Green Bay Packers: The Very Promising Career of Nelson Toburen was Stopped Short Due to a Career-Ending Neck Injury

The Green Bay Packers of the 1960s under head coach Vince Lombardi always seemed to have a great set of linebackers on the field. Under the tutelage of defensive coordinator Phil Bengtson, the linebackers for the Packers were always good, no matter who they were. Just take a look…

  • Ray Nitschke was named to one Pro Bowl squad and was a two-time First-Team All-Pro. Also named to the NFL All-Decade Team for the 1960s. Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1978.
  • Dan Currie was named to one Pro Bowl squad and was a First-Team All-Pro once.
  • Bill Forester was named to four Pro Bowl squads and was a three-time First-Team All-Pro.
  • Dave Robinson was named to three Pro Bowl squads and was a First-Team All-Pro once. Also named to the NFL All-Decade Team for the 1960s. Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013.
  • Lee Roy Caffey was named to one Pro Bowl squad and was a First-Team All-Pro once.

There was another linebacker who played for the Packers for just a brief period who had the potential to be as good, if not better, than any of the linebackers named above.

I’m talking about Nelson Toburen. The Packers selected Toburen in 14th round in the 1961 NFL draft out of the University of Wichita. The draft took place a month after super scout Jack Vainisi had passed away. In the ’61 draft, the Packers also selected Herb Adderley in Round 1, plus also selected Ron Kostelnik in the second round, Lee Folkins in the fifth round and Elijah Pitts in the 13th round.

Another rookie made the team in 1961 as well. I’m talking about defensive lineman Ben Davidson, who Lombardi had acquired from the New York Giants. The G-Men had selected Davidson in the fourth round of the ’61 NFL draft.

That’s six rookies who made the first team which won a NFL title for Lombardi in 1961.

I had a chance to talk with Toburen earlier this week and I asked him about his expectations regarding the NFL draft.

“Bob, I had no concept about playing pro football,” Toburen said. “Nobody contacted you prior to the draft like they do now. I was told by the coach that I had been drafted.”

Like a lot of players back in college football then, Toburen played both ways. He was both an offensive end and a defensive end. But Toburen knew what side of the ball he would be playing in the NFL.

“There was absolutely no question that I was going to play defense in my own mind and I’m sure in theirs too,” Toburen said. “That was my forte.”

In the 1961 season, the year the Packers became Titletown, Toburen played in all 14 games and was a special teams demon.

Before the 1962 season started, Toburen went face to face across the desk with Coach Lombardi (who was also general manager) to talk about his contract for 1962.

“You were just totally at Lombardi’s mercy,” Toburen said. “We had no power. What he said was it. The only time I ever negotiated with him was after my rookie season. I kept telling him that I wanted to make five figures. Which was $10,000. Coach just grinned and said I’m giving you a big increase, which was from $7,500 to $9,000.

“From a percentage-wise outlook, that was a nice raise. But finally he agreed that if I started or played so many minutes that I would get a bonus of $1,000 which would take me to $10,000.”

In the 1962 season, the 6’3″, 235-pound Toburen was a terror on special teams for the Packers again and finally got a chance to start in Week 10 of the season when Currie couldn’t play. It was an exciting time for Toburen and his family.

“My wife was with all the Packer wives who got all dressed up with their high heels and fancy clothes for that game,” Toburen said. “My dad took his first airplane flight in his lifetime from Denver to Green Bay for that game. Plus, dad was on the sidelines, as Vince made sure he got him a sideline pass for the game.”

But all of that excitement and happiness turned into a very scary moment for Toburen and his family in the game against the Baltimore Colts and quarterback Johnny Unitas.

The Packers were undefeated going into the game against the Colts and were fortunate to get a win in the first game (and last game) that Toburen ever started. The Packers won 17-13, even though the team only had 116 total yards. Special teams and defense were the reason the Packers won that day. Adderley returned a kickoff for 103 yards for a score, plus picked off a pass. Toburen also caused a Unitas fumble on what turned out to be the last play of his NFL career.

Toburen talked to me about that play.

“I tell people the story about my career that has been told multiple times was not about my playing football, but about my injury,” Toburen said. “I believe it was mid-4th quarter and it was a close game. The Colts were across the 50 and Unitas went back to pass and then started to run. I’m thinking to myself that we have to stop this guy.

“I set out to make Unitas fumble. I was in the flat and Nitschke was more in the center of the field when Unitas started running. Quarterbacks in those days didn’t slide and I got to Unitas well ahead of Nitschke and I hit him hard enough to cause him to fumble, which Nitschke recovered.

“But at that moment, I was done. I just dropped to the ground and my arms were on fire. I hurt like nothing I could ever explain. Obviously the brachial plexus area, the nerves that run up to your neck were being pinched. So the trainer came out and saw me and said, ‘Pinch nerve, get him up.’

“But about that time, Dr. James Nellen arrived. I was conscious all this time. And Nellen said, ‘No, no no. Don’t touch him.’ So Dr. Nellen asked me what was going on and he held my head in what was a traction position. And that relieved the pain in my arms somewhat. Back then, they just had the old Army stretcher in those days, the two sticks with canvass, so they put me on the stretcher.

“They might have given me some pain medication. I can’t remember how they got that helmet off of me. I don’t remember that stuff. Maybe I passed out. I just have a vague memory of Dr. Nellen holding my head all the way to the hospital. They finally got me in traction in that same position to relieve that pain. They spent two or three days trying to figure out what happened. I was told later that they were trying to get an X-ray, but they needed to get in from the side, but my shoulder bones were in the way.

“The injury was in the fifth and sixth cervical vertebrae of my neck. Dr. Nellen told me later that that the fifth fractured in half and the sixth moved completely out of position. The only reason that my spinal cord wasn’t cut was because the break came out at an angle. That saved my bacon. And Dr. Nellen did as well. I credited him for saving my mobility. I’m sure had I been lifted up after my injury, that my spinal cord would have been cut or severely injured.”

The tackling form by Toburen on the play is what basically caused the injury. When making a tackle, players are coached to keep their head up when hitting an opposing ballplayer. That did not happen when Toburen hit Unitas.

“The top of my head hit the hip of Unitas,” Toburen said. “It hit a the most solvent point of Unitas’ body. It was a bad hit, no question.. Bad position hit, anyway.”

At one point, Toburen was going to be sent to the Cleveland Clinic to have a procedure done for his neck fracture, as the doctor goes in from the throat to do a bone graft to fix the issue.

I had the same procedure done in 2007 when I fractured my neck in an auto accident. But fortunately for Toburen, he didn’t need the procedure.

“My system was such that it started to heal and calcify on it’s own,’ Toburen said. “Thank goodness they didn’t have to do that. All the repair is what is called a closed reduction. They didn’t have to cut on me at all.”

It wasn’t easy for Toburen as he was recovering from his injury.

“I was in a body cast for a few weeks,” Toburen said. “My head was push way up in the air and the cast went down to my hips.”

While he laid in the hospital recovering from his injury in a body cast, Toburen got a visit from Lombardi.

“Vince and Marie came to visit me at the hospital,” Toburen said. “Lombardi saw me in that cast and immediately chocked up and left the room.”

Still, Toburen planned to return to the Packers and play again in the NFL. That was until he heard from Dr. Nellen about six months after his injury in 1963 when he told him his playing career was over. That was devastating news for Toburen.

“Yes, up to that moment, I was optimistic that I was going to be coming back,” Toburen said. “That news just crushed me.”

Lombardi and the Packers paid Toburen his salary for the 1963 season, which they did not have to do.

Toburen stayed in Green Bay from the time of his injury in November of 1962 to May of 1964.

“It took me some time emotionally and physically to get back on my feet,” Toburen said. “It took me a while to get my emotional state back together. I was going to be a ballplayer and then I had to change course.”

After that, Toburen moved back to Topeka, Kansas where he went to law school and got a degree. Toburen then was invited to join a law firm in Pittsburg, Kansas where he practiced law for 20 years, mostly as a trial lawyer. Then Toburen was appointed to the bench to become a judge by the Governor of Kansas. Toburen then spent 15 years on the bench before he retired.

When I have talked to teammates (like Jerry Kramer) of Toburen who played with him with the Packers, they all have said Toburen was as talented as any linebacker on the team. There is no doubt that without having the career-ending injury, Toburen would have had a fabulous career in Green Bay at linebacker.

