Remembering Zeke Bratkowski: A Gracious, Kind and Cordial Gentleman

Zeke and Coach Lombardi in Baltimore

Next to the hundreds of conversations that I have had over the years with Jerry Kramer, the former Green Bay Packer who I talked to the most was Zeke Bratkowski.

Like Jerry, Zeke always had time for me. He was never short with me and was always very nice. Zeke was the epitome of being a gracious, kind and cordial gentleman. And also like Jerry, our conversations would run close to an hour.

We talked about a number of subjects and not just football either, seeing as we both called Florida home and the hurricane season can get interesting.

In terms of football, we talked about Bratkowski growing up in Illinois, being an All-American at Georgia, being drafted by the Chicago Bears and being coached by George Halas, being in the Air Force with Max McGee when his NFL career was interrupted for a couple of years, being traded to the Los Angeles Rams, being signed as a free agent by the Packers in 1963 and being the best backup quarterback in the NFL behind starter Bart Starr under the tutelage of head coach Vince Lombardi.

The relationship with Starr led to a life-long friendship. That over 50-year bond often saw the two of them and their wives getting together for the rest of their lives.

Zeke passed away yesterday at the age of 88, less than six months after his good buddy Bart passed on.

I can see Starr and Bratkowski on the spiritual practice field now with their former teammates like Henry Jordan, Ron Kostelnik, Dave “Hawg” Hanner, Lionel Aldridge, Ray Nitschke, Lee Roy Caffey, Dan Currie, Jesse Whittenton and Hank Gremminger facing them on defense.

On offense they are marching down the field with the likes of McGee, Ron Kramer, Jim Ringo, Fuzzy Thurston, Forrest Gregg, Gale Gillingham, Bob Skoronski, Elijah Pitts, Travis Williams and Jim Taylor.

I also see both Bart and Zeke holding for Don Chandler while he attempts extra points and field goals.

And yes, the whole time Coach Lombardi will be shouting out his emphatic verbiage for the players as the practice takes place.

After practice, Max and Fuzzy will be cracking jokes in the locker room, as per usual.

Finally, I see both Bart and Zeke in the quarterback’s meeting room with Coach Lombardi as they study the next opponent for the Packers. That was always an enlightening and enjoyable time.

Yes, Zeke and I talked about his former teammates who passed on, especially his best friend Bart, as well as his Air Force and golfing buddy Max.

We also talked about the two icons he played under in the NFL, Coach Halas and Coach Lombardi.

When it came to the Packers of recent years, Zeke definitely followed the team. We talked about Aaron Rodgers, Brett Hundley, Mike McCarthy, Matt LaFleur, Ted Thompson, Brian Gutekunst and Mark Murphy.

Zeke and Bart

We also talked about the time he was an assistant coach under Starr in 1979 and the team came very close to drafting Joe Montana.

Zeke loved being a Packer, both as a player and a coach. He certainly appreciated the magnificent fan base known as Packer Nation.

When he backed up Starr, he led the Packers to a number of wins after No. 15 was injured. Nothing was more important than the victory he led the Packers to in the 1965 NFL Western Conference title game.

That was when No. 12 brought Green Bay back from a 10-0 deficit to the Baltimore Colts at Lambeau Field, as the Packers won 13-10 in overtime.

Bratkowski only started three games under Lombardi in Green Bay and was 2-1 in those three games.

But in 1966, the year Starr was named NFL MVP, Bratkowski came in to relieve an injured Starr to beat da Bears and Halas at Lambeau and also to beat the Colts in Baltimore to win the Western Conference title.

Zeke and the O-Line in Baltimore

Bratkowski was honored for his play with the Packers by being inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1989.

Yes, I’m going to miss talking to Zeke. I still will talk with Jerry and with Don Horn and Boyd Dowler, who I also have friendships with. The one thing I know from talking to guys like Zeke, Jerry, Don, Boyd and others like Willie Davis, Dave Robinson, Chuck Mercein, Donny Anderson, Jim Grabowski, Carroll Dale, Doug Hart and Bob Hyland, is that their demeanor certainly stemmed from their time with Coach Lombardi.

He taught them to be the best they could be on the field, as well as the best they could be off the field.

Coach Lombardi would be proud of every one of those gentlemen and what they all accomplished.

But most of all, he would be proud of how well they treat other people.

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Nobody is a better example in that regard than Zeke Bratkowski.

God bless you, Zeke. Rest in peace, my friend.

Green Bay Packers: The D gets an A in Beating da Bears

P. Smith chasing Trubisky

Preston Smith of the Packers chases quarterback Mitch Trubisky of the Bears.

The final score on Thursday night at Soldier Field was…Green Bay Packers 10, Chicago Bears 3.

It was apropos that this NFL game between the Packers and Bears was played 60 years after Vince Lombardi made his head coaching debut against George Halas and the Monsters of the Midway at City Stadium (now Lambeau Field).

Yes, in 1959, Lombardi coached his first ever game in the NFL and it was also against da Bears. And like the game was on Thursday night, the contest was a defensive battle. The Packers ended up winning 9-6.

On Thursday night, Matt LaFleur made his head coaching debut for the Packers and like it was for Lombardi in 1959 against the Bears, the defense saved the day.

In 1959, all the Packers could muster on offense was a late Jimmy Taylor touchdown. The only other points scored by the Pack that day was because of a safety after Taylor had scored his fourth quarter touchdown.

In that game, the Packers defense, which was coordinated by Phil Bengtson, held the Bears to 164 total yards. The defense also forced two fumbles, plus scored on the safety.

The Packers only had 262 total yards themselves, led by Taylor’s 98 yards rushing. Paul Hornung also rushed for 61 yards. In all, the Packers rushed for 177 yards behind the work of Jerry Kramer and company on the offensive line.

Quarterback Lamar McHan was only 3-for-12 for 81 yards in passing the ball and also threw an interception.

After the win, the players of the Packers hoisted up Lombardi and carried him across the field.

Lombardi carried off the field in his first game

The Packers carry head coach Vince Lombardi off the field after his debut win versus the Bears in 1959.

On Thursday night, Aaron Rodgers took his career record in the regular season versus the Bears to 17-5, but it wasn’t easy. Rodgers was just 18-of-30 for 203 yards and one touchdown pass, which went to tight end Jimmy Graham from eight yards out in the second quarter.

Rodgers was also sacked five times, as he was trying to implement the new offense that LaFleur has the Packers running this year. The offense is definitely a work in progress. The key to the offense is the outside zone running scheme, but the Packers only had 47 yards rushing, with running back Aaron Jones picking up 39 of those yards.

Rodgers also led the Packers to another score in the fourth quarter, when kicker Mason Crosby connected on a 39-yard field goal.

Other than that, it was the defense coordinated by Mike Pettine which was the story of the game. The Packers harassed quarterback Mitch Trubisky of the Bears all night long and sacked him five times, with 2.5 of the sacks coming from two of the big free agent signings from this offseason, Preston Smith (1.5) and Za’Darius Smith (1.0).

Trubisky was just 26-of-45 for 228 yards and one very costly pick, as former Bear Adrian Amos (another free agent signing) intercepted Trubisky in the back of the end zone late in the fourth quarter.

Adrian Amos pick vs. da Bears

Safety Adrain Amos of the Packers celebrates his late interception of Mitch Trubisky of the Bears.

