Green Bay Packers: Getting Into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Has Not Been an Easy Process for Some

hall of fame packer logo 2

With the induction of Brett Favre to the Class of 2016 for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Green Bay Packers now have 24 individuals who have busts in Canton.

Those individuals are Curly Lambeau (Class of 1963), Robert “Cal” Hubbard (Class of 1963), Don Hutson (Class of 1963), Johnny “Blood” McNally (Class of 1963), Clarke Hinkle (Class of 1964), Mike Michalske (Class of 1964), Arnie Herber (Class of 1966), Vince Lombardi (Class of 1971), Tony Canadeo (Class of 1974), Jim Taylor (Class of 1976), Forrest Gregg (Class of 1977), Bart Starr (Class of 1977), Ray Nitschke (Class of 1978), Herb Adderley (Classof 1980), Willie Davis (Class of 1981), Jim Ringo (Class of 1981), Paul Hornung (Class of 1986), Willie Wood (Class of 1989), Henry Jordan (Class of 1995), James Lofton (Class of 2003), Reggie White (Class of 2006), Dave Robinson (Class of 2013), Ron Wolf (Class of 2015) and Favre.

In addition, there are five other players who ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and who briefly played for the Packers for a period of time. Those players are Walt Kiesling (Class of 1966), Emlen Tunnell (Class of 1967), Len Ford (Class of 1976), Ted Hendricks (Class of 1990) and Jan Stenerud (Class of 1991).

Only the Chicago Bears have more individuals in Canton now, as da Bears have 27 enshrinees. Following the Bears and the Packers are the Pittsburgh Steelers (21), New York Giants (20), Washington Redskins (19) and Los Angeles Rams (18).

Prior to 1970, there was not a “Finalist” designation like there is now when they vote on a particular class.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame became an entity in 1963. Lambeau, Hubbard, Hutson and McNally were all part of that inaugural class.

Hinkle and Michalske followed in 1964, while Herber joined them in 1966.

Starting in 1970, the Hall started naming “Finalists” to determine the class for that given year.

Some individuals on the Packers made it into Canton on their first try. This would include Lombardi, Gregg, Starr, Nitschke, White, Robinson (senior), Wolf (contributor) and Favre.

For others, it was a little more difficult. Adderley and Lofton were both inducted on their third try. It took four times for Canadeo, Taylor and Jordan (senior) to get enshrined. It took six times for Davis to get a bust, while Ringo had to wait until his seventh attempt to get into the Hall.

Then there are the two double-digit guys. Wood didn’t get into Canton until his 10th try, while Hornung had to wait until his 12th attempt.

Which takes us to Jerry Kramer. No. 64 has been a 10-time finalist, but has never been given his rightful place among the best of the best in pro football for some unfathomable reason. Kramer was a finalist in 1974, 1975, 1976, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1984, 1987 and 1997 (senior).

Maybe the 11th time will be the charm for Kramer, when the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 48-person Selection Committee votes on the Class of 2018 the day before Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis. But before that can happen, Kramer must first be nominated by the Seniors Selection Committee around the third week in August as one of the two senior nominees.

In an upcoming story, I will put out my presentation for Kramer to that committee, just like I was there in front of them.

Kramer deserves a bust in Canton, just like the 24 other individuals who were associated with the Packers. No. 64 deserves to be No. 25.

I don’t want to give away my entire presentation, but here are just a few reasons why Kramer should be a slam-dunk for enshrinement in Canton.

In 1969, the Pro Football Hall of Fame named their NFL 50th anniversary team. The first team consisted of Jim Thorpe, Johnny Unitas, Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, Cal Hubbard, Don Hutson, John Mackey, Jerry Kramer, Chuck Bednarik, Gino Marchetti, Leo Nomellini, Ray Nitschke, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Emlen Tunnell and Lou Groza.

Every one of the members on that legendary team are enshrined as players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. All except one. That would be Jerry Kramer.

Kramer was also named to the NFL All-Decade team for the 1960s.

Looking back on the players who were named All-Decade through the year 2000, there were 145 players who were given that designation.

And up until now, 134 of those players have been inducted into the hallowed halls in Canton.

Kramer is one of those 11 All-Decade players who have not yet received their deserved honor as being a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In addition to that, dozens and dozens of peers of Kramer, who all have busts in Canton, have endorsed Kramer for enshrinement.

No endorsement was bigger than that of Merlin Olsen, who many consider the best defensive tackle in NFL history, as he was named to 14 Pro Bowl teams and was also named All-Pro nine times.

This is what Olsen said about why Kramer deserves his place among the greats in Canton:

“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.”

Vince and Jerry after Super Bowl II

Kramer also shined big in championship games. The Packers won five NFL championships in seven years under Vince Lombardi in the 1960s, but without Kramer’s big contributions in the 1962, 1965 and 1967 NFL title games, that legacy of greatness may not have occurred.

Speaking of Lombardi, he once said this about Kramer in 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.”