“If I hadn’t been hurt in that game, I would have been a starter for the rest of my time in Green Bay,” Toburen said. “There is no question in my mind. I had the position down. Both Forester and Currie were at the end of their careers.”

The Packers drafted Robinson in the first round of the 1963 NFL draft most likely due to the injury suffered by Toburen. The Packers then traded for Caffey in 1964, because the team was in need of additional help at outside linebacker.

“Yes, I have talked to Dave Robinson,” Toburen said. “And he told me that he probably wouldn’t have been drafted if I hadn’t been hurt.”

Toburen has some other memories of his time with the Packers.

“I also remember that everyone smoked cigarettes,” Toburen said. “The light from those old fashioned cameras had to get past that smoke. Everybody smoked it seemed. I remember Paul Hornung distributing Marlboros around the locker room.”

Toburen then reflected back on the beginning of his career in Green Bay.

“Although I never met Jack Vainisi, I read about about all the great players he helped draft for the Packers,” Toburen said. “He was quite a wizard at picking out good ballplayers. Not necessarily the best known players either. Like me for instance. He found players that weren’t All-Americans.”

A great example of that is Bart Starr, who was selected in the 17th round of the 1956 NFL draft after not playing much quarterback at all his senior year at Alabama. All told, Vainisi helped the Packers select eight players in the 1950s who later were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The bottom line is that Toburen’s time in Green Bay is something he will never forget.

“I tell people that it was the most exciting time of my life,” Toburen said. “I don’t think I ever had enjoyed anything more than that period of my life. You just can’t compare it to anything else. I just loved it!”

Paul Hornung: Six Members of the Green Bay Packers Pay Tribute to No. 5

The Green Bay Packers lost another great member of their family on November 13, when Paul Hornung passed away. The former Notre Dame Fighting Irish star’s passing came just 15 days after another former legendary athlete of the Packers died. That player was Herb Adderley.

In fact, over just the past two years, 11 players who played under head coach Vince Lombardi in Green Bay have passed away.

The list also includes Jim Taylor, Bob Skoronski, Forrest Gregg, Bart Starr, Zeke Bratkowski, Doug Hart, Allen Brown, Willie Wood and Willie Davis.

Taylor, Gregg, Starr, Wood, Davis, Adderley and Hornung all have busts in Canton at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

So does Lombardi.

For this story, I wanted to talk to a number of players who played with Hornung in Green Bay. Those players are Jerry Kramer, Boyd Dowler, Carroll Dale, Donny Anderson and Jim Grabowski. I also talked to Don Horn, who got to know Hornung at alumni gatherings for the Packers, plus stood near Hornung at the “Ice Bowl”, when the Lombardi received permission from Commissioner Pete Rozelle to have Hornung on the Green Bay sideline during that legendary game.

When I talked with Kramer about Hornung five years ago, Jerry believed the primary reason that Lombardi decided to come to Green Bay was the presence of Hornung on the roster.

“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.

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

“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.”

Hornung had come to Green Bay in the 1957 NFL draft as the bonus pick of that particular draft. The NFL used a bonus pick system throughout the 1950s when a given NFL team would get the No. 1 pick of the draft. A team would only be able to use the bonus pick once during that period. The Packers got their chance in 1957 and their fabulous scout Jack Vainisi instructed the general manager of the Packers then, Verne Lewellen, to select Hornung.

Hornung had won the Heisman Trophy in 1956. No. 5 is the only player to ever win that award who played on a losing team. Notre Dame was just 2-8 in 1956. But Hornung did it all for the Fighting Irish, as he led the team in rushing, passing, scoring and punting, not to mention kickoff and punt returns. If that wasn’t enough, “The Golden Boy” also led Notre Dame in passes defensed, as well as being second on the team in tackles and interceptions.

Under head coach Lisle Blackbourn in 1957 and head coach Ray “Scooter” McLean in 1958, the Packers did not utilize Hornung correctly. Sometimes No. 5 would play fullback. Other times halfback. Plus, when given a chance to pass, only completed one pass in seven attempts.

In those two years combined, Hornung only had 619 yards rushing and five touchdowns. No. 5 also caught 21 passes without a score. All told, Hornung scored 18 points in 1957 and 67 points in 1958, as in that year, Hornung kicked 11 field goals and converted 22 extra points. But the worst part was the losing. The Packers were a combined 4-19-1 in those two seasons.

Then Lombardi arrived in 1959. When Hornung and Lombardi spoke on the phone for the first time, his new head coach told his young star that he was going to be his left halfback. Or nothing at all.

And what a difference that made. Hornung became the face of the franchise over the the first three years he and Lombardi joined forces.

The primary reason? The power sweep. That play was the staple play of the Packers under Lombardi.

From 1959 through 1961, the Packers averaged 178 yards rushing per game. Taylor rushed for 2,860 yards during that time, but it was Hornung who seemed to be the biggest beneficiary of that play, as he rushed for 1,949 yards and scored 28 touchdowns.

Speaking of scoring, Hornung led the NFL in scoring for three straight years from 1959 through 1961. In 1959, No. 5 scored 94 points. In 1960, when the Packers advanced to the NFL title game for the first time under Lombardi, Hornung scored a whopping 176 points. In just 12 games! And in 1961, the year Hornung was named the NFL MVP and the Packers won their first NFL championship under Lombardi, Hornung scored 146 points.

In one of those games in 1961, Hornung scored 33 points in the 45-7 Green Bay victory over the Baltimore Colts at new City Stadium. No. 5 scored four touchdowns, kicked six extra points and one field goal.

Because of the Cold War between the United States and the then Soviet Union, a number of players from NFL teams were pressed into military duty in 1961. The Packers had three of their players pressed into service. They were Ray Nitschke, Boyd Dowler and Hornung.

As a matter of fact, at first it appeared that Hornung would not be allowed a pass from the Army to play in the 1961 NFL title game. That would have been quite an issue, had the league MVP not be allowed to play in the NFL championship game.

But thanks to the relationship that Lombardi and President John F. Kennedy had forged, Hornung was given a pass and scored 19 of the 37 points that the Packers scored in the first NFL championship game ever played in Green Bay, as the Pack whipped the New York Giants 37-0 at new City Stadium (now Lambeau Field).

I talked to Kramer again recently about Hornung. No. 64 talked about the relationship between Lombardi and Hornung.

“Coach Lombardi liked Paul, perhaps more than any other player,” Kramer said. “Almost like a son. Coach had a great affection for Paul.”

One of the reasons had to be the way Hornung would run the power sweep.

“Paul would stay behind Fuzzy [Thurston] and I on the sweep,” Kramer said. “He just knew instinctively how to use our blocks and how to fake a defender into going left or right. Paul knew the precise instance when 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.

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

Everyone on the offensive line played a huge part in the success of the power sweep, as did the other running back and the tight end. The guards were key components, as they often would get to the second or third level with their blocks.

But two players have to be mentioned regarding the great success the power sweep had early in the Lombardi years. They were center Jim Ringo and tight end Ron Kramer.

The power sweep being run to the left was called red right 48 and if the sweep was run to the right it was called red right 49.

Both Hornung and Taylor excelled on that play running the ball, but especially Hornung. It didn’t hurt that both Hornung and Taylor were excellent blockers for one another.

Hornung also ran the red right 49 option play extremely well. On that play, Hornung would act like it was a running play and then throw an option pass.

When I talked with Dowler recently about Hornung, Boyd talked about how successful that option pass was for the Packers.

“On that play, the flanker comes in from the outside right on that play,” Dowler said. “I acted like I was going to block the safety who should be coming towards the line of scrimmage because the play looked like our power sweep. So once the safety came up, I would just turn and break out to the corner.

“Hornung would put the ball under his arm and take off like he was going to run and then he would pull up and pass. It seemed like it was easy to get open. I scored on that play a number of times.”

From 1959 through 1961, Hornung threw five touchdown passes using that play.

In one game in 1959, which was Dowler’s rookie year, No. 86 caught two touchdown passes from Hornung. It was the second to last game of the season against the Rams at the Los Angeles Coliseum. In that game, Dowler caught a 26-yards touchdown pass from Hornung in the first quarter and then a 30-yard touchdown pass from No. 5 in the second quarter, as the Pack went on to win 38-20.

Another play in which Hornung really had a lot of success was called brown right pass 36 x-post. It was a variation of the brown right run 36 when Taylor would carry the football off tackle to the left. On that play, Hornung would block the weakside linebacker.