The defense of the Packers was just as stingy against the run, as they only allowed 46 yards rushing.

The bottom line was that the Packers had a crucial win on the road against their top rival in the NFC North and now will return to play at Lambeau Field to play five of their next six games there.

The next tilt will be against the Minnesota Vikings on September 15, which will also be alumni weekend and also the time when the Packers will honor the late, great Bart Starr.

You may have noticed in the game between the Packers and Bears, that the No. 15 decal was on the back of the Green Bay helmet.

So while the offense of the Packers will continue to have growing pains, the defense looks to be the strength of the team right now. The defense looks to be a top five unit in the NFL this year based on what I saw on Thursday night.

The last time that occurred was in 2010.

That was also the year the Packers went on to win Super Bowl XLV.

 

Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers vs. the Chicago Bears: By the Numbers

Aaron vs. da Bears in 2018 at Lambeau

Over his career in the NFL, quarterback Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers has pretty much had his way when he plays against the Chicago Bears.

The numbers certainly back that up.

Regular Season Record: 16-5

Postseason Record: 1-0

Completion Percentage: 67.16

Completions: 454

Touchdown Passes: 45

Interceptions: 10

Passer Rating: 105.9

Yards Passing: 5,156

Yards Rushing: 233

4th Quarter Comebacks: 7

The Fantastic Blocking Sequence That Jerry Kramer Didn’t Remember

Jerry on a knee

When it came to making some great blocks in his Pro Football Hall of Fame career, Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers had many. The two most obvious ones occurred in the postseason.

One was in the 1965 NFL title game in Green Bay, when the Packers hosted the defending NFL champion Cleveland Browns. The block occurred in the third quarter when Kramer swept left and first hit the middle linebacker with a block and then went outside to get a cornerback. Halfback Paul Hornung utilized Kramer’s blocks perfectly as he scored his last championship touchdown on a 13-yard run, as the Packers ended up winning 23-12.

The other one is maybe the most famous block in NFL history, as the Packers hosted the Dallas Cowboys in the 1967 NFL title game, better known as the “Ice Bowl” game. Kramer put a classic wedge block on defensive tackle Jethro Pugh, which allowed Bart Starr to shuffle right of No. 64 and score the winning touchdown with 13 seconds left on a quarterback sneak from one yard out, as Green Bay prevailed 21-17.

Earlier in the 1967 season, Kramer had one of the five best blocks of his career, at least according to the former Idaho Vandal star. The block (actually a number of blocks on one play) came against the Chicago Bears in the second game of the season at Lambeau Field.

Kramer knew all about the rivalry with da Bears, as head coach Vince Lombardi always had his team up versus head coach George Halas and his Monsters of the Midway.

Lombardi was always thinking the Halas had some spies watching the Packers practice.

“We would be practicing and Coach would see a lineman on a power pole a couple of blocks away doing electrical work,” Kramer said. “And Coach would go, ‘There’s one of Halas’ spies! Somebody go down there and check out that guy!’

Lombardi also had other ways to help hinder any spy tactics of Halas.

“At practice, Bart would wear No. 75 at times,” Kramer said chuckling. “We would change our numbers and everyone would wear a different number to confuse the spies of the Bears. Like Halas was going to think an offensive tackle is playing quarterback for us.”

Lombardi was always primed to play the Bears and he let his team know about as well.

“We were practicing on day before playing the Bears and Coach Lombardi brought us together,” Kramer said. “Coach said, ‘You guys go out and kick the Bears’ ass. And I’ll go out and kick old man Halas’ ass too.’

So when the Packers hosted the Bears on September 24, 1967, odds were that it would end up being a very physical game, which is exactly the way it turned out to be.

The Packers ended up winning 13-10, but it wasn’t easy. The team rushed for 233 yards, led by fullback Jim Grabowski, who rushed for 111 yards on 32 carries. No. 33 also had a rushing touchdown.

But Starr was obviously playing hurt, which was evidenced by the five interceptions he threw. This came a week after No. 15 threw four picks against the Detroit Lions in the season opener.

The game was so physical that Kramer didn’t even finish out the first half, as he suffered a concussion in the second quarter and was replaced by his old running mate, Fuzzy Thurston.

No. 63 had lost his starting left guard spot to second-year lineman Gale Gillingham after he had suffered a knee injury in an early scrimmage in training camp.

Kramer didn’t recall much about the game, except remembering seeing two or three Bears being carried off the field in the second half.

When Kramer came back to see the film of the game two days later with his teammates under the supervision and prodding by his head coach, he recalled Lombardi coming up to him just before the film study began.

Jerry Kramer Closeup

Lombardi said, “Boy, you came out there on one block and knocked the halfback down and went on and knocked the end down. You were just great. One of the greatest plays I’ve ever seen.”

Kramer had no memory of the play. The first time he saw it was watching film. I talked with Kramer recently and he gave me a rundown of that play.

“I was pulling and got the halfback first,” Kramer said. “I kept heading upfield and and was able to hit two other defensive players before I ended up hitting the left defensive end who was pursuing across the field.

“The block on the defensive end happened about 10 yards downfield. He was coming across the field and I was coming up the field. So his body position was not a position of strength. So as he ran toward me and in front of me, he tried to engage me. His position was very bad for that.

“I ended up knocking him about five yards through the air.”

It’s no wonder that Coach Lombardi was so impressed.

Green Bay Packers: Catching Up with No. 33, Jim Grabowski

Jim Grabowski vs. the Eagles

Jim Grabowski had some nice karma going for him when he played fullback for the University of Illinois from 1963 through 1965. Grabowski created some of the good fortune himself, due to his fabulous play with the Fighting Illini.

In 1963 as a sophomore, Grabowski rushed for 616 yards and seven touchdowns, plus capped a nice season by being named the 1964 Rose Bowl MVP, as Illinois beat Washington 17-7.

In 1964 and 1965, the Chicago native was named Associated Press All-American in both seasons, as he rushed for a combined 2,262 yards and 17 touchdowns. The Chicago Taft High School alumnus also caught 15 passes in his career at Illinois for 144 yards.

Grabowski finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1965.

Because of his exploits, Grabowski, who wore No. 31 at Illinois, now is in the College Football Hall of Fame, as well as the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame.

That set things up quite nicely for Grabowski, as the NFL and AFL were still battling for the rights of the best college football talent before the two leagues finally merged in 1966.

Grabowski was drafted first overall in the AFL draft by the Miami Dolphins, who were about to start their expansion season.  Grabowski was also picked ninth overall in the first round of the NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers.

Grabowski explained to me how it felt to be in that enviable position.

“Yes, that was the last year of the competition between the two leagues,” Grabowski said. “It was wonderful for those players who were drafted then. Up until that time, everyone was sort of an indentured servant of the NFL.

“So I had an attorney who was my agent and our strategy was that we had to listen to both offers. Miami was a brand new team. For a little bit of trivia, the very first draft choice of the Miami Dolphins was me.

“But being drafted by the Packers was certainly a factor in their favor. I grew up in Chicago as a Bear fan and I was always aware of the Green Bay Packers. Plus on top of that, they had Vince Lombardi, the god of gods as head coach. That certainly weighed heavy in my decision.”

Grabowski told me how his contract was finalized with the Packers.

