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.

Jerry Kramer Talks About the Power Sweep

Paul Hornung running the power sweep

When Vince Lombardi was head coach of the Green Bay Packers, the running game was extremely efficient. In fact, in the nine years Lombardi coached the Packers, Green Bay was in the top five in rushing the football in the NFL seven times.

In the approximately 50 years since Lombardi last coached the Packers, being in the top five in rushing in the NFL has rarely happened for Green Bay. In fact, it’s only happened twice.

Once in 1971, when Green Bay was fourth in rushing in the NFL, led by John Brockington and also in 2003, when the Packers were third in rushing in the league, led by Ahman Green.

Now there have been some good rushing teams in Green Bay during that time span and the Packers have been in the top 10 in rushing seven times (1968, 1969, 1971, 1972, 2003, 2004 and 2013), but for the most part it’s been the passing game which has been the key staple for the Packers offensively.

Especially over the past quarter of a century when Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers have been under center.

But it was different when Lombardi was head coach.

In 1958, the year before Lombardi came to Green Bay, the Packers were 10th in the NFL in running the football. The team finished 1-10-1 that season under coach Ray “Scooter” McLean.

A number of talented players were on that team, which won only won game in 1958—players like Jim Ringo, Forrest Gregg, Jerry Kramer, Bart Starr, Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung.

The focus of the team offensively changed when Lombardi came to town. The Packers would live or die on offense with a play called the power sweep, which Lombardi had successfully used in New York with the Giants when he ran their offense.

In one of my many talks with Kramer, he mentioned up why he thought taking the Green Bay job was so attractive to Lombardi. It had to do with the power sweep and also a player named Paul Hornung.

“Hornung was the reason I believe Coach Lombardi came to Green Bay,” Kramer said. “Bart [Starr] was an unknown then. There were three or four guys trying to become the quarterback then, and we didn’t know who the hell the quarterback was going to be.

“But we did know who Mr. Hornung was. And Coach Lombardi said many times, ‘That the power sweep was the number one play in our offense. We will make it go. We must make it go. And Hornung is going to be my [Frank] Gifford.’

“Hornung was the key with all that. To me, it seemed like Hornung was probably more instrumental in what Coach Lombardi had envisioned for his offense than who his quarterback was. So I think Hornung was the number one reason why Coach Lombardi came to Green Bay.”

The running game did become the focal point of the offense under Lombardi. And the power sweep was the big reason why.

In 1959, the Packers improved to finish third in the NFL in rushing. From 1960 to 1964, the Packers were ranked either first (three times) or second (twice) in the league in that category.

In fact, the running game became so dominant for the Packers in those years that Hornung was the NFL MVP in 1961, and Taylor earned that same honor a year later.

Some of you may ask, what is exactly is the power sweep? It’s an offensive play in which the quarterback hands the ball off to a running back, who will then attempt to run the ball to one side of the offensive line.

The primary ingredient which makes a power sweep unique is that the offensive line will have a number of players who might pull as blockers, as well as using the other running back as a lead blocker. The guards are the key, as they sometimes will get an opportunity to make second or third-level blocks against their defensive opponents so the back can gain more yardage.

The team leaned on Starr and the passing game more in 1965 and 1966 (Starr was the NFL MVP), as the running game was not as effective in those two seasons, but the Packers did finish second in the NFL in rushing in 1967.

And that says a lot. Both Hornung and Taylor were now gone from Green Bay. Both starting running backs, Elijah Pitts and Jim Grabowski, were lost for the season in the eighth game of the season.

The team still stayed strong in the running game that season behind players like Donny Anderson, Ben Wilson, Chuck Mercein and Travis Williams.

Jerry leading the sweep in Super Bowl I

Kramer also talked about what needed to happen to make the power sweep successful:

“If Forrest [Gregg] hit that defensive end with a forearm, he would occupy him for the running back who was going to block him,” Kramer said. “Then Forrest would have a really good shot at getting the middle linebacker.

“Then if [Jim] Ringo could make that onside cutoff block on the tackle, then it was a stronger play. And Ringo was very good at the onside cutoff.

“So it was a much stronger play starting with those two blocks. Those were critical blocks. They had to be made properly or the play never got out of it’s tracks.”

Kramer then talked about what it was like blocking for a players such as Hornung or Pitts on that particular play as it broke outside:

“Hornung had such wonderful instincts,” Kramer said. “Elijah would sometimes run past me. It took Pitts around two years to learn to stay behind me so the play would be more successful.

“Hornung knew that the first time he ran it. He was just more instinctive. He wasn’t as fast as Elijah, but he knew exactly where everything was, and he could see the field very well.

“He could set you up, Bob. He knew the precise instance that the defender had to make a commitment, and then Paul would either step inside or outside and set the player up and go the other way. He was just sensational in doing that on a consistent basis.”