Finally, looking back on the Lombardi’s tenure in Green Bay, there are two points which certainly have to be made.

The legendary 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.

Bottom line, it’s quite simple. Kramer most definitely deserves to be among the best of the best in Canton, Ohio at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Donald Driver Personified Hard Work as a Member of the Green Bay Packers

Donald Driver 2007 NFC title game

Donald Driver had a 14-year career with the Green Bay Packers and is currently the all-time leader for the team in terms of receptions (743) and receiving yardage (10,137).  Driver was also named to four Pro Bowl teams.

Driver had 61 TD receptions, which is the fourth-best mark in Green Bay history, only behind Don Hutson (99), Sterling Sharpe (65) and Jordy Nelson (63).

The 14 seasons that Driver spent with the Packers only puts him behind notable legends such as Bart Starr (16 seasons), Brett Favre (16 seasons) and Ray Nitschke (15 seasons). Forrest Gregg also spent 14 seasons with the Packers in his career.

That all led to Driver being inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame on Saturday.

But nothing came easy for Driver when he joined the Packers in 1999 as a seventh-round draft pick for the Pack out of Alcorn State when general manager Ron Wolf selected him.

As a rookie, Driver was way down on the pecking order at wide receiver, as Antonio Freeman (74 receptions for 1,054 yards and six TDs), Bill Schroeder (74 receptions for 1,051 yards and five TDs) and Corey Bradford (37 receptions for 637 yards and five TDs) were all above him on the depth chart catches passes from Favre, a three-time NFL MVP.

Driver only had three catches for 31 yards and one touchdown as a rookie.

But Driver kept working hard and he got more opportunities in 2000, as he had 21 receptions for 322 yards and one TD.

But in 2001, Driver took a step back and only had 13 catches for 167 and one TD.

The first three years of Driver’s career in Green Bay weren’t exactly eye-opening.

But that all changed in 2002, when No. 80 worked his way up the depth chart. Driver had 70 receptions for 1,064 yards and nine TDs that season.  Driver also was named to the Pro Bowl squad for the first time.

But then Driver took another step backwards in 2003, as he had only had 52 receptions for 621 yards and two touchdowns. In addition to that, Driver suffered a scary injury against the Minnesota Vikings. But no matter, Driver was both resilient and persistent in becoming a better player.

“I think everything in my career has been truly a blessing,” Driver said Saturday. “I made a way out of no way. I remember 2003, when I fell on my neck against Minnesota, I remember being on a stretcher going through that tunnel, my wife told me that my career was over. She wanted me to retire and put the cleats up. I told her, ‘I don’t think God’s done with us yet. If I can recover from this, let’s just see where God takes us.’ Eleven years later, he took us to places where we never thought we would go. It’s been truly amazing. I can look back and appreciate every opportunity that I’ve had.”

But all his continued hard work paid off, because from 2004 through 2009, Driver averaged 82 catches for 1,141 yards and six touchdowns per season. Driver was also named to two more Pro Bowls during that period.

The 2010 season would be a special one for Driver. Not so much for his production, as he had just 51 receptions for 565 yards and four touchdowns (and another Pro Bowl selection). No, it was because his team was able to win the Super Bowl.

In Super Bowl XLV, Driver was injured early in the game and only had two catches for 28 yards. But even with the disappointment of being injured, Driver cheered on his fellow receivers, as Nelson (nine catches for 140 yards and one TD), Greg Jennings (four catches for 64 yards and two TDs) and James Jones (five catches for 50 yards) put up some big numbers.

Donald Driver Super Bowl XLV

The Packers ended up beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in that game of all games 31-25, behind the MVP performance of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who threw for 304 yards and three TDs without a pick.

Speaking of the postseason, in his career, Driver had 49 catches for 675 yards and three TDs. One of those touchdowns was when he caught a 90-yard pass from Favre in the 2007 NFC title game against the New York Giants at frigid Lambeau Field.

In his last two seasons with the Packers in 2011 and 2012, Driver had just a combined 45 catches for 522 yards, but did have eight touchdowns.

But all in all, Driver had a tremendous career in Green Bay which eventually put him among the best of the best in Green Bay lore. But when did Driver ever imagine being enshrined in the Packers Hall of Fame?

“I don’t think it ever crossed my mind until the day that I was up for breaking Sterling’s record,” Driver said. “I think that’s when I said, ‘OK, maybe there’s an opportunity for me to be in the Packers Hall of Fame. I remember getting that phone call from Sterling. He said, ‘Listen, if you break my record, you better score a touchdown, because just a catch is not going to do it.’ I remember catching the ball against Detroit and made one move and I thought, ‘Oh, I scored. It’s easy.’ Seven guys hit me and I didn’t score on that play. At that point, I think that’s when I started to think about it. Then I knew I was only 3,000 yards away from breaking James Lofton’s record. At that point, that’s when I started thinking, ‘This could be possible.’

