Green Bay Packers: Why Gale Gillingham Deserves to be Considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Gale Gillingham II

The Green Bay Packers were very fortunate to have two of the best guards in the NFL from 1959 through 1966 when left guard Fuzzy Thurston and right guard Jerry Kramer were a dominant blocking duo.

Especially on the signature play of the Packers and their head coach Vince Lombardi, the power sweep.

Both Kramer and Thurston were honored due to their outstanding play. Back in the day when No. 64 and No. 63 played, awards were given out by a number of media outlets. This included The Associated Press (AP), United Press International (UPI), The Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA) and The New York Daily News (NY).

Kramer was named first-team All-Pro at right guard in 1960 (AP), 1962 (AP, NEA and UPI), 1963 (AP, NEA, UPI and NY), 1966 (AP, UPI, FW and NY) and 1967 (AP, UPI and NY), plus was named second-team All-Pro in 1961 (NY) and 1968 (AP).

Thurston was first-team All-Pro at left guard in both 1961 (AP, UPI, NEA and NY) and 1962 (UPI), plus was named second-team All-Pro in 1963 (UPI), 1964 (NY) and 1966 (NY).

That’s a combined 12 All-Pro honors. Seven for Kramer and five for Thurston.

But even with the award-winning play, Kramer only went to three Pro Bowls, while Thurston never went to a single one. That seems quite odd and perplexing to me.

Kramer was also honored by being put on the 1960s All-Decade team, plus was named to the NFL’s 50th anniversary team (the only guard on the first team).

That all led to Kramer being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018.

The Packers were also very fortunate that they had another talented guard available to take Thurston’s place when No. 63 injured a knee in training camp in 1967.

That player was Gale Gillingham, who was a second-year player out of the University of Minnesota. Gillingham, along with fullback Jim Grabowski, were taken in the first round of the 1966 NFL draft.

Those two rookies played a big role in the 1966 NFL title game at the Cotton Bowl when the Packers faced the Dallas Cowboys. After the Packers had grabbed a 7-0 lead after scoring on the opening drive, on the ensuing kickoff, Gillingham forced a fumble by Mel Renfro, which was recovered by Grabowski and returned 18 yards for another touchdown.

After Thurston’s knee injury in training camp in 1967, Kramer soon learned that he was not going to be the fastest offensive lineman on the Packers any more.

“After we did some sprints for awhile, I told Forrest Gregg to forget about trying to beat Gilly,” Kramer said. “The kid could really move, plus he was strong as an ox.”

It was soon apparent that Gillingham was not going to relinquish the left guard spot that was held by Thurston for so many years.

Did Thurston sulk about that situation? Hell no.

“Fuzzy sat besides Gilly for the rest of the ’67 season, ” Kramer said. “He coached Gilly. They sat together in every film session. Fuzzy gave him the benefit of everything he had learned about the defensive tackle that Gilly would be facing that given week.

“Fuzzy told Gilly what he liked to do against that tackle and told Gilly that he should think about doing the same thing. Basically, Fuzzy was Gilly’s personal coach.”

Gilly had a nice season in 1967, as the Packers won their third straight NFL championship, plus won their second straight Super Bowl as well.

That team overcame a lot to become champions. The Packers did not have either fullback Jim Taylor or halfback Paul Hornung in in 1967. Add to that, their replacements, Grabowski and Elijah Pitts, were both lost for the year due to injuries midway through the season.

Even with that, the Packers still finished second in the NFL in rushing in 1967. The play of No. 68 certainly helped that situation.

The 1967 season was also the last year Vince Lombardi coached the Packers.

Gilly blocks Dick Butkus

It was also the last time Gillingham would play for a head coach in Green Bay  with a winning record.

Gilly played eight more years in Green Bay, and only twice did he play on a winning team. That happened in 1969 (8-6) and 1972 (10-4). No. 68 missed most of the 1972 season because of a knee injury. More on that scenario later in the story.

While all that losing was going on, Gillingham still played at an elite level. Just like the era when Kramer and Thurston played in, there were multiple media outlets in which awards were given to positional players in the NFL.

Gilly racked in a lot of hardware from those outlets.

Gillingham was named first-team All-Pro in 1969 (AP and NEA), 1970 (AP and NEA), 1971 (NEA), 1973 (Pro Football Writers) and 1974 (NEA).

