Green Bay Packers: Phil Bengtson, the Forgotten Man

Phil Bengtson

Everyone who knows the history of the NFL and the history of the Green Bay Packers, know that under head coach Vince Lombardi, the Packers won five NFL titles in seven years, including three in a row from 1965 through 1967, plus were victorious in Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II.

There were many reasons for that achievement, notably the presence of Lombardi himself, who now has the Super Bowl trophy named after him and is in the NFL Hall of Fame.  The players were very talented as well, as 13 Lombardi era Packers were also inducted into the Hall of Fame, most recently Jerry Kramer.

There are a few more players that probably should be inducted into the Hall as well.  Boyd Dowler, Ron Kramer, Gale Gillingham, Fuzzy Thurston and Don Chandler come to mind.

But there is a coach that rarely gets mentioned, probably because he was the one that took over for Lombardi in 1968 as head coach.

That man is Phil Bengtson.  Most people recall that Bengtson had a 20-21-1 record in his three years as head coach.  Bengtson was also general manager in 1969 and1970 after Lombardi left.

There were reasons for Bengtson‘s head coaching record, but let us take a look first at his record as the de facto defensive coordinator from 1959 through 1967, although he never held that title.

When we look at the Packers in the Vince era, Lombardi ran the offense and Bengtson ran the defense.  Of the 13 Lombardi era Packers that made it to the Hall of Fame, seven were on the defense.  They were middle linebacker Ray Nitschke, cornerback Herb Adderley, defensive end Willie Davis, safety Willie Wood, defensive tackle Henry Jordan, outside linebacker Dave Robinson and safety Emlen Tunnell, who spent most of his career in New York as a Giant, but was with the Pack from 1959 through 1961.

There is no question that the Packers had the best defense in the NFL during that era.  The Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears, Baltimore Colts and Cleveland Browns all had outstanding defenses as well in that period, but no defense was more consistently good than the Packers.

Bengtson was able to plug in players and make them very effective when other players moved on.  Early in the Lombardi era, Bengtson had folks like defensive tackle Dave “Hawg” Hanner, defensive end Bill Quinlan, outside linebacker Dan Currie, outside linebacker Bill Forrester, cornerback Hank Gremminger, cornerback Jesse Whittenton, safety Johnny Symak and Tunnell as starters for periods of time.

Phil with Vince and others

All were very productive.  But over time those players were replaced by players such as defensive tackle Ron Kostelnik, defensive end Lionel Aldridge, outside linebacker Lee Roy Caffey, safety Tom Brown, defensive back Doug Hart, cornerback Bob Jeter, as well as Adderley and Robinson.  The excellence continued.

In the Bengtson era on defense under Lombardi, the Packers were always in the top 10 ranking, including being in the top 5 seven times and were ranked No. 1 twice.  That is quite a résumé, especially when you add the five NFL titles and the two Super Bowl wins.

But a lot of fans think of Bengtson as a head coach only, after Lombardi resigned as head coach in 1968, and stuck around one year as general manager before heading to Washington to become head coach and general manager there for the Redskins in 1969.

If one looks at the 1968 season, Bengtson was hamstrung by a team that was aging, some key injuries, some bad luck and a very poor kicking game as the team had a 6-7-1 record.

In 1968, the Packers had a lot of starters that were over the age of 30.  Quarterback Bart Starr had the second best passer rating of his career at 104.3 in 1968, but he was only able to start nine games because of injuries, most notably a shoulder injury.

The team lost several very close games in 1968, including five by a touchdown or less. Most of those losses came from a very inconsistent and ineffective kicking game.  Chandler retired after the 1967 season and his successors, Mike Mercer (7-of-12), Chuck Mercein (2-of-5), Erroll Mann (0-of-3) and Kramer (4-of-9) were a combined 13-of-29 in terms of successful field goals.  The Packers also missed three extra points that year.

The Minnesota Vikings won the NFL Central in 1968 with an 8-6 record.  The Packers had a chance to repeat again, as Bengtson had his defense ranked No. 3, but the other shortcomings doomed the team to their record.  Bengtson deserved better.

In 1969, the Packers finished 8-6, as Bengtson once again had his defense ranked high at No. 4.  But the Vikings ran away with the NFL Central title on their way to Super Bowl IV vs. the Kansas City Chiefs, the team the Packers beat 35-10 in Super Bowl I.  The Chiefs fared better this time beating the Vikings 23-7.

Starr once again only started nine games because of injury issues in 1969.  The main problem for the Packers once again was their paltry kicking game as the Packers were 6-of-22 in field goal attempts.  Bottom line, just like 1968, with a better kicking game, who knows how the Packers would have finished in 1969.

Backup quarterback Don Horn flashed that season, as he was 4-1 as a starter and ended the season in magnificent fashion, as he threw five touchdowns passes against the St. Louis Cardinals in the last game of the season at Lambeau Field, plus threw for 410 yards.

The wheels sort of fell off in 1970 though, as aging process of the roster was in full bloom and new players were being plugged in.  Starr was a shadow of his former self with a passer rating of 63.9.  Once again the kicking game was mediocre at best, as the Packers were only 15-of-28 in field goals.