“To be the all-time Packers leading receiver in franchise history, that tells you that you’re among some of the greatest icons and legends that ever played in the Green and Gold. To surpass those individuals is something I’m going to cherish for a long time. The day will come when somebody will break mine. I hope they cherish it as much as I cherished it when I broke theirs.”

When Driver retired from the NFL, I happened to chat with Jerry Kramer, another member of the Packers Hall of Fame and someone who definitely should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, soon after that occasion. Kramer obviously was impressed with Driver as a person, both on and off the field.

“Donald is an exceptional human being, and obviously a sensational ball player, but he’s also just an awfully nice man,” Kramer said. “He’s well-grounded and he has some character about him, and also some class. Plus I think of grace. Grace off the field, and obviously grace on the field, with the beautiful moves, and the tippy-toes, the great hands and the intelligence to run the route, but there’s a grace, which is the only word I can use to describe his attitude off the field. That’s with the fans and with everyone. He treats everyone with dignity and class.”

A Scout’s Take on the Football Teams to Watch in the B1G Conference in 2017

Paul Chryst

The B1G football conference had a pretty good year in 2016. Yes, no team from the conference played in or won the national championship game, but overall from a record standpoint, it was a very solid year for the Big 10.

That being said, teams from the Big 10 did not do very well in the bowl games.

The Ohio State Buckeyes made the four-team playoff to determine the national champion, even though the 8-1/11-2 Bucks didn’t even win the East Division, as the 8-1/11-3 Penn State Nittany Lions won the tiebreaker.

Maybe that was an omen, as the Buckeyes were spanked 31-0 by the eventual national champion Clemson Tigers in a semifinal game in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl.

Meanwhile, Penn State, after beating the 7-2/11-3 Wisconsin Badgers in the B1G title game, played in the Rose Bowl, but were beaten by the USC Trojans 52-49 in a thrilling contest.

The Badgers played in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl against then undefeated Western Michigan, as the Badgers beat the Broncos 24-16. That victory was the third consecutive bowl win for the Badgers and the second under head coach Paul Chryst.

The 7-2/10-3 Michigan Wolverines, who narrowly lost out to Ohio State and Penn State in the East, played in the Orange Bowl, but lost 33-32 to Florida State in another exciting game.

In terms of other B1G teams playing in bowls, two teams from the B1G West didn’t fare well in their games, as the 6-3/8-5 Iowa Hawkeyes were throttled 30-3 by the Florida Gators in the Outback Bowl, while the 6-3/9-4 Nebraska Cornhuskers were beaten 38-24 by the Tennessee Volunteers.

Two other teams from the West fared better in bowl games, as the 5-4/9-4 Minnesota Golden Gophers beat the Washington State Cougars 17-12 in the National Funding Holiday Bowl, while the 5-4/7-6 Northwestern Wildcats beat the Pittsburgh Panthers 31-24 in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

Two other B1G  teams from the East played in bowls, but neither came away with a win. The 4-5/6-7 Indiana Hoosiers lost 26-24 to the Utah Utes in the Foster Farms Bowl, while the 3-6/6-7 Maryland Terrapins were beaten 36-30 by the Boston College Eagles in the Quick Lane Bowl.

When it was all said and done, the Big 10 conference was only 3-7 in bowl games, with only Wisconsin, Minnesota and Northwestern coming away with victories.

Going into the 2017 season, I wanted to get a take from NFL scout Chris Landry as to how he sees the conference shaping up this year in football.

I had an opportunity to speak with Landry last week on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show.

I asked Landry how he thought the Badgers would do this year in the West, after being 21-6 in two years under Chryst, plus having a favorable schedule this upcoming season.

“I like them,” Landry said. “They are the favorite in the West for me because of their schedule. They’ve got a good team.

“I think there is, in my view, four really good teams in the Big 10 conference. Wisconsin is one of them and the other three are in the East. Ohio State is really good. Penn State is really good. Michigan is getting better and better. So, there are four teams who are really good.

“I think Wisconsin, because of what you mentioned with the schedule, and the fact that they have some good players, probably wins the West, although I think Northwestern and Nebraska will be pretty good. I’m curious to see how Minnesota does this year with P.J. Fleck, who is going to be an outstanding coach.

“But it’s still really strong in the East and not nearly as strong in the West. Ohio State is loaded. Penn State team took a big step last year. Saquon Barkley, if you haven’t seen him folks, he’s one of the best running backs I’ve seen come out in years. Juwan Johnson is an outstanding receiver. The quarterback Trace McSorley is outstanding, so they’ve got two Heisman Trophy candidates [Barkley and McSorley].”

Talking about the Badgers and their schedule, the non-conference schedule sees Wisconsin playing Utah State and Florida Atlantic at Camp Randall Stadium, and then playing on the road at Provo to take on BYU.

The conference schedule does not have either Ohio State or Penn State as opponents, while the Badgers will play Michigan at home.

