Green Bay Packers: Vince Lombardi Wheeled and Dealed in the Months of April and May

Vince Lombardi with coaching cap on.

When the Green Bay Packers hired Vince Lombardi in 1959, he was given two titles. They were, head coach and general manager. Obviously his coaching ability turned out to be fantastic, as his Packers won five NFL titles in seven years, which also included the first two Super Bowls.

Yes, there is a reason the Super Bowl trophy has his name on it.

Lombardi also made some fine acquisitions for the Packers as general manager through the draft and trades. Who knows how history would have been written had super scout Jack Vainisi lived, instead of tragically dying in 1960 at the age of 33 due to a heart attack. Vainisi played a key role in getting Lombardi to come to Green Bay in 1959.

Back in the day, the months of April and May were normally pretty quiet in the days when Lombardi led the Packers. That being said, Lombardi did make a number of notable trades during those two months while he was with the Packers from 1959 through 1968.

Here are some of the notable ones:

April 25, 1959: The Packers trade offensive end Bill Howton to the Cleveland Browns for defensive end Bill Quinlan and halfback Lew Carpenter.

The result? Quinlan started at defensive end for the Packers for four years, while Carpenter was a key role player who excelled on special teams and remained with the team for five years. Also, the trade of Howton opened the door for rookie Boyd Dowler to start at end and he became the NFL Rookie of the Year in 1959, plus had a fabulous 11-year career with the Packers.

Boyd Dowler scores TD in Ice Bowl

May 23, 1959: The Packers trade a third-round 1960 draft pick to the Chicago Cardinals for quarterback Lamar McHan.

The result? McHan starts 11 games in 1959 and 1960 and splits time at quarterback with Bart Starr. The competition drives Starr to become the full-fledged starter midway through the 1960 season when he became the true leader of the Pack, as he led the team to five championships, including the first two Super Bowls, where he was named MVP in both games. Starr also won three passing titles, was the NFL MVP in 1966 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.

May 5, 1964: The Packers trade center Jim Ringo and fullback Earl Gros to the Philadelphia Eagles for linebacker Lee Roy Caffey and a first-round draft pick in the 1965 NFL draft which was used on halfback Donny Anderson.

The result? The Packers had to scramble at the center position for the 1964 season, as Bob Skoronski and Ken Bowman split time at center. To add to that issue, right guard Jerry Kramer missed almost the entire 1964 season due to intestinal issues. Caffey became part of the best trio of linebackers in the NFL for five years, along with Ray Nitschke and Dave Robinson. Anderson had a fine career with the Packers, but his biggest moment was his performance in the “Ice Bowl”, as he played a key role in the final drive of that classic game.

Lee Roy Caffey in the Ice Bowl

April 23, 1965: The Packers trade linebacker Dan Currie to the Los Angeles Rams for wide receiver Carroll Dale.

The result? After Currie is traded, Dave Robinson becomes the starter at left outside linebacker and has a Hall of Fame career with the Packers. Dale becomes the starter at flanker for the Packers replacing Max McGee and becomes the deep threat for the Packers in the passing game for eight great seasons. Lombardi also starts to use Dale, McGee and Boyd Dowler at the same time on passing downs, as Dowler took over at tight end for Marv Fleming in those situations.

April 25, 1966: The Packers trade halfback Tom Moore to the Los Angeles Rams for quarterback Ron Smith, defensive tackle Dick Arndt and a second-round draft pick in the 1967 NFL draft.

The result? The trade allows halfback Elijah Pitts to become the main backup to Paul Hornung, who ended up being hurt for most of the 1966 season. Pitts ended up starting seven games in 1966 and 24 games in his career in Green Bay. The trade also allowed Donny Anderson to get more of a role on offense at halfback and No. 44 became the starter in 1967 when Pitts was lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon.

Donny Anderson in the Ice Bowl

May 2, 1968: The Packers trade linebacker Tommy Joe Crutcher and offensive tackle Steve Wright to the New York Giants for offensive tackle Francis Peay.

The result? Peay plays in 62 games over the next five years, starting 45 of them at left tackle. Crutcher was later traded to the Rams by the Giants, but then returned to Green Bay when head coach and general manager Dan Devine traded a fourth-round pick in the 1973 NFL draft to the Rams.

Green Bay Packers: Catching Up With Carroll Dale

Carroll Dale vs. the Cowboys in the Ice Bowl

In the offseason preceding the 1965 NFL season, the Green Bay Packers made two very important acquisitions. Head coach Vince Lombardi, who was also the general manager of the team, first traded a draft pick to the New York Giants for kicker/punter Don Chandler and then also dealt linebacker Dan Currie to the Los Angeles Rams for wide receiver Carroll Dale.

Both Chandler and Dale were key contributors for the Packers from 1965 through 1967, when the team won three straight NFL championships, plus the first two Super Bowl games.

Dale recalled the moment he heard about the trade, as he talked with me earlier this week.

“I was working in Bristol, Tennessee for a sporting goods company,” Dale said. “I happened to be in a small town called Galax, Virginia staying at a motel. The local coach knew what motel I was staying in called me and said that my picture was in the Roanoke paper. I asked why. He said, ‘You’ve been traded to the Green Bay Packers.’

Dale knew that his fortunes were about to change, as the Rams had never had a winning season in the five years that he had played with Los Angeles, plus was 2-7-1 versus the Packers in that time.

“We were in the same conference as the Packers when I was with the Rams,” Dale said. “We played them twice a year and were very familiar with them. I was aware that the Packers had won the NFL championship in 1961 and 1962.”

With the Packers, Dale saw a couple of familiar faces who had gotten to know while he was with the Rams.

“It just so happened that (quarterback) Zeke Bratkowski and (offensive ends coach) Tom Fears had both preceded me to Green Bay,” Dale said. “I’m sure that they put in a good word for me with Coach Lombardi.

“It was like Christmas for me when I heard the news that I was traded. I grew up in a small town and with Green Bay being the smallest town in the league, it was right down my alley.

“But because the Packers were winners and a contenders is really what counted most. I was thrilled with the opportunity.”

Dale started his NFL career in 1960 with the Rams, after being drafted out of Virginia Tech, where he was an All-American receiver and where the school has retired his No. 84 number.

From 1960 through 1964, Dale, who went 6’2″ and 200 pounds when he played, caught 149 passes for 2,663 yards (a 17.9 yards per catch average) and 17 touchdowns for the Rams.

Lombardi made the trade to acquire Dale because wide receiver Max McGee was aging and also to give quarterback Bart Starr a deep threat in the passing game.

“You know, back then in the league, when a receiver got to be 33 or 34, your career was close to being over because of your legs,” Dale said. “That was kind of the thinking until guys like Jerry Rice proved them wrong.

“The thinking was that Max had hit that age, plus the Packers had also drafted Bob Long in 1964. So in ’65, because Boyd (6’5″, 225) and Max (6’3”, 220) were bigger guys and better blockers, they played X end or split end, while Bob and I played flanker. Still, we all knew each other’s assignments in case someone got hurt.

“In terms of starting, I pulled a muscle in the front of my leg in an exhibition game. It wasn’t as bad as a hamstring pull, but you really couldn’t stride. So for a game or two I didn’t start. But then we played Detroit that year, and either Boyd or Max was hurt and I was healthy then, so I played at X end.

“I had one of my better games while I was in Green Bay against the Lions and caught a 77-yard touchdown or something and made some key blocks. So after the game on the plane ride to Green Bay,  Coach Lombardi came up to me and told me I had my starting job back. I pretty much started at flanker the rest of my career in Green Bay.”

Lombardi and Dale celebrate after beating Colts in 1966

The 1965 season was a turning point for the Packers in terms of getting back to championship-style play. It certainly was for right guard Jerry Kramer, who was trying to come back after missing most of the 1964 season due to intestinal issues.

Kramer had nine medical procedures to resolve the situation, which included removing 16 inches of Kramer’s colon due to a boyhood accident in which a number of large slivers were in his intestine for 11 years.

But thanks to hard work and the assistance of Chandler during training camp, Kramer earned his starting job back at right guard, which happened ironically in the same Detroit game in which Dale got his job back.

The ’65 season started out well enough for the Packers, as they won their first six games of the season. But in the middle of the season, the offense sputtered, as the team scored just 36 points in four games.

But thanks to the fabulous defense by the Packers, the team went 2-2 in those four games. Still, when it was all said and done, the Packers were ranked 12th in total offense for the year. Fortunately, the defense was ranked 3rd, which is a big reason why the Packers finished 10-3-1 and tied the Baltimore Colts for the Western Conference crown.