The power sweep became a very successful play for the Packers to run. And this comment from Kramer should tell you why:

“Bobby, in the first three years we ran that play, we averaged I believe 8.3 yards a carry.”

Which brings me to ask once again why Kramer is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The power sweep played a large part in the success of players like Ringo, Gregg, Taylor and Hornung. All of whom have busts in Canton now.

In essence, the power sweep was the signature play for the Packers under Lombardi.

The signature moment under Lombardi which cemented his legacy, was Starr’s quarterback sneak in the 1967 NFL title game at Lambeau Field, better known as the “Ice Bowl” game.

Starr scored behind arguably the greatest block in NFL history, as Kramer made a textbook  block on defensive tackle Jethro Pugh of the Dallas Cowboys, as Starr tumbled into the end zone with the game-winning touchdown with just 13 seconds left in the game.

So in both the signature play and the signature moment of the Lombardi Packers, Kramer played a key role in their successful outcomes.

But Kramer still waits for enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That fact totally baffles me. No. 64 was an AP first-team All-Pro five times and also named to three Pro Bowls. He was also on the NFL All-Decade for the 1960s.

Kramer would have received even more honors if not for injuries and illness.

Kramer missed half of the 1961 season when he broke his ankle in a game versus the Minnesota Vikings at Milwaukee County Stadium.

Kramer missed almost all of the 1964 season and was hampered in the early part of the 1965 season, as he went through nine operations to resolve an intestinal issue.

Jerry was also a member of the NFL’s 50th anniversary team in 1969 and the only guard named to that squad. Unbelievably, Kramer is the only member of that first team still not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Kramer also played very well in NFL title games. The Packers won five NFL championships in seven years under Lombardi, which included the first two Super Bowls. Kramer played a huge role in the victories in three of those championships.

The 1962 NFL championship game was played at blustery Yankee Stadium versus the Giants, which also had 40 mph winds gusting around the storied stadium that day. Green Bay won that hard-fought battle 16-7. The difference in the game was three field goals.

The three field goals were kicked by Kramer, who doubled as a right guard and a kicker on that very frigid day.

The 1965 NFL title game at Lambeau Field featured the Packer one-two punch of Taylor and Hornung versus the great Jimmy Brown of the Browns. Brown gained just 50 yards in his last ever game in the NFL, while Hornung ran for 105 yards and Taylor 96 in muddy conditions.

The power sweep of the Packers totally dominated the Browns’ defense, as Kramer and left guard Fuzzy Thurston kept knocking down linebackers and defensive backs leading the way for the Packer backs.

Jerry in the '65 title game

One play in particular stands out: Hornung’s last ever NFL championship touchdown.  Kramer pulled on a left power sweep and first blocked the middle linebacker, then a defensive back, as the “Golden Boy” found the end zone.

I previously mentioned the “Ice Bowl” game. Let me set up the ending for you.

The Packers had to drive 68 yards with only 4:50 remaining under arctic conditions, trailing the Cowboys 17-14. The playing surface that day was truly a frozen tundra, as the game time temperature was 13 below zero.

In 31 plays prior to that final drive, the Packers had been held to minus-9 in yardage. It didn’t look too promising for the Packers at that point. But Green Bay somehow persevered on a 11-play drive which put the ball near the goal line of Dallas.

It came down to 13 seconds to go with no timeouts at the 1-yard line of the Cowboys.  If the Packers run the ball and are stopped short, the game is over.

Starr called a 31 wedge play on the 12th play of the drive in the huddle, which calls for the fullback to get the ball. However, Starr decided to keep the ball because of the slippery and icy conditions near the goal line. Starr followed Kramer’s classic block on Pugh, and he found an opening behind No. 64 to get into the end zone with the winning touchdown.

It was Kramer’s study habits watching film that made that play successful. That play was called earlier in the week when the team was studying the defensive tendencies of the Cowboys. Kramer actually suggested the play to Lombardi.

“Jethro [Pugh] was high, and I actually suggested that play on Thursday when we were studying short-yardage films,” Kramer said. “I said we could wedge Pugh if we had to. And Coach Lombardi said, ‘What?’ And I said that we can wedge Pugh if we have to. So we ran the film back three or four times, and coach says, ‘That’s right. Put in a wedge on Pugh.’

In a 1969 article in the Chicago Tribune, Lombardi said this about Kramer:

“Jerry Kramer is the best guard in the league,” Lombardi said. “Some say the best in the history of the game.”

Bottom line, Kramer should have been inducted into Canton decades ago. He was a finalist nine times between 1974 and 1988. The last time he was nominated by the Seniors Selection Committee was 1997.