The Badgers will be bringing back most of the starters on offense from last year, with the biggest change being at running back, where Bradrick Shaw (457 yards and five touchdowns), Chris James (transfer from Pitt) and Taiwan Deal (503 yards and six touchdowns) will battle each other for carries.

James played in 23 games at Pitt and rushed for 690 yards and four touchdowns in two seasons there.

Expect a lot of carries, as Wisconsin will always be a physical, pound the rock, type of football team behind their always massive offensive line.

<> at AT&T Stadium on January 2, 2017 in Arlington, Texas.

Alex Hornibrook and Jazz Peavy of the Wisconsin Badgers hold up the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Trophy.

Plus with Chryst running the offense, the passing game can be dangerous as well. Alex Hornibrook will be the quarterback in 2017, as he got plenty of experience last season as he threw for 1,262 yards with nine touchdowns versus seven interceptions, as he split time with Bart Houston.

Hornibrook will look to connect with wide receiver Jazz Peavy (43-635-5) often, as well as tight end Troy Fumagalli (47-580-2), who had a monster game in the Cotton Bowl.

The Wisconsin defense was just outstanding in 2016, as they were ranked fourth in the FBS in scoring defense (15.6 points) and seventh in total defense (301.4 yards). But in 2017, there will be a number of key changes. For one, the Badgers have a new defensive coordinator, as Jim Leonhard takes over for Justin Wilcox, who now is the head coach at Cal.

The Badgers also lost talented bookend outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel to the NFL, as well as safety Leo Musso and cornerback Sojourn Shelton.

But the Badgers should still be very good this year on defense. On the defensive line, Alec James, Chikwe Obasih, Conor Sheehy and Olive Sagapolu all return.

Wisconsin also will bring back a talented group of linebackers, even with the losses of Watt and Biegel. The group will include Garret Dooley, T.J. Edwards, Ryan Connelly, Jack Cichy and Chris Orr.

The secondary will also bring back some talent, led by cornerback Derrick Tindal and safety D’Cota Dixon.

All in all, the Badgers will return seven defensive starters in 2017 and should be among the best in the FBS ranks.

Time will tell how the Badgers will fare in 2017, but Landry certainly likes their chances to be successful. Winning the West will be goal No. 1 for the Badgers versus solid competition like Nebraska, Northwestern and Minnesota.

But beating whoever wins the Big Ten East in the B1G title game will be a much tougher task.

If that happens, there will most likely be a place in the four-team playoff with a chance to win a national championship.

Zeke Bratkowski Talks About Playing for Both George Halas and Vince Lombardi

Halas and Lombardi

Zeke Bratkowski played quarterback in the NFL for 15 years. In 10 of those years, Bratkowski was coached by either George Halas or Vince Lombardi. Talk about playing under two of the greatest coaching icons in NFL history.

I had an opportunity to speak with Bratkowski recently, and he talked about playing under these two head coaching giants.

“Both Coach Halas and Coach Lombardi were very similar in their style of discipline,” Bratkowski said. “They were both very demanding and were coaches of repetition.”

Bratkowski originally played under Halas, as the Chicago Bears drafted the former Georgia Bulldog star as a junior in the second round in 1953 as a “future pick”, which was allowed in that era. Bratkowski played his senior year and joined the Bears in 1954.

Bratkowski talked about the start of his NFL career and how Halas helped him.

“In my rookie year, the Bears also had Ed Brown and George Blanda at quarterback,” Bratkowski said. “I learned a lot from Coach Halas. He told the whole team that year when we were 4-4, that if we win the last four games, we could win the conference.

“Coach gave me the chance to start those four games and we won them all. But unfortunately Detroit, who we beat on the last week of the season, won the conference when the kicker from Philadelphia missed an extra point against them the week before. So basically one point kept us out of the championship game.”

Bratkowski’s career in the NFL was put on hold in 1955 and 1956, as he served in the Air Force. While Bratkowski was serving his country, the Bears played in the 1956 NFL title game against the New York Giants at Yankee Stadium. The offensive coordinator for the G-Men was none other than Vince Lombardi, as New York won 47-7.

While in the Air Force, Bratkowski continued to play football and one of his teammates was wide receiver Max McGee of the Green Bay Packers.

“We went to the championship game when I was at the Air Force and Max was on our team,” Bratkowski said. “We also had Jim Dooley playing wide receiver. Jim eventually became head coach of the Bears. But both Max and Jim caught a lot of balls, as we threw a lot.

“Max and I were in the same squadron as pilots and we flew together. We were in the original drone squadron.”

When Bratkowski came back in 1957, it took awhile to become as proficient as he was before he left for the Air Force.

“When I came back in ’57, Coach Halas had me doing a lot of film study,” Bratkowski said. “I lived in Danville, Illinois which is about 110 miles south of Chicago. Coach had me doing film studies of all the games that the team had played while I was gone. I had to fill out this big form that he had created for me.