For the first time since 1959, fullback Jim Taylor did not run for over 1,000 yards. Starr spread the ball around in the passing game, as Dowler led the team with 44 catches for 610 yards and four touchdowns, while Dale added 20 receptions for 382 yards and two scores.

Dale came up big in the postseason however. In the Western Conference title game at Lambeau Field versus the Colts, No. 84 had three catches for 63 yards, one which set up the game-winning field goal by Chandler in OT, as the Packers won 13-10.

Dale caught all three passes from Bratkowski, as Starr injured his ribs on the very first play from scrimmage trying to make a tackle after Don Shinnick recovered a fumble by tight end Bill Anderson and scored a touchdown.

I also talked to Bratkowski this week and he gave me his thoughts on Dale.

“I knew Carroll when I was with the Rams,” Bratkowski said. “I knew the quality receiver that he was, as well the quality of person he was.  He was the leader for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He helped to bring the speakers in.

“Carroll was a hard working, smart football player. He was very humble. Carroll was not selfish at all. He also loved to hunt. He and I would go hunting west of town to hunt grouse on Mondays.

“I can’t say enough positive things about him because he was such a great team player.”

Carroll Dale II

In the 1965 NFL title game also at Lambeau Field versus the defending NFL champion Cleveland Browns, Starr was able to return and once again Dale came up big.

Dale caught two passes for 60 yards, including a 47-yard touchdown. Dowler also caught five passes for 59 yards, but it was the Green Bay ground game that dominated the contest.

Taylor and halfback Paul Hornung combined for 201 yards toting the rock and No. 5 scored the last touchdown of the game as the Packers won their third NFL title under Lombardi 23-12.

I also had the opportunity to talk to Dowler this week and he talked about the arrival of Dale from the Rams prior to the ’65 season.

“When Carroll came over, I think everybody figured that he came into replace Max,” Dowler said. “Max was pretty old at the time. But Max played pretty good for a long, long time. But when Carroll came in, he got most of the playing time over Max.

“But later in the ’65 season, Coach Lombardi wanted to get Max in the game because we weren’t getting a lot of production from Marvin [Fleming]. And that’s no knock on Marvin, because he was a wonderful blocker, but not much of a receiving threat.

“So what Coach Lombardi did was put me at the tight end position, because I used to run plays from the next week’s opposing team at practice and I would be John Mackey from the Colts or Mike Ditka from the Bears.

“Coach Lombardi asked me late in the year if I wanted to play the tight end position on passing plays so we could put Max in my old spot outside. I told him that I would love it. The very first time we tried that maneuver against the Colts, I caught a third down pass for a first down and then later a touchdown pass from the tight end position. We did that quite often for the next four years at times, but it isn’t talked about a lot.”

Dowler then talked about what Dale brought to the team as a receiver.

“Max and I were kind of the same type of guy,” Dowler said. “We were big and maybe a little stronger and maneuverable over the middle of the field.  Carroll was outstanding running full speed down the field and looking back for the ball.  I believe Carroll’s average yards per catch is close to 20 yards a catch. Maybe 19.8.”

Dowler has a magnificent memory, as Dale’s yards per catch average is actually 19.72 yards per catch, which is best in the history of the Packers. That tells you a lot with receivers like Don Hutson and James Lofton also playing with the Packers during their Pro Football Hall of Fame careers.

Dowler continued.

“Carroll gave us more of a long ball threat than Max and I,” Dowler said. “Carroll was special. He ran under the ball and was natural at finding the football on deep passes. He had a natural and smooth stride when he ran.”

In 1966, Dale led the Packer receivers in catches with 37 for 876 yards (23.7 average) and seven touchdowns. Starr was also the NFL MVP that year, as the passing game became a bigger emphasis on offense for the Packers, as the team finished 12-2.

Later that year, when the Packers made it to the NFL championship game again versus the Dallas Cowboys at the Cotton  Bowl, Dale showed off the deep threat attributes that Dowler was talking about, when he caught a 51-yard touchdown pass from Starr as the Packers won 34-27.

After the victory over the Cowboys, the Packers would be facing the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl I at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Packers won 35-10, as Starr was the game’s MVP and it was McGee who had the huge game at receiver taking over for an injured Dowler.

While No. 85 had seven catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns, Dale also chipped in with four catches for 59 yards. Dale also had a touchdown pass taken off the board after a phantom illegal motion penalty was called.

Carroll Dale in Super Bowl I

“Yes, the TD was for 60-plus yards and was fairly early in the game,” Dale said. “They called motion, but when we looked at the film, we couldn’t see anyone who moved. Maybe they were trying to keep the game close.”

In 1967, the Packers did what had never been done before or never been done since. That is win three straight NFL titles in the playoff era which started in 1933.

But what a difficult ride it was. The ’67 Packers were a team without Taylor and Hornung for the first time. Plus, the guys who replaced them, fullback Jim Grabowski and halfback Elijah Pitts, were both lost for the season in the same game against Baltimore midway through the season.

Starr was also nicked up at the beginning of the year, as Bratkowski had to start at QB in both the fourth and fifth games of the season.

In addition to that, the Packers had two heartbreaking losses on the road to both the Colts and the Rams in the final seconds of those games.

Still, the Packers persevered. Two weeks after losing to the Rams in Los Angeles, the Packers met the Rams again in Milwaukee for the Western Conference title. After a bit of a slow start, Green Bay dominated, as the final score was 28-7.

Dale caught a postseason touchdown pass for the third consecutive year, as he caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Starr, plus almost had another as he was tackled just short of the end zone on a 48-yard pass reception. All in all, Dale had six catches for 109 yards and a score in the game.

Eight days later came the “Ice Bowl” game versus the Cowboys at the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.

The game came down to an epic drive by the Packers, as they had to drive 68 yards in 4:50 across a frozen field which resembled an ice skating rink trailing 17-14.

The Packers got off to a quick start in the game, as they went ahead on two Starr touchdown passes to Dowler. But a 14-0 lead was turned into a 17-14 deficit after a Dan Reeves option pass to Lance Rentzel on the first play of the 4th quarter.

But the Packers were able to put together the signature drive of the Lombardi era, as Starr was able to sneak behind a classic block by Kramer on defensive tackle Jethro Pugh to score the game-winning touchdown.

In the game, Dale had three catches for 44 yards.

The Packers then went on to win Super Bowl II 33-14 over the Oakland Raiders at the Orange Bowl in Miami. Starr was once again MVP of the game. Dowler had two catches for 71 yards and a score, while Dale had four receptions for 43 yards.

McGee wasn’t quite as dynamic in Super Bowl II as he was in Super Bowl I, but he did make a fabulous 35-yard catch on a play-action pass from Starr.

Which was apropos for the Packers under Lombardi. On countless occasions, Starr completed big passing plays on third and short when the defense was expecting a run from the Green Bay vaunted running game.

Dale explained.

“Coach Lombardi had a philosophy of taking what the defense gave us,” Dale said. “If the defense loaded up the box on a third and short, Bart had a knack for taking advantage of that with a play-action pass for big yardage or even a touchdown.

“If you look at our games, we took what they gave us. I might have a game where I catch five or six passes and score a couple of touchdowns and they might double cover me the next week. And under Lombardi, you never threw to a double covered receiver, otherwise Coach would go nuts.

“That was our philosophy. Just take a look at Super Bowl I or the “Ice Bowl”, you see Bart call the play-action 36 post play and it almost always worked. That was a great play. It just held everybody for a second when they saw the blocking coming.”

Carroll Dale in the Ice Bowl

After the 1967 season, McGee retired and Dale went on to be named to three straight Pro Bowl squads from 1968 through 1970.

Dale stayed on with the Packers through the 1972 season, when Green Bay won the NFC Central title under head coach and general manager Dan Devine. Dale was one of three starters remaining from the Lombardi era teams, along with center Ken Bowman and outside linebacker Dave Robinson. There was also middle linebacker Ray Nitschke, but he was a backup to Jim Carter.

Dale talked about that ’72 team.

“Well, at least we got into the playoffs,” Dale said. “And as I mentioned earlier, Coach Lombardi would always take what they gave you, but that wasn’t the case under Coach Devine when we played the Washington Redskins in the playoffs.

“We went into Washington with a game plan that never changed. They put eight in the box and even though we had two great running backs, the ground game never got going. Eight people can outplay six or seven. I tried to get them to change things up, but nothing changed.”

I also heard from some very good sources that Bart Starr, who was the quarterbacks coach under Devine, also tried to get Devine to change things up and pass more. But it never happened and the Packers lost 16-3, as the Redskins completely shut down the Green Bay running attack.