“The Packers sent a plane down to negotiate the contract with my agent and myself,” Grabowski said. ” The Packers wanted to fly us to Green Bay. As a kid then, I didn’t realize all this stuff about the best place to negotiate was on your home turf, not theirs.

“So they brought us up there and you have to remember I’m a 21 year-old kid who had not been around much and was happy to play for anything I could get. But my agent really insisted that we play this out. So he told me that no matter what Lombardi said, to not say anything except that we will get back to you.

“Well, we walk into Lombardi’s office and you see all these trophies, championships and pictures around the room. I remember walking into the office and it seemed like the biggest office that I had ever seen. We didn’t sit at his desk, we sat at what looked like a boardroom table. It was pretty impressive.

“So my agent told Lombardi that Miami offered us a wonderful contract. Coach Lombardi went right to the chase. He gave us a number and he said that only provision with that number was that he couldn’t give us anymore than anyone else.

“So he looked at me and said, ‘Son, what do you think?’ I couldn’t help but nod my head yes.”

Lombardi was going through another set of high-priced negotiations with halfback Donny Anderson of Texas Tech, who the Packers had drafted in the first round of the 1965 NFL draft as a future draft pick, which was allowed in those days.

The Packers were battling the Houston Oilers of the AFL for Anderson’s services.

In the end, Lombardi was able to snare both Grabowski and Anderson and the duo was known as the “Gold Dust Twins” because of the contracts they had signed.

Grabowski and Anderson replace Hornung and Taylor

The big deals that Grabowski and Anderson signed did not sit well with one player on the Packers. That would be fullback Jim Taylor. While Anderson received help and guidance from veterans Paul Hornung  and Elijah Pitts, Taylor did not do the same with Grabowski.

“Jimmy was a real competitor,” Grabowski said. “And he was ticked off about the contracts that were signed by Donny and I. And I understood that. Paul was more magnanimous with Donny and Elijah was one of the best guys on that team, as he was very helpful. Jimmy and I had very few words together.”

I know from talking with Jerry Kramer that he really enjoyed his time with Grabowski and Anderson and had no ill will about the contracts that had signed. As Jerry told me once, “Donny and Jim were at the right place at the right time when they came out of college.”

Another veteran on the Packers, Henry Jordan, said this to Grabowski. “I don’t give a crap how much money you make. If you help put a few more dollars in my pocket, I’m with you!”

In his rookie season with the Packers, Grabowski did not get a lot of playing time, as he rushed 127 yards on 29 carries (a 4.4  yards-per-carry average). The game in which Grabowski first received significant playing time was against the expansion Atlanta Falcons at County Stadium in Milwaukee. I happened to be in attendance at that game.

Grabowski led the Packers in rushing that day with 52 yards on just seven carries, as the Packers blew out the Falcons 56-3. It was after that game that Taylor told the media that he was playing out his option with the Packers. That announcement did not sit well with Lombardi.

The most memorable run that Grabowski had as a rookie occurred versus the Minnesota Vikings at Metropolitan Stadium. No. 33 bounced off two groups of tacklers as he scampered 36 yards for a score. All told, Grabowski rushed for 61 yards on just seven carries in the game which was won by the Pack 28-16.

Grabowski also had a big play in the 1966 NFL title game at the Cotton Bowl versus the Dallas Cowboys. He was assisted on that big play by Green Bay’s other No. 1 pick in the 1966 NFL draft, guard Gale Gillingham, who was the 13th pick of the first round by the Pack.

After the Packers had grabbed a 7-0 lead after scoring on the opening drive that championship game, on the ensuing kickoff, Gillingham forced a fumble by Mel Renfro, which was recovered by Grabowski and returned 18 yards for another touchdown.

Grabowski recalled that moment.

“Yes, I always got a lot of crap from Gilly because he was in on that tackle,” Grabowski said. “He told me, ‘I caused the fumble and you get the glory.’ I was at the right place at the right time. Plus in that game, the difference in the game was one touchdown.

“I was thrilled. I would like to say that it was a real athletic play, but the fumble came right into my hands and what else could I do?”

Jim Grabowski picks up fumble in 1966 NFL title game

The Packers won that title game 34-27, which set up a match up the first Super Bowl, when the Packers played the Kansas City Chiefs at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The Packers took over the game in the second half and both Grabowski and Anderson got into the game late. Anderson rushed for 30 yards, while Grabowski ran for two, as the Packers won 35-10.

In 1967, both Taylor and Hornung were gone. The new starting backfield for the Packers that season was Grabowski at fullback and Pitts at halfback.

Grabowski got off to a great start that year, both running and catching the football. Against the Bears in Week 2, Grabowski ran for 111 yards on 32 carries and a touchdown, plus caught three passes for 26 more yards.

Grabowski remembered that game well.

“That was a real grinding game,” Grabowski said. “I had a couple carries that were called back. I ended up carrying the ball 36 times overall. I was pretty beat up after that.”

In Week 8, the Packers played the Baltimore Colts at Memorial Stadium. No. 33 was having a great year, as he was third in the NFL in rushing at the time. At that point, Grabowski had 448 yards rushing and had two TDs, plus had caught 12 passes for 171 yards and another score.

But Grabowski and the Packers were struck a cruel blow in the game, as No. 33 went out with a knee injury, while Pitts was lost for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon.

The injury to Grabowski’s knee was a cartilage issue and he kept rehabbing and working to get back on the field. In fact, Grabowski was able to play in Week 11 against the Bears at Wrigley Field, as he rushed for 18 yards on four carries.

But that would be his last appearance for the Packers that season, even with his efforts to get back on the field. In fact, Grabowski was supposed to start the “Ice Bowl” game at fullback, before he re-injured the knee in pre-game workouts.

Grabowski recalled that moment.

“Yes, I was slated to start,” Grabowski said. “When I had the cartilage injury back then, and I can’t speak for what happens with an injury like that today, but then it just popped and tore everything up and the knee swelled up. So you tried to ice it up and take it easy. I hadn’t done much prior to the “Ice Bowl” for a few weeks, but I was able to practice that week. But before the game I was warming up and I was making a cut on a pass and the knee went out and I was done.”

A lot of people don’t realize that even with the injuries to Grabowski and Pitts that season, the Packers still finished second in the NFL in rushing in 1967, as Anderson and Travis Williams filled in at halfback and Ben Wilson and Chuck Mercein filled in at fullback.

Mercein was a huge factor in the “Ice Bowl”, as he was responsible for 34 of the 68 yards made on that game-winning, epic drive that the Packers made to win the game 21-17.

Mercein told me in one of our conversations that one of his proudest moments came after the game when Grabowski told him that he couldn’t have played any better at FB than Mercein did that day.

With the victory over the Cowboys, the Packers now had won their third straight NFL title and were about to win their second straight Super Bowl, as the Packers beat the Oakland Raiders 33-14 at the Orange Bowl in Miami.

In 1968, Grabowski was once again the starting FB for the Packers and he led the team in rushing with 518 yards and also had three rushing TDs. No. 33 also had 18 catches for 210 yards and another score.

That touchdown catch came in the last game of the season, as the Packers played the Bears and Grabowski’s old teammate at Illinois, Dick Butkus. Going into the game, the Packers were 5-7-1 and were out of playoff contention behind head coach Phil Bengtson, who had taken over for Lombardi that year, as Vince was GM only.