“So I would be in Chicago from Monday through Friday doing that exercise. The train out of Chicago went right into Danville, so it was an easy ride. Anyway, I had a lot of catching up to do, even though I was in great shape. But it took awhile for me to catch up to Ed [Brown] and George [Blanda] again.

“But Coach Halas helped me catch up. He set up a regimen for me to be better prepared. I would take notes and Coach Halas would answer my questions. He also watched film with me and would help out there as well.”

Zeke with da Bears

Bratkowski spent four more years with the Bears before he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams in 1961. In his five years with the Bears, Bratkowski was 11-5 as a starter, so it was a bit odd that he was shipped out to Los Angeles.

As a Ram, Bratkowski started 11 games in 1961 and then split time with rookie quarterback Roman Gabriel in 1962 and part of 1963 before he was placed on waivers.

It was at that point that Lombardi, then the general manager and head coach of the Packers, picked up Bratkowski on waivers and he became the backup to starting quarterback Bart Starr.

Lombardi used a similar film study routine for his quarterbacks, similar to what Halas did. Brakowski talked to me about that routine in a previous story I did about being in the QB’s meeting room with Lombardi.

This is a portion of that piece:

“We had to be there at 8:00 am to meet with Coach Lombardi,” Bratkowski said. “Then, we didn’t have quarterback coaches. But back then, the quarterback meetings were with Coach Lombardi. It was all him.

“He always started the meetings with the defensive frequencies of the upcoming team we would be facing. We would take notes on the fronts that they ran and also how they would cover.

“Coach was an excellent teacher. He was a great coach, but he was even a better teacher. He was obviously a great motivator, but he also explained how and why certain plays would work.”

Bratkowski talked about one of Lombardi’s techniques for teaching.

“All of his information was on cards,” Bratkowski said. “He didn’t show the cards to us, but he talked about what was on the card. We took notes. That is what we did consistently. Every game we had a notebook, that we ourselves had made.

“We had perforated notebooks where you could take that sheet and use it for the next time you played an opponent. Like Detroit for instance. Then we could see if our information matched up the second time or if they had changed their tendencies.”

In the five years Bratkowski played under Lombardi, No. 12 only started three games, winning two of them. But he came in for an injured Starr on a number of occasions and Bratkowski often brought home a victory.

One of those games was in the 1965 Western Conference Championship Game. Starr was injured on the first play of scrimmage for the Packers versus the Baltimore Colts in that game at Lambeau Field, but Bratkowski led the Packers to a 13-10 overtime win, as he threw for 248 yards against one of the top defenses in the NFL.

The next season, in 1966, Bratkowski had to come in another game when Starr was injured and this time it was against Halas and the Bears at Lambeau Field. Bratkowski threw for 190 yards and two touchdowns, as the Packers beat da Bears 13-6.

“I enjoyed that victory more than most,” Bratkowski said.

Bratkowski also came in relief of Starr in the second-to-last game of the season against the Colts in Baltimore in 1966. Once again, Bratkowski led the Packers to a win, as Green Bay scored a fourth quarter touchdown in a 14-10 victory, which also clinched the Western Conference title.

Zeke playing the Colts in Baltimore

Bratkowski then talked about the close friendship that Halas and Lombardi had.

“Coach Halas and Coach Lombardi were good friends,” Bratkowski said. “At least until they played each other. But they had great respect for one another. They had the same character. Both of them were devout Christians.

“When I was with Coach Halas, he would go to mass every morning in Chicago. Likewise, Coach Lombardi did the same thing in Green Bay. Both were very conscious of their character and their team’s character.

“We had some pretty good games when they coached against each other.”

Lombardi and his Packers were 13-5 against Halas and his Bears from 1959 through 1967. During that period, the Packers won five NFL titles, which included the first two Super Bowls, while the Bears won the 1963 NFL title.

Halas, along with Paul Brown of the Cleveland Browns, were largely responsible for the the Packers hiring Lombardi in 1959, as both gave big endorsements for the former offensive assistant of the Giants.

In his 15-year career in the NFL, Bratkowski had threw for 10,345 yards and 65 touchdowns. He later became an assistant coach in the NFL for a number of teams for 26 years, which included both the Bears and Packers. The lessons he learned under both Halas and Lombardi as a player came with him when he became a coach.

“It was a honor for me to play under both Coach Halas and Coach Lombardi,” Bratkowski said. “I learned a lot from each of them. Both were very disciplined and so were their teams. They had us doing the same play over and over again until it became second nature. Those practice habits helped us when we played the real games.

“Bottom line, we were always prepared.”

Aaron Rodgers Will Be Joining Some Illustrious Company in 2017

Rodgers vs. the Boys

With just three more touchdown passes in 2017, quarterback Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers will have 300 career touchdown tosses. That would put Rodgers in a club that only 10 other quarterbacks in NFL history have ever achieved.

That would put Rodgers in illustrious company, but nobody will have achieved this honor in the same way Rodgers will have done.

As Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk notes, Rodgers will be the first quarterback ever to throw 300 touchdown passes before throwing 100 interceptions. Right now, Rodgers has thrown just 72 picks in his career.

Let’s compare that with the other QBs who have thrown 300 or more TD passes.

  • Peyton Manning (539 career TD passes)- Had thrown 152 interceptions when he threw his 300th TD pass.
  • Brett Favre (508 career TD passes)- Had thrown 175 interceptions when he threw his 300th TD pass.
  • Drew Brees (465 career TD passes)- Had thrown 154 interceptions when he threw his 300th TD pass.
  • Tom Brady (456 career TD passes)- Had thrown 115 interceptions when he threw his 300th TD pass.
  • Dan Marino (420 career TD passes)- Had thrown 169 interceptions when he threw his 300th TD pass.
  • Fran Tarkenton (342 career TD passes)- Had thrown 219 interceptions when he threw his 300th TD pass.
  • Eli Manning (320 career TD passes)- Had thrown 205 interceptions when he threw his 300th TD pass.
  • Philip Rivers (314 career TD passes)- Had thrown 146 interceptions when he threw his 300 the TD pass.
  • Ben Roethlisberger (301 career TD passes)- Had thrown 160 interceptions when he threw his 300th TD pass.
  • John Elway (300 career TD passes)- Had thrown 226 interceptions when he threw his 300th TD pass.

It figures that Rodgers would surpass the 10 quarterbacks who previously threw 300 touchdown passes in the ratio which compares TD passes versus picks. As I wrote last December, Rodgers has achieved a level of quarterback play which has never been done before.

Rodgers is the only QB in NFL history to have a 4/1 ratio in terms of career TD passes versus picks. When I wrote the article, Rodgers had thrown 289 passes, compared to 72 interceptions, which put him at a 4.01 mark.

Rodgers has since then thrown eight more TD passes without a pick, which now puts him at a 4.13 mark.

No one in NFL history even comes close to that level.

Even the great Tom Brady, who now is in second place with a 3.00 ratio mark with 456 career TD passes versus 152 picks.

No one else in NFL history has achieved the 3/1 mark and the 4/1 mark that Rodgers is currently at is certainly unfathomable compared to other great QBs in NFL history.

It’s also important to note that Rodgers is the only QB in NFL history to have a passer rating over 100. No. 12 currently sits at the top of the leader board with a 104.1 mark. Russell Wilson is second with a 99.6 mark, while Brady is third with a 97.2 mark.

Rodgers vs. G-Men at Lambeau

Rodgers also will join some elite company in a couple other categories this season, as long as he stays healthy.

No. 12 needs to throw for 3,173 yards to get into the career 40,000 passing yards club. That is more than achievable, as Rodgers has averaged 4,210 passing yards per year over the past three seasons.

Currently, only 18 quarterbacks in NFL history have thrown for over 40,000 yards. The all-time leader is Peyton Manning, who threw for 71,940 career passing yards, which narrowly eclipsed Brett Favre, who threw for 71,838 yards.

Rodgers will also join the top 20 in NFL history in terms of passes completed. No. 12 has 3,034 pass completions in his career thus far, and will break into the top 20 with just 136 completions this season.

Rodgers can move a few spots into the top 20 in that category this season, as he threw a career-best 410 completions in 2016. The all-time leader in pass completions in NFL history is Favre, who threw 6,300 completions in his career.

Now depending on how long Rodgers plays, Favre played until he was 41, and Brady will turn 40 on August 3, the former Cal Bear can put up some unbelievable numbers based on what he has done this far in his fabulous career in Green Bay.

Rodgers will turn 34 in December. Let’s say Rodgers plays until he is 40 and plays at the same type of level he has played at during his career. That isn’t unthinkable, especially when on looks at what Brady has done, plus Favre had the best year of his career at age 40 as a Minnesota Viking in 2009.

That would mean Rodgers would play seven more years. Based on his production thus far over his career (over a full season) , Rodgers would throw 245 more TD passes over that period, which would put him at the 542 career TD passes mark. That mark would top Peyton Manning’s all-time mark of 539 TD passes.

In addition, based on the same formula, Rodgers would throw for 30,005 passing yards over those seven years, which would put him at 66,832 career passing yards mark.

But as much as those individual achievements would mean to Rodgers, it would mean more to him if the Packers can bring a couple more Vince Lombardi Trophies back to Titletown.

Rodgers led the Packers to a 31-25 win in Super Bowl XLV over the Pittsburgh Steelers, when No. 12 was named MVP of that game.

Rodgers and the Packers have averaged 10 wins per season since he became the starting QB in 2008. Over that time, the Packers have been to the playoffs for eight consecutive seasons dating back to 2009, plus have won five NFC North titles.

While that was going on, Rodgers was also named the NFL MVP in 2011 and 2014.