Gilly was also named second-team in 1968 (NEA and UPI), 1969 (Hall of Fame, NY and UPI), 1970 (Pro Football Writers) and 1971 (Pro Football Writers).

If you add those numbers up, that’s five first-team All-Pro designations for Gillingham, as well as four second-team All-Pro honors. That’s a total of nine.

There should have been more. You may have noticed that Gilly did not get any awards after the 1972 season, which was No. 68’s second under Dan Devine.

Gillingham was considered one of the best right guards in the NFL going into the 1972 season. He had been named All-Pro four straight years, plus had gone to three straight Pro Bowls (went to five overall).

It was at this point that Devine made one of the most mind-boggling decisions ever in the head coaching history of the Packers. He decided to move Gillingham to defensive tackle. Huh?

Now Gillingham had played some defensive tackle at the University of Minnesota, but he was also a truly elite right guard in the NFL at the time of Devine’s decision. That determination by Devine made no sense to me. Then and now.

Plus, just two games into the season, No. 68 hurt his knee and was lost for the season.

I talked to Kramer about Devine’s decision to move Gilly to defense. No 64. was pretty blunt in his assessment.

“That was stupid,” Kramer said. “That really was a stupid move. That’s the only thing I can say about that. It just boggles your mind taking a kid of that caliber and quality and then move him to a whole new position. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Plus, there is this. That season the Packers were lead by second-year quarterback Scott Hunter. Because of that, the team would have to to depend on the running game to be successful on offense.

John Brockington and MacArthur Lane combined for almost 2,000 years rushing that season, but just imagine their amount of success with Gillingham at right guard. In fact, the Packers were ranked seventh in the NFL in rushing in 1972. If Gilly was playing right guard as he should have been, I could see the Packers being in the top five in rushing, maybe even top three.

Devine came to his senses in 1973 and put Gillingham back at right guard, where he again accumulated awards.

But the losing and the coaching decisions began to wear on Gillingham.

Gillingham talked about that situation in an article written by Martin Hendricks of Packer Plus in August of 2011.

“I had no faith in the line coach and didn’t fit into the system,” Gillingham said. said. “I wanted to be traded.”

No. 68 was talking about the 1975 season in which he sat out the season due to differences with offensive line coach Leon McLaughlin.

Plus, there was the losing.

“The losing killed me,” said Gillingham. “I was burned out and beat up both mentally and physically.”

Tragically, just a few months after the article in Packer Plus was written, Gillingham died of a heart attack at his home in Minnesota while lifting weights. Gilly was just 67 years-old.

Gillingham was inducted in the Packers Hall of Fame in 1982.

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I believe Gillingham belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as well. Had not Devine moved Gilly to defense in 1972, I’m sure Gilly would have put together another All-Pro season at right guard.

He also could have experienced winning again first hand, not to mention leading a dominant ground game.

I also believe that Gilly would have had a very good chance to be on the 1970s All-Decade team at guard had he been able to play there in 1972.

Being a member of an All-Decade team usually leads to a bust in Canton in most cases.

Rick Gosselin, who is a Pro Football Hall of Fame voter and who also heads the Seniors Selection Committee, sent a note to me a couple weeks back about who to include in my series of articles about other worthy individuals on the Packers who deserve placement in Canton.

Gosselin told me to make sure that Ron Kramer, Boyd Dowler and Gillingham were included in my articles.

Gosselin has put forward an amnesty proposal to David Baker (President/Executive Director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame) to implement on the 100th anniversary of the NFL.

The proposal calls for at least 10 deserving seniors to be inducted on the centennial of the league. Based on my recent discussion with Gosselin, it sounds like he will be able to get 10 seniors in.

That would be awesome news!

As would hearing that Gale Gillingham would be among those ten great NFL players who will finally get their due in Canton.

Green Bay Packers: Why Bobby Dillon Deserves to be Considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Bobby Dillon

Anyone who has read my work over the years, know that I  was on a crusade to get Jerry Kramer his rightful place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Now that goal has been accomplished (thanks to the efforts of many), the Green Bay Packers now have 25 individuals who have busts in Canton.

That number is second to only the Chicago Bears, who have 28 individuals who were honored to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Now da Bears have a rich history no doubt, but so do the Packers. In fact, Green Bay has won 13 NFL titles (including four Super Bowls) since they have been in the NFL (1921), while Chicago has won nine NFL championships (including one Super Bowl) since they have been in the NFL (1920).