But when the pass play was called and Starr would fake to Taylor, Hornung would fake the block on the linebacker and head outside to the flat. The split end (usually Dowler) to that side would run a post pattern on that same play. Starr would have two options as to where to throw the ball.

The 43-yard touchdown pass that Dowler scored in the “Ice Bowl” was the brown right pass 36 x-post play. But in the 1965 game against the Baltimore Colts at Memorial Stadium, Starr utilized Hornung on that play twice.

In the 1st quarter, Starr called the 36 pass play. And Hornung scored on a 50-yard touchdown pass. Then in the 4th quarter, No. 5 scored again on that play, this time from 65 yards out. It was Hornung’s fifth touchdown of the game, as the Packers won 42-27.

As glorious as Hornung’s first three seasons were under Lombardi in Green Bay, the way he finished the 1965 season and postseason was extra special.

Hornung scored the only Green Bay touchdown in the 13-10 overtime win against the Baltimore Colts at Lambeau Field in the Western Conference Championship game. No. 5 had 75 total yards in that victory.

But that was nothing compared to what Hornung did in the 1965 NFL Championship Game against the defending NFL champion Cleveland Browns the next week at Lambeau Field.

Hornung rushed for 105 yards in 18 carries and scored a touchdown. No. 5 also caught a pass for eight more yards. Taylor also had a big game, as No. 31 ran for 96 yards on 27 carries, plus caught two passes for 20 yards.

Hornung’s touchdown run was his last score in a championship game. The run by Hornung came behind one of the finest blocking sequences ever by Kramer, who pulled in front of Hornung to the left heading to the end zone. No. 64 first got to the middle linebacker of the Browns and screened him away from Hornung and then went left to seal off the cornerback to open a lane for “The Golden Boy” to score on a 13-yard jaunt.

Hornung had injury issues with the Packers starting in 1962. No. 5 injured his knee that year and [Jerry] Kramer took over the kicking duties for the Pack that season.

Hornung only started eight games in ’62 and even though he wasn’t 100 percent, No. 5 played in the 1962 NFL Championship Game and rushed for 35 yards on eight carries. Hornung also completed a 21-yard pass to Dowler in the game on the option play.

The Packers won their second straight NFL title in ’62, by beating the New York Giants again, this time by a score of 16-7 at Yankee Stadium on a very cold and blustery day. The difference in the game were the three field goals and the extra point kicked by Kramer in the contest.

In 1963, both Hornung and defensive tackle Alex Karras were suspended for the entire season by Commissioner Pete Rozelle. The Packers missed “The Golden Boy” that year, even though the team finished 11-2-1, that wasn’t enough to catch the Bears, who finished 11-1-2. Chicago beat Green Bay twice that season and and went on to win the 1963 NFL title.

Hornung came back and started all 14 games in 1964, but he wasn’t the same player he was in the three-year span from 1959 though 1961. No. 5 rushed for 415 yards, but his kicking fell off badly, as he was just 12-of-38 in field goals that year. The Packers finished second again in ’64, as the Colts won the Western Conference.

In 1965, Lombardi brought in some new blood to the roster, as he traded for kicker/punter Don Chandler and flanker Carroll Dale. Both were huge additions for the team in 1965 and beyond.

Dale talked to me recently about joining the Packers in 1965 and meeting Hornung.

“When I arrived in Green Bay, my locker was right besides Hornung’s,” Dale said. “What really impressed me about Paul was besides his great athletic ability to execute run plays or pass plays, was the fact that he was always working with his teammates. Especially those who played his position.

“It was nice to see him share his experience and knowledge in terms of running, blocking and receiving. Over the two years I played with him and he had some injuries, he was almost like an assistant coach working with players. He was constantly working with the halfbacks.”

Hornung had injury issues again in ’65, this time dealing with a nerve issue in his neck/shoulder region. No. 5 started just eight games that season, but closed out the year in phenomenal fashion, with his performances versus the Colts and Browns. The victory against the Browns would be the first of three straight NFL titles by the Packers.

In 1966, as the Packers added three great rookies to their roster, halfback Donny Anderson, fullback Jim Grabowski and guard Gale Gillingham, Hornung had the neck/shoulder issues once again and only played in nine games and started six.

As Dale had mentioned earlier, Hornung tried to help Anderson as much as possible, as No. 44 explained to me recently.

“Paul was not going to be able to play much because of the injury to his neck,” Anderson said. “Elijah [Pitts] played a lot. Hornung helped me out in how best to run a pattern and learn the system that Lombardi had.

“It was a pretty simple system. It wasn’t complex at all. But there was one particular play which was called the A & B circle. And that play was primarily for the halfback or the fullback. And you would run the play from the weak side, and I played on the weak side the six years I played in Green Bay.

“Weakside was called Willie for the weakside linebacker. My job was to get in the open. Paul told me the key to the play was the middle linebacker. If you keyed on him, I could run either inside or outside. It was an excellent play. If you could beat the Willie linebacker and the Mike linebacker was gone, it was like an open field then. The play could go for 15 or 20 yards. So Hornung really helped me with that particular play.”

In 1966, Grabowski played fullback behind Taylor. And No. 33 was not getting any assistance whatsoever from No. 31.

Hornung was much different in terms of communicating with the younger players, as Grabowski told me recently.

“Paul just treated us all very well,” Grabowski said. “In ’66, Paul was hurt and didn’t play much because of the nerve problem in his shoulder. Paul was just a good guy.

“He would tell us what we should do in this situation and what we shouldn’t do. He was the voice of experience. I always appreciated him. Paul was very charismatic. He treated everyone well and he was a type of guy who everyone would flock to.”

Hornung didn’t play at all in the 1966 NFL title game or Super Bowl I. Even without Hornung, the Packers first beat the Dallas Cowboys 34-27 to win the NFL title and then the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 in Super Bowl I.

In 1967, Lombardi placed Hornung’s name on the expansion list for the New Orleans Saints and the newest team in the NFL did indeed select Hornung to play for them. But because of his neck/shoulder problem, Hornung retired.

Still, Hornung would be coming back to Green Bay in late 1967 at a very opportune time. I’m talking about the week of the “Ice Bowl” game at Lambeau Field.

Lombardi petitioned Commissioner Rozelle to get permission for Hornung to be on the Green Bay bench for the game. That petition was granted. Just seeing Hornung again on the sideline of a NFL title game made the players on the Packers feel good.

When I talked to Horn recently, he remembered Hornung being around the week of that big game.

“Yes, Paul was at a couple of meetings, in the locker room and on the practice field that week,” Horn said. “I believe Coach Lombardi wanted Paul around for good luck. I mean Max [McGee] and Fuzzy were still there, so Paul’s presence was good karma. Every chance he got, Paul was socializing, as you might expect.

“On the sideline of the game, everyone was bundled up trying to stay as warm as we could. I stood pretty close to Coach Lombardi almost the entire game. Paul was nearby as well. But just to have Paul’s presence there was great. I mean, Paul was an icon. I was just a rookie. I always admired him for what he did before I got there. Having Paul there with Coach Lombardi just made everyone more confident.”

In fact, it was Hornung who gave Starr the hand warmers just before No. 15 went back to the huddle just before his legendary quarterback sneak.

In 1986, Hornung was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Speaking of the Hall of Fame, I never met Hornung in person, although I came for close one time at the party the Packers threw for Kramer when he was being enshrined later that night in Canton in 2018.

As many of you know, I campaigned and promoted Jerry for the Pro Football Hall of Fame for several years. In 2012, I was talking to Jerry and I said it would be a good idea for someone like Hornung to contact the Seniors Selection Committee at the Hall of Fame, either by letter or vocally.

Jerry gave me Paul’s number. I called Paul and I asked him if he could write a letter or talk to the seniors committee on Jerry’s behalf. He said he absolutely would. And sure enough, that year he wrote a great letter to the committee.

At Jerry’s party, I saw Paul immediately. I definitely planned to talk with him. But I first talked to Dan Kramer and Rick Gosselin right after I arrived. I also talked to Jerry shortly after that. It was while I was talking to Jerry when I saw Paul leave the party.

The two phone conversations that I had with Paul told me something about the character of the man. That’s why I wanted to talk to some people who knew Hornung as a teammate and as a friend.

People like Kramer, Dowler, Dale, Anderson, Grabowski and Horn.

And there are more stories, as you might expect.