Devine told Dale that he wanted him to return to the Packers in 1973 and continue to be a veteran leader, but Dale was ultimately cut from the team by Devine and was soon picked up by Bud Grant and the Minnesota Vikings.

The Vikings went on to Super Bowl VIII, but lost to the Miami Dolphins 24-7.

Dale retired after the 1973 season and what a career he had. Overall, with the Rams, Packers and Vikings, Dale had 438 receptions for 8,277 yards (18.9 average) and 52 touchdowns. In Green Bay alone, Dale had 275 catches for 5,422 yards (19.7 average) and 35 TDs.

Because of his great production on the field, Dale was inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 1979.

The honors didn’t end there either for Dale. He is also in Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, the Virginia Tech Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame.

Looking back on the legacy he has left behind, especially about his time in Green Bay, Dale is certainly thankful.

“Well, it was a great time for me in Green Bay,” Dale said. “It was like having your first car or first bicycle. Winning that first championship in ’65 after all the losing in Los Angeles was fantastic.

“Just being part of that team was just awesome. And also to win three NFL championships in a row was really something. The memories of my time in Green Bay are truly unforgettable!”

The Green Bay Packers 1958 Draft Class: Jerry Kramer vs. Ken Gray

Jerry-Ken 2

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the greatest draft class the Green Bay Packers ever had in their history.

That would be the 1958 draft class. In the first round, the Packers selected Dan Currie. In the second round, the Packers selected Jim Taylor. In the third round, they selected Ray Nitschke, and in the fourth round Jerry Kramer.

All four of those players had excellent careers in the NFL, with two of them (Taylor and Nitschke) getting inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In my opinion, Kramer should most definitely be in Canton as well.

Currie was named All-Pro three times and was selected to one Pro Bowl.

Taylor was named All-Pro six times and went to the Pro Bowl five times, plus was named NFL MVP in 1962.

Nitschke was named All-Pro six times and for some reason only went to one Pro Bowl. No. 66 was also MVP of the 1962 NFL Championship game against the New York Giants, as he deflected one pass for an interception and recovered two fumbles.

Kramer was first-team All-Pro five times, was also named second-team All-Pro twice and was additionally named to three Pro Bowl teams. No. 64 was also on the All-Decade team of the 1960s. Finally, Kramer was named to the NFL’s 50th Anniversary team. Kramer is the only member of that first team not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In addition to that, in the 1962 NFL title game in which Nitschke was named MVP, Kramer kicked three fields goals and an extra point in windy (40 mph gusts) and chilly Yankee Stadium, as the Packers won 16-7.

That wasn’t the only time Kramer shined under the bright lights of a championship game, as No. 64 played a big role in the Packers winning the 1965 NFL title, as well as the 1967 NFL championship.

Bottom line, that was quite a talented quartet that Jack Vainisi scouted and brought to the Packers.

currie-taylor-nitschke-kramer

Vainisi always had an eye for talent, as he was the scout for the Packers from 1950 through 1960.

In those 10 years, Vainisi picked six players for the Packers who would eventually be selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Sadly, Vainisi died of a heart attack in 1960 at the young age of 33, just prior the championship run of the Vince Lombardi-era Packers.

But in 1958, there was another member of the draft class who never got the opportunity to shine in Green Bay. That player was guard Ken Gray, who the Packers selected in the sixth round.

In fact, Gray was the last player cut by head coach Scooter McLean in 1958 just before the season began.

Gray ended up signing with the Chicago Cardinals shortly after the Packers released him. Gray had a great career with the Cardinals (the team moved to St. Louis in 1960) for 12 years before finishing his NFL career in 1970 with the Houston Oilers.

While he was with the Cardinals, Gray was named to six Pro Bowl squads, plus was named first-team All-Pro four times.

I had another opportunity to talk with Kramer recently and he gave me the rundown about what transpired in training camp that summer as he and Gray basically battled for one job.

Gray got a head start on Kramer, as he was already in camp for the Packers, while Kramer was in Chicago for the annual college all-star game.

“I was on the college all-star team and Otto Graham was the head coach,” Kramer said. “John Sandusky, who was one of the coaches on the team, had recently played with the Packers as an offensive tackle.

“Sandusky told me that the Packers were loaded at the guard position. He told me that I wouldn’t make that Green Bay team, but I could definitely play somewhere in the NFL.

“So I had that type of mindset when I got up to Green Bay. I was basically just waiting to be traded and my mind was certainly not on the job. Finally, Scooter McLean says to me, ‘What the hell is wrong with you? I mean, one day you look great and you work your ass off and take care of business, the next day you are looking over the fence, giggling and laughing. What the hell is going on?’

“I told Scooter that I was waiting to be traded. And Scooter goes, ‘You’re what?’ And I told him what Sandusky had told me at the college all-star game. So Scooter says, ‘I didn’t draft you to trade you. You are starting Friday night!’

That game was the second-to-last preseason game for the Packers versus the Washington Redskins.

“I played against a kid who had good size, but wasn’t real quick,” Kramer said. “I handled him pretty well and had a good game. The following week the Packers traded two guards (Al Barry and Norm Amundsen) to the Giants.

“Then the last player they cut was Kenny Gray. I knew then that I had made the team and was really excited, so I called home. So I’m telling my wife, ‘I made the final cut! I made the team!’ But right then Hawg Hanner and Jim Ringo came walking by. They hear me celebrating, plus they weren’t happy that the two guys who had been traded were pals of theirs.

Jim Ringo

“So Hawg and Jim take me out for a beer. I’m drinking a beer in a small beer glass, smaller than a usual beer glass. Meanwhile, Hawg and Jim are chewing my ass pretty good, telling me how close they were to the two guys who were traded. I’m standing there at the bar, kind of taking it with my mouth shut and nodding okay, as I’m massaging the beer glass with my left hand.

“I’m squeezing the glass letting my anger and emotions go out that way. All of a sudden the beer glass shattered and the glass flew every which way. Once Hawg and Jim saw that, they figured the ass-chewing was over and it was time to move on from that subject.”

Later on, Kramer was in downtown Green Bay at a cigar/newspaper shop getting some magazines. As he walked out of the shop, he could see Gray across the street.

“So I’m waking to the curb and Kenny sees me and yells, ‘You son of a bitch. You had a no-cut contract didn’t you?’

“And I yell back, ‘What’s a no-cut contract?’

Kramer did not have a no-cut contract and obviously McLean thought that Kramer had a better camp than Gray before making the decision about who was going to be cut.

In an article by Jennifer Fierro of The Picayune from December of 2015, Gray talks about being cut by the Packers.

“Green Bay said, later on in my career, the worst personnel mistake they made was cutting me, which made me feel really good,” Gray said. “(Ray) Scooter McLean was the head coach when I was drafted. ‘I hate to tell you this, (the coach told Gray one day), but I’m going to let you go. You’re a great prospect, and you’re going to play somewhere in this league.’ My heart went to my feet, but what could I say? They fired him at the end of the year.

“Those experiences make you a better person and better player,” he added. “You know what it is to be rejected. It makes you work hard. You’re not so cocky and sure of yourself.”

Based on the talent of both Kramer and Gray, McLean should have kept both players. They would have made quite a tandem at guard over the next decade. As it was, McLean was fired after 1-10-1 season.

Jerry and Fuzzy III

When Vince Lombardi took over in 1959, he saw that the Packers needed another guard, which is why the first trade he ever made was to acquire Fuzzy Thurston from the Baltimore Colts for Marv Matuzak.

Instead of the Kramer/Gray tandem, the Packers had a Kramer/Thurston tandem. So while Gray had a terrific career with the Cardinals, Kramer and Thurston became the best set of guards in the NFL for several years.

Thurston would tell anyone who would listen, “There are two good reasons the Packers are world champions. Jerry Kramer is one of them, and you’re looking at the other one.”

Thurston won his fair share of individual awards as well. No. 63 was named first-team All-Pro twice, plus was named second-team All-Pro three times.

In addition to that, Thurston played on six championship teams (one in Baltimore and five in Green Bay), while Kramer played on five Green Bay championship squads. Included in that were victories in Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II.

Unfortunately for Gray, he never played in postseason game with the Cardinals in his career there.

That being said, Gray was with the Cardinals in 1964 when they played the Packers in what they called the Playoff Bowl for the second-place teams in each conference in the NFL. The game was played at the Orange Bowl in Miami, as the Cards beat the Packers 24-17.

The Packers also played in a Playoff Bowl in 1963, when the Packers beat the Browns 40-23 in Miami. But Lombardi never cared for those second-place games.