I believe there are many more deserving individuals of the Packers who merit a bust in Canton and this article is the first of a multi-part series of stories which will chronicle those people.

I told Rick Gosselin (Pro Football Hall of Fame voter and a member of the Seniors Selection Committee) that I would be writing this material yesterday. Gosselin told me to make sure that Ron Kramer, Boyd Dowler and Gale Gillingham were among the players who I would list.

I told Rick that those three will indeed be included in my list of names who deserve consideration for a place in Canton.

But today’s piece is about defensive back Bobby Dillon.

Dillon was drafted in 1952 by the Packers and their phenomenal scout Jack Vainisi. No. 44 was part of a draft class which included quarterback Babe Parilli, wide receiver Billy Howton and defensive tackle Dave “Hawg” Hanner.

Unfortunately for Dillon and his comrades on the Packers, the decade of the 1950s turned out to be the worst decade that Green Bay ever had record-wise. The Packers were 39-79-2 in that decade, which equates to a .331 winning percentage.

Dillon played from 1952 through 1959 and the only year Dillon played with a Green Bay team with a winning record was his last year with the Packers, which also was Vince Lombardi’s first season in what later became “Titletown.”

Even with all the losing going on, Dillon was one of the best players in the NFL during the eight years he played pro football. The former Texas Longhorn intercepted 52 passes in his somewhat short NFL career, which is good enough for being tied for 26th all time.

A number of current members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame also had 52 picks. That list includes Jack Butler, Mel Renfro and Larry Wilson. Those three will most likely be joined soon by another member of the 52 picks club…Champ Bailey.

Dillon made those 52 interceptions in just 94 games, plus he accomplished that with just one eye (lost in a childhood accident).

Bobby Dillon II

Three times Dillon intercepted nine passes in a season. And that was when the NFL season was 12 games.

In his eight-year career, Dillon was named first-team All-Pro four times by AP and was also named to four Pro Bowl squads. Dillon was also named second-team All-Pro by AP in 1956.

But because he played for a losing team, which needed a stock sale in 1950 to stay afloat financially, Dillon was overlooked a number of times in terms of honors.

The same goes for being named to the 1950s All-Decade team at safety. That honor went to Jack Christiansen, Yale Lary and Emlen Tunnell who were obviously great players, but Dillon deserved a spot on that team.

Dillon had more interceptions than both Lary (50) and Christiansen (46), but both played on one of the more successful teams in the NFL of the 1950s, the Detroit Lions.

In an article he wrote about Dillon for Talk of Fame Sports Network about three years ago, Gosselin quotes former Green Bay general manager Ron Wolf talking about Dillon.

“He was a 9.7 sprinter coming out of the University of Texas and would be a corner in today’s game,” Wolf said. “But back then the best athletes were put inside. In order to qualify for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I believe you are talking about the best of the best. Bobby Dillon is one of those from his era. Witness the fact that (safeties) Jack Christiansen, Yale Lary and Emlen Tunnell are in the Hall. Dillon accomplished more than those particular players did in the same era. He was a rare football player, the best defensive back of his time.”

I also had the opportunity to talk with Kramer about Dillon, as they played together on the 1959 team in Green Bay under Lombardi.

“Bobby was exceptionally fast and cat-quick, ” Kramer said. “He had fantastic instincts as well. He could bait a quarterback into throwing his way because of the way he played off a receiver. But then just like that, Bobby would get to the football and either intercept it or bat it away.

Dillon is currently enshrined in the University of Texas Hall of Fame (1996) and the Packers Hall of Fame (1974).

Dillon deserves his rightful placement in one more, the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Jerry Kramer: A Weekend for the Ages in Canton

Bob and Jerry at JK's party.

I’m back in Florida now, getting ready for another trip. Soon I will be making my annual summer excursion to Wisconsin. But this past weekend, I had one of the best times of my life in Canton, Ohio, as Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

What made the experience even more special, was that my son Andrew was with me. He agreed with me that the time we spent in Canton was exceptional.

Before we traveled from Tampa to Cleveland on Friday, some things were set in stone. Andrew and I had tickets to the enshrinement ceremony on Saturday night, plus had tickets to the party the Packers would be throwing for Jerry on Saturday afternoon. In addition to that, we had VIP passes to the actual Pro Football Hall of Fame Museum.