When I talked with Kramer, he mentioned that his daughter Diana called Paul a Renaissance man. A very apropos description of Hornung. Why? Because Paul was intelligent, charming, sophisticated, principled, classy and had multiple talents.

Kramer also talked to me about being with his buddy Hornung at the Kentucky Derby.

“At the Kentucky Derby, we would go down to the stables,” Kramer said. “I don’t believe everyone was allowed at the stables. Maybe just the owners. But Paul was allowed to go down there. Paul first started working at the track when he was just a kid, selling racing sheets or something like that.

“But we would go down and talk to the jockeys, talk to the owners and talk to the horse. We wanted to see if we wanted to put some money down on him. We then go up to our suite and enjoy the race. But everything was arranged by Paul. He took care of the whole package.”

Kramer also remembers how much Hornung enjoyed being with Jerry’s children.

“When I would have my children with me at some event, like maybe the Lombardi Golf Classic, Paul would sit with the kids and shoot the breeze with them. I have a number of photos of Paul with my kids.

“Paul knew how I felt about my children and he said, ‘Kramer, if I had kids as good looking as yours, I would have a dozen of them.’ Paul just enjoyed the hell about being with them.”

Anderson recalled a couple of stories about Hornung as well.

“When I was a rookie in 1966, as I had run a 9.6 100 at Texas Tech, I asked Paul one time about his best 100 time,” Anderson said. “And Paul said he ran a 10 flat. And I said, was that downhill or uphill? Paul laughed. He just had a great sense of humor.”

Anderson remembers another story when he was a rookie.

“I always got along with Jerry, Fuzzy, Max and Paul,” Anderson said. “And one time McGee asked me to go with the group to Fuzzy’s to have a few cocktails. So I get there and I asked why they had invited me, a rookie, to be with proven veterans and world champions and to have a few drinks. And McGee said, ‘That’s pretty simple. You have all the money and you can pick up the bill.’

Dowler also remembered how encouraging Hornung was with him when he first joined the team in 1959.

“Paul was always very supportive of me,” Dowler said. “He claimed to recognize that I would end up as a pretty good player. He would give me tips about running pass patterns. Sometimes we would run patterns on the same side of the field. He said the key was understanding what the defense was trying to do.

“He had a real instinctive feeling about where you needed to go to get open, based on the defense. Like I know where you are going and you know where I’m going. We worked as a combination there. We were very successful doing that.”

Dowler also talked about Hornung as never being full of himself.

“Paul didn’t act like a big shot,” Dowler said. “He was cool. He and McGee were a pretty good pair. They kind of wandered around and acted like Paul and Max. They didn’t put on any show, they just went about doing what they did.

“They were good conversationalists. They were funny. They definitely attracted people. They acted pretty natural. Paul just liked everyone.”

Grabowski recalled the same type of demeanor from Hornung.

“I don’t recall Paul ever really getting pissed off about something,” Grabowski said. “That was the way he played and also the way he was with his teammates. He just had a great attitude. Again, very charismatic.”

Dale recalls how Hornung was to be around, although he never socialized with No. 5.

“My experience with him was all very good. I mainly saw him in the locker room and on the field. I don’t know anything about his escapades,” Dale laughed. “Paul was just a great teammate.”

Horn didn’t play with Hornung, but got to know him a bit the week of the “Ice Bowl” and at alumni events.

“I got to know Paul a little bit over the years,” Horn said. “More like we were acquaintances. But I really admired him. With our last names being so close to one another, when we would get together at reunions, I would get announced first and I would get a nice courtesy applause and then when Hornung was announced, Paul would get the big roar from the crowd. We always would have some big laughs about that.

“Paul was just a great guy to be around and I only wish I could have played with him.”

The bottom line, Paul Hornung was a Hall of Famer in football and also a Hall of Famer in life. There will never be another one like him.

Rest in peace, Paul. May God bless you and your family, as well as your teammates and friends!

Green Bay Packers: Vince Lombardi Heated Up in the Month of July in a Couple of Epic Trades

Vince Lombardi II

Almost two months ago, I wrote  about how head coach and general manager Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers wheeled and dealed in the months of April and May in accumulating talent for his team.

Lombardi was able to bring in some excellent ballplayers in those trades, as he brought in the likes of Bill Quinlan and Lew Carpenter in April of 1959 when he traded end Billy Howton to the Cleveland Browns.

In May of 1964, Lombardi traded center Jim Ringo and fullback Earl Gros to the Philadelphia Eagles for linebacker Lee Roy Caffey and a No. 1 draft pick in 1965, which turned out to be halfback Donny Anderson.

Also in April of 1965, Lombardi traded linebacker Dan Currie to the Los Angeles Rams for wide receiver Carroll Dale.

Lombardi gave up excellent talent to get Quinlan, Carpenter, Caffey, Anderson and Dale, but it was well worth it in the end.

But two of greatest trades Lombardi ever made were both early in his regime and both happened in July. The first trade was made with the Baltimore Colts in 1959, a team that Lombardi had faced in the 1958 NFL championship game when he was running the offense for the New York Giants. That epic contest is considered one of the greatest games in the history of the NFL. In that classic game, the NFL had it’s first ever overtime game and it was finally won by the Colts 23-17 when former Wisconsin Badgers fullback Alan Ameche scored the winning touchdown for the Colts.

The trade occurred on July 22, 1959, as Lombardi dealt linebacker Marv Matuszak to the Colts for guard Fuzzy Thurston.

The acquisition of Thurston turned out to be a great trade, as No. 63 teamed with right guard Jerry Kramer to give the Packers the best set of guards in the NFL for several years.

Jerry and Fuzzy

Photo by Jack Robbins

Back in the day when Thurston and Kramer played, awards were given out by a number of media outlets. This included The Associated Press (AP), United Press International (UPI), The Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA) and The New York Daily News (NY).

Thurston was named first-team All-Pro at left guard in both 1961 (AP, UPI, NEA and NY) and 1962 (UPI), plus was named second-team All-Pro in 1963 (UPI), 1964 (NY) and 1966 (NY).

Kramer was named first-team All-Pro at right guard in 1960 (AP), 1962 (AP, NEA and UPI), 1963 (AP, NEA, UPI and NY), 1966 (AP, UPI, FW and NY) and 1967 (AP, UPI and NY), plus was named second-team All-Pro in 1961 (NY) and 1968 (AP).

That’s a combined 12 All-Pro honors. Five for Thurston and seven for Kramer.

Besides being a great player, Thurston was a fantastic teammate, who always brought a bright smile into the locker room, as well as a lot of laughs with his teammates at the local watering holes.

That exceptional play at guard by Thurston and Kramer led the Packers to five NFL titles in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls.

Thurston loved to 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 was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1975.

The second trade Lombardi made in July happened on the 19th of that month in 1960. He called upon a close confidant to make that trade. He also traded with the team in which he made his first ever trade in 1959, when he traded Howton to get Quinlan and Carpenter.

That team would be the Browns, who were headed by the man who the team was named after, Paul Brown.

Brown was fond of Lombardi, as both had gone up against each other many times from 1954 though 1958, as Brown was the head coach of the Browns and Lombardi had been basically the offensive coordinator for the G-Men.

In fact, Brown, along with George Halas and Sid Gillman, had all endorsed Lombardi to get the head coaching job in Green Bay when they were approached by scout Jack Vainisi of the Packers.

So in July of 1960, Lombardi made perhaps his best trade ever, when he acquired defensive end Willie Davis and all he had to give up was end A.D. Williams. In 1959, which was the rookie year for Williams with the Packers, he caught just one pass for 11 yards.

Another great trade with the Browns occurred in September of 1959, when Lombardi acquired defensive tackle Henry Jordan for just a fourth round pick in 1960.

But in  terms of getting Davis, he not only got a great player, but also a great leader.

Willie Davis

Sports Illustrated

No. 87 became the defensive captain of the Packers under Lombardi and he earned that distinction with his fantastic play. Davis was a five-time first-team All-Pro, plus was named to five Pro Bowls.

According to John Turney, who is a member of the Professional Football Researchers Association, Davis had over 100 sacks in his 10-year career with the Packers.

Everyone remembers that Reggie White had three sacks in Super Bowl XXXI, but only a few know that Davis had two sacks in Super Bowl I and three more in Super Bowl II.

Davis also recovered 21 fumbles over his Packers career and that still remains a team record.

This fantastic production on the field led to Davis being named to the NFL 1960s All-Decade Team, the Packers Hall of Fame in 1975 and then the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981.