“Winning is not a sometime thing here,” Lombardi often told the team. “It’s an all-the-time thing; you don’t win once in a while. You don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all the time. There’s no room for second place here. There’s a second-place bowl game, and it’s a hinky-dinky football game, held in a hinky-dinky town, played by hinky-dinky football players. That’s all second place is: hinky-dinky.”

That’s why Lombardi’s Packers won five NFL championships in seven years.

Meanwhile, Ken Gray could only wonder what might have been had he made the team as part of that 1958 draft class for the Packers.

Green Bay Packers: Jerry Kramer and the 1958 NFL Draft Class

currie-taylor-nitschke-kramer

It’s night and day when one compares the current form of the NFL draft with all the glitz and glamour to the NFL draft of 1958. Two completely different animals. The draft of today is now shown live on two cable networks, ESPN and NFL Network.

It all started when ESPN first started showing the draft live in 1980. The draft has become a monster now with various magazines, web sites and programming by entities like ESPN and NFL Network giving their takes on the college prospects and doing ever-changing mock drafts.

The NFL draft first became part of the league in 1936. There have been many variations to how the draft has been developed to the point of where has evolved today.

The last few years, we have seen the draft run on three consecutive days, with the first round on one night, the second and third rounds the next night and then the fourth through seventh rounds held on the third day.

This year, the 2017 NFL draft will take place in Philadelphia and will start on April 27 and last through April 29.

Speaking of the 2017 NFL draft, I did my initial mock draft for the Packers last week.

The NFL journey for Jerry Kramer started on December 2, 1957, when he was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the 1958 NFL draft.

The draft was much different then, as the NFL staggered the draft on two different dates, with the first part of the draft (Rounds 1-4) being in early December and the last part of the draft (rounds 5-30) being in late January.

Yes, you read that right. There were 30 rounds back then. But on December 2, 1957, Kramer became a Packer, as did three other very talented football players. In the first round, the Packers selected Dan Currie. In the second round, the Packers selected Jim Taylor. In the third round, they selected Ray Nitschke, and in the fourth round Kramer.

All four of those players had excellent careers in the NFL, with two of them (Taylor and Nitschke) getting inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In my opinion, Kramer should also be in Canton and until he is, there will be a credibility issue there.

Currie was All-Pro three times and was selected to one Pro Bowl. A knee injury really hurt the effectiveness of Currie later in his career, both with the Packers and the Los Angeles Rams.

Taylor was named All-Pro six times and to the Pro Bowl five times. Taylor led the team in rushing seven times and led the NFL in rushing in 1962. He probably would have led the league a few more times if not for the presence of the great Jim Brown in his era.

The bruising fullback also had five seasons of 1,000 yards or more, and he gained more than 100 yards in a game 26 times.

Nitschke was the face of the defense in the Vince Lombardi era. He also played in an era that had some excellent middle linebackers like Dick Butkus, Sam Huff, Bill George and Joe Schmidt.

Nitschke was named All-Pro six times and was named to only one Pro Bowl squad for some ridiculous reason. Nitschke was also MVP of the 1962 NFL Championship game against the New York Giants, as he deflected one pass for an interception and recovered two fumbles.

Kramer was first-team All-Pro five times, was also named second-team All-Pro twice and was additionally named to three Pro Bowl teams. No. 64 was also on the All-Decade team of the 1960s. Finally, Kramer was named to the NFL’s 50th Anniversary team. Kramer is the only member of that first team not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Kramer also kicked three fields goals in the windy (40 mph gusts) and chilly conditions at Yankee Stadium in the 1962 NFL Championship game. Those three field goals were the difference in the game, as the Packers beat the Giants 16-7.

Kramer is most famous for his block in the 1967 NFL Championship game, better known as the “Ice Bowl.”

jerry-leading-bart-in-the-ice-bowl

With 13 seconds remaining in the game and the Packers trailing 17-14 to the Dallas Cowboys, Kramer got great leverage with his block on DT Jethro Pugh, and QB Bart Starr happily followed his right guard into NFL immortality by scoring the winning touchdown on a quarterback sneak.

So, how did Kramer find out he was drafted by the Packers in 1958? “I was in class at the University of Idaho when I was drafted,” Kramer said. “I came out of class and Wayne Walker, who was my classmate and who was also drafted by the Detroit Lions, told me I was drafted by Green Bay.”

In 1958, the GM of the Packers was Verne Lewellen. However, the man who was really responsible about scouting college prospects was Jack Vainisi. Vainisi was a talent scout for the Packers from 1950-1960.

In those 10 years, Vainisi picked six players for the Packers who would eventually be selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Vainisi also played a prominent role in bringing Vince Lombardi to the Packers. It was Vainisi who called Lombardi to interview for the head coaching job in Green Bay.

Sadly, Vainisi died of a heart attack in 1960 at the young age of 33, just prior the championship run of the Lombardi-era Packers.

In 1958, there was no such thing as an NFL Scouting Combine. So who did NFL clubs get information on the various college prospects?

“You were sent a questionnaire by teams,” Kramer said. “How big are you? How fast are you? What are your military obligations and so forth. Then, you never really heard back from the teams.”

As Kramer was heading to play in the East-West Shrine game, he was contacted by a Canadian Football League official who told Kramer not to sign until they could talk. Kramer still signed with the Packers, although for a very meager amount by today’s standards.

letter-to-jerry-from-jack-vainisi

“I signed with the Packers for a $250 bonus,” Kramer said. “I spent that money with Walker the weekend of the East-West Shrine game in San Francisco. But actually the $250 turned out not to be a bonus. When I got to Green Bay I found out that the $250 was an advance on the $8,000 contract I had signed.”

The journey to Green Bay was pretty interesting. “I was playing in the College All-Star game in Chicago,” Kramer said. “Up to that point I had never worked out with the Packers or had ever heard from them. Almost zero communications. The Packers sent somebody down from Green Bay to drive us back there from Chicago. There was Taylor, Currie, Nitschke, Dick Christy, Neil Habig and myself from the draft class who got a ride back to Green Bay.”

Once in Green Bay, Kramer almost played himself off the squad. “When we got to Green Bay, the head coach was Scooter McLean,” Kramer said. “I had a very dim view of making the team. John Sandusky, who was my line coach at the College All-Star game, told me I probably wouldn’t make the Packers. John had played the prior year with Green Bay.

“John told me that the Packers had five guards on the roster. He told me I could play in the NFL, but probably not with the Packers. And so I went to training camp and basically played like I was waiting to get traded. Looking over the fence at practice and having a good time.

“Finally Scooter called me to his office one day and asked, ‘What in the hell is the matter with you? One day you look great and then the next day you are looking over the fence and checking the scenery. What the hell is going on?’

“I told Scooter that I was waiting to be traded. Scooter said ‘What?’ I told him what the coach at the All-Star game had told me. Scooter told me that I wasn’t drafted to get traded and that I was going to start the next preseason game against the Washington Redskins. About 10 days later the Packers traded a couple of guards to the New York Giants.

“It finally came down to the final cut between Ken Gray (another rookie) and myself. And the Packers kept me, although Ken later played with the Cardinals and became a Pro Bowl player.”

The 1958 draft class to me is the best draft class ever drafted by the Packers. In fact, NFL Network had the 1958 class of the Packers rated as the fourth-best draft class of all-time.

Yes, the 1958 draft class of the Packers was very, very good. Just imagine how highly rated this class would be when Kramer finally receives the recognition he so richly deserves—an induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The draft today is much different than the draft of 1958. That being said, I’m sure Ted Thompson would be absolutely thrilled to draft players of the caliber of the 1958 draft class of the Packers this upcoming April. Thompson actually has had a pretty good track record drafting players overall.

But the draft class of 1958 was the best ever selected by the Packers. There is absolutely no doubt about that.

Jerry Kramer Talks About Lee Roy Caffey

lee-roy-caffey-ii

When the 1-1 Detroit Lions play the 1-1 Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday, the game will be the 2016 home opener for the Pack. Green Bay opened this season with two games on the road. The last time that the Packers had opened the year like that was way back in 1924.

The game on Sunday will also be the annual alumni game for the Packers, when former Green Bay greats will be on hand to watch the Packers.

One of the greats who will be attending is Jerry Kramer. Kramer played on five NFL championship teams with the Packers, which included the first two Super Bowls.

The Packers also won three straight NFL titles from 1965 through 1967. No team has ever duplicated that feat.

Unfortunately, a number of players from those three championship teams have passed on. The list includes Henry Jordan, Ron Kostelnik, Lionel Aldridge, Ray Nitschke, Tommy Joe Crutcher, Bob Jeter, Max McGee, Fuzzy Thurston, Elijah Pitts, Travis Williams, Gale Gillingham and Don Chandler.