Even the vaunted Packer defense failed Bengtson, as the Packers finished 16th in total defense, in the first year of the NFL/AFL merger.  Bengtson resigned in December of 1970 and was replaced by Dan Devine in 1971.

Phil and Vince

Bengtson received his proper due in 1985, as he was named to the Packer Hall of Fame.  Still, Bengtson deserves more recognition for all that he did for those great Packer teams of the 1960’s.

But the very large shadow of Lombardi somewhat concealed Bengtson‘s very successful tenure as the defensive guru of the Packers.  But Lombardi himself knew how important Bengtson was to the Packers.

That is why he named his loyal lieutenant Bengtson as his successor.

If the Pro Football Hall of Fame ever adds a wing where they honor assistant coaches or coordinators, Bengtson would definitely have the track record to get into Canton.

Bottom line, Bengtson is forgotten by some when people reminisce about the legendary success of the Packers of the 1960’s.  But he shouldn’t be.

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

Bobby Dillon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bobby Dillon II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerry Kramer Talks About the Packers Playing at Milwaukee County Stadium

Packers Sideline at County Stadium

Jerry Kramer did not have real good memories of playing games at Milwaukee County Stadium at the beginning of his career. In 1958, Kramer’s rookie year, the Packers were 0-2 at County Stadium, as the team finished a woeful 1-10-1 under head coach Ray “Scooter” McLean.

In 1959, which was the first year that Vince Lombardi became head coach (and general manager), the team also went 0-2 at the home of the Milwaukee Braves, although the team vastly improved it’s season record to 7-5.

In 1960, the Packers did split the two games the team played in Milwaukee, plus went 8-4 for the season and won the Western Conference title. But the Packers lost the 1960 NFL title game to the Philadelphia Eagles, 17-13, which turned out to be the only postseason loss in the Lombardi era in Green Bay.

The Packers only played two games in Milwaukee per season when the schedule was just 12 games. But in 1961, the NFL started a 14-game schedule, which meant that now three homes games would be played in Beertown, while the other four would be played at City Stadium (now Lambeau Field) in Green Bay.

The Packers first started playing some of their home games in Milwaukee, starting in 1933. The first location was Borchert Field in 1933, followed by State Fair Park from 1934 through 1951 and then Marquette Stadium in 1952.

The Packers started playing in the then new County Stadium starting in 1953 and that continued through the 1994 season. Starting in 1995, the Packers started playing all eight of their homes games at Lambeau Field, although they still allot two games per year for Milwaukee season ticket holders.

Going back now to 1961, Kramer had another bad experience at Milwaukee County Stadium, as the Packers lost the season opener there (making the Packers 1-4 at MCS at that point under Lombardi). If that wasn’t bad enough,  Kramer broke his ankle in the next game in Milwaukee versus the Minnesota Vikings covering a kickoff.

“I remember that play pretty well,” Kramer told me recently. “I decided I was going to break the wedge. I was going to go right in the middle of it and make something happen. I don’t know if I slipped or they just knocked me on my ass, but the injury turned out to be pretty serious.

“I broke my leg below the knee and separated the bones in the ankle. It was really painful because the bones were separated. A week or so after the injury, the doctors decided to put a pin in the ankle to pull the bones back together.

“When you think of a pin, you think of something small and delicate, but this was a stone bolt. It had a screw head, a square nut on the opposite side of my leg and it had washers on it. I didn’t think about it at the time, but the washers pulled the bones back together.”

In another story that I wrote about the 1962 Packers, Kramer talked about how arduous and difficult it was to rehab from that injury, not to mention feeling like he didn’t play a big part in the NFL title that the Packers won in 1961.

“I really didn’t feel like I was a part of the championship team in ’61,” Kramer said. “There’s something about a team, a tight team, that once you are no longer making a contribution, you don’t feel like you are part of things.

“You still go to the meetings. You still hang out in the locker room. But you aren’t contributing. I just felt like I wasn’t part of that tight-knit group. I missed that. That’s why I was looking forward to having a great season in ’62.”

Getting over the ankle injury was the first step.

“I wasn’t told how serious my ankle injury was,” Kramer said. “But there was some concern. I separated the bones in the ankle and the doctors had to put a pin in to hold it together. I had a significant amount of pain for about 10 days due to the pressure by the washer on the bolt they put in my ankle.

“For my rehab, I tried to run a little bit. I had a buddy who played in the Canadian Football League and he and I would chase rabbits in the desert in the Boise area. We didn’t catch any, but it helped us occupy our minds while we were running for about an hour.

“When training camp opened, my ankle was still a little stiff. I found that skipping before warmups was very helpful. Skipping helped to put more pressure on the tendons and the ligaments in the ankle. I sure got quite a few interesting looks while I was doing my skipping exercise!”

Even though Kramer had broken his ankle, the Packers went on nine-game winning streak at County Stadium starting with that game against the Vikings.

And as it turned out, even with the Packers starting out 1-4 at County Stadium with Lombardi as their head coach, the team eventually ended up 20-6 overall under Lombardi at the stadium right off of I-94.

County Stadium II

One of those victories was the 1967 Western Conference title game versus the Los Angeles Rams. More on that game later.