Chicago was 7-6 going into the game and a victory would give da Bears the NFL Central title. But after a Zeke Bratkowski injury, Don Horn came into the game at quarterback for the Packers and had a big game. No. 13 threw for 187 yards and two scores and had a passer rating of 142.4 in the game, as the Packers won 28-27.

One of those TD passes was to Grabowski for 67 yards.

Needless to say, Butkus wasn’t too happy when he shook hands with his old buddy Grabowski after the game.

Dick Butkus and Jim Grabowski

The knee injury that Grabowski had suffered in 1967 continued to plague him throughout the rest of his NFL career. In 1969 and 1970 combined, Grabowski rushed for 471 yards and two scores, but people weren’t aware of all the health trauma that the 6’2″, 220-pound fullback was going through.

“What most people don’t know is that in the 1968 offseason that I had a staph infection and was in the hospital for over two weeks,” Grabowski said. “The recuperative part after that took several months. I lost thirty pounds. As I look back at it, the staph infection was a very serious thing and I could have died from it.

“I don’t really talk about this too much. Then the next year the staph infection returned. I was fighting a number of setbacks with my knee over the years. You get injured, then an infection and then another infection. I’m fortunate that I made it through all that.”

In 1971, Grabowski was in training camp with the Packers under new head coach Dan Devine.

Grabowski vividly remembers what happened next.

“I went through about six or seven weeks of camp under Devine and then I was extremely happy to get out of there,” Grabowski said. “Not because of anything to do with the players or the Packers, but I believe I’m in the majority of the people who I have talked to subsequent to those years about playing for Devine.

“Just when we broke up camp, Devine didn’t have the nerve to call me into his office. He cut me, but he made Red Cochran tell me. That’s how brave he was! I told Red that I couldn’t believe that Devine didn’t have the nerve to face me one on one.  I lost all respect for him then.”

Grabowski played with his hometown Bears in 1971 and rushed for 149 yards before he retired.

“I wasn’t sure I was going to continue to play after I was cut by the Packers, as I was basically running on one leg,” Grabowski said. “I was happy to play for the Bears. If you could have told a kid from Chicago that he was going to go on and play for the University of Illinois, then the Packers and end up playing for the Bears, you would say what a dream!”

After he retired from the NFL, Grabowski became a color commentator for Illinois football games and remained in that role for 26 years years before retiring in 2007.

I asked Grabowski what he was up to now.

“I’ve been retired for a number of years now,” Grabowski said. “An old friend of mine, Tom Boerwinkle, who was a center on the Chicago Bulls some years back, retired before I did and I asked Tom what it was like. And he said, ‘I can’t tell you what I’m doing, but I’m busy.’

“That has kind of been my motto. I have grandkids and I watch them do every sport that they are involved in. My wife and I stay busy. Spending time with friends and family and all that. We do a lot of traveling. We’re going to Alaska next month. We’ve been to a lot of places. I’m enjoying the fourth quarter.”

Finally, with the recent passing of Bart Starr, I had to ask Grabowski to share his thoughts about his old teammate.

“With Bart and I, it was like a general and a second lieutenant,” Grabowski said. “He was like Dwight D. Eisenhower and I was a guy with one bar on his helmet. He was the ultimate gentleman. Even in tough circumstances, he was going to treat you with kindness.

“He has always been like that. I felt a real loss when he passed. I knew he was sick and I had not talked with him since he first became sick, as I didn’t want to intrude upon his privacy. But I felt a real loss when I heard he was gone. He was the heart of the Packers. He was what it was all about.

“Thinking about him right now I’m sad that he in no longer with us. There was only one of those guys!”

Starr, Favre and Rodgers Have Been Instrumental in the Packers Series Lead vs. the Bears

Bart, Brett and Aaron(1)

Before Brett Favre arrived in Green Bay in 1992, the series between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears, which first started in 1921, was lopsided.

The Bears held a commanding 79-58-6 series lead over the Packers going into the 1992 season.

That was the record then, even with Vince Lombardi as head coach of the Packers, when he was going up against George Halas from 1959 through 1967. During his tenure, Lombardi’s Packers were 13-5 versus “Papa Bear” and da Bears.

The Packers also won five NFL championships under Lombardi, which included the first two Super Bowls. Halas and his Bears also won a NFL title in that era, as Chicago won it all in 1963.

The Lombardi era certainly helped the Packers to gain some ground in the series against the Bears.

The MVP of Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II was Bart Starr. Starr had some great moments against the Bears and was 12-3 against Chicago with Lombardi as his head coach. In all, No. 15 was 15-5 in his career versus da Bears as a starter.

And it was against the Bears that Starr showed Lombardi and his teammates in 1960 (when Starr was splitting time with Lamar McHan at QB) that he was the man to lead them to greatness at quarterback.

Jerry Kramer related that story to me in one of our many conversations.

“We were playing the Chicago Bears,” Kramer said. “Bill George was their middle linebacker at the time. On a deep pass attempt, George thought he would try to intimidate Bart.

“Bill took about a five-yard run and he gave Bart a forearm right in the mouth. George timed it perfectly and put Bart right on his behind. He also cut Bart badly, from his lip all the way to his nose. After that, George said, ‘That ought to take care of you Starr, you pu**y.’ Bart snapped right back at George and said, ‘F— you, Bill George, we’re coming after you.’

“My jaw dropped after that exchange, as I was shocked. Meanwhile Bart was bleeding profusely. I told Bart that he better go to the sideline and get sewn up. Bart replied, ‘Shut up and get in the huddle.’

“Bart took us down the field in seven or eight plays and we scored. That series of plays really solidified Bart as our leader and we never looked back.”

Bart vs. da Bears

In all, Starr was also the NFL MVP in 1966, plus was 94-57-6 as a starting quarterback with the Packers. In addition to that, No. 15 was an amazing 9-1 in the postseason, which included five NFL championships (including three titles in a row) and victories in the first two Super Bowls.

Still, before the arrival of Favre, the Packers chances of ever catching the Bears in their series seemed very remote. But in 16 years in Green Bay, Favre had a 22-10 record against Chicago.

Overall, Favre had a fantastic career in Green Bay, as he had 160 wins over 16 seasons, with 96 of those wins occurring at Lambeau Field (.762 winning percentage).

The former Southern Miss gunslinger also started 253 straight games (275 including the postseason) for the Pack in his career, plus Green Bay won the NFC Central/North seven times.

Favre also threw 442 touchdown passes for 61,655 yards while he was a Packer and also won three straight NFL MVP awards in 1995, 1996 and 1997.

And like it was with Starr, the Packers were regulars in the postseason under Favre, as the Packers went there 11 times under Favre.

The biggest prize of them all was the victory in Super Bowl XXXI.

Favre’s most memorable win against the Bears had to be on Halloween night at Soldier Field in 1994. That was the night that the Bears were retiring the jerseys of both Dick Butkus (No.51) and Gale Sayers (No. 40), plus both Green Bay and Chicago were wearing their throwback jerseys.

It was a scary night weather-wise, as the temperature was in the low 40s on a very windy and rainy night. It was raining sideways for awhile as a matter of fact. Favre didn’t have his best night throwing in those conditions, even with his strong arm, but he did throw for 82 yards and one touchdown, without throwing a pick.