The list also includes Lee Roy Caffey, who tragically passed on at the age of 52 in 1994 due to colon cancer. That same affliction cost Vince Lombardi his life at the age of 57 in 1970.

Caffey came to the Packers in 1964 in a famous trade. This was the trade when Lombardi traded center Jim Ringo and backup fullback Earl Gros to the Philadelphia Eagles for Caffey and a future No. 1 draft pick, which turned out to be Donny Anderson.

Caffey was a rookie in 1963 with the Eagles and had a fine rookie season. He had the longest interception return for a touchdown that season in the NFL, as Caffey ran one back to the house on an 87-yard jaunt. Caffey also recovered five fumbles that season.

Caffey then became a big part of the Ringo trade the next season.

The mythical story was that Lombardi traded Ringo because he was being represented by an agent. Actually, there was no agent involved, but Ringo did want a hefty pay increase, as he was coming off seven straight appearances in the Pro Bowl, as well as being named first-team All-Pro for five consecutive seasons.

But Lombardi wouldn’t meet Ringo’s demands and he made the trade. The move caused all sorts of issues on the offensive line for the Packers. Rookie center Ken Bowman wasn’t ready to play yet, so the Packers had to move left tackle Bob Skoronski to center for awhile.

In addition to that, Kramer was undergoing some intestinal issues which caused him to miss almost the entire 1964 season, as well as having to undergo nine medical procedures. It’s no wonder that the Packers started out 3-4 that season, before finally finishing 8-5-1 and missing the postseason for the second consecutive year.

Caffey immediately became a starter at right outside linebacker in ’64, opposite Dan Currie, who played left outside linebacker. Ray Nitschke manned the middle as usual.

The Packers had the No. 1 ranked defense in the NFL that season, as Caffey picked off another pass and was a great fit for the Packers at linebacker.

Before the 1965 season, Lombardi made another trade, this time sending Currie to the Los Angeles Rams for wide receiver Carroll Dale.

Replacing Currie at left outside linebacker was third-year linebacker Dave Robinson.

Over the course of the next five seasons, the trio of Caffey, Nitschke and Robinson was considered the best set of linebackers in the NFL.

From 1965 through 1969, the Packers were ranked third, third, first, third and fourth in total defense in the NFL.

Over that time period, Nitschke was named to four All-Pro teams, including first-team All-Pro by AP in 1966. Robinson was named to three All-Pro teams, including being named first-team All-Pro by AP in both 1967 and 1969. No. 89 also was named to three Pro Bowl squads

Caffey was named first-team All-Pro by AP in 1966, plus also went to the Pro Bowl in 1965.

In his career in Green Bay, Caffey had nine interceptions for 177 yards and two touchdowns.

I was there to witness one of them. It was the home opener for the Packers in 1966 and Green Bay would be facing the Baltimore Colts at County Stadium in Milwaukee on a Saturday night.

The Packers were losing 3-0 that night when Caffey made a huge play for the Pack. No. 60 picked off a Johnny Unitas pass and ran it back for a 52-yard touchdown. Not long after throwing that pick, Johnny U threw another one, this time to Bob Jeter, who also ran it back for a 46-yard touchdown. The Packers ended up winning the game 24-3.

Just three days before that game, Caffey’s daughter Jennifer was born. The pick-six by Caffey turned out to be a wonderful birthday present. Years later, Lee Roy told Jennifer that he dedicated that touchdown to her.

lee-roy-caffey-iii

Caffey was also an outstanding tackler and blitzer when he played with the Packers. No. 60 was one of the heroes in the 1967 NFL title game between the Packers and the Dallas Cowboys. The game is better known as the “Ice Bowl”, as it was played in truly frozen tundra conditions at Lambeau Field. The game-time temperature was 13 degrees below zero.

Caffey had a great performance in that game. The Cowboys dominated the third period, but thanks to Caffey, Dallas never scored in that quarter. Caffey stopped one drive by forcing a Don Meredith fumble and another drive by sacking Meredith.

In the end, and in the final seconds of the game, the Packers won 21-17, thanks to the classic block by Kramer on Jethro Pugh. The block by No. 64 allowed quarterback Bart Starr to score the winning touchdown on the most famous quarterback sneak in NFL history.

Speaking of Kramer, I talked with him recently and he shared his thoughts about playing with Caffey.

“When Lee Roy joined the team, there was an immediate connection with him,” Kramer said. “He was about my size. He was friendly and always had a big ole smile. Plus he was a hell of a ballplayer.

“He was a funny guy and I really enjoyed him. Lee Roy and Tommy Joe Crutcher played at high schools in Texas which were about 40 to 50 miles apart. Tommy Joe used to bust Lee Roy’s ass all the time.

“Lee Roy went to Thorndale High school. The school mascot was the Little Red Rooster. Tommy Joe would get Lee Roy going in the locker room or on the bus when he would sing, ‘Little Red Rooster sitting on a fence. Root for Thorndale, he’s got sense.’

“Lee Roy  would then shout out to Tommy Joe, ‘Damn you Crutcher!’ And then the two of them would get into it with each other a little bit. But it was all fun.

“Lee Roy was also part of our poker-playing group. I spent a lot of time with him over the years. Lee Roy also looked like me. We were mistaken for one another quite a bit.

“But Lee Roy was just a good all-around football player. He had great reflexes too. I remember walking down the sidewalk in Cleveland with him one day and a pigeon flew up while we were walking. Lee Roy instinctively jumped at it like it was a pass play, and he hit the pigeon with his hand. He didn’t catch it, but that was an amazing display of athleticism.”

In 1970, Caffey was traded once again, along with Elijah Pitts and Bob Hyland to the Chicago Bears for the second overall pick in the 1970 NFL draft. That pick turned out to be defensive tackle Mike McCoy of Notre Dame.

Caffey spent one year with the Bears and then played with the Super Bowl champion Cowboys in 1971, before finishing his NFL career with the San Diego Chargers in 1972.

But it was Green Bay where Caffey made a name for himself in the NFL. In six seasons in Titletown, Caffey showed off his athleticism time and time again at right outside linebacker for one of the NFL’s  most dominant defenses.

Caffey was rewarded for that play with three championship rings, plus was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1986.

The Legacy of Vince Lombardi in the NFL

Lombardi celebrates 1966 NFL title

Vince Lombardi got his first taste of the NFL, when he became an offensive assistant under Jim Lee Howell of the New York Giants in 1954. Before then, Lombardi built his coaching resume by coaching at St. Cecilia in New Jersey for eight years (five as head coach), two years at Fordham University (his alma mater) and five years at Army under legendary head coach Red Blaik.

Lombardi was basically the offensive coordinator for the Giants under Howell, as he built the offense of the G-Men around running back Frank Gifford. In the five years Lombardi was running the offense for the Giants, the team became very successful. In 1956, the Giants won the NFL title and Gifford was the NFL MVP. In Lombardi’s last year in New York, the Giants played the Baltimore Colts in the NFL title game, but lost 23-17 in sudden-death overtime.

By then, Lombardi’s coaching talent was well known throughout the NFL and he was endorsed by both Paul Brown of the Cleveland Browns and George Halas of the Chicago Bears for the head coaching job with the Green Bay Packers. A meeting between Lombardi and the Packers was arranged by Jack Vainisi, who was in charge of scouting in Green Bay, and before long, Lombardi was hired as both head coach and general manager of the Packers starting in 1959.

The Packers had finished 1-10-1 the year before Lombardi arrived in Green Bay. Plus, the 1950s as a whole had been an abysmal decade for the Packers, as the team was just 32-74-2 before Lombardi came to town in 1959.

As bad as the results were on the field, Vainisi had accumulated a lot of talent for the Packers in the NFL draft in the years prior to Lombardi’s arrival. Vainisi had drafted players like Bill Howton, Bobby Dillon, Dave Hanner, Bill Forrester, Jim Ringo, Max McGee, Forrest Gregg, Bob Skoronski, Hank Gremminger, Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Ron Kramer, John Symank, Dan Currie, Jim Taylor, Ray Nitschke and Jerry Kramer.

All told, Vainisi drafted six players (Ringo, Gregg, Starr, Hornung, Taylor and Nitschke) who would later be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, while two other players, Jerry Kramer and Dillon, certainly belong in Canton as well.

When Lombardi looked at the film of the offense of the Packers from 1958, one player in particular caught his eye. It was Hornung.

When I talked to Jerry Kramer about the arrival of Lombardi in Green Bay, he made a point of talking about why Lombardi was so enamored with Hornung.