Kramer talked about why playing Milwaukee became a very pleasant experience for the team.

“It really wasn’t that difficult playing in Milwaukee,” Kramer said. “It was a couple hours by bus. And we enjoyed the trips down there, as we would BS with each other, listen to music or play cards.

“And on the way home, Coach Lombardi stopped a number of times at a liquor store and would get three or four cases of beer for the team. We sure as hell appreciated that gesture.”

Kramer also talked about the accommodations in Milwaukee.

“We stayed at a nice hotel,” Kramer said. “The Pfister was an old hotel, but it was a classy hotel. That was pleasant. The whole trip was good, as people were always nice, just like in Green Bay.”

In another story I previously wrote about Emlen Tunnell, Kramer talked about a great time he and some of his teammates had at the Pfister thanks to Tunnell’s connections in the entertainment business.

“Then another time we were in Milwaukee one night and Ray Charles was performing in this hotel (the Pfister),” Kramer said. “We went in to watch him during his second session, as he had already done an early show.

Fuzzy [Thurston], myself and some other players quietly found a table near the back. Emlen saw us and he told us to follow him. Ray was sitting at the piano getting ready to start his set, while Emlen had the help get us a bunch of chairs and then put them around the piano. We were sitting six feet away from Ray having a beer while he was performing. It was a priceless moment.”

When the players went out to dinner in Milwaukee during their stay there, more times than not, the destination was Frenchy’s Restaurant on North Avenue on the east side of Milwaukee.

“We went to Frenchy’s quite a bit,” Kramer said. “It was our favorite spot.  One time a bunch of us went there and all of us had lobster, while Bob Long had a hamburger. Then we split the bill evenly. You should have seen the look on Bob’s face after that!”

From 1959 through 1967, the Packers played a lot of memorable games at County Stadium.

There was the late comeback against the Baltimore Colts early in the 1965 season, when backup quarterback Zeke Bratkowski threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Max McGee, as the Packers won 20-17.

Or the 1966 season opener, when the Packers beat the Colts again 24-3, which was highlighted by two pick 6’s, as both linebacker Lee Roy Caffey and cornerback Bob Jeter returned interceptions for touchdowns versus Johnny Unitas.

Lee Roy Caffey II

Or how about the 55-7 blowout of the Cleveland Browns in 1967, when Travis Williams of the Packers returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in the same quarter.

But the best victory for the Packers under Lombardi in Milwaukee had to be the 1967 Western Conference title game, which was held eight days before the legendary “Ice Bowl” game.

I also wrote about that game previously, and Kramer will never forget the pre-game pep talk by his coach.

“We really got fired up in the locker room when Coach Lombardi gave us his Run to Win speech,” Kramer said. “That got us pretty high. The ring I wear, from Super Bowl II, has Run to Win on the side of it.

“He gave us this wonderful speech of St. Paul’s epistle,  about when all the runners are running the race, only one can win, and we run, not just to be in the race, but we run to win. That got us pumped up pretty good.”

There were a number of factors as to why the Packers were 28-7 victors over the Rams that day. Kramer talked about three of them.

“I think one of the big things that we did in that game was to put Marv Fleming next to Forrest Gregg to help control the effectiveness of Deacon Jones,” Kramer said. “They just neutralized him. Bart [Starr] had a big game and so did our running game.

“I also remember that Henry Jordan had a hell of a day. Henry had 3.5 sacks and seemed to be on top of Roman Gabriel all game long.

“Plus, Travis [Williams] was the X-factor in the game. I remember blocking on Merlin [Olsen] and I looked outside and Travis was about even with us, but near the sideline running towards the end zone. And I knew that this play was over. He was gone.”

Williams ended up gaining 88 yards in the game and scored two touchdowns.

In the 61 years that the Packers played in Milwaukee at the various venues, the team usually played quite well in the regular season. The overall record for the Packers in Milwaukee was 105-61-3, which adds up to a .631 winning percentage.

Again, the team was 19-6 under Lombardi in the regular season at County Stadium, which was even better than that, as the team had a .760 winning percentage.

The Packers also won the 1939 NFL title game at State Fair Park by beating the New York Giants 27-0.

Vince and the boys at MCS in the playoffs vs. the Rams

And speaking of the postseason, the Packers put an exclamation point on their years of playing at County Stadium under Lombardi by beating the Rams 28-7 on December 23, 1967. Eight days later, the team won it’s third straight NFL title in the “Ice Bowl” versus the Dallas Cowboys and then won Super Bowl II a couple of weeks after that, defeating the Oakland Raiders 33-14.

You can be absolutely sure that Lombardi had some beer brought on the bus on the happy ride back to Green Bay after the Packers beat the Rams on that very memorable late December day in 1967 at Milwaukee County Stadium.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame Has a Credibility Problem

pro-football-hall-of-fame-logo

In 1969, the Pro Football Hall of Fame named their NFL 50th anniversary team. The first team consisted of Jim Thorpe, Johnny Unitas, Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, Cal Hubbard, Don Hutson, John Mackey, Jerry Kramer, Chuck Bednarik, Gino Marchetti, Leo Nomellini, Ray Nitschke, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Emlen Tunnell and Lou Groza.