Like Thurston, Davis played on five NFL title teams in Green Bay, which included victories in Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II in which Davis had five sacks overall.

Also, Davis became roommates with Kramer for the 1968 season. Based on my research, that was only the second time that a black player and a white player roomed together in the NFL. The first occurred when Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo were roommates for the Chicago Bears starting in 1965.

The bottom line is that the early success that Lombardi had with his Packers was partly due to some acquisitions that were made early in his tenure in Green Bay, a place that would also be called Titletown in 1961.

Adding players like Thurston and Davis were certainly instrumental in the prosperity of the Packers throughout the Lombardi era.

Green Bay Packers: Bill Quinlan and Lew Carpenter Were Unsung Contributors on the Early Vince Lombardi Teams

Bill Quinlan(1)

When the Green Bay Packers hired Vince Lombardi in 1959, he was helped out by a number of high-profile endorsements. Coaching icons like Paul Brown, George Halas and Sid Gillman all spoke highly about Lombardi when contacted by scout Jack Vainisi of the Packers. Those strong recommendations certainly were helpful to get Lombardi not only the head coaching job, but also the role of general manager in Green Bay.

Lombardi often used his association with Brown when it came time to make trades with the Cleveland Browns. One of the first trades that Lombardi made after he took the dual role of head coach/general manager was to trade wide receiver Billy Howton to the Browns for defensive end Bill Quinlan and halfback Lew Carpenter. Lombardi later was able to acquire Hall of Famers Henry Jordan and Willie Davis in other trades with Brown.

The trade of Howton surprised some people because he was considered on of the best players on the Packers in the 1950s. Howton was part of the 1952 NFL draft class (scouted by Vainisi) which also saw safety Bobby Dillon come to Green Bay. Howton had been named first-team All-Pro twice and was named to four Pro Bowl squads because of his production for the Packers, in which he caught 303 passes for 5,581 yards and 43 touchdowns.

Unfortunately, all of that came while the Packers never had a winning record in the decade of the ’50s until the arrival of Lombardi. Plus, shortly after Lombardi was hired, Howton had a meeting with his new coach to give his opinion about how things should be handled with the team. Apparently the meeting was not satisfactory from Lombardi’s standpoint and Howton was soon traded.

The trade opened the door for rookie Boyd Dowler to start at wide receiver, plus the former University of Colorado star was also given Howton’s old number…No. 86.

Bill Quinlan II

Bill Quinlan

Quinlan ended up starting four years at defensive end for the Packers, which included the 1961 and 1962 NFL championship teams. Quinlan was a very steady player for the Packers and his ability to help stop the run was very helpful. In fact, No. 83 was named first-team All-Conference by the Sporting News in 1960.

Off the field, Quinlan was a known as “Wild Bill” because of some of his escapades. One of the guys who used to go out with Quinlan in Green Bay to have a couple of beers at times was Jerry Kramer. No. 64 talked to me a bit about Quinlan recently.

“One of the great stories about Bill was when his first child was born,” Kramer said. “Bill took a Shetland pony to the hospital  and and brought it in and took it to his wife’s room and presented the pony to her. That’s one of crazy things that Bill would like to do. He absolutely had no inhibitions at all. Bill was funny and bright as well. He was a drinking buddy and was a lot of fun to be with. He was part of our crew when we would go out.”

Kramer than talked about Quinlan as a player.

“Bill sort of got the crappy end of the stick in Green Bay when he was traded,” Kramer said. “He played his ass off and he didn’t get rewarded for it for whatever reason. Bill did a hell of a job when he played. He wasn’t much of a pass rusher, but he was very stout against the run. Bill was a very hard-nosed type of player.”

The trade that Kramer was speaking of was when Quinlan and defensive back John Symank were traded to the New York Giants in April of 1963 for a third-round pick in the 1964 draft. That draft pick turned out to be guard Joe O’Donnell out of Michigan. O’Donnell never played for the Packers, but instead played with the Buffalo Bills in the AFL after he was drafted by them as well.

Quinlan ended up playing three more years in the NFL with three different teams. The Philadelphia Eagles in 1963, the Detroit Lions in 1964 and the Washington Redskins in 1965.

In terms of Carpenter, he brought a winning attitude to the Packers, as he played with the Detroit Lions for three years, which included being on a NFL championship team, plus played with Browns for three more years.  In all, Carpenter had been on four teams who made it the the NFL postseason and had 27 NFL starts under his belt. In addition, Carpenter had been a two-way player, as he played defensive back for the Lions in 1953 as a rookie and returned an interception for a touchdown that year which covered 73 yards.

Carpenter got plenty of time on offense for the Packers in 1959, as he started six games. No. 33 was the third leading rusher for the team that season with 322 yards and a touchdown, plus caught five passes for 47 yards.

After the 1959 season, Carpenter was a stalwart on special teams for the Packers until he retired after the 1963 season. Like Quinlan, Carpenter also was on two NFL title teams in Green Bay.

Lew Carpenter III

Lew Carpenter

Kramer also talked about playing with Carpenter.

“Lew was a veteran player,” Kramer said. “A  very smart player. He was a bit of gambler when he ran the ball. He knew when to gamble and when to play it straight up. Lew was a good guy too, although I didn’t hang with him that often, like I did with Quinlan. Lew was just a very solid player for us and was very effective on special teams.”

Carpenter also coached in the NFL for close to 30 years after he retired and was on the staff of the Packers from 1975 through 1985 coaching receivers under Bart Starr and Forrest Gregg.

When it was all said and done after he was traded, Howton played five more years in the NFL, one season with the Browns and then four with the Dallas Cowboys. Although he was productive with the Browns and the Cowboys (200 catches for 2,878 yards and 18 touchdowns), Howton was never named All-Pro again, nor was never named to another Pro Bowl team.

The Packers ended up with two unsung and solid contributors to their team in Quinlan and Carpenter, who both had roles in helping to bring two championships to Green Bay. Plus, Dowler took over for Howton at wide receiver and to many had a career that deserves consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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.

Pro Football Hall of Fame: Some Observations About Potential Green Bay Packers in the Class of 2020

hall of fame packer logo 2

The time is getting closer about finding out who will be in the Class of 2020 for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In 2020, the class will be much larger because of the centennial year of the NFL.

There will be the five modern-era players, plus 10 seniors, three contributors and two coaches.

Last week the modern-era nominee list was pared down to 25 semifinalists from a total of 122 nominees. One of those players is LeRoy Butler. This is the third straight year that Butler had made it down to the semifinals. But No. 36 has never been a finalist, which is a big step in getting a Gold Jacket, based on what I have heard from Clark Judge, who is voter for the Hall of Fame.

Butler, along with Steve Atwater of the Denver Broncos, were named All-Decade in the 1990s at safety. Of the 22 players on that All-Decade team of the ’90s, only Butler and Atwater don’t have a bust in Canton.

The list of 25 will be pared down to 15 in January and then that group will be taken down to the final five inductees on the day before Super Bowl LIV, which would be on Saturday February 1.

Another player who is among the 25 modern-era semifinalists has a bit of a Green Bay connection. I’m talking about Clay Matthews Jr., who is the father of Clay Matthews III, who played with the Packers from 2009 through 2018 and is the all-time leader in sacks for the Packers with 83.5 and was also named to six Pro Bowl squads.

No. 52 was a big reason why the Packers won Super Bowl XLV over the Pittsburgh Steelers when he helped to force a fumble during a key point of the game.

I’ll be writing a piece on Clay Jr. in the near future about why he deserves a place among the best of the best in Canton, which just happens to include his brother Bruce.

In terms of the seniors, the group of over 200 nominees will also be trimmed to 20 at some point in the very near future.

This group will be determined by a 25-person “blue-ribbon panel”, which consists of 13 current Hall of Fame voters, as well as some well known NFL names.

The panelists are Ernie Accorsi, Bill Belichick, Jarrett Bell, Joel Bussert, John Clayton, Frank Cooney, John Czarnecki, Rick Gosselin, Elliott Harrison, Joe Horrigan, Ira Kaufman, Dick LeBeau, Jeff Legwold, John Madden, John McClain, Gary Myers, Ozzie Newsome, Sal Paolantonio, Carl Peterson, Bill Polian, Dan Pompei, Charean Williams, Chris Willis, Barry Wilner, and Ron Wolf.

The panel will eventually name the 10 seniors, the three contributors and two coaches without needing a vote from the 48-person selection committee, which used to be the process in the past.

