanding. Like 1958, Vainisi was able to select two players who would eventually be named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They would be right tackle Forrest Gregg (second round) and quarterback Bart Starr (17th round).
Starr won five NFL championships as a quarterback, which only Tom Brady has been able to equal. 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” on Dec. 31, 1967.
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, Vince Lombardi said, “Forrest Gregg is the finest player I ever coached!” Gregg played 14 seasons for the Packers. Gregg was the key staple in the offensive line during the Lombardi years which included such greats as Jim Ringo, Jerry Kramer, Fuzzy Thurston and Bob Skoronski.
However, only Gregg and Ringo are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which to many is a travesty, especially because of Kramer’s omission. Gregg was also named All-Pro nine times and was named to the Pro Bowl nine times as well.
Vainisi was also able to select two very solid starters in left tackle Skoronski and defensive back Hank Gremminger in the 1956 draft, and both started for the Packers for 10 years or more.
All told, Vainisi drafted six players during his tenure in Green Bay who ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They were Ringo, Gregg, Starr, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor and Ray Nitschke.
Back to the class of 1956 and specifically Skoronski. Not only did Skoronski play 11 years in the NFL with the Packers, but he was also one of the team’s captains, along with Willie Davis.
Skoronski was as steady as they came at left tackle, but was never named All-Pro and went to only one Pro Bowl. Skoronski also filled in at center during the 1964 season.
But even with the lack of recognition, Skoronski was appreciated by his coaches and teammates. One of those teammates was Kramer. I had another opportunity recently to speak with Kramer and we talked about the former Indiana Hoosier.
The play that epitomizes Skoronski’s mindset to Kramer happened in the “Ice Bowl” game at Lambeau Field. The play happened on that legendary 12-play drive, when the Packers drove 68 yards down the icy field with just 4:50 remaining in the game to score the game-winning touchdown on Starr’s quarterback sneak.
But before Starr’s sneak, there was a key play just moments before. It was first and ten for the Packers at the 11-yard line of the Cowboys. Starr called a give play to fullback Chuck Mercein. For that particular play to be successful, a couple of things had to happen.
On the play, left guard Gale Gillingham pulled right. The Packers were hoping that defensive tackle Bob Lilly would vacate his position and follow Gillingham. That indeed happened.
But Skoronski would also need to make a key block on defensive end George Andrie to give Mercein a hole to run through.
Kramer talked about that play to me.
“On that play, if Bob didn’t block [George] Andrie on that play, Mercein would get killed,” Kramer said. “It was a very difficult block, too. So Bart looked at “Ski” and asked if he could make that block before the play. And “Ski” simply said, ‘Call it, on two.’
Mercein picked up eight yards on the play, and the Packers now had the ball at the 3-yard line of the Cowboys.
“That was a huge play,” Kramer said. “I also loved Bob’s answer when Bart asked him if he could make the block. It was an absolute answer. It wasn’t a ‘Gee, I think I can.’ Or ‘Gee, I’ll give it my best shot.’ Instead it was a definite and resounding yes.
“There was absolute confidence from Ski about making that block. It was, ‘You can count on me.’ And Bob didn’t fail us.”
Kramer then talked about Skoronski the man.
“Ski is a wonderful human being. A lovely man,” Kramer said. “Very bright. An exceptional family man.”
But when it came to football, Skoronski didn’t not like criticism from his coaches, especially from head coach Vince Lombardi.
“Ski didn’t like to be chewed,” Kramer said. “He didn’t mind if Coach didn’t applaud him all the time either. Ski was just comfortable being himself and doing his job. And he did his job well, which is one of the reasons he was a team captain.”
Kramer remembered an incident in which Skoronski had to feel a bit like Rodney Dangerfield while the team was looking at film.
“So we are at this meeting looking at film and Coach Lombardi sees that Skoronski does something,” Kramer said. “Coach can’t think of Skoronski’s name though. So he goes, ‘No. 76, what the hell are you doing there!’
After the meeting Ski goes, ‘Jesus Christ! I’ve been here for eight years and he can’t even remember my name.’
Kramer also remembers a dinner when No. 64 was the emcee. Kramer introduced Skoronski at the event.
“I said that Bob was probably the best lineman on the team,” Kramer said. “Ski got the best grades from the coaches. I also said that Bob was a hell of a football player. I mentioned that he was also our captain. I also talked about the “Ice Bowl” play. I just gave him a very nice introduction.
“Later, after Bob spoke, he came up to me and said, ‘Jerry, that was really a beautiful introduction. That was really nice. I really appreciate that. You meant it, didn’t you?’
“Can you imagine hearing that? Ski was always a bit suspicious when he was complimented. But for those of us who played with him, Ski was most definitely appreciated.”