“When you talk about Paul, you have to remember how critical he was in the decision that coach Lombardi made to come to Green Bay,” Kramer said. “If you think back, Bart Starr was methane. He was colorless, odorless, tasteless and virtually invisible. We didn’t know who Bart was then.

“Bart was competing with a few other guys like Babe Parilli, Joe Francis and Lamar McHan. Bart was back and forth the first couple of years after Lombardi became the coach.

“But I do remember Lombardi saying, ‘That Hornung was going to be his Gifford.’ And remember how critical the sweep was to the Lombardi offense.

Paul Hornung vs. the Colts

“As coach said quite often, ‘This is a play we will make go. This is a play we must make go. We will run it again and again and again.’

“So Hornung may have been the key to getting Lombardi to come to Green Bay.”

The power sweep was indeed the signature play for the Packers under Lombardi. The early success for the Packers running that play supports Kramer’s supposition. For one thing, the power sweep averaged 8.3 yards-per-carry the first three years the Packers utilized the play.

The Packers became a force in the running game during that time, as the team averaged 178 yards a game on the ground from 1959-1961. Taylor gained 2,860 yards during that time, but Hornung was the star of the offense for many reasons those first three seasons under Lombardi.

During that same time, Hornung gained 1,949 yards rushing, plus scored a whopping 28 touchdowns on the ground. No. 5 was also the kicker for the Packers and Hornung led the NFL in scoring for three consecutive years from 1959 through 1961.

Like Gifford did in 1956, Hornung won the NFL MVP in 1961, as the Packers won their first NFL title under Lombardi, as the Packers beat the Giants 37-0 in the first NFL championship game ever played in Green Bay. Hornung scored 19 points in that game just by himself.

Winning became a habit in Green Bay under Lombardi’s leadership. In Lombardi’s first year with the Packers in 1959, the team finished 7-5, which was the first winning record for the team since 1947.

The Packers went on to an 8-4 record and the Western Conference title in 1960, but lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1960 NFL title game 17-13. The game ended with Taylor being tackled on the Eagles’ 10-yard line by Chuck Bednarik as time ran out. That would be the only loss that Lombardi and his Packers would ever have in the postseason.

In the regular season during his tenure in Green Bay as head coach, the Packers were 89-24-4, plus won six Western Conference titles. But it was in the postseason that Lombardi and his team really shined. After that loss to the Eagles, the Packers went on to win nine straight playoff games, which included five NFL championships and the first two Super Bowls.

That included winning three straight NFL titles from 1965-67. No team in the modern era of the NFL has ever duplicated that.

Is there any doubt as to why the Super Bowl trophy is named after Lombardi?

After spending a year as just the general manager of the Packers in 1968, Lombardi left Green Bay to become the head coach of the Washington Redskins in 1969. The team went 7-5-2 that year, which was the first winning record for the Redskins in 14 years.

Lombardi tragically died of colon cancer in 1970, at the young age of 57. A year later, Lombardi was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

There is no doubt that Lombardi was the best of the best in terms of being a football coach, but he was more than that. He was also a leader of men, both on and off the football field.

Just ask Kramer.

“Coach Lombardi had a tremendous impact on my life,” Kramer said. “The fundamentals that he taught us were fundamentals for life. They were about football, but also about business or anything else you wanted to achieve.

“You would use the Lombardi principles. He believed in paying the price. He believed in hard work and making sacrifices for the betterment of the team. His principles were preparation, commitment, consistency, discipline, character, pride, tenacity and perseverance.

“Those things are still helping me today.”

Vince and Jerry IV

Kramer also talked about Lombardi’s doctrine about life in general.

“Coach Lombardi use to share a philosophy about life with us,” Kramer said. “He said, ‘After the game is over, the stadium lights are out, the parking lot is empty, the fans have all gone home, the press has done their job and released their information, you are finally back in the quiet of your own room looking at the championship ring on the dresser. The only thing left after that was to have a standard of excellence in your life. Make sure that the world is a better place because you were in it.’

“The coach taught us to leave a positive impact on society,” Kramer said. “The world would be a much better place if we did that. That’s what I have tried to do all these years.”

Kramer then talked about Lombardi’s background which helped him achieve great success in the NFL.

“Coach Lombardi read ancient Greek and Latin, plus taught chemistry and algebra,” Kramer said. “He was a very bright man. In a lot of ways, he was more like a teacher, as opposed to a coach. He believed that he was a teacher, first and foremost. For him, teaching and coaching were one in the same.”

Yes, Vincent Thomas Lombardi was a great coach and a great teacher. But he had an additional attribute. He was also a great man. A man who molded great football players to be sure, but more importantly than that, he molded great people.

Jerry Kramer and so many other men who played under Lombardi are a testament to that.

Green Bay Packers: Remembering Scout Jack Vainisi

Vince and Jack

Vince Lombardi with Jack Vainisi

We are exactly one week away from the 2016 NFL draft. General manager Ted Thompson of the Green Bay Packers held a press conference on Wednesday to discuss the preparation for this year’s draft.

Per his usual routine when he speaks with the media, Thompson kept things very general about how he and his scouting staff prepare for the draft.

“We try to draft the best player available,” Thompson said. “We think it’s important to stay focused and try to take the best player. I think that from a personal standpoint. Situation about needs isn’t normally a temporary one. As long as you’re taking really good players and best players you can identify, then you’re in some respects you’re able to stay a little bit in front of the curve. There can be some of both. You can be in a position where this solves problem A on our roster, but he’s also the best player available. If you get lucky where you can address both – if it comes to one or the other, I prefer to take the best player.”

Thompson also talked about when his scouts get together to discuss the upcoming draft. Counting Eliot Wolf, who is now Director of Football Operations, there are 16 people in the scouting department.

“It’s good. It’s not always comfortable because there are disagreements where people, rightfully so, think differently. They’re paid to do so. They’re encouraged by everybody, myself included, to make sure their voices are heard. … You still want to have the passion and energy to stand on the table and say, ‘This is what we need to do, and this is the reason we need to do it,’ Thompson said.

Back in 1950s, only one voice was heard in the scouting department of the Packers. That’s because one man pretty much did all the scouting. That man’s name was Jack Vainisi.

Vainisi was the talent scout for the Packers from 1950-1960. In those 10 years, Vainisi picked six players for the Packers who would eventually be selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Sadly, Vainisi died of a heart attack in 1960 at the young age of 33, just prior the championship run of the Vince Lombardi-era Packers.

Vainisi did a terrific job overall in his scouting, but he had two draft classes which were certainly among the best in the history of the Packers, if not the NFL.

In 1956, Vainisi and the Packers selected two future Hall of Famers. Those players were right tackle Forrest Gregg (2nd round) and quarterback Bart Starr (17th round).

Starr won five NFL championships as a quarterback, more than any other quarterback in NFL history. Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Tom Brady have all won four championships, but Starr is still all alone with five titles. In addition, Starr quarterbacked the Packers to wins in the first two Super Bowls, winning MVP in each game.

Starr was also the league MVP in 1966, plus led the NFL in passing three times. Starr is probably best remembered for his thrilling quarterback sneak with 13 seconds remaining in the legendary Ice Bowl.

Bart Starr QB Sneak in Ice Bowl

Starr was named All-Pro four times and was also named to the Pro Bowl four times. Starr was 9-1 as a playoff QB. Starr also had his number retired (No. 15) by the Packers.

In his book Run To Daylight, Lombardi said, “Forrest Gregg is the finest player I ever coached!” Gregg played 14 seasons for the Packers.

Gregg was named All-Pro nine times and was named to the Pro Bowl nine times as well.

Also in this draft, Vainisi was able to select two very solid starters in left tackle Bob Skoronski and defensive back Hank Gremminger, both of whom started for the Packers for 10 years or more.

As good as the 1956 draft class was, the 1958 class that Vainisi selected was even better.

In the first round, the Packers selected linebacker Dan Currie. In the second round, the Packers selected fullback Jim Taylor. In the third round, the Packers selected linebacker Ray Nitschke. In the fourth round, the Packers selected right guard Jerry Kramer.

All four of those players had excellent careers in the NFL, with two of them (Taylor and Nitschke) getting inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There are many, including myself, who believe Kramer should also be in Canton based on his outstanding NFL resume.

Taylor is the second all-time rushing leader for the Packers with 8,207 yards. Taylor also scored 91 touchdowns in his career, including 19 in 1962, the year Taylor was named MVP in the NFL.

Taylor was named All-Pro six times and was also named to the Pro Bowl five times. No. 31 led the team in rushing seven times, and also led the NFL in rushing in 1962. He probably would have led the league a few more times if not for the presence of the great Jim Brown in his era.