But our biggest problem was where to stay. Hotel rooms in Canton were priced at over $300 per night. That would have meant spending close to $1,000 for the three nights we stayed in the area. That was a bit too much for my limited budget.

While searching for rooms, I found a motel in Richfield, which is about 40 miles from Canton, that had rooms for $70 a night. So I booked a room for three nights.

Then something extraordinary happened. One of my loyal readers and a huge fan of the Packers, Greg Kloehn, sent me a note and asked me what my plans were for the weekend.

You see, Kloehn is a cardiologist in Canton, who is originally from Brookfield, Wisconsin. When I told him that I was going to be staying at a motel in Richfield, Kloehn said that would not be a good idea, at least on Friday and Saturday night, because of the distance, all the events going on and some other factors like highway construction.

Kloehn then graciously invited my son and myself to stay at his home, which is about five miles from the Hall of Fame. Fortunately, Kloehn has a large home, as he had a number of other guests that weekend, which included his two brothers Tim (and son Ian) and Phil, plus his good friend John Donaldson.

Greg and his wife Lisa, along with their four children (Alyssa, Andrew, Olivia and Anna), were kind beyond belief with their hospitality. On Friday night, Kloehn had a party which reminded me of my college days in Wisconsin, as I had an immediate connection with Greg, his brothers Tim and Phil,  and also John. It felt like I was back at UW-Oshkosh.

That feeling really surfaced when my buddy Jeff Kurszewski (who I went to high school and college with) and his wife Therese joined us at the party after first going to the Gold Jacket Dinner, which unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend. Jeff took some great photos though at the event, as that was when Jerry was given his Gold Jacket by his daughter Alicia, after first going through a gauntlet of other Hall of Famers. More on that later.

Greg’s party was just fantastic, with a large assortment of great food (Tim did a great job on the grill) and there were a number of superb possibilities in terms of selecting an adult beverage.

Later in the evening, Jeff and I called our good buddy Kevin Cosgrove, who is currently the defensive coordinator at New Mexico, but who also spent many years at that same position at Wisconsin, including when the Badgers won back-to-back Rose Bowls in 1999 and 2000.

Kevin went to school with Jeff and I at UWO. We talked for at least a half hour and we talked about all the good times that we had at the Big O.

Bottom line, Friday night at Greg’s house was a fantastic start to the weekend in Canton, as we partied until well after 2:00 am.

But that was just a warm up to Saturday, which would end up being an epic day.

After enjoying a late-morning breakfast put together by Lisa, Andrew and I headed out to join Jeff and Therese at Jerry’s party at the beautiful Gervasi Vineyard.

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What a party it was! It was like going to a Hollywood premiere, with celebrities everywhere.

The first person I saw was Jerry’s son Dan. Then I talked with Rick Gosselin, who really helped Jerry get his rightful place in Canton, due to his hard work on the seniors committee, as well as the overall selection committee.

It was then when I had an opportunity to get with Jerry and talk for a little while. It was somewhat short-lived, as Jerry was being approached by anybody and everybody at the party, which was to be expected.

Besides Dan, I also got to see Jerry’s other children…Alicia, Diana, Tony, Matt and Jordan.

In the 2018 Green Bay Packers Yearbook, I wrote the story about Jerry’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Alicia played a prominent role in that article with her unrelenting goal of getting her father his rightful place in Canton.

It was really neat to see Alicia, as we both had worked so hard to get No. 64 a place among the best of the best in the Hall of Fame. I also saw Randy Simon, who also played a big part in helping Jerry’s cause, as he put together a Flipsnack booklet of testimonials from Hall of Fame teammates and opponents.

The list included Paul Hornung, Bart Starr, Willie Davis, Merlin Olsen, Frank Gifford, Chuck Bednarik, Doug Atkins, John Mackey, Raymond Berry, Mel Renfro, Mike Ditka, Bob Lilly, Jim Otto, and Lem Barney, among others.

I also saw Mike Spofford of the Packers, who is the editor of the Packers Yearbook. I thanked him for the opportunity to write the induction piece about Jerry.

There were also a number of former Packers at the party, which included Hornung, Dave Robinson, James Lofton, Frank Winters and Marco Rivera. Plus, Tony Fisher was also there, helping guests as they made their way in and out of the party.