Currently, Rodgers sits with 99 career victories (regular season and playoffs). The leader in that category is Brady, who has a whopping 208 career wins. Following Brady are Peyton Manning with 200 career wins and Favre with 199 career wins.

Again, based on what Rodgers has done in his career thus far, he can add another 79 victories, which would put him at the 178 mark.

That number can increase quite a bit, if the Packers can get to a couple more Super Bowls.

That Packers have comes close in two out of the past three years, as the team has reached the NFC title game in the 2014 and 2016 postseason.

Rodgers is only 9-7 in the postseason, but that won-lost record is very deceiving. In his career in the postseason, Rodgers has a 99.4 passer rating in the postseason (fifth-best in NFL history), which includes throwing 36 touchdown passes versus just 10 picks.

The seven losses that Rodgers and the Packers have suffered in the postseason can largely be blamed on defensive and special teams miscues.

Time will tell what Rodgers and the Packers will do over the next several years, but one thing is for certain.

Rodgers is playing at an incredible level and if he gets some help from the defense and special teams of the Packers during the postseason, he can add even more luster to his already great legacy.

The Surprising Milwaukee Brewers Are Flying High Near the All-Star Break

Brewers Outfielders Flying High

About five weeks ago, I wrote a story about how both the Milwaukee Brewers and Tampa Bay Rays are very similar in a number of ways. At the time, both teams were also off to surprisingly good starts in the 2017 MLB season.

That has continued for both clubs as we head towards the All-Star break. But especially the Brewers, under the leadership of manager Craig Counsell.

The Brew Crew has basically been in first place in the National League Central division since May 18. That divisional prominence has been going on for almost two months now. That is somewhat difficult to comprehend, especially since the team that won the 2016 World Series, the Chicago Cubs, reside in the same division.

Plus there are other teams in the division who know how to win. As a matter of fact, both the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates were participants in the MLB 2015 postseason, along with the Cubs.

Going into this season, most baseball experts figured that the Brewers would continue to stay with the rebuilding process that they have been undergoing since general manger David Stearns took over for Doug Melvin.

Stears has completely overhauled the farm system of the Brewers and it is now one of the best in baseball. He has also made a number of shrewd trades and waiver pickups, plus found a real gem in free agency.

Going into Saturday’s game against the New York Yankees, the Brewers have won five games in a row and have a 49-40 record, which has them leading the second-place Cubs by 4 1/2 games.

The success of the Brewers so far in 2017 has been led by a number of players who Stearns acquired prior to the current season.

One of these moves was the signing of free agent first baseman Eric Thames, who had been playing baseball in South Korea the past three seasons. Although his batting average (.245) has tailed off after a hot start, Thames has put together solid numbers as he has hit 23 homers and has 43 RBIs.

Another acquisition was trading for third baseman Travis Shaw, formerly of the Boston Red Sox. Shaw has put together as a season worthy enough for a spot in the All-Star game, as he is hitting .296, with 18 homers and 61 RBIs. Shaw has also been very solid with his glove.

Stearns has also made some excellent waiver wire acquisitions to help the team so far in 2017. One of whom is rookie first baseman Jesús Aguilar. The former Cleveland Indian has split some time with Thames at first base, especially when the team is facing a left-handed pitcher.

Aguilar had a monster game on Friday night versus the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium, as hit hit two homers and had seven RBIs, as the Brewers won 9-4. For the season, Aguilar is hitting .299, with nine homers and 34 RBIs.

at Yankee Stadium on July 7, 2017 in the Bronx borough of New York City.

A couple weeks back, Stearns added another player to the Brewers via waivers, as he brought in two-time All-Star catcher Stephen Vogt. The former Oakland Athletic has already paid dividends, as he is hitting .313, with three homers and seven RBIs.

The Brewers appear set at catching for the season now with both Vogt and Manny Piña (.289/6/28) behind the plate.

Milwaukee is also set in both the infield and outfield.

Thames and Aguilar together have 32 homers and 77 RBIs at first base. Although Jonathan Villar has struggled at second base this season (.209/8/30), based on his excellent season in 2016, the Brewers have seen another player shine when given the opportunity to play at 2B. That would be Eric Sogard, who Stearns signed to a minor contract last fall. Although Sogard is currently on the DL with an ankle injury, he was hitting .313, with three homers and 14 RBIs.

The left side of the infield is very solid, both offensively and defensively. Shortstop Orlando Arcia has already made several sparkling plays in the field and is destined to bring home a number of Gold Gloves before his MLB career is over. But it is at the plate where Arcia has really improved over the past couple of months and is now hitting .290, with eight homers and 30 RBIs.

As I noted earlier, Shaw has been very productive at the 3B position. The jack of all trades in both the infield and outfield in terms of being an utility player has been Hernán Pérez. The former Detroit Tiger, who was also acquired via waivers, has played 3B, SS and 2B, plus has played every OF position. So far in 2017, Pérez is hitting .270, with 10 homers and 35 RBIs.