Every one of the members on that legendary team are enshrined as players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. All except one. That would be Jerry Kramer.

Why Kramer is still not in Canton has created a credibility problem for the Hall of Fame. One of the voters for admission into that hallowed place has told me that a number of times while we conversed. That would be Rick Gosselin.

Gosselin writes for the Dallas Morning News and sits on two committees for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They are the seniors committee, as well as the contributors committee.

Gosselin said this about the Kramer omission issue in one of his chats with his readers:

“I think Jerry Kramer is the biggest oversight in Canton — if only for the fact that the Hall of Fame selection committee voted him the best guard in the first 50 years of the NFL. Yet he’s gone before that committee something like 10 times and can’t get the votes for induction. It becomes a credibility issue. If you’re going to tell us a player is the best at his position in the first 50 years of the game then not stand behind that selection when it comes time to hand out busts…why even pick an all-half century team?”

Indeed, Rick. Indeed. The fact that Kramer is still not in Canton is not only a slap in the face to No. 64, but also to the panel who named that 50th anniversary team. A panel that named that prestigious team just six years after the Pro Football Hall of Fame was created in 1963.

Jerry's block on Jethro

A little less than a month ago, a subcommittee of the seniors committee named defensive back Kenny Easley as the lone senior nominee for possible induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017.

Easley was a great player back in his era, although his career was somewhat short. Still, Easley was also named on the 1980s First-Team All-Decade team. Usually when a player is named First-Team All-Decade, it’s almost a sure thing that the player will also be inducted in the Hall of Fame.

Guess who else was a First-Team All-Decade player? Yes, Kramer was also named to the NFL All-Decade team for the 1960s.

Looking back on the players who were named First-Team All-Decade through the year 2000, there were 145 players who were given that designation.

And up until now, 133 of those players have been inducted into the hallowed halls in Canton.

The eight modern-era players who have not yet received their rightful place among the all-time greats are Kramer (60s), Easley (80s), Johnny Robinson (60s), Drew Pearson (70s), Cliff Harris (70s), Jim Covert (80s), Tony Boselli (90s) and Steve Atwater (90s).

Former Green Bay end Lavvie Dilweg was a First-Team All-Decade player in the 1920s, while guard Ox Emerson was First-Team All-Decade in 1930s. Guard Bruno Banducci and tackle Al Wistert were also First-Team All-Decade in the 1940s.

So the fact that Kramer was not only a First-Team All-Decade player, plus was the lone guard on the NFL 50th anniversary team, make his omission from the Pro Football Hall of Fame truly appalling.

There is absolutely no doubt that Kramer has the credentials to be in Canton. It’s incomprehensible that Kramer still is waiting for his proper enshrinement.

There is also no doubt that the members of the seniors committee have a very difficult job. A lot of very good players have fallen through the cracks through the years.

Besides the First-Team All-decade players who have still not been enshrined, there are several more deserving players who have been kept out of Canton. Players like Chuck Howley, Robert Brazile, Ken Anderson, Randy Gradishar, Bob Kuechenberg, Pat Fischer, Alex Karras and Joe Jacoby.

And besides Kramer, there are a number of other deserving players who played for the Packers, like the before-mentioned Dilweg, as well as Cecil Isbell, Bobby Dillon and Gale Gillingham.

It would help if the Hall of Fame would make the process a little easier for seniors committee.

Like allowing the committee to nominate more than two seniors. Gosselin has proposed to nominate up to 10 seniors for the Class of 2019, which will be the 100th anniversary of the NFL.

That would be a great gesture by the Pro Football Hall of Fame to follow through on Gosselin’s proposal.

Plus there is the issue of who votes for the senior nominees. There are nine members of the seniors committee. Yet only five of the nine meet in August to determine the senior nominee or nominees. All committee members should be present for the discussion.

Also, not only should the committee allow current Hall of Fame members to be part of the discussion for the senior nominees (which is being done now), but more of them need to be part of the discussion.

Each decade (if possible) should be represented by at least one current Hall of Fame player at the seniors meeting.

There are a number of current Hall of Fame members who are still living and who played in the 1960s. They could speak on behalf of Kramer, whether they played with him or against him.

There would definitely be a lot to say.

Because in the 60s, Kramer was a five-time (First-Team) All-Pro and was also named to three Pro Bowls for the Packers. No. 64 would have had even more honors if not for injuries and illness. Kramer missed half of the 1961 season due to a broken ankle and almost all of the 1964 season due to an intestinal ailment which took nine operations to resolve.

Kramer also played a large role in the success that the Packers had under head coach Vince Lombardi in the postseason. The Packers were 9-1 under Lombardi in the postseason, which included five NFL championships in seven years. That included victories in the first two Super Bowls.

In addition to that, the Packers became the only team in the modern NFL to win three straight NFL titles, when Green Bay won it all in 1965, 1966 and 1967.

No NFL team has ever duplicated that feat.

No. 64 played a big role in a number of those championship game victories.

In the 1962 NFL Championship Game versus the New York Giants at very cold and windy Yankee Stadium, Kramer doubled as a right guard and as placekicker. Kramer booted three field goals on a very difficult day to kick, as  some wind gusts were over 40 mph during the contest.