That was 20 years ago. That time lapse is just as troubling as Kramer not being enshrined with so many of his teammates and peers in the 1970s and 1980s. And those Hall of Fame players know that Kramer belongs in Canton among the best of the best.

The biggest endorsement that Kramer ever received was from Merlin Olsen, who many feel was the best defensive tackle in NFL history. Kramer and Olsen had many a battle in the trenches over the years.

Olsen went to 14 Pro Bowls, which is the all-time NFL record shared by Bruce Matthews, the uncle of Clay Matthews of the Packers.

Olsen was named AP All-Pro nine times in his career as well and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982.

In his endorsement of Kramer to the Hall, Olsen says:

“There is no question in my mind that Jerry Kramer has Hall of Fame credentials. Respect is given grudgingly in the trenches of the NFL and Jerry has earned my respect as we battled eye to eye in the pits on so many long afternoons.

“Jerry Kramer belongs in the Hall of Fame and I hope you will put this process in motion by including his name on the ballot for this coming year.”

Jerry's block on Jethro

This August, the seniors committee needs to do the right thing and nominate Kramer as one of the two senior nominees.

Then on the Saturday before Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis, Kramer can finally get what he rightfully deserves, which is induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame by the entire 48-member selection committee.

Then Kramer can get a knock on his hotel door by David Baker, who is the President/Executive Director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

And these will be the words that Kramer will hear from Baker:

“Jerry, it is my great pleasure to tell you that you will be going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as one of the greatest players, coaches and contributors to ever play this game.”

 

Green Bay Packers: Jerry Kramer Talks About Playing da Bears

halas-and-lombardi-ii

George Halas and Vince Lombardi

Playing the Chicago Bears was always special for Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi. Not just because the storied rivalry started way back in 1921, but because Lombardi was personally endorsed by George Halas for the head coaching job in Green Bay.

So it was very apropos that Lombardi’s first game as head coach was against the Bears at new City Stadium (now Lambeau Field) on September 27, 1959.

The Packers rallied from a 6-0 fourth-quarter deficit in that game and won the contest 9-6. Lombardi was carried off the field by his players after the victory. That was a habit which was duplicated at least four more times in Lombardi’s tenure.

The last time that occurred was after the 33-14 victory over the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl II, when Forrest Gregg and Jerry Kramer hoisted up Lombardi in his final game as head coach of the Pack.

I talked with Kramer on Wednesday and he related a couple of instances about how Lombardi was focused on Halas when a game against the Bears was approaching.

For example, Lombardi was always worried that Halas would use spies to check out the practices of the Packers.

“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.’

Kramer also remembered a quote from Halas talking about when the Bears played the Packers.

“Coach Halas said, ‘We knew what they [the Packers] were going to do. We knew where they were going to do it and we knew when they were going to do it. We just couldn’t do anything about it.”

Even with all the various techniques Lombardi would use to stop the flow of information to Bears about the Packers, Halas still had a way to get vital data regarding his rival to the north.

“When I played in the Pro Bowl after the 1967 season, Coach Halas was coaching the team and we we late coming in from Florida after our Super Bowl win,” Kramer said. “There were nine of us and Coach Halas had a bus saved for us to go to practice.

“So I get on the bus and Coach Halas is sitting right behind the driver and he hands me a playbook. I go back about four seats on the opposite side of the bus near the aisle. So I start looking at the playbook and I see the first play is red right 49, which is our play, our code, our number system and our blocking.

“So I flip the page and I see red right 48, 46, 44, 42, 40 and so on. I look up at Coach Halas looking stunned with my mouth hanging open and he’s checking out at my reaction. “Halas said, ‘Jerry, we didn’t want you Green Bay boys to get behind so we just put in your offense.’

“The old fart had it exactly right. The numbers, the colors, the blocking assignments and the variations of the blocking assignments. He knew exactly what our playbook was.”

But even with all that, Lombardi and his Packers had a 13-5 record in the nine years he coached in Green Bay over Halas and his Bears.

The Packers also won five NFL titles in seven years in the 1960s, plus won the first two Super Bowls, while Halas and the Bears won the 1963 NFL title.

The quarterback of those five championship teams of the Packers and the MVP of both Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II, was Bart Starr.

In an earlier conversation that I had with Kramer, he talked about a game which let the team know that Starr was truly their leader.

bart-vs-da-bears

“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.”

It’s that type toughness and resiliency that the current 3-2 Green Bay team needs to have as they get set to play the 1-5 Bears on Thursday night at Lambeau Field on national television.

The Packers did not play well at all this past Sunday, when they lost to the Dallas Cowboys 30-16 at Lambeau Field.

Kramer was at the game, as he sat in a box with Brett Favre, Frank Winters, Antonio Freeman and LeRoy Butler.

“The Packers were chaotic and inconsistent,” Kramer said. “It was not a good showing at all.”