Under normal conditions, the Brewers will have veteran Ryan Braun (.266/10/23) in LF, Keon Broxton (.233/14/35) in CF and Domingo Santana (.291/14/47) in RF. Stearns acquired both Broxton and Santana via trades.

It is in the area of pitching where the Brewers might look to acquire some assistance before the trade deadline. In terms of how the starting pitchers of the Brewers have done for far in 2017, the production has been pretty good, but still could be better.

The top two starting pitchers have been Jimmy Nelson and Chase Anderson. Nelson is 7-4 with a 3.20 ERA. Nelson has also struck out 112 batters in 104 innings. Anderson was off to a 6-2 start with a 2.89 ERA, before he was sidelined with an oblique injury in late June which will keep him out for several weeks. That is another reason why the Brewers may look to add another starting pitcher to their staff.

Veteran Matt Garza has been solid as of late and is now 4-4 with a 3.98 ERA. The starter with the most wins is Zach Davies, who is 10-4, but he also has been quite fortunate getting offensive support, as he has a 4.90 ERA.

Junior Guerra, who had a great 2016 season (9-3, 2.81 in 20 starts), but has had injury woes in 2017, is currently 1-3 with a 4.98 ERA as a starter. Filling in for Anderson while he is out has been Brent Suter, who had a great initial start and is currently 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA.

Stearns acquired both Anderson and Davies via trades, while Guerra was yet another waiver pickup.

The Milwaukee bullpen has been both great and exasperating. The pen has been much better over the past month, but as of early June the bullpen had absorbed 18 losses. But the Brewers have been more effective protecting leads recently, especially because of their All-Star closer, Corey Knebel, who is 0-1 with a sparkling 1.11 ERA, and who has a whopping 71 strikeouts in 40 innings.

As a matter of fact, Knebel now has the MLB record of getting at least one strikeout per inning in 41 straight games.

Corey Kneble getting congratulated

Knebel took over as the closer of the Brewers after Neftalí Feliz just couldn’t stop giving up gopher balls. Feliz was 1-5 with a 6.00 ERA and had given up eight homers. Stearns had signed Feliz via free agency this offseason before Feliz was released back in June.

The set up guys for Knebel include left-hander Josh Hader, who notched his first MLB victory on Friday night against the Yankees. For the season, Hader is 1-0 with .073 ERA with 13 Ks in 12 innings. Hader was acquired in the same trade in which the Brewers also added Santana from Houston, when Milwaukee dealt CF Carlos Gomez and P Mike Fiers to the Astros.

Joining Hader in set up roles are Jacob Barnes (1-1, 3.72), Jared Hughes (3-1, 3.09), Oliver Drake (3-2, 4.22), Carlos Torres (4-4, 4.43) and Rob Scahill (1-2, 3.54).

Recently there has been speculation that the Brewers are looking to add another starting pitcher, but only if he is controllable over the next couple of season in terms of his contract status.

The two names that have been mentioned are Sonny Gray of the Oakland As and José Quintana of the Chicago White Sox.

According to Jon Morosi of MLB.com, the Brewers are doing background work on Gray, Quintana and other impact starters.

Gray is currently 4-4 with a 4.00 ERA, but has been much better as of late. Gray has averaged almost nine strikeouts per nine innings and has a 3.45 ERA over his last seven starts.

Gray is earning $3.575 million in 2017 and will be eligible for arbitration in each of the next two winters before reaching free agency upon completion of the 2019 campaign.

Quintana is currently 4-8 with a 4.45 ERA, but he too has been better as of late. In his past six outings, Quintana has averaged 9.1 Ks per nine innings and has a 2.34 ERA.

Like Gray, Quintana is controllable.He will make $8.85 million salary next season and has a pair of club options for the 2019 and 2020 seasons, which are respectively valued at $10.5 million and $11 million.

Time will tell what Stearns will do in terms of additions to the Brewers for the second half of the season, but he will definitely be looking to buy, instead of looking to sell.

The Brewers have a chance to be just the fifth team in franchise history to make the MLB postseason. It has also happened for Milwaukee in 1981, 1982, 2008 and 2011.

Like the Bambi’s Bombers/Harvey’s Wallbangers group which made the postseason a couple of times 30-plus years ago, Craig’s Crushers are also hitting the long ball. The Brewers lead the NL in homers (135) and only trail the Astros (142) of the AL in that category.

The Brewers also know how to steal bases. Milwaukee leads the NL with 74 stolen bases and only trail the Los Angeles Angels (78) and Texas Rangers (75) in that statistical department.

One area where the Brewers definitely need to get better is on defense, as Milwaukee has the third-worst fielding percentage in MLB with a mark of .980. The Brewers have also committed 67 errors, which is also the third-worst mark in baseball.

But all in all, the Brewers are playing inspired baseball and with some additional help down the stretch in terms of adding another starting pitcher, Milwaukee could be toasting the Brew Crew come October.