It was Favre’s legs that made the difference in the game though, as he rushed for 58 yards on just two carries, including a memorable 36-yard touchdown scamper. The Packers as a team ran for 223 yards, which was very Lombardi-like.

But in his career, Favre always seemed to throw well against Chicago. In 1995, playing with a heavily-wrapped ankle, Favre threw five touchdown passes against the Bears in a 35-28 win at Lambeau Field.

In 1993 at Soldier Field, Favre threw for 402 yards, which was the first and only time he threw for 400 yards in his Green Bay career. It was also at Soldier Field in 1995, when Favre completed a 99-yard touchdown pass to Robert Brooks in a 27-24 victory.

Brett vs. da Bears

Aaron Rodgers took over for Favre in 2008 and he has truly been a Bear-killer, as he has a 16-4 record against Chicago in the regular season, plus beat da Bears at Soldier Field in the 2010 NFC title game.

The numbers that Rodgers has put up against Chicago have just been amazing. In 20 regular season games against the Bears, Rodgers has thrown 45 touchdown passes versus just nine interceptions for 4,882 yards. That adds up to a very robust passer rating of 108.3.

The first game of the 2018 season against Chicago on Sunday night at Lambeau Field added more to his legend against the Monsters of the Midway. In that game, Rodgers suffered a knee sprain that saw the quarterback leave the field on a cart in the second quarter.

But No. 12 returned in the second half, basically playing on one leg. And what a performance he put on! The Packers were down 20-3 , when Rodgers brought the Packers back.

Rodgers threw three touchdown passes without a pick in a stirring comeback as the Packers won 24-23.

As great as that game was for Rodgers, he has beaten the Bears in even more dramatic fashion.

Like in the season finale in 2013 at Soldier Field, when the winner of that game would be NFC North champs.

Rodgers had missed seven games due that year to a broken collarbone, which ironically occurred when the Packers played the Bears at Lambeau Field in Week 9.

In that game, Rodgers appeared to be a bit rusty due to his layoff, but No. 12 still threw for 315 yards with two touchdown passes versus two picks.

But the second touchdown he threw in that game was one that will live on in Green Bay lore. With 46 seconds to go in the game and with the Packers trailing the Bears 28-27, Rodgers and the Packers faced a fourth-and-8 scenario.

In the moment of truth, Rodgers first avoided being sacked by Julius Peppers by sprinting to his left and getting a chip-block by fullback John Kuhn. Rodgers then delivered a 48-yard touchdown pass on the move to wide receiver Randall Cobb, as the Packers won 33-28.

Rodgers to Cobb in 2013 vs. da Bears

In his career, Rodgers has followed in Favre’s footsteps quite well, as he is on his way to breaking some of the tremendous records that No. 4 set in Green Bay.

Rodgers is 98-55-1 as a starter, plus has thrown 336 touchdown passes versus just 79 picks for 42,202 yards. No QB in NFL history has ever thrown for a 4-1 ratio for TD passes vs. picks like Rodgers has. Add to that, Rodgers is the highest rated passer in NFL history, with a 103.4 mark.

Rodgers has also won the NFL MVP award twice (2011 and 2014).

And like Starr and Favre, Rodgers has led his team to the playoffs several times, as he has done it nine times, including eight seasons in a row.

In fact, like Starr did twice, Rodgers was the MVP of Super Bowl XLV, as the Packers beat the Steelers 31-25.

Rodgers can perhaps make it to the postseason for the 10th time this year, but the Packers will need to win their last three games of the year, starting with Sunday’s game against the Bears.

The Packers will also need some good fortune to get in if they do that, but the odds have gotten better as of late.

The Packers need the Carolina Panthers, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins to lose one of their last three games to pass all three of those teams in the Wild Card race. That has a decent chance of happening, perhaps even this weekend.

The Eagles have to go out to Los Angeles to play the Rams, while the Panthers will host the New Orleans Saints and finally the Redskins have to travel to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars.

If those three teams lose just one game, then the Packers would need one more set of odd circumstances to occur. They need the Minnesota Vikings to lose two out of their last three games.

The Vikings have lost three out of their last four games, with their lone victory coming against the Packers in Minneapolis. So, you just never know.

But all of that will be a moot point, unless the Packers can take care of the Bears.

The good news is that the Green Bay offense looked much more in rhythm last Sunday under new head coach Joe Philbin than it did under Mike McCarthy most of this season.

That needs to happen again this Sunday at Soldier Field, plus the defense and special teams need to do their jobs as well.

Bottom line, based on the track record of Rodgers against Chicago, I wouldn’t bet against No. 12 in pulling off another dramatic win.

The Track Record of Aaron Rodgers vs. the NFC North Gives the Packers Hope

Aaron Rodgers vs. the Vikings in 2016

Although the Green Bay Packers are 4-5-1 after 10 games in the 2018 NFL season, there is still hope that the Packers can still make the playoffs. The biggest reason is quarterback Aaron Rodgers, as he will be playing all three of his NFC North rivals during the final six-game stretch of the year.

Rodgers is a combined 41-15-1 versus the Minnesota Vikings (12-7-1), Chicago Bears (16-4) and Detroit Lions (13-4).

There is a big reason for his success. It’s the numbers he puts up against those teams. Combined, Rodgers has thrown 122 touchdown passes compared to just 21 interceptions for 19,122 yards against his biggest rivals. That adds up to a combined passer rating of 109.4, which is even better than his all-time NFL best career mark of 103.7.

That rating is helped by his off the charts ratio of touchdown passes (332) vs. interceptions (79). That means that Rodgers throws 4.20 touchdown passes compared to every pick he throws.

No one else in NFL history comes close. In fact, Tom Brady (3.02) of the New England Patriots and Russell Wilson (3.01) of the Seattle Seahawks are the only other QBs in NFL history to be above the three to one ratio when comparing touchdown passes to interceptions.

Bottom line, since Rodgers became the starting QB of the Packers in 2008, Rodgers and the Packers have won the NFC North five times and have made the playoffs eight times overall.

Currently, the Bears lead the NFC North with a 8-3 record, followed by the Vikings at 5-4-1, the Packers at 4-5-1 and the Lions at 4-7. The Bears and Lions have played one more game, as they met in Detroit on Thanksgiving, as Chicago won 23-16.

Rodgers has had a very good 2018 season, as he has thrown 19 touchdown passes versus just one pick for 3,073 yards. Plus, he has played very well against his NFC North rivals as well.

Against da Bears and quarterback Mitchell Trubisky in the season opener at Lambeau Field, Rodgers had a 130.7 passer rating, as he threw three touchdown passes without a pick for 286 yards. Most of this came after No. 12 had his season almost ended on one of the two sacks he took that night, as Rodgers suffered a knee sprain that saw the quarterback leave the field on a cart in the second quarter.

But Rodgers was able to come back in the second half, as he led the Packers back from a 20-3 deficit, as Green Bay roared back to beat Chicago 24-23.

Aaron versus da Bears at Lambeau in 2018

In Week 2, versus the Vikings at Lambeau, on the same day the Packers put Jerry Kramer’s name on the stadium facade and he was given his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring, the Packers saw a sure win taken away from them due to a very controversial roughing the quarterback call against Clay Matthews as he hit Kirk Cousins.

The game ended in a 29-29 tie, as Rodgers threw for 281 yards and a touchdown (without a pick). No. 12’s passer rating in the game was 97.4. And this all happened a week after Rodgers almost had his season ended against da Bears with his knee injury.