Kramer scored 10 points in the 16-7 victory for the Packers, plus helped lead the way for fullback Jimmy Taylor to gain 85 yards rushing and also score the lone Green Bay touchdown. As a team, the Packers gained 148 yards rushing that day.

Kramer earned a game-ball for his efforts that day in the Bronx.

Jerry after the game-winning kick in the '62 championship game

In the 1965 NFL Championship Game versus the Cleveland Browns at snowy and muddy Lambeau Field, Kramer and his teammates on the offensive line had a sensational day.

Taylor and halfback Paul Hornung led a rushing attack that gained 204 yards, as the Pack won 23-12. The power sweep was especially effective, as Kramer and fellow guard Fuzzy Thurston kept opening big holes for the backs as the Packers gained big chunks of yardage past the line of scrimmage.

Hornung scored the last touchdown of the game on one of those power sweeps. Kramer pulled left and first blocked the middle linebacker and then a cornerback, as the “Golden Boy” made his way into the end zone.

In the 1966 NFL Championship Game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, the Packers outlasted the Cowboys 34-27. Once again, Kramer and the rest of the offensive line had a large impact in that victory, as quarterback Bart Starr threw for 304 yards and had four touchdown passes, plus the running game picked up an additional 102 yards.

Then came the 1967 NFL Championship Game (better known as the “Ice Bowl”) versus the Cowboys at frigid Lambeau Field. In that legendary contest, Kramer made the most famous block in the history of the NFL.

The playing surface that day was truly a frozen tundra, as the game-time temperature was 13 below zero.

In the closing moments of the game, down by a score of 17-14,  the Packers had to drive 68 yards down the frozen field to either tie or win the game.

It all came down to 13 seconds to go with no timeouts at the 1-yard line of the Cowboys. The Packers could have kicked a field goal at that point to tie the game at 17-17.

But coach Lombardi decided to go for the win. If the Packers run the ball and are stopped short of the end zone, the game is over.

Starr called a 31-wedge play in the huddle, which calls for the fullback to get the ball. However, Starr decided to keep the ball after conferring with Lombardi on the sideline about the play.

Starr thought it would be better to try to get into the end zone himself due to the slippery and icy conditions near the goal line. He followed Kramer’s classic block on Jethro Pugh and found a hole behind No. 64 to score the winning touchdown.

When one looks back on the consistent success of those great Green Bay teams under Lombardi, there are two points which certainly have to be made.

The power sweep was obviously the signature play for the Packers under Lombardi. Plus, Starr’s quarterback sneak with just seconds remaining in the “Ice Bowl”, had to be the signature moment of the Lombardi legacy.

Kramer played a prominent role in both of those instances.

Even with all that, Kramer has still not yet been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Between 1974 and 1987, Kramer was a finalist for induction into Canton nine times. Nine times! That in itself tells you that Kramer was a tremendous player.

But as all this was going on, a lot of Kramer’s teammates with the Packers were getting inducted. This included players like Taylor, Starr, Hornung, Forrest Gregg, Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderley, Willie Davis and Jim Ringo.

But Kramer’s name was never called for induction. In 1989, another former teammate was inducted. Safety Willie Wood finally heard his name called, after also being a finalist nine times, just like Kramer.

In all, Kramer has seen 11 of his former teammates get inducted, as well as his legendary head coach.

In 1997, Kramer was a senior finalist, but for some ridiculous reason he did not get the votes necessary for induction.

That was almost 20 years ago. Yet Kramer still waits.

Opponents who played against Kramer in his era certainly endorse his enshrinement into Canton.No endorsement is bigger than the one from the late Merlin Olsen. To many, Olsen is considered the best defensive tackle in NFL history.

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.

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.”

Besides Olsen, there are also quite a number of Kramer’s contemporaries who are already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame who likewise believe Kramer belongs in Canton. Randy Simon has put together a great book that shows all the endorsements.

They come from teammates like Bart Starr, Paul Hornung and Willie Davis, along with players like Bob Lilly, Frank Gifford, Chuck Bednarik, Doug Atkins, Alan Page, Joe Schmidt, John Mackey, Raymond Berry, Mel Renfro, Mike Ditka, Jim Otto, Tom Mack, Dave Wilcox, Tommy McDonald and Lem Barney.

That is why it is so important to hear from Hall of Fame players when the senior committee meets to determine which senior or seniors will be nominated.

The bottom line is that Kramer should have been inducted into the Hall of Fame decades ago along with the rest of his teammates. No. 64’s importance and contributions to those great Packer teams under Lombardi have been noted.

The NFL’s 50th anniversary team was named 47 years ago. Kramer became eligible for induction five years later. That means Kramer has patiently waited 42 years for the Pro Football Hall of Fame to open it’s doors for him.

Until the Senior Selection Committee and the rest of the voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame right this wrong about Kramer and his place in NFL history, there will always be a dark cloud which will hover over that prestigious building in Canton. A credibility cloud to be sure.