Taylor had five seasons of 1,000 yards or more, plus gained over 100 yards in a game 26 times.

Nitschke was the face of the defense in the Lombardi era, which was then coordinated by Phil Bengtson. No. 66 also played in an era that had some excellent middle linebackers like Dick Butkus, Sam Huff, Bill George and Joe Schmidt.

Nitschke was named All-Pro six times and was named to only one Pro Bowl squad for some ridiculous reason. Nitschke was also MVP of the 1962 NFL Championship Game against the New York Giants, as he deflected one pass for an interception and also recovered two fumbles.

No. 66 also had his number retired by the Packers.

Currie was All-Pro three times and was selected to one Pro Bowl. Currie was later traded to the Los Angeles Rams for wide receiver Carroll Dale in 1965.

Kramer was first-team All-Pro five times and was named to three Pro Bowl teams. He was also named to the NFL’s 50th Anniversary first-team. Kramer is the ONLY member of that squad not in Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Kramer also kicked three fields goals in the windy and chilly conditions at Yankee Stadium in the 1962 NFL Championship game. Those three field goals were the difference in the game, as the Packers beat the Giants, 16-7. No. 64 received a game ball for his efforts on that blustery day.

Jerry's game ball from 1962 NFL title game

Kramer is most famous for his classic block in the 1967 NFL Championship Game, better known as the “Ice Bowl.” With 13 seconds remaining in the game and the Packers trailing 17-14 to the Dallas Cowboys, Kramer got great leverage with his block on defensive tackle Jethro Pugh, and Starr happily followed his right guard into NFL immortality by scoring the winning touchdown on a quarterback sneak.

Kramer related to me how he found out he was drafted by the Packers and Vainisi in 1958.

“I was in class at the University of Idaho when I was drafted,” Kramer said. “I came out of class and Wayne Walker, who was my classmate and who was also drafted by the Detroit Lions, told me I was drafted by Green Bay.”

Kramer had received a letter from Vainisi prior to the draft to let him know that the Packers were interested in his services.

Letter to Jerry from Jack Vainisi

Besides selecting  Gregg, Starr, Taylor and Nitschke who all ended up in Canton, Vainisi also selected center Jim Ringo in 1953 and halfback Paul Hornung in 1957, both of whom would join their teammates at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Vainisi also had a very nice draft in 1952, when he was able to select wide receiver Bill Howton, defensive back Bobby Dillon and defensive lineman Dave Hanner among others.

It was the great draft work by Vainisi in the 1950s, which set the foundation for all the championships which were won by the Packers in the 1960s under Lombardi.

Plus, it was Vainisi himself who played a big role in getting Lombardi to come to Green Bay in 1959. Vainisi called Lombardi, who was then an assistant coach with the Giants, to interview for the head coaching job in Green Bay.

That hiring of Lombardi led to five NFL championships in seven years, along with victories in the first two Super Bowls. The Packers also became the one and only team to win three consecutive titles (1965, 1966 and 1967) in the NFL, since the league went to a playoff system in 1933.

Unfortunately, Vainisi wasn’t around to witness the glorious legacy that Lombardi and many of the players he drafted would leave behind in Green Bay.

Daniel Kramer Talks About the Kickstarter Campaign for his Upcoming Book

Dan and Jerry

As many of you know, I have written dozens of stories about Jerry Kramer. I recently did a series of articles where Kramer talked about his former Green Bay Packer teammates who already were in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

A place where Kramer should be as well.

Kramer talked about playing with Jim Taylor, Forrest Gregg, Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderley, Willie Davis, Jim Ringo, Paul Hornung, Willie Wood, Henry Jordan and Dave Robinson before they all were given a bust in Canton.

No. 64 also talked about the man who made it all possible…Vince Lombardi.

My most recent story with Kramer has him discussing the career of another former teammate, Dan Currie.

In doing these stories and many, many more, I have had the opportunity to talk with Kramer countless times.

In those conversations, most of which would last an hour or so, Jerry has been very engaging and insightful in our discussions.

No. 64 also has an unbelievable memory regarding his playing days with the Pack.

I recently had an opportunity to talk with Daniel Kramer, who is Jerry’s son.

Let’s just say that the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree, based on my conversation with Dan.

Dan and I talked for over an hour and discussed many things, which included the kickstarter campaign which is currently ongoing about the upcoming book he plans to publish.

Brett and Reggie

The book is going to be coffee-table photography book of the 1996-97 championship season for the Packers.

Another Kramer would be proud.

The kickstarter campaign has five days to go and Dan has already reached his goal of $20,000. Kramer also has 81 backers for the book.

Hopefully the campaign will end up bringing in a lot more than Kramer’s goal. Why? Photography books are very expensive to publish. Especially if the photos are in color.

In talking to Dan, I found him to be as interesting and as fascinating as his dad.

Dan talked about how his love for photography first started.

“My dad gave me my first camera for my 18th birthday,” Kramer said. “I took a photo class and it was an art class. I was at the University of Minnesota and it was winter. The class was at 8:00 am on a Saturday on the opposite side of campus.

“That means I would have to leave at around 7:00 or 7:15 to get there. It was my second year in college. That’s not a good equation. So I didn’t make too many of those classes. And those I did, I didn’t really care for.”

But even with that inauspicious beginning, Kramer stayed with it.

“I started to follow the journalism path,” Kramer said. “I got better as I found my way. It took me two or three years to sort of gravitate towards journalism. I started playing rugby for the University of Minnesota and I started writing articles about my team for the school newspaper.

“That sort of got me thinking that maybe journalism is the route I want to take. The last class required for me to take was called Visual Communication. I’m now a senior and I’m going to graduate at the end of the semester and I have to take Visual Communication.

“Now this was a 10:00 am Saturday class. Now there’s a big difference between 8:00 am and 10:00 am. Plus, there was a difference in my maturity as well. My teacher for the class was David Rae Morris.

“He came into class with a bag of warm muffins and he turned on The Grateful Dead. We sat around and talked about photography and photo journalism. I was taken with him and his teaching.

“I did a project for him on a reclusive old man who sold books. David published my project in the school newspaper, which was a double-page spread. Wow, that just blew my hair back! That really hooked me.

“I graduated and got a job as a sports editor. I had tried my whole life up to this point  to not let people know who my dad was. I wanted them to like me for who I was. I wanted people to genuinely like me and not try and suck up because of who my dad was.

“I would let people know  who my dad was eventually after they made it into the inner sanctum and they became my friend. That was something that I didn’t let out lightly.

Jerry and Dan II

“I certainly didn’t want a life in sports. Being a sports editor? Being a sports reporter? No, no, no. I had to find my own path. That was way too close to his world.”

Kramer did do an internship with the Minneapolis Star Tribune, where he was a sports writer. But that was not the career path which Kramer wanted.

He eventually ended up with a small twice-a-week newspaper in Sturgis, South Dakota, where Kramer was for nine months.

From there, Kramer ended up with a small once-a-week newspaper in southern California.

Kramer’s goal was to be a photographer for a major-metro newspaper, similar to what the Minneapolis Star Tribune is.

Kramer had many roles in his position at the small newspaper in SoCal. He was a sports editor, a features reporter, a photographer, plus directed the other photographers on the staff.

Kramer would drive 90 miles to Los Angeles, where he would photograph the Kings, Lakers, Rams and Raiders (the Rams and Raiders were in LA then).

Kramer was hoping to transition himself from a reporter to a photographer.

After about a year and a half, Kramer applied a for a photographer’s position at the Long Beach Press-Telegram. There, Kramer met a guy named Hal Wells.  Kramer showed Wells some of his previous work.

Wells told Kramer that his work was not even in the ball park. He advised Kramer to go study photography exclusively.

Kramer took that advice.

“I took out loans. I pursued my master’s degree,” Kramer said. “I got a MFA in Documentary Photo Journalism at the Academy of Art in San Fransisco.  What a great city to study art in! What a great time in my life!”

Because of his work at the Academy of Art, Kramer was chosen among the top 100 college photo journalists in the country. Because of that designation, Kramer was selected to go to the Eddie Adams workshop. Adams was a Pulitzer Prize-winning  photographer.

At the workshop, Kramer was able to network with well known magazines/newspapers like National Geographic, Time, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.

In 1995, Kramer ended up landing an internship with Newsday. During that internship, he stayed at Dick Schaap’s guest apartment, which was a half block off of Central Park.

Schaap was Jerry Kramer’s best friend. Dick and Jerry had co-written three books together, the most famous being Instant Replay. The other two books were Farewell to Football and Distant Replay.

