Packer Nation had a very painful day last week, when they learned that both linebacker Clay Matthews and wide receiver Randall Cobb would be moving on to play for other teams.
Matthews will be going back to his old stomping grounds in southern California, as he signed with the Los Angeles Rams as a free agent. Cobb was a also a free agent and he signed with the Dallas Cowboys.
Both signings occurred on the same day, March 19. It was a double punch to the ribs.
Both Matthews and Cobb left great legacies in Green Bay and gave the Packer faithful many great moments to remember.
In his 10-year career as a Packer, Matthews had 482 total tackles, a franchise record 83.5 sacks, 40 passes defended, six interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), 15 forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries (one returned for a score).
That type of production led Matthews to be honored with six Pro Bowl berths, as well as being named AP first-team All-Pro once and AP second-team All-Pro once.
Matthews was also a terror in the postseason. In 15 games, No. 52 had 53 tackles, 11 sacks, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
No forced fumble was bigger than the one he helped to cause in Super Bowl XLV in the 2010 postseason. Matthews forced Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall to fumble on the first snap of the fourth quarter in Super Bowl XLV, with help from defensive lineman Ryan Pickett.
Pittsburgh was driving for a potential go-ahead score at the Packers’ 33-yard line until Matthews’ helmet dislodged the football, popping it into the air.
The Packers took advantage of that turnover with a touchdown drive and went on to win 31-25 and the team’s fourth Super Bowl prize, aptly named the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Cobb didn’t arrive in Green Bay until 2011, but he had a great career in both the regular season and postseason. In his eight-year career as a Packers, Cobb had 470 receptions (sixth all time in franchise history) for 5,524 yards (11th all time in franchise history) and 41 touchdowns.
No regular season touchdown was bigger than the one Cobb scored in the last game of the 2013 season, when the Packers played the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. The winner of that game would win the NFC North, while the loser would go home without a playoff spot.
Here was the situation: There were 46 seconds to go in the game, with the Packers trailing the Bears 28-27 and Green Bay facing a fourth-and-8 scenario.
In the moment of truth, quarterback Aaron Rodgers (who had returned for this game after missing several weeks because of a broken collarbone) first avoided being sacked by Julius Peppers by sprinting to his left and then getting a chip-block by fullback John Kuhn. Rodgers then delivered a 48-yard touchdown pass on the move to Cobb, as the Packers won 33-28.
Cobb was also money in the postseason. In 11 games, No. 18 caught 47 passes for 596 yards and five touchdowns. No TD was bigger than the 42-yard Hail Mary pass Cobb caught from Rodgers at the end of the first half in the 2016 Wild Card Playoff game between the Packers and New York Giants at Lambeau Field.
In all, Cobb caught three touchdown passes in the game, as the Pack whipped the G-Men 38-13.
While there is no doubt that both Matthews and Cobb had great careers in Green Bay, they have also joined a legendary fraternity of players who played with the Packers but finished their NFL careers in other cities.
A number of them were players who ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as well.
Most notable was Brett Favre.
After announcing his retirement in March of 2008, Favre later decided he indeed wanted to return to the Packers. But the Packers decided by that time to turn things over to Rodgers at quarterback and instead traded Favre to the New York Jets for the 2008 season.
No. 4 then signed with the hated Minnesota Vikings the following year. Favre played with the Vikings for two years before really retiring in 2011.
That tandem was the force of the Packers’ vaunted ground game in the Lombardi era from 1959 to 1966. Taylor and Hornung won MVP awards and helped the team win four world championships.
However, in 1967, Taylor left as a free agent for the New Orleans Saints, and Hornung was also claimed by the Saints in the 1967 expansion draft but never played because of a neck injury.
There are many other examples of players who later were given busts in Canton, but who ended their NFL careers in other cities instead of Green Bay.
The list includes Arnie Herber, Jim Ringo, Forrest Gregg, Herb Adderley, Dave Robinson, James Lofton and Reggie White. Another player who will soon be joining that club is Charles Woodson.
Another Hall of Famer who could have been in that fraternity is Jerry Kramer. No. 64 retired after the 1968 season and was doing color commentary for NFL games on CBS in 1969.
But because of injuries at the guard position on the offensive line, both the Los Angeles Rams and the Minnesota Vikings wanted Kramer to join them in the 1969 season. Kramer never seriously considered playing for Bud Grant and the Vikings (although he was flattered by the offer), but he did agree to play for the Rams after conferring with George Allen.
But the Packers refused to relinquish the rights to Kramer to the Rams and No. 64 stayed in the broadcast both.
Plus there are the legendary coaches who both have a place among the best of the best at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Team founder and coach Curly Lambeau left the Packers after a dispute with the executive committee in 1950 to coach the Chicago Cardinals. Lambeau coached the Packers from 1921 to 1949, winning 209 games with a .656 winning percentage and six NFL championships.
But even with that, Lambeau had issues with the executive committee.
Lambeau’s last two teams in Green Bay were a collective 5-19. Plus, Lambeau ticked off members by purchasing the Rockwood Lodge north of Green Bay for $25,000 for the Packers to practice at from 1946 to 1949. The facility burned down on Jan. 24, 1950, and Lambeau resigned a week later to coach the Cardinals.
The Cardinals were considered a very talented team when Lambeau arrived there. The Cardinals had won the NFL title in 1947, and next to the Bears, were clearly the next-biggest rival to the Packers at the time. Needless to say, people in Green Bay were not pleased when Lambeau joined forces with the Cardinals.
Then another coaching legend arrived a few years later—Vince Lombardi. The result of his tenure? Five NFL championships in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls.
Included in that tenure was three straight NFL titles (1965-1967), something that was never done in NFL history except once, when Lambeau did it from 1929-1931 with his Packers when the NFL did not have a playoff format.
Lombardi left the Packers after the 1968 season (Lombardi was a GM-only that season) to coach the Washington Redskins. The Packers had stopped Lombardi from leaving a couple of times before, as the New York Giants had tried to get Lombardi back to his hometown and back with his close friend and college buddy Wellington Mara, who owned the Giants.
Together, Lambeau and Lombardi brought 11 world championships to Green Bay, with Lambeau winning six titles and Lombardi five in seven years, including wins in Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II.
Now I’m not saying that either Matthews or Cobb will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (although Matthews has a much better chance), but there is no doubt that both will be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame.
There they will join a number of other Green Bay legends who are not in Canton currently, but who also ended up in different locales to finish their pro careers.
It’s always difficult saying goodbye to a great player or great coach who moves on to another NFL city, but the memories that they have left behind will live on forever.
That is certainly true of both Clay Matthews and Randall Cobb.