I talked with all of them except the “Golden Boy”, who left the party early.

Mark Murphy, the President and CEO of the Packers, was also in attendance and I talked with him as well.

One of Jerry’s very best friends, Claude Crabb, who is a former NFL player, was also on hand for his buddy’s well-deserved party. I told Claude how much Jerry appreciated him being there for his enshrinement. I could see Claude’s eyes moisten.

Cathy Dworak of the Packers did a fantastic job organizing and putting together this event, with help from Mark Mayfield, who is Jerry’s marketing agent.

There were a number of talented writers besides Gosselin at the party as well. It was great to see and talk to David Maraniss, who wrote one of my favorite books about Vince Lombardi, When Pride Still Mattered.

Andy Benoit of SI was also there and we also talked for a bit. I also saw Jeremy Schaap, who was late getting to the party due to a delayed flight. Jeremy and I also chatted. I had written a story about Jeremy’s father Dick a few months earlier.

I was also pleased to meet a number of loyal backers of Jerry’s from Packer Nation, which included Dinger Mueller, Chuck Velek, Dmitriy Solodov, Jef Taylor and Ryan VanAcker.

The party for Jerry was just the beginning of things on that epic Saturday.

The actual enshrinement ceremony was unbelievable. I sat in the club seating area, which allowed free beer and food (which is always a good thing) and sat next to my buddy Jeff Kurszewski and his wife.

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Alicia did a fantastic job presenting her father and then Jerry hit one out of the park with his speech.

“You can, if you will,” is the phrase I’ll never forget from that oratory from Jerry.

After the ceremony, I saw Jerry and his family and friends at the Holiday Inn. I congratulated Jerry on his speech and told him how good he looked in the Gold Jacket. Shortly thereafter, Jerry had to call it a night after a very long day.

Andrew and I then headed to Greg’s for our second sleepover. Greg and company were waiting for us and we all had a nightcap before we hit the hay.

On Sunday, Greg had a ticket for me to use to go with him, John Donaldson and his son Andrew to the Enshrinees’ Roundtable event at the Canton Auditorium.

There were only four members of the Class of 2018 at the event. Ray Lewis, Robert Brazile, Randy Moss and Jerry. And what a performance they put on!

Before they got started, my buddy Jeff, who was sitting near the stage, was talking to Jerry when Kramer asked, “Where’s Bob?” Jeff walked to my table which was a ways away and he had me stand up and wave to Jerry. Jerry did the same and we both gave each other the thumb’s up.

It was a memorable moment for me.

After the the roundtable was over, I was able to meet the President/Executive Director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, David Baker. I then rushed out to talk with Jerry for just a minute before he drove away. I could tell he was pretty exhausted from all of the events that he had taken part in the last few days.

Our weekend in Canton wasn’t over. My son Andrew and I then went to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. What a glorious place that is. We quickly made it over to where the busts of the Class of 2018 were.

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While I was looking at Jerry’s bust, I gave him a call. People standing around me couldn’t believe I was talking to the man whose bust I was looking at. It was an apropos moment.

The entire Hall was great to go through and I have to say that the Packers Hall of Fame is in the same category in terms of being an upper echelon attraction for pro football fans.

Andrew and I then left for Richfield for our last night in Ohio. We were back in Florida the next day.

A day later, I wanted to check on Jerry. I caught him at his home in Boise sitting in his “Big Chair” having some coffee. Jerry told me that it felt good to get a couple of good night’s sleep in his own bed.

Then Jerry reflected.

“Canton was a fantastic experience. It’s something I’ll never forget,” Kramer said. “It was a validation of my career with the Packers and in the NFL. And with my family there and so many friends and fans, it just made the whole time there so memorable and unforgettable.”

When we talked, Jerry as usual thought of his coach.

Coach Lombardi is the reason that so many players, including myself, are now in Canton.”

Vince and Jerry after Super Bowl II

Jerry then talked about one of the more momentous moments in the days he spent in Canton.

“At the Gold Jacket dinner, as I was heading to get my Gold Jacket from Alicia, I had a group hug with fellow Hall of Fame guards John Hannah, Joe DeLamielleure and Tom Mack. They told me how much they tried to emulate my play in their careers. There wasn’t a dry eye among us.”

Had Jerry been able to see where I was sitting in the club seat section during his enshrinement speech, he would have seen the same reaction from me.