The Super Bowl trophy is named after Vince Lombardi. For good reason. This is what Lombardi said about Kramer in a 1969 article in the Chicago Tribune:

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

Vincen And Jerry III

I only wish the seniors committee would heed the words of Lombardi and many, many others. Besides all the great salutations Kramer has received from his peers, the bottom line is that he was the best player at his position when he played in the NFL.

Not just in the regular season, but in the bright lights of the postseason as well, when he played a big part in the team’s success.

It goes without saying that Kramer should absolutely receive the honor which he so richly deserves. That is, being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a place where the best of the best get recognized.

Kramer was most certainly the best of the best.

Which is why he was named to the 1960s All-Decade team, as well as the NFL’s 50th anniversary team in 1969.

Yet the Pro Football Hall of Fame still hasn’t recognized that. Which tells me and many others like Rick Gosselin, that there is definitely a credibility issue at the Hall.

That credibility problem will never change until Kramer gets his rightful enshrinement in Canton.

Jerry Kramer Talks About Emlen Tunnell

 

Em Tunnell - Green Bay Packers

Last summer I did a series of articles about the 11 teammates of Jerry Kramer who were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as well as the man who made that all possible…Vince Lombardi.

In the stories, Kramer gave me his reflections about those players and his legendary head coach. There is absolutely no doubt that Kramer deserves that same honor based on his great career in the NFL.

As a matter of fact, Kramer should have been inducted decades ago.

The 11 Hall of Famers who Kramer looked back on were Jim Taylor, Forrest Gregg, Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderley, Willie Davis, Jim Ringo, Paul Hornung, Willie Wood, Henry Jordan and Dave Robinson.

The one Hall of Famer who also played with Kramer  and who wasn’t in this series of articles was Emlen Tunnell. The main reason was because Tunnell spent most of his career with the New York Giants.

When Lombardi arrived in Green Bay in 1959 as head coach and general manager, he made a number of trades. The first trade was to acquire guard Fuzzy Thurston from the Baltimore Colts for linebacker Marv Matuzak.

The second trade was to acquire Tunnell from the Giants for cash. Lombardi had been with the Giants himself from 1954 through 1958 as an offensive assistant and he knew full well the talents of Tunnell at the safety position.

Emlen and VinceTunnell had started his NFL career with the G-Men in 1948, after playing at both Toledo and Iowa in college.

Tunnell immediately showed that he was a very talented defensive back, as he had seven interceptions (including one for a touchdown) his rookie year.

Throughout his career with the Giants, Tunnell was considered the very best safety in the NFL, as he was named first team All-Pro four times and was also named to the Pro Bowl eight times.

During that time, Tunnell had 74 interceptions (four of which were returned for touchdowns) and had 15 fumble recoveries as well.

Tunnell was also a very dangerous punt returner, as he led the NFL in punt returns twice, and had five returns for a touchdown. No. 45 also had a kickoff return for a score.

By the time he came to Green Bay, Tunnell had already played 11 seasons with the Giants. But when Lombardi acquired him from the Giants, Tunnell immediately became a starter at safety along side of Bobby Dillon in 1959.

Tunnell had two interceptions for the Packers that year and was named to yet another Pro Bowl.

In 1960, Tunnell started at safety once again, this time next to John Symank. Tunnell had three more interceptions, as the Packers won the Western Conference  and narrowly lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1960 NFL title game, 17-13.

Also that season, Tunnell mentored free-agent rookie Willie Wood about how to play the safety position, as well as returning punts.

By 1961, Tunnell had been replaced by Wood at safety as a starter, but his lessons to Wood were well spent. Wood had five interceptions that year, plus led the NFL in punt returns, as he had a 16.1 return average and two returns for touchdowns.

On top of all that, the Packers won the 1961 NFL title, as they defeated Tunnell’s old team, the Giants, 37-0 at City Stadium (later Lambeau Field).

It was Tunnell’s second NFL title, as he had also been part of a Giants team which won the 1956 NFL championship.

Tunnell retired after the 1961 season and in 1967 he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

When I talked to Kramer about Tunnell, he recalled No. 45 very fondly.

“Emlen was a pretty special guy,” Kramer said. “He was a pro’s pro. He was a classy and bright guy as well. Emlen was a fierce competitor. He also helped tutor the young defensive backs like Willie Wood and Herb Adderley.”

Kramer remembered one play especially regarding Tunnell.

“We were playing the Chicago Bears one time,” Kramer said. “The Bears had a fine guard by the name of Stan Jones. The Bears ran a play, kind of like a sweep, with the guards pulling. Emlen came up to force the play, and his timing was impeccable, as he hit Jones with a forearm to the head and knocked him colder than a cucumber.”

One can see how the teaching of Tunnell impacted both Wood and Adderley, as not only were both players fabulous ball hawks, but both were also outstanding tacklers who delivered a resounding hit more times than not.

Wille Wood and Herb Adderley

Willie Wood and Herb Adderley via http://www.packernews.com

Kramer knew that Tunnell would be able to teach the younger players.

“Emlen just really understood the defensive positions,” Kramer said. “He knew where everyone should be on a given offensive formation. He was just a steadying influence.”

After he was done playing in the NFL, Tunnell later became a scout and assistant coach for the Giants.

Tunnell also was a bit of a celebrity when he joined the Packers after playing so many years in the Big Apple. Tunnell also knew many celebrities.