As it was, the Vikings sacked Rodgers four times.

In Week 5 against the Lions at Ford Field, Rodgers and the Packers were hurt by the kicking game, as kicker Mason Crosby missed four field goals and an extra point, as Detroit beat Green Bay 31-23.

Rodgers had a nice game, as he threw three touchdown passes without a pick for 442 yards. That added up to a passer rating of 108.0.

But for the Packers to have any chance of making the postseason, either as division champs or as a Wild Card team, they have to certainly defeat the Vikings Sunday night at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Rodgers can’t do it alone, but he has to play well for Green Bay to win. And as good as Rodgers has played in 2018, in spite of his lingering knee issues, he has also shown a few tendencies that have been rare throughout his career.

For one thing, Rodgers has just a 61.8 completion percentage this season, which is the second lowest of his career (64.9 average). Some of that could be due to his knee woes, plus he is playing with a number of younger wide receivers, including rookies Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown.

That has led to a number of inaccurate throws to open receivers. Besides that, we can’t forget that Rodgers has suffered two broken collarbones in his career, including the one from last season (after a hit by Anthony Barr of the Vikings) when Rodgers had to have 13 screws put in to repair his broken collarbone.

Still, Rodgers is still playing at a very high level, even though the Packers are 1-3 in their last four games. In those four games, Rodgers has thrown seven touchdown passes without a pick for 1,076 yards. That adds up to a combined passer rating of 108.2.

Teams should not be 1-3 when their quarterbacks play like Rodgers has the past four games overall, but it goes to show that there are a number of other issues with the 2018 Packers.

And a lot of heat is going in the direction of head coach Mike McCarthy.

Besides utilizing the skills of Rodgers on offense, the Packers also need to rely on running back Aaron Jones more.

The defensive and special teams units have to play better as well.

All that being said, Rodgers is the best chance the Packers have in getting back to the postseason again in 2018, after missing out in 2017.

A lot of that is due to the great success Rodgers has had against his NFC North rivals in his career.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame: The Green Bay Packers Deserve More Recognition

hall of fame packer logo 2

The Green Bay Packers have won 13 NFL championships, which is the most in league history. The next closest team to that total is the Chicago Bears, who have won nine NFL titles.

Yet, da Bears have 28 members of their team in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, while the Packers have just 25. Something seems amiss to me here.

Here are the Packers who have a bust in Canton:

They 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), Brett Favre (Class of 2016) and Jerry Kramer (Class of 2018).

Now here are the Bears who are in the Hall of Fame:

They are George Halas (Class of 1963), Bronco Nagurski (Class of 1963), Harold “Red” Grange (Class of 1963), Ed Healey (Class of 1964), William Lyman (Class of 1964), George Trafton (Class of 1964), Paddy Driscoll (Class of 1965), Dan Fortmann (Class of 1965), Sid Luckman (Class of 1965), George McAfee (Class of 1966), Bulldog Turner (Class of 1966), Joe Stydahar (Class of 1967), Bill Hewitt (Class of 1971), Bill George (Class of 1974, George Connor (Class of 1975), Gale Sayers (Class of 1977), Dick Butkus (Class of 1979), George Blanda (Class of 1981), George Musso (Class of 1982), Doug Atkins (Class of 1982), Mike Ditka (Class of 1988), Stan Jones (Class of 1991), Walter Payton (Class of 1993), Jim Finks (Class of 1995), Mike Singletary (Class of 1998), Dan Hampton (Class of 2002), Richard Dent (Class of 2011) and Brian Urlacher (Class of 2018).

Now let’s look at the years the Packers have won the NFL title:

The years are 1929, 1930, 1931, 1936, 1939, 1944, 1961, 1962, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1996 and 2010.

Here are the NFL titles won by da Bears:

1921, 1932, 1933, 1940, 1941, 1943, 1946, 1963 and 1986.

The Bears were in the league right from the start in 1920 (when it was the American Professional Football Association), while the Packers joined the league in 1921.

Both the Bears and Packers each won six NFL titles through 1946. Yet, Chicago has 13 players recognized in Canton who played on some of those teams, while the Packers only have eight.

That tells you something right there.

Now I’m not saying that the members of the Bears from those teams don’t deserve to have a place in Canton. They absolutely do.

What I’m saying is that more Packers from that era deserve a place among the best of the best in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Players like Lavvie Dilweg, Verne Lewellen and Cecil Isbell.

Dilweg was a first-team member of the All-Decade team of the 1920s in the NFL. He is the only member of that All-Decade team not in Canton. Dilweg was named first-team All-Pro team six times and was also a second-team selection at All-Pro once. There was no Pro Bowl (started in 1938) when Dilweg played.

The former Marquette star set all the Green Bay receiving records until a fellow by the name of Don Huston came on the scene. Dilweg was part of the squad that won three consecutive NFL titles from 1929 through 1931. This was prior to the playoff era in the NFL. Unbelievably, Dilweg has never been a finalist for the Hall of Fame.

Dilweg was also the grandfather of Anthony Dilweg, who played quarterback for the Packers in 1989 and 1990.

Lewellen was also part of the team which won three straight NFL titles in 1929, 1930 and 1931. The former Nebraska star was a do-it-all type of player. Lewellen rushed for 2,410 career yards and 37 TDs, passed for 2,076 yards and threw nine TDs and gained another 1,240 yards receiving and had 12 more scores.

Lewellen was also the Green Bay punter, as he averaged 39.5 yards per kick. Lewellen was named All-Pro four times and should have been named to the NFL All-Decade team of the 1920s like Dilweg was. Also like Dilweg, Lewellen has never been a Hall of Fame finalist.

Cecil Isbell in the 1939 NFL title game at State Fair Park

Cecil Isbell  carries the ball in the 1939 NFL Championship Game at State Fair Park.

Then there is Isbell, who had a short five-year career before he retired. But what a great career he had in those five years. Isbell was a two-time first-team All-Pro and a three-time second-team All-Pro. Isbell also went to four Pro Bowls.

Isbell was so prolific throwing the ball to Don Hutson, that he was named to the NFL All-Decade team of the 1930s. From 1920 through 2000, there have been 21 quarterbacks selected to the All-Decade teams. All but Isbell are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The two best years that Hutson ever had were in 1941 and 1942 when Isbell was throwing him the ball. In 1941, Hutson caught 58 passes from Isbell for 738 yards and 10 touchdowns. In 1942, Hutson caught 74 passes from Isbell for 1,211 yards and 17 touchdowns.  In ’42, Hutson became the first-ever 1,000 yard receiver.

The NFL was mostly a three yards and a cloud of dust league before Hutson came into the league. That all changed when No. 14 became a huge receiving threat and had Isbell throwing him the ball.

In his short career, Isbell threw 61 touchdown passes versus 52 interceptions for 5,945 yards. He was not a bad runner either, as he rushed for 1,522 yards and 10 scores. Isbell also found time to catch 15 passes.

So if you can make the case for 13 Bears to be in the Hall of Fame because of the six NFL titles won through 1946, you can also say that the Packers, who also won six championships during that time, deserve more than eight players in Canton from those teams.

Dilweg, Lewellen and Isbell are three more that should definitely have busts right now.