But because 2020 is a special centennial year for the NFL, this group of 15 will be inducted into the Hall once the list if finalized by the panel.

The Packers have a number of senior nominees who deserve a place in Canton in my opinion. And I believe that one of those seniors will be part of the Class of 2020.

The list of seniors for the Packers includes Boyd Dowler, who was an All-Decade player in the 1960s, plus was on the NFL 50th anniversary team.

Plus there is Ron Kramer, who was also on that 50th anniversary team.

Dowler and Kramer are the only two members of that 45-man team without a bust in Canton.

Jerry getting his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring at Lambeau

Jerry Kramer was another member of that 50th anniversary team and he finally got his rightful due and was inducted in 2018.

There are a few other All-Decade players who are senior nominees for the Packers. One is Lavvie Dilweg, who was All-Decade in the 1920s, while another is Cecil Isbell, who was All-Decade in the 1930s.

Dilweg is the only first-team member from that All-Decade team of the ’20s not in Canton, while Isbell is the only All-Decade quarterback not to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Another former Packer who was named All-Decade in the 1960s was Don Chandler. The former Florida Gator played most of his career with the New York Giants, both as a kicker and a punter, but also played three years with Green Bay from 1965 through 1967.

The Packers won the NFL title in each of those years, which also included the first two Super Bowls. Chandler was named as the punter on the All-Decade team of the ’60s.

Being named All-Decade is supposedly one of the key factors that the 25-person blue ribbon panel will use in their determination of the final group of 10 seniors.

That certainly helps players like Dowler, Dilweg and Isbell.

But there are a number of other former Packers were dominant players in their day and came very close to being named All-Decade.

I’m talking about Verne Lewellen in the 1920s, Bobby Dillon in the 1950s, (Ron) Kramer in the 1960s, Gale Gillingham in the 1970s and Sterling Sharpe in the 1990s.

Lewellen was considered the premiere punter of his era, when punting was truly an art form in the era of “three yards and a cloud of dust” in the NFL of the ’20s. There was no punter named on the All-Decade team of the 20s.

Plus, Lewellen was multi-talented, as he scored more touchdowns than anyone who played in the NFL while he was a player, plus once led the NFL in interceptions one season.

Dillon intercepted 52 passes in just eight seasons in the NFL. One of the people who will be on the blue ribbon panel, Ron Wolf, is a big fan of 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.”

Kramer was considered among the best three tight ends in football when he played in the 1960s and the other two, Mike Ditka and John Mackey, are in Canton.

Gillingham was considered the one of the top guards in the NFL for several years and most likely would have been named All-Decade in the 1970s had not head coach Dan Devine foolishly moved No. 68 to defensive tackle for the 1972 season.

Not only was that move ridiculous, but a knee injury cost Gillingham almost the entire ’72 season.

When Sharpe played from 1988 through 1994 before a neck injury ended his career, only Jerry Rice was considered to be above No. 84 in terms of stature at the wide receiver position.

Another former Packer who deserves consideration for a place in the Hall is Fred “Fuzzy” Thurston. The first trade Vince Lombardi ever made once he became head coach and general manager of the Packers, was to acquire Thurston from the Colts.

Thurston, along with Kramer, made the power sweep the signature play of the Packers in the Lombardi era. The two guards would pull out and get to the second and third levels with their blocks, as Jimmy Taylor and Paul Hornung would continually and consistently gain large chunks of yardage.

Based on my discussions with people like Rick Gosselin and Judge, I believe the two best possibilities in terms of being named as a senior for the Packers as part of the Class of 2020, are Dowler and Dilweg.

Lavvie Dilweg(2)

Lavvie Dilweg and Boyd Dowler

But I believe only one Packer will get in as a senior in 2020.

We should know something very soon.

I also believe Jack Vainisi has a chance to be one of the three contributors for the Class of 2020. If not that class, he should be put in the Hall of Fame in the near future.

Wolf should know all about Vainisi’s prowess as a scout in the 1950s for the Packers. There are seven Packers who Vainisi drafted in the ’50s who are now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I’m talking about Jim Ringo, Forrest Gregg, Bart Starr, Hornung, Taylor, Ray Nitschke and (Jerry) Kramer.

Plus, it was Vainisi who also drafted Dillon, (Ron) Kramer and Dowler.

Vainisi also played a pivotal role in bringing Lombardi to Green Bay in 1959.

These are my observations as the hourglass continues to run down regarding who from the Packers could be in the Class of 2020 for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

We will know soon enough.

Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions: A Historical Perspective

Jim Taylor scores vs. the Lions

The Green Bay Packers entered the NFL in 1921, while the Detroit Lions (then the Portsmouth Spartans) joined the league in 1930.

Portsmouth moved the franchise to Detroit in 1934 and became the Lions.

In their history since then, the Packers lead the series 98-72-7 in the regular season and 2-0 in the postseason. The 98 wins over the Lions by the Packers is the most that Green Bay has over any NFL opponent.

The two teams have always been in the same conference or division. When the NFL started using the division format in 1967, both teams were part of the NFL Central Division, which later became became the NFC Central in 1970 and then the NFC North in 2002.

Since the divisional play started in 1967, the Packers have won 14 divisional championships, while the Lions have won three.

In terms of NFL championships, the Packers have won 13 titles, including four Super Bowls, while the Lions have won four, with the last one coming in 1957, the year that Lambeau Field was originally built.

The Lions were a dominant NFL in the 1950s, as they won three of their NFL titles (1953, 1954 and ’57) that decade. That same decade, the Packers had the worst record that they ever had in any decade in their history, as the team went 39-79-2, which is a .331 winning percentage.

Even with all that losing, the Packers were able to build championship teams that decade, thanks to the expert drafting by Jack Vainisi. In the 1950s, Vainisi would draft seven players who would later be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and would help head coach Vince Lombardi win five NFL titles (including the first two Super Bowls) in the 1960s.

Those players are Jim Ringo, Forrest Gregg, Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, Ray Nitschke and Jerry Kramer.

The acquisition of those players led to quite a rivalry between the two teams in the early 1960s. The Packers won the Western Conference title for three straight years from 1960 through 1962, which also led to NFL championships in ’61 and ’62.

The Lions finished second to Packers in each of those years. The 1962 season was especially memorable, as the Packers finished with a 13-1 record, while the Lions were 11-3. The Packers only loss of the season happened on Thanksgiving Day at Tiger Stadium in Detroit.

But before we get to that game, we have to set up why the Lions were more than ready for the Packers on that Turkey Day.

In the first meeting between the Packers and Lions in the ’62 season at City Stadium (now Lambeau Field), the Packers had narrowly won 9-7, as quarterback Milt Plum threw a late interception to Herb Adderley which set up a game-winning Hornung field goal.

The Lions were furious after the game. Alex Karras reportedly threw his helmet at Plum’s chest after the game. Jerry Kramer could hear all types of screaming and banging in the Detroit locker room.

“We were undefeated when we went into Detroit on Thanksgiving,” Kramer said. “Detroit hated our guts. One of my best pals in college, Wayne Walker, played linebacker for the Lions. He hated that the Lions could never get over the top against us to win a championship. He never got over that.

“Before we played the Lions on Thanksgiving, Fuzzy lost his mother about three days before the game. Fuzzy decided to play, but his heart was somewhere else. The Lions just guessed and gambled correctly all day long that game.

“They did things that they had never done before. Alex [Karras] would line up just about everywhere. Over the center, over my right shoulder and anywhere he felt like he could do some damage. Add to that, the Lions were incredibly motivated.

Bart being harrased by the Lions in 1962

“They got Bart about 11 times that game. On the way home to Green Bay, Fuzzy said that all wasn’t bad, because we invented a new block called the look out block. As in, ‘Look out, Bart!’

“I don’t think we even watched film of that game afterwards, as we went down the road and continued to have success.”

Lombardi hated playing the Lions on Thanksgiving Day each year and he ended that series in 1963. The Packers had played in that game for 13 consecutive years from 1951 through ’63. Green Bay had only won three times during that period (twice under Lombardi) and tied once in the final game in ’63.

Since then, the Packers have played eight more games in Detroit on Thanksgiving, winning five of those contests.

The next time that the Packers and Lions became really big divisional rivals was in the early 1990s. Detroit won the NFC Central in both 1991 and 1993, plus was a Wild Card team in 1994 and 1995. The Lions also made playoff appearance in 1997 and 1999.