Kramer recalled a couple of instances.

“In San Francisco, Ella Fitzgerald was playing one night,” Kramer said. “When we went to the show, everyone knew Emlen. Everyone. He was just a social cat. Anyway, Fuzzy and I were hanging out with him watching the great show from Ella from up close. It was just wonderful.

“Then another time we were in Milwaukee one night and Ray Charles was performing in this hotel. We went in to watch him during his second session, as he had already done an early show.

“Fuzzy, myself and some other players quietly found a table near the back. Emlen saw us and he told us to follow him. Ray was sitting at the piano getting ready to start his set, while Emlen had the help get us a bunch of chairs and then put them around the piano. We were sitting six feet away from Ray having a beer while he was performing. It was a priceless moment.”

Sadly, Tunnell died at the young age of 50 in 1975 due to a heart attack.

Still, he left behind a great legacy, both on the field and off.

“Emlen was a class act,” Kramer said. He was a hell of football player, as well as being a hell of a man.”

Green Bay Packers: Vince Lombardi Was the Very Best in His Dual Roles as Head Coach and General Manager

Vince at the Ice Bowl

To illustrate that Vince Lombardi was the greatest coach in NFL history, it’s quite apropos that his name is on the Super Bowl trophy that is awarded each year to the NFL champion. That tells you all you need to know about his excellence as a head coach.

That’s what happens when you coach a team to five NFL titles in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls.

Lombardi had a .754 winning percentage in the regular season as head coach of the Packers, as the team had an 89-29-4 record over nine years.

But in the postseason, the Packers really shined under Lombardi, as the team went 9-1.

Lombardi liked to win. That is obvious. Even in the preseason. Vince had a 42-8 record in those games as well.

Lombardi inherited a team that went 1-10-1 in 1958. That team also had a lot of untapped talent then. On that squad were a number of players who would later be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Players like center Jim Ringo, offensive tackle Forrest Gregg, quarterback Bart Starr, halfback Paul Hornung, fullback Jim Taylor and middle linebacker Ray Nitschke.

That’s six players who are now in Canton who were already on the roster when Lombardi took over the team in 1959. There should be a seventh player. That would be right guard Jerry Kramer, who should have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame decades ago due to his stellar play.

Vince and Jerry IV

Lombardi took that 1-10-1 team from 1958 and immediately brought a winning tradition to Green Bay.

In 1959 the Packers went 7-5 under Lombardi. A year later they played in the NFL championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles. That would be the only postseason game Lombardi and his Packers ever lost.

Then came the run starting in 1961 of seven years that brought five NFL titles, including the first two Super Bowl wins.

The excellence of those teams was helped a great deal by the players Lombardi had inherited when he joined the team. But he also added to that excellence by acquiring some great talent himself through the draft and trades, plus free agent and waiver acquisitions as general manager.

First, let’s look at the trades and the other additions to the roster.

In 1959, Lombardi made several trades. Three of the players Lombardi acquired were left guard Fuzzy Thurston, safety Emlen Tunnell and defensive tackle Henry Jordan.

Thurston, along with Kramer, were the best set of guards in the NFL for several years. The staple play of the Lombardi Packers was the power sweep, and the success of that play was largely due to the great blocking by Thurston and Kramer.

Tunnell was near the end of his career when Lombardi acquired him, but he helped mentor a young safety named Willie Wood, who Lombardi signed as a free agent in 1960. Wood, like Tunnell, would be later inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame because of his hard-hitting presence and his ball-hawking ability.

Jordan also was inducted into the Hall of Fame because of his great play on the inside of the defensive line for several years.

Lombardi celebrates 1966 NFL title

In 1960, Lombardi also acquired defensive end Willie Davis from the Cleveland Browns, the same team which had traded Jordan to the Packers. Davis also would later be enshrined in Canton because of his dominance at defensive end.

In 1963, Lombardi picked up Zeke Bratkowski on waivers, and he later became the ideal back up to Starr at quarterback for a number of seasons.

In 1965, Lombardi made three key trades which would help the Packers win three consecutive NFL titles from 1965-67. Vince acquired outside linebacker Lee Roy Caffey, kicker Don Chandler and wide receiver Carroll Dale in three separate deals.

All three of those players played big roles in the Packers winning those three consecutive titles.

In 1967, Lombardi’s last season as head coach of the Packers, he also picked up free agent fullback Chuck Mercein, who played a huge role in the success of the team late in the season and the postseason.

In the draft, Lombardi could also spot talent. In 1961, he drafted a halfback from Michigan State named Herb Adderley in the first round. Lombardi later turned Adderley into a cornerback, and Herb’s fantastic career also got him enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Adderley was the best cover-corner in the NFL in the 1960s. Not only was he great in coverage and in picking off the ball, No. 26 could also deliver a vicious blow to opposing players.

In the first round in 1963, Lombardi drafted linebacker Dave Robinson. Robinson also has a bust in Canton now, as he, Nitschke and Caffey were the best set of linebackers in the NFL for a number of years.

Vince and the Pack at Super Bowl I

In 1966, one of Lombardi’s two first-round draft picks was Gale Gillingham. Like Kramer, Gillingham was one of the elite guards of his era, and he also belongs in Canton.