Plus, there are the other Packers who deserve consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I have written about a number of them. Players like Bobby Dillon, Ron Kramer, Boyd Dowler, Fuzzy Thurston, Don Chandler, Gale Gillingham and Sterling Sharpe.

Plus you have to also consider players like Bob Skoronski and LeRoy Butler.

And we can’t forget scout Jack Vainisi either. Vainisi was just as responsible for the success of the Packers of the 1960s, as Ron Wolf was for the Packers of the 1990s.

So, will the Packers ever catch the Bears in terms of having as many or more individuals in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Well, the Pack certainly has some excellent candidates to get a bust in Canton.

Plus there is this. The Packers now have a 96-93-6 advantage (regular season) in their series against the Bears dating back to 1921. But it wasn’t until last season that the Packers were able to get ahead in the series for the first time since 1932.

The Packers and Bears are also 1-1 against each other in the postseason, which includes the 2010 NFC title game at Soldier Field, when Green Bay won 21-14.

Packers-Bears Helmets

The bottom line is that the Packers are the most successful franchise in NFL history. They have proven that with their league-leading 13 NFL championships. But some of the great players who helped win some of those championships have been ignored by the Hall of Fame.

That needs to change.

Plus there are players like Dillon, who played on mostly bad teams in Green Bay in the 1950s. Or Gillingham or who played on mostly bad or mediocre teams except for his first two years in the NFL (1966 and 1967) when he played for the Super Bowl I and the Super Bowl II champion Packers.

Gillingham was also on the 1972 Green Bay team which won the NFC Central title, but he missed almost the entire season due to a knee injury after Dan Devine ridiculously decided to move him to defensive tackle.

Playing on mostly bad teams didn’t stop voters from putting Sayers and Butkus in the Hall of Fame. Neither No. 40 or No. 51 ever played in a NFL postseason game. But they were both among the best of the best at their position when they played in the NFL.

That is also true of all the Packers I have mentioned.

And that’s why the Packers deserve more recognition in terms of individuals who belong in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Green Bay Packers and Jerry Kramer Have a Couple of Big Weekends Upcoming

Jerry in 2017 at Alumni Day

Both the Green Bay Packers and Jerry Kramer have a couple of big weekends coming up.

The Packers are preparing to open their 2018 NFL season (the 100th anniversary of the Packers being formed) on Sunday night at Lambeau Field versus the Chicago Bears and their newly acquired pass rusher Khalil Mack.

The following week the Pack will host the defending NFC North champions, the Minnesota Vikings.

The upcoming game against da Bears also marks the annual alumni weekend, as Kramer and many of his former teammates, as well as other former Green Bay players will be on hand.

And when the Packers play the Vikings the following week at Lambeau, Kramer will receive his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring, as well as seeing his name unveiled on the facade, along with the other 24 Packers enshrined in Canton.

The Packers and Bears have been playing each other since 1921 when the NFL was called the American Professional Football Association. When Green Bay defeated Chicago 35-14 last September at Lambeau Field, that victory put the Packers ahead in the series against their long-time rivals for the first time in 85 years.

The series now stands with the Packers holding an edge with a 95-93-6 mark. Kramer knows all about this heated rivalry, as No. 64 talked about that story line in a piece I wrote a couple of years ago.

It was an era when Vince Lombardi coached the Packers and George Halas coached the Bears. In the nine years that the two coached against each other, the Packers held a 13-5 edge in the series.

During that period, the Packers won five NFL titles in seven years under Lombardi, which included three NFL championships in a row (which has never been duplicated in the playoff era of the NFL), as well as winning the first two Super Bowl games.

Da Bears won the 1963 NFL title under Halas.

Lombardi was always primed to play the Bears and he let his team know about as well.

“We were practicing on day before playing the Bears and Coach Lombardi brought us together,” Kramer said. “Coach said, ‘You guys go out and kick the Bears’ ass. And I’ll go out and kick old man Halas’ ass too.’

One of Kramer’s teammates who will be at the alumni weekend get-together is Zeke Bratkowski. The former Georgia Bulldog was the backup to Bart Starr for the Packers in the 1960s, but he started his NFL career with the Bears in the 1950s.

Bratkowski had the honor of playing under both Halas and Lombardi and Zeke talked about that scenario in a story I wrote last summer.

Besides Kramer and Bratkowski, there will be several other former Packers who played under Lombardi at the alumni function this weekend. The list includes Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, Boyd Dowler, Dave Robinson, Marv Fleming, Doug Hart, Don Horn, Carroll Dale and Donny Anderson.

Dale and Anderson are the featured alumni this weekend and they will be signing autographs and visiting with fans on Saturday, Sept. 8, from 11 to noon in the Lambeau Field Atrium.

Other former Packers who are expected to attend are LeRoy Butler, John Brockington, Lynn Dickey, Paul Coffman, Jan Stenerud, Johnnie Gray, Ezra Johnson, Mark Lee, Al Matthews, Karl Swanke, David Whitehurst, Gerry Ellis, Gary Ellerson, Tiger Greene, Ron Hallstrom, Perry Kemp, Don Majkowski, Ron Pitts, Blaise Winter, Vince Workman, Don Beebe, Bucky Brooks, Mark Chmura, Earl Dotson, William Henderson, Ryan Longwell, Bryce Paup, Bill Schroeder, Frank Winters, Nick Barnett, Kevin Barry, Colin Cole, Brad Jones, Aaron Kampman, Buddy Aydelette, Craig Nall and Jason Spitz.

At halftime on Sunday night, the Packers will be introducing all of those players.

I talked to Kramer earlier this week and he talked about how great it is to see his former teammates. Plus, this will be the first time he has seen most of them since he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Jerry with his Gold Jacket hugging his bust.

“It’s always great seeing the fellas,” Kramer said. “But I’m going to bust my ass to make sure that they know I haven’t changed. I want to show that I’m the same guy I have always been the past 40 years.”

From my perspective, having known Kramer for several years now, I can honestly say that Jerry has not changed one iota since he was inducted among the best of the best in Canton.

The game itself will be a big test for the Packers against the Bears, who are definitely a team on the rise. Chicago added a defensive force with the addition of Mack.

Mack and company will be trying to stop Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense, which will not be an easy task, based on the way Rodgers has historically played versus Chicago.

In his career against da Bears, Rodgers is 15-4 in the regular season. In those 19 games, No. 12 has thrown 42 touchdown passes, compared to just nine interceptions for 4,596 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 107.2.

Rodgers and the Packers also beat the Bears 21-14 in the 2010 NFC title game at Soldier Field.

The defense of the Packers, which is now headed by new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, will be trying to force some mistakes by second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

When the Packers go up against the Vikings, Rodgers will definitely keep his eye peeled for linebacker Anthony Barr, as it was Barr who broke the collarbone of Rodgers last season when he took No. 12 down hard to the ground after Rodgers had thrown the ball.

And as good as Rodgers is against the Bears, he is almost equally as good against the Vikings historically. In 19 regular season games, Rodgers is 12-7 against the Vikes, plus has thrown 39 touchdown passes compared to just six picks for 4,571 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 111.7.

And like he did against da Bears, Rodgers has defeated the Vikings in the postseason as well, as the Green Bay beat Minnesota 24-10 in a 2012 NFC Wild Card game at Lambeau Field.

I like Rodgers and the Packers to go 2-0 after their games against da Bears and the Vikings.