Dick and Jerry

Dan also embarked on his first professional project. And what a project it was!

Kramer retraced Mark Twain’s trip around the world, which had happened 100 years before. To give you an idea of where Kramer traveled, I suggest you read Following the Equator by Twain, which chronicles his adventures on that long trip.

Kramer ended up publishing a blurb book about that fantastic endeavor.

After his trip around the world, Kramer first called his dad and then Schaap. He wanted to see if they could arrange a situation where Dan could photograph Brett Favre and Bart Starr together for a  Sports Illustrated article.

When Dan talked to Schaap, he mentioned the idea of photographing Favre and Starr together.

Schaap replied without missing a beat, “And Willie and Reggie!”

Bottom line, Schaap turned Dan’s idea of a SI article into a book which was called Green Bay Replay, where he chronicled the 1996 championship season for the Packers.

All the photos in that book were done by Kramer.

When the idea for the book started, neither Schaap or Kramer envisioned that the Packers were going to win the Super Bowl for sure that year. It was eerily similar to the book that Schaap and Jerry had put out about the 1967 season, Instant Replay.

Brett and Bart

In both cases, the Packers did win it all. Which made both books even more enthralling.

In Green Bay Replay, all the photos taken by Kramer in the book are in black and white. In addition to that, some of the best photos that Dan took were not used.

Since that time, Kramer worked for the Houston Press, where he was a staff photographer.

After leaving that job, Kramer has freelanced with Sports Illustrated, The Wall Street Journal and the USA Today.

The Packers will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 1996 Super Bowl Championship team in 2016. That popped an idea into Dan’s head about utilizing the photos he had taken of the team then.

After a  conversation with his photo editor Jimmy Colton,  Kramer decided to use a kickstarter campaign for a book about that team. Why?

Because of the kickstarter strategy, Kramer will maintain complete creative control of the book, which wouldn’t be the case with a major publishing organization.

After the kickstarter campaign is over, and remember there are still five days remaining, Kramer and Colton will start doing the editing for the new book, which will mean looking at all the photos that Kramer took during the 1996-97 season of the Packers.

Wille, Reggie, Brett & Bart

Once the editing is done, the book will also include some remembrances and quotes from the people in the book.

Kramer also needs to hire a designer for the book. The final step is to find a place to get the book printed.

The goal is to get the whole book ready to go and be shipped by September of 2016.

There is no doubt that everyone in Packer Nation will enjoy this book immensely, just like they have with previous books like Instant Replay, Distant Replay and Green Bay Replay.

Until then, pass the word about Dan’s kickstarter campaign for this book, because full-color photography books are very costly to publish.

Jerry Kramer Talks About Dan Currie

Last week the Green Bay Packers had their annual alumni event for their game against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night.

Former Packer greats like John Anderson, John Brockington, Willie Buchanon, Leroy Butler, Al Carmichael, Paul Coffman, Fred Cone, Dan Currie, Lynn Dickey, Gerry Ellis, Ken Ellis, Antonio Freeman, Johnnie Gray, Ahman Green, Chris Jacke, Ezra Johnson, Gary Knafelc, James Lofton, Don Majkowski, Chester Marcol, John Martinkovic, Mark Murphy, Ken Ruettgers and Frank Winters were in attendance.

In addition, so were a number of players who played on the team which won Super Bowl I. This included Donny Anderson, Zeke Bratkowski, Allen Brown, Tom Brown, Bill Curry, Carroll Dale, Willie Davis, Boyd Dowler, Marv Fleming, Jim Grabowski, Forrest Gregg, Doug Hart, Dave Hathcock, Jerry Kramer, Red Mack, Dave Robinson, Jim Taylor and Steve Wright.

The Super Bowl I players will be honored on Monday night at Lambeau Field when the Packers take on the Kansas City Chiefs.

If you look at the first group of players, all of them are now in the Packers Hall of Fame due to their playing prowess on the field. So are a number of the Super Bowl I alumni, and some of those players are also in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

One player who definitely should in Canton, but who isn’t, is Jerry Kramer.

Kramer was part of the 1958 draft class for the Packers. That class has to be the best draft class in the history of the Packers, as well as one of the best ever in the NFL.

Just look at that draft.

In the first round, the Packers selected Dan Currie from Michigan State.

In the second round, Green Bay took Jim Taylor from LSU.

In the third round, the Packers picked Ray Nitschke from Illinois.

In the fourth round, the Pack went with Jerry Kramer from Idaho.

Taylor and Nitschke have busts in Canton, while Kramer certainly should have one too.

Currie was a very talented player as well.

In seven years with the Packers, Currie was named first-team All-Pro once by the  Associated Press, plus was also given that same designation three other times by NEA (Newspaper Enterprise Association), twice by UPI (United Press International) and once by the New York Daily News.

Currie was also named to the Pro Bowl in 1960.

In his years in Green Bay, Currie played left outside linebacker. Currie was normally grouped with Nitschke, who played middle linebacker, as well as Bill Forester, who played right outside linebacker. In 1964, which was Currie’s last year with the Packers, Forester was replaced by Lee Roy Caffey.

Currie was a very athletic linebacker and he also had a nose for the football. No. 58 had 11 career interceptions for the Packers in the regular season, plus recovered six fumbles.

Currie also picked off a pass in the 1962 NFL Championship Game against the New York Giants at frigid and windy Yankee Stadium.

That was the game in which Kramer kicked three field goals and an extra point in the 16-7 win for the Packers. No. 64 also played right guard that day, as Taylor ran for 85 yards and also scored the lone Green Bay touchdown. As a team, the Packers gained 148 yards rushing that day.

After the 1964 season, Vince Lombardi traded Currie to the Los Angeles Rams for wide receiver Carroll Dale.

I had a chance recently to talk with Kramer about Currie.

“Dan was the number one draft choice,” Kramer said. “Out of Michigan State. He was an All-American center and an All-American linebacker as well. A great all-around football player.

“Dan had his opinions. For instance, one of the coaches were trying to tell him one time that he should have done something else on a particular play. So Dan says, ‘It’s instinct! You put me in the same position and the same thing happens, I’m going to do the same thing!’

“But Dan was a super ballplayer. He was also a proud ballplayer. Dan took care of his business.

“We called him Dapper because he always wore a coat and tie. He was always dressed well.

“Dapper could have had a career in Hollywood. He was a Clark Gable type of guy. He had a lot of fun and had a great sense of humor.”

Currie suffered a knee injury with the Packers and he was never the same ballplayer he was earlier in his career.

Kramer talked about that as well.

“Tommy McDonald was a wide receiver for Philadelphia and he probably went 5’10” and 175 pounds. He was a little ball of muscle and energy. Anyway, he cracked-back on Dapper’s knee on a running play one time.

“That tore Dan’s knee up and he was never the same after that injury.”

If one looks at Currie’s interception in the 1962 NFL title game, No. 58 had clear sailing for a pick-six. But as he was running near the sideline of the Packers, his knee gave out and he stumbled and fell after returning the interception 30 yards.

After his playing career ended, Currie eventually became a security guard at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas for 25 years.

Currie is now in an assisted living center in Las Vegas and has come across some difficult times.

It didn’t help matters when Currie was assigned a private, for-profit guardian named April Parks by the court system of Clark County.

Dan and Joanna

People who are close to Currie, like good friend Joanna Saxton, started noticing improprieties occurring after Parks became Currie’s guardian.

Saxton talked to Kramer about a number of alarming issues which were ongoing under Park’s watch as guardian.

Kramer then enlisted the help of Bob Schmidt, who is the Executive Director of the Pro Football Retired Players Association.

Schmidt also reached out to Dana Lihan, who is the Program Director for the NFL Player Care Foundation.

The situation took a dramatic turn this past Monday, when Parks had her home and office served with search warrants by the police for guardian exploitation.

Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears is the KTNV reporter who has closely been following this case.

Spears has asked the court what will happen with all the people (more than 100), including Currie, who are under the guardianship of Parks, now that police have seized her files, paperwork and computer equipment.

The court hasn’t responded as of yet, but one thing is for sure, better days are ahead for Currie.

When Currie was in Green Bay last weekend, he and Saxton met with Kramer and his son Dan at the Stadium View bar on Saturday night.

Then on Sunday morning, they all had breakfast together.

Dan and the rest of the Pack

On Sunday night they all celebrated a great victory by the Packers over the Seahawks at Lambeau Field.

Once this guardianship issue is resolved for Currie, there will be another celebration.

You can be certain that Kramer will be with Currie in Las Vegas toasting that victory.