Going into the game against the Bears, the Packers have a number of issues. For one, the the team is dealing with a number of injuries. Which includes their top two running backs, as Eddie Lacy (ankle) and James Starks (knee) won’t be available to play and will be out for several weeks.

In fact, Lacy will be out until at least Week 15, after he was placed on injured reserve after it was determined he needs surgery on his ankle.

The Packers traded a 2018 conditional seventh-round pick to the Kansas City Chiefs for running back Knile Davis on Tuesday. Also, rookie running back Don Jackson was promoted from the practice squad to replace the roster spot of Lacy.

Kramer knows all about not being able to play with your best running backs. In 1967, the Packers went into the season for the first time in a decade without Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor in the backfield, as Hornung retired and Taylor moved on as a free agent.

In addition to that, both starting running backs, Elijah Pitts and Jim Grabowski, suffered season-ending injuries in Week 8 versus the Baltimore Colts.

travis-williams

Running back Travis Williams tries to elude linebacker Dick Butkus

The Packers didn’t flinch, as backs like Donny Anderson, Travis Williams, Ben Wilson and Chuck Mercein filled in and helped the Packers finish second in the NFL in rushing that season.

Another problem that the current Packers are having is that the passing offense of the team is not in sync. Aaron Rodgers has been in a year-long slump, at least based on the superlative passing numbers he put up from 2009 through 2014.

The receivers are having trouble getting open, even with the return of Jordy Nelson, and when they are open, Rodgers is missing them at times.

Again, Kramer has dealt with this before, as the offense of the Lombardi Packers had to transform itself over the years.

From 1960 through 1964, the Packers relied on the running game to be the focal point of their offense. In those five years, the Packers were either first or second in the league in rushing.

But in 1965, the running game started having some issues. The Packers were just 10th in the NFL in rushing that season. Ironically, the running game came alive when the team needed it the most that season.

The Packers would be playing for the 1965 NFL title versus the defending NFL champion Cleveland Browns at Lambeau Field.

And although the running game of the Packers had struggled almost the entire year, the Packers could not be stopped on this snowy and muddy day on the frozen tundra.

Green Bay rushed for 204 yards behind Taylor and  Hornung, as the Pack won 23-12. The power sweep was especially effective, as Kramer and left guard Fuzzy Thurston kept opening big holes for the backs, mowing down defenders so the Packers gained big chunks of yardage on the ground.

The Packers won three straight NFL titles starting that season. In 1965 and 1966, the Packers became more of a passing offense. Starr was magnificent, as he threw 30 touchdown passes versus 12 interceptions in those two years.

Starr was also named the NFL MVP in 1966.

In 1967, Starr had a number of injuries which affected his play. Because of that, Lombardi leaned more on the running game again and another NFL title was the result.

The current Packers need to change their offensive tendencies like Lombardi did back in the day. Instead of running simply isolation pass patterns, perhaps they can try a few bunch-formation pass patterns, which usually allows receivers to get open a bit more easily.

Plus, go back to the basics of the west coast offense. Use quick-hitting pass patterns like slants and short curls.

The bottom line, the Packers have to find a way to get through all their issues and injuries and beat their most hated rival. With a win, the Packers be within a game of tying the all-time series between the two teams.

Right now the Packers are 91-93-6 in the regular season and 1-1 in the postseason versus the Bears. By winning on Thursday night and again in Week 15 in Chicago at Soldier Field, the Packers will even up the series for the first time since 1933, when the two teams were knotted at 11-11-4.

The Packers have been the dominant team in the past quarter century when the two teams played. A lot of that has been due to great quarterback play. In the 24 years that Favre and Rodgers have been under center for the team, the Packers have a 34-14 record versus da Bears.

Rodgers has been phenomenal for the most part in his career against Chicago. Not only did he beat them in the 2010 NFC title game at Soldier Field, but he’s 12-4 in the regular season as well.

In those 16 games, Rodgers has thrown 35 touchdown passes versus just nine picks for 3,839 yards. That adds up to a very robust passer rating of 107.3.

The Packers need more of the same from Rodgers on Thursday night. Head coach Mike McCarthy can help by changing his offensive scheme a bit, as his offensive inclinations are being diagnosed by the opponents.

The struggles of Rodgers and the offense over the past year or so validate that point.

Kramer knows what the Packers need to do versus da Bears.

“Just do what Coach Lombardi always instructed us to do to meet our challenges,” Kramer said. “Coach told us that we had to be tenacious, we had to be committed and that we had to be disciplined.

“We listened and followed his directions and we focused on the job at hand. That led us to all those championships, including the three straight NFL titles.”

The job at hand for the current Packers is beating the Bears on Thursday night. Not just winning, but also improving all facets of the football team with their play.