Lombardi also drafted other players who also played a big part in the success of the Packers under his watch. The list includes running back Tom Moore, cornerback Bob Jeter, defensive tackle Ron Kostelnik, halfback Elijah Pitts, safety Tom Brown, defensive end Lionel Aldridge, tight end Marv Fleming, center Ken Bowman, halfback Donny Anderson, fullback Jim Grabowski and halfback/kick returner Travis Williams.

Bottom line, we all know that Vince Lombardi was the best of the best as a head coach. His record of excellence proves that.

But he deserves even more recognition because of his prowess as a general manager as well.

Jerry Kramer Talks About Willie Wood

When one looks back on the defensive backfield for the Green Bay Packers for a number of years in the 1960s, they would have seen three players who were primarily offensive players in college.

Cornerbacks Herb Adderley and Bob Jeter were running backs at Michigan State and Iowa respectively, while safety Willie Wood was a quarterback at USC.

It was truly amazing that the coaching staff was able to see that their talents would help the Packers a lot more on the defensive side of the ball.

When it was all said and done, the three defensive backs combined for 115 interceptions with the Packers, with 11 of them run back for touchdowns.

Between Adderley, Jeter and Wood, the three were named first team All-Pro 10 times and went to 15 Pro Bowls.

Not bad for a couple of running backs and a quarterback in college.

At least Adderley and Jeter were drafted, as both were high draft picks for the Packers.

Wood was not drafted at all in 1960 and he sent out postcards to teams asking for a tryout. Luckily the Packers brought him in and No. 24 made the team.

Willie learned the craft of safety from a future Hall of Famer named Emlen Tunnell.

One of the first trades that Vince Lombardi made in 1959 was to bring Tunnell over to the Packers from the New York Giants, where Lombardi had been an assistant coach from 1954 through 1958.

Wood sat on the bench in 1960, but by 1961 was a starter. Wood had five interceptions that season for the Packers, plus led the NFL in punt returns with a 16.1 average and two touchdowns.

It was the start of a great career for Wood with the Packers, as he ended up with 48 career interceptions (two for touchdowns), plus was the primary punt returner for the team as well.

Wood was named first-team All-Pro five times and was also named to eight Pro Bowls. No. 24 was also named to the NFL All-Decade team for the 1960s.

Wood was finally inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989, after being a finalist nine times prior to that.

Sounds a lot like Jerry Kramer, who was also a finalist nine times from 1974 through 1987. Like Wood, Kramer certainly has earned a bust in Canton with his play on the football field. Unlike Wood, Kramer has not yet been enshrined for some puzzling reason.

Speaking of Kramer, I had an opportunity to talk to No. 64 recently about Mr. Wood.

Kramer talked about the meetings that the offensive and defensive units would have.

In one room, Lombardi would run the offensive meeting and he would do his fair share of yelling and screaming as he kept running the film over and over again pointing out the flaws of a given play.

While this was going on, Kramer would often hear laughter coming from the room where the defense was meeting with assistant coach Phil Bengtson.

Kramer talked about a conversation he had with linebacker Ray Nitschke about the differences between the two meetings.

“I told Ray that I wish you guys could change rooms with us one day and let Lombardi chew your ass,” Kramer said. “Ray said, ‘We don’t have anything like that, but I hate the look I get from Wood after I miss a tackle on film. Willie has mean eyes. If you miss a tackle, Willie will look at you with really mean eyes.’

Kramer continued to talk about No. 24 and what he meant to the Packers.

“Willie was a tremendous competitor,” Kramer said. “Wood was a real knowledgeable ball player. Because he was a quarterback at USC, he was much more aware of the offensive patterns that would be coming at him as a safety.

“I think it’s a similar situation with Randall Cobb today. Randall is a sensational receiver and I think a large part of that was because he was a quarterback at Kentucky for a while. He understands the mind of a quarterback. So did Willie.

“So Willie was very knowledgeable player, plus he hit you with every ounce of energy he had. He could really bring it. Willie was known for really whaling guys. And because he was such a good athlete, he was always in the proper position at the proper speed to really deliver a blow.

“Willie was just a wonderful ball player. He would surprise some people because he wasn’t that big (5’10”, 190 pounds). But he had great physical ability, as he could dunk a football over the crossbar of the goal post.”

Kramer then talked about the throwing contests that Wood and Nitschke would have, as they both had played quarterback at some point in their football careers.

“Willie and Ray would get in a passing contest,” Kramer said. “They would both throw the ball in the 80-yard neighborhood. Wood would throw it maybe 80 and Nitschke would throw it around 85 yards. Both had incredible arms.”

Wood played on five NFL title teams with the Packers, including the first two Super Bowl winners. It was Wood who made the game-changing play in Super Bowl I, when the Packers were clinging to a 14-10 lead over the Kansas City Chiefs early in the third quarter.

Wood picked off an errant Len Dawson pass and went 50 yards downfield to set up a five-yard touchdown run by Elijah Pitts, as the Packers went on to win by a very comfortable 35-10 margin to win the very first Super Bowl.

No. 24 played a key role in that victory.