Aaron Rodgers 2018.jpg

At halftime of the Vikings game, Kramer will have his cherry on top of the sundae moment, as he receive his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring, as well as seeing his name unveiled on the facade at Lambeau Field in front of the great fans he played in front of for 11 seasons.

Kramer will see his name unveiled along side of the coach who made this all possible, Lombardi, along with several of his Hall of Fame teammates, which include Taylor, Starr, Hornung, Robinson, Forrest Gregg,  Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderley, Willie Davis, Jim Ringo, Willie Wood and Henry Jordan.

“That is going to awesome,” Kramer said. “I’ll never forget the reaction of Jim Ringo when he saw his name on the facade. It was back in 1984, when I was writing Distant Replay with Dick Schaap. We had an alumni get-together at Lambeau and Ringo was there.

“A bunch of us went to Fuzzy’s [Thurston] bar, Shenanigans. Then at the game, we were introduced and had some photos taken of us. Jim was a little unsteady at the time and I helped him down the ramp heading to the field before we were introduced.

“We got about three-quarters down the ramp and then Jim saw his name on the facade. And Jim goes, ‘Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!’ He just kept repeating that over and over. Jim was just stunned and awestruck by that honor.

“I have a feeling that I’ll have similar emotions.”

How will Aaron Rodgers and the Packers Fare vs. the Panthers

Aaron vs. Panthers

In a must win situation, just how will the 7-6 Green Bay Packers and the just cleared to play Aaron Rodgers fare against the 9-4 Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday?

Based on some historical data, I would say quite competitively.

First, both teams have a lot to play for on Sunday. The Packers need a win to keep their postseason hopes alive, most likely as a Wild Card, while the Panthers still can win the NFC South and perhaps get a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs.

The Panthers and the New Orleans Saints both are 9-4, but the Saints own the tiebreaker over the Panthers because of beating them head-to-head twice and also because of a better divisional record.

The Packers have a slim chance of winning the NFC North, but the Minnesota Vikings would have to lose all three of their remaining games (including one vs. the Packers at Lambeau), wile the Packers would have to win all three of their remaining games.

The Wild Card appears the most likely route for the Packers to get into the playoffs, as the Packers will hold a head-to head edge on the Panthers with a victory, plus have that same edge on both the 8-5 Seattle Seahawks and 7-6 Dallas Cowboys currently if all ended up with a similar record at season’s end.

Currently the Packers are seeded ninth in the NFC playoff picture, but a lot could change in three weeks. No matter what, the Packers have to run the table, just like they did in the 2016 season, to make the postseason.

Which takes me to the historical data.

In 2016, the Packers were 4-6 and needed to win all of the remaining six games to make the playoffs. Not only did they do that, but they also won the NFC North. Plus, the Packers also won two games in the postseason to advance to the NFC title game before they lost for the first time in two months.

So winning out in 2017 is definitely possible, plus the team is already on a two-game winning streak thanks to back-to-back overtime wins the past couple of weeks keyed by backup quarterback Brett Hundley.

But how will Rodgers perform coming back from a broken (right) collarbone and against a stout Carolina defense, which is ranked fifth in the NFL in total defense.

Again, let’s go back to historical information.

Rodgers has done this before, as he also broke his (left) collarbone in 2013. In the first game back after the injury, which happened to also be a do-or-die situation in Week 17 vs. the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, Rodgers performed very well overall.

In that particular game, a lot rode on the outcome. The winner would win the NFC North and the loser would go home.

Rodgers wasn’t sharp early in that game, but as the contest wore on, his performance improved. No play was bigger than the one that No. 12 made with just 46 seconds to go in the game and the Packers facing a fourth and eight situation from the Chicago 48-yard line and trailing 28-27.

Rodgers rolled left and eluded a sack from future teammate Julius Peppers, with some help from fullback John Kuhn on a chip-block, and he threw long to wide receiver Randall Cobb for a game-winning 48-yard touchdown pass with just 38 seconds to go.

Rodgers to Cobb in 2013 vs. da Bears

In the 33-28 victory, Rodgers threw for 318 yards and also two touchdown passes to go along with two interceptions. Rodgers had only a 85.2 passer rating in the game, but he was clutch when he needed to be, which also included running for a key first down on the game-winning drive.

In an ironic twist, after playing with the Packers from 2014 through 2016 (25 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and two interceptions for touchdowns), Peppers now plays with the team that drafted him, the Panthers. And now once again, Peppers gets to face Rodgers in his first game back coming back from a broken collarbone.

Peppers is currently tied with Mario Addison in leading the Panthers in sacks so far in 2017 with 9.5. Carolina is tied for third in the league with 40 sacks.

Now let’s look at how Rodgers has fared against the Panthers. Overall in his career versus Carolina, Rodgers is 2-2, but has played very well. In those four games, Rodgers has thrown 12 touchdown passes compared to just two picks for 1,230 yards. That adds up to a 112.2 passer rating against the Panthers.

But let’s peel back the onion even more and look at two fairly recent games against the Panthers, when Rodgers faced up against Cam Newton at quarterback and a number of the defenders he will be facing on Sunday were playing.

The first occurred in 2014 at Lambeau Field in Week 7. In a 38-17 victory by the Packers, Rodgers threw three touchdown passes without a pick for 255 yards. His passer rating for the game was 154.5.

Then, in Week 9 of the 2015 season at Bank of America Stadium, the same year the Panthers were on their way to the Super Bowl, Rodgers threw four touchdown passes versus one interception for 369 yards (96.6 passer rating), as the Packers lost to the Panthers 37-29.

So, based on all that, what will happen when Rodgers and the Packers face the Panthers on Sunday?

Well, just the fact that Rodgers will be in the lineup makes the Packers much better, even though Hundley kept the playoff hopes of the Packers alive by going 3-4 in seven starts.

The new and improved running game behind Jamaal Williams the last five games (352 yards rushing and three touchdowns) makes the offense much more versatile.

The play-action pass should be very effective this Sunday, as should the screen pass, which has also been a nice weapon as of late for the Packers.

Speaking of the passing game, Williams has also been an asset there as well, as he’s had 18 receptions for 193 yards and two more scores in the past five games.

Since Rodgers has been out, Davante Adams has become the No. 1 receiver on the Packers with Hundley at quarterback, while both Cobb and Jordy Nelson have had secondary roles. With Rodgers under center now, I believe No. 12 will distribute the ball better to all of his receivers, which also includes the tight ends.

The offensive line of the Packers has been solid as of late, with Jason Spriggs playing okay at right tackle now that Bryan Bulaga is out for the season (torn ACL). The rest of the line remains intact with left tackle David Bakhtiari, left guard Lane Taylor, center Corey Linsley and right guard Jahri Evans doing their usual reliable work.

Before he broke his collarbone in Week 6 versus the Vikings, Rodgers was having another MVP-type season, as he had thrown 13 touchdown passes versus three picks for 1,385 yards (103.2 passer rating).

So, how do I see this game? The defense of the Packers definitely has holes, both in stopping the run and with injuries in the secondary. I believe that Newton and company will get their fair share of points against the D of the Pack, but I also think that Rodgers and company will do the same against a very good defense.

Will that mean a win for the Pack? That I can’t say for certain, but this could be the type of game that comes down to the final possession.

Just like the Week 17 game against da Bears in Chicago in 2013.