The Packers were also very successful in the ’90s, as the team won three NFC Central titles and were in the playoffs six times overall. That included winning Super Bowl XXXI.

During that period, the Packers played the Lions twice in the postseason. One after the 1993 season at the Pontiac Silverdome and once at Lambeau Field in two very memorable games.

Mike Holmgren was the head coach of the Packers and Wayne Fontes was the head coach of the Lions.

The playoff appearance in the 1993 postseason by the Packers was their first since 1982 and only their third since the Packers won Super Bowl II.

The stars for the Packers that year were quarterback Brett Favre, wide receiver Sterling Sharpe and defensive end Reggie White.

The big star for the Lions was running back Barry Sanders, who did not disappoint in this game, as he rushed for 169 yards.

Quarterback Erik Kramer threw for 248 yards for the Lions, but was sacked four times (including twice by White) and threw two costly interceptions, including one for 101 yards and a score by safety George Teague.

The biggest threat in the Detroit passing game turned out to be wide receiver Brett Perriman, who caught 10 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown.

Favre threw for 201 yards, plus tossed three touchdown passes, compared to one pick. Sharpe caught all three of those touchdowns and had five receptions overall for 101 yards.

But none was bigger than the one No. 84 caught with the Packers trailing late in the game 24-21.

Football: NFC playoffs. Green Bay Packer

Yes, with less than a minute to go in the game, Favre threw a bomb across the field to No. 84 for a 40-yard touchdown pass to win the game 28-24.

In the 1994 postseason game between the two teams at Lambeau Field, both squads went in as Wild Card teams as the Minnesota Vikings won the NFC Central.

The defense of the Packers was magnificent that day, especially in stopping the run. Sanders who had run wild against the Packers the previous postseason, was held to -1 yard in 13 carries. That’s mind-boggling when you really think about that stat.

Quarterback Dave Kreig threw a touchdown pass to Perriman, but was also sacked four times, including twice by linebacker Bryce Paup and once each by White and Sean Jones.

Favre meanwhile, threw for 262 yards. Favre was missing Sharpe, who had suffered a career-ending neck injury late in the 1994 season. Robert Brooks became the key receiver for No. 4 and had seven catches for 88 yards.

The big offensive star for the Packers in the game was running back Edgar Bennett, who rushed for 70 yards, plus caught six passes for 31 more yards, as the Packers won 16-12.

In recent years, the Packers have done well in this rivalry up until 2017, as the Lions have won four consecutive times. Under head coach Mike McCarthy, the Packers were 18-4 against the Lions from 2006 through 2016.

None was a bigger win than the “Miracle in Motown” game in 2015.

The Packers were down in that game 23-20 at Ford Field with just seconds to go in the game.

Saved by a facemask penalty against Detroit’s Devin Taylor on what would have been the final play of the game, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was able to get one more shot at a miraculous finish.

Rodgers did not disappoint either.

The Packers were on their own 39 yard line and Rodgers was going to need some time to launch a pass to the opposite end zone. That’s if he could get it there.

Rodgers was able elude the three-man rush, first going left, then scrambling to the right and then running up to launch his moon-rocket pass that soared way up into the air and traveled close to 70 yards.

Tight end Richard Rodgers of the Packers leaped up and caught the ball at it’s highest point in the end zone surrounded by several players from both teams.

The result? The 6’4″, 272-pound Rodgers had unbelievably secured a 61-yard touchdown pass to end the game, as the Packers won 27-23.

Richard Rodgers catch vs. the Lions

As I mentioned earlier, the Lions have won the last four games between the two teams, although Aaron Rodgers did not play in three of those games.

But Rodgers will be behind center when the 4-1 Packers take on the 2-1-1 Lions at Lambeau Field on Monday night.

Historically, Rodgers has fared very well versus Detroit.

No. 12 is 13-5 against the Lions in his career and has thrown 37 touchdown passes versus just six picks for 4,526 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 109.0.

Meanwhile, quarterback Matthew Stafford of the Lions is 7-10 against Green Bay. No. 9 has thrown 34 touchdown passes versus 19 interceptions for 4,921 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 89.6.

The game on Monday night will be the first time new head coach Matt LaFleur of the Packers takes on second-year coach Matt Patricia of the Lions. Detroit was 6-10 under Patricia in 2018, with two of those wins coming against Green Bay.

Both the Packers and Lions have surprised experts this season, as most thought that the NFC North would be controlled by the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings. But the Packers have already beaten both da Bears and Vikings, while the Lions have yet to play anyone in the division as of yet, but did beat the Philadelphia Eagles who gave the Packers their only loss of the season.

Rodgers is having a typical season thus far for him, as he has six touchdown passes versus just one pick for 1,307 yards. That being said, his passer rating this year (93.4) is below his career passer rating of 102.8.

However, that has to be expected seeing as he is running a new offense under LaFleur, which has started to get much better the past two games.

Stafford has thrown nine touchdown passes this year, compared to just two picks for 1,122 yards. No. 9’s passer rating for the year is 102.6.

So quarterback play will be a key on Monday night. As will the play of the running backs.

The Green Bay ground game is led by Aaron Jones, who has rushed for 302 yards and has eight touchdowns. The Detroit running game is led by Kerryon Johnson, who has rushed for 251 yards and one score.

Detroit is ranked ninth offensively in the NFL, while Green Bay is ranked 25th, but is improving as of late.

The Packers are ranked 22nd defensively, but it doesn’t tell the true story. Green Bay is eighth in the NFL in points allowed (18.6) per game. The Packers are also tied for 10th in the league with 15 sacks, plus have held opposing quarterbacks to a 75.9 passer rating, as they have allowed six touchdown passes while picking off seven passes.

The weakness for Green Bay has been run defense, as they are ranked 26th in the league in that category. The Packers have allowed on average 138.2 yards per game on the ground. That can’t continue to happen if the Packers want to continue their winning ways.

The Lions are ranked 27th in the NFL in total defense, as they give up an average of 405.5 yards per game, as well as 23.8 points per game. Detroit is ranked 29th in stopping the pass and 20th in stopping the run.

I look for Rodgers to have a big night, even without wide receiver Davante Adams, who has been ruled out.

Finally, the two teams have met on Monday night three times in their history. The series is even at 1-1-1. Overall on Monday night, the Packers are 32-32-1.

I expect that Packers to go up in the series 2-1-1 and also get their 99th victory in the regular season versus the Lions.

The 2020 Class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Could Add Another Green Bay Packer or More

hall of fame packer logo 2

Although it has to get final approval from it’s board in early August, the Pro Football Hall of Fame is definitely considering expanding it’s Centennial Class of 2020 as part of the NFL’s 100th-anniversary celebration.

Pro Football Hall of Fame President and CEO David Baker made the announcement earlier this month.

“It is extremely elite company, and it’s not the Hall of very, very good. It’s the Hall of Fame, and so it should be difficult to make it,” Baker said. “But there’s a lot of guys through the years (who deserve to be honored but have not). We have several guys who are on all-decade teams who aren’t in the Hall of Fame. And, so, this is an opportunity with the Centennial coming up. And what we’ve looked at potentially and has been approved, at least in concept, by our operating board, but we’re going to have to go through the full board, is that potentially we would have 20 Hall of Famers enshrined for the year 2020.

“Normally, (like) this year, we have eight. So, this would be quite a few guys (added). But it would be the five normal modern-era players elected from 15 finalists, and then 10 seniors, three contributors — like Gil (Brandt) — and two (coaches). But again, I want to stress that that’s got to be something that’s passed by our board at its meeting on Friday, Aug. 2.”

Most observers expect this proposal to pass.

So what does this mean from the perspective of the Green Bay Packers? To me, that means that the team has a chance to add even more members of the organization among the best of the best in Canton. Currently, the Packers have 25 individuals in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is a hallowed place. I was there in 2018 when Jerry Kramer finally received his rightful enshrinement in Canton. A number of members of Packer Nation were in Canton that weekend, including Glenn Aveni, who is filming a documentary about Jerry, while I am working on a book about No. 64.

Bob and Jerry at JK's party.

In 2020, Kramer has a chance to be joined by others who played in the town where the Fox River runs through it.

Adding 10 seniors in 2020 was spawned by the proposal of Rick Gosselin, who is on the Seniors Selection Committee for the Hall of Fame. Actually, Gosselin wanted even more seniors added, due the backlog of deserving seniors who have fallen through the cracks through the years, but 10 is certainly better than just two or one per year, which has been the process recently.

Gosselin carries a big voice among Hall of Fame voters and when I told him that I would be writing a series of articles about former players from the Packers who I believe belong in Canton, Gosselin made a point of making sure I wrote about three of them.

Those players are Boyd Dowler, Ron Kramer and Gale Gillingham.

I also know that Gosselin is high on Lavvie Dilweg and Bobby Dillon.

I have also written about Packer seniors like Fuzzy Thurston and Don Chandler. Plus there are also former Packer players like Cecil Isbell and Verne Lewellen.

But with only 10 spots available among the group of seniors, I still think the Packers have an excellent chance of getting a least one player inducted, perhaps even two.

As Baker noted in his comments and as Gosselin has written about, there are a number of all-decade players not in Canton. You can also break that down even further, as there are nine first-team, all-decade players through the year 2000 that are not in the Hall of Fame.

Gosselin writes about seven of those players here.

One of those players is Dilweg, who was given that designation in the 1920s when he played under head coach Curly Lambeau, who incidentally also received that same honor as a player that decade.

Another is LeRoy Butler, who was First-Team, All-Decade in the 1990s, but is not considered a senior as of yet. If Butler is part of the Class of 2020, he would go in as a modern-era player.

In terms of getting some seniors in for the Packers in 2020, I believe the best bet after Dilweg is Dowler. No. 86 was also All-Decade in the 1960s (Second-Team), but in addition to that, Boyd was also one of 45 players on the NFL 50th anniversary team. Only Dowler and [Ron] Kramer have not been given busts in Canton from that 50th anniversary team.

Kramer would probably have been All-Decade in the 1960s had the team had more than one tight end.

Plus, Gillingham almost certainly would have been All-Decade at guard in the 1970s had not head coach Dan Devine ridiculously moved No. 68 to defensive tackle in which Gillingham suffered a season-ending knee injury early in the 1972 campaign. Most experts felt that Gillingham was the best right guard in the NFL when Devine made that colossal coaching blunder.

The Packers also have a chance to add another member of their organization into the Hall via the contributor category. To me, Jack Vainisi would be an excellent choice.

Vainisi was the super scout of the Packers from 1950 through 1960. In those years, Vainisi helped to select seven players for the Packers who would eventually get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Those players are Jim Ringo, Forrest Gregg, Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, Ray Nitschke and Jerry Kramer.

That number could go up to eight if Dowler is part of the Class of 2020.

Lavvie Dilweg(2)

Lavvie Dilweg and Boyd Dowler.

Bottom line, it was the scouting expertise of Vainisi which laid the foundation for the Packers to win five NFL titles (including the first two Super Bowls) in seven years under head coach Vince Lombardi in the 1960s.

I have always been an optimistic person. Add to that, I’m very passionate and persistent regarding my beliefs, especially when talking about former players on the Packers who deserve a bust in Canton.

That was my credo about getting Kramer into the Pro Football Hall of Fame going back almost 30 years ago. I first met Jerry in 1991 when he was at a golfing event prior to Super Bowl XXV in Tampa.

I showed Jerry a letter that I had written to Packer Report about why No. 64 deserved to be in Canton. Jerry was touched. Little did I know that I would actually be writing for Packer Report myself about a decade later at the beginning of my writing career. Since then, I have penned countless articles about why Kramer deserved a bust in Canton.

Then it really happened in 2018.

The biggest breakthroughs from my perspective of getting Kramer his rightful place in the Hall of Fame came from three different areas.

One was getting inside the process by developing a relationship with Gosselin. It was then when I learned how extremely difficult it was to get deserving seniors into Canton. The backlog of seniors who should already be in the Hall is a very difficult task to solve. Why? There are currently over 60 position players who were named on an all-decade team who still don’t have a bust in Canton.

That includes both Dilweg and Dowler.

I was also able to have a nice conversation with Baker about a year before Kramer was enshrined. I learned some very valuable insight from the President of the Hall of Fame during our chat.

Finally, I was also able to talk with Bart Starr Jr. about whether or not his father endorsed Kramer about getting a bust in Canton. I learned that there was no doubt that Bart Sr. wholeheartedly was an advocate for Kramer’s enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Bob and Rick Gosselin

Bob Fox and Rick Gosselin. (Daniel Kramer photo)

And then that special moment came. The day of the enshrinement I went to party thrown by the Packers to honor Kramer. One of the first people I ran into was Gosselin. Rick asked me, “So, what are you going to do now?”

I told Gosselin that there were more deserving Packers who belong in Canton and that I was going to get behind them as well. I told Rick to expect more calls and notes from me over the next year. Which is exactly what has happened.

The optimist part of me tells me that the Packers could get two seniors in as part of the Class of 2020. I believe that Dilweg and Dowler are those two seniors. Dilweg has the better chance if only one Packer senior is named in 2020, but Dowler is also a strong possibility in my opinion.

That means the fight for Gillingham, [Ron] Kramer and the other players to get into Canton will have to continue on past 2020.

In terms of Vainisi and Butler, I’m sort of on the fence (50/50) with them in 2020. Now don’t get me wrong, both will eventually get into the Hall, but it may not be in the centennial year of the NFL.

The bottom line is the Packers have an excellent chance of having some representation in Canton for the 2020 Class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

What If the Green Bay Packers Had Not Hired Vince Lombardi?

Vince meeting Dominic to become the new head coach of the Packers

Vince Lombardi is greeted by the President of the Green Bay Packers, Dominic Olejniczak.

With the somewhat abrupt firing of head coach Mike McCarthy after his Green Bay Packers suffered a bad 20-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday, I started to think about the some of the coaching hires that the Packers had made in the past, as Mark Murphy and Brian Gutekunst will now have to find another head coach.

I started specifically thinking about the coaching hires that brought NFL championships to Green Bay.

When Ron Wolf was brought in by Bob Harlan in 1991, he had total control and full authority as general manager to hire the next head coach after he had fired Lindy Infante after the ’91 season.

Initially, Wolf wanted to bring in Bill Parcells to be the head coach of the Packers, but because Parcells was going to have open-heart surgery, it was decided that the time was not right for that hire.

Wolf ended up hiring Mike Holmgren, who was definitely the hot NFL assistant coach prospect of his day because of his fine work with the San Francisco 49ers, as both quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.

Holmgren had a great seven-year tenure with the Packers as head coach, which was helped by the fact that Wolf had traded away a first-round pick to get Brett Favre from the Atlanta Falcons.

In those seven years, the Packers were 75-37 in the regular season, made the playoffs six times, won three NFC Central titles, won two NFC championships and also Super Bowl XXXI.

Overall, Holmgren was 9-5 in the postseason.

Favre also won three consecutive NFL MVP awards under Holmgren from 1995 through 1997.

In 2006, after general manager Ted Thompson fired head coach Mike Sherman, he conducted several interviews with head coach candidates, including current NFL coaches Sean Payton and Ron Rivera, before finally settling on McCarthy.

Like Holmgren, McCarthy had a great run in Green Bay as head coach, both with Favre (for two years) and Aaron Rodgers as his quarterbacks.

In 12-plus seasons, McCarthy’s teams had a 125-77-2 record in the regular season. His teams made the playoff nine times, won six NFC North titles, played in four NFC title games and won Super Bowl XLV.

Overall, McCarthy was 10-8 in the postseason.

This brings me to the hiring of Vince Lombardi in 1959 by the Packers. David Maraniss wrote about the hiring process that the Packers went through that year in his fantastic book, When Pride Still Mattered.

The bottom line is that hiring Lombardi almost didn’t happen.

While the 1958 regular season was still ongoing and with Scooter McLean’s Packers having a 1-8-1 record, the first part of the 1959 NFL draft was held. In those days, the draft was staggered, with the early rounds done in late November or early December and the later rounds done in mid-to-late January.

This was done from 1956 through 1959. The draft was 30 rounds in those days.

There was speculation that the Packers were interested in bringing in Forest Evashevski, who had been very successful as the head coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes.

From 1952 through 1958, the Hawkeyes under Evashevski were 39-22-4 and had won two Big Ten titles and two Rose Bowls. And in 1958, the FWAA (Football Writers Association of America) voted Iowa as the national champion.

The quarterback for that Iowa team was Randy Duncan. And guess who the Packers selected in the first round of the 1959 NFL draft as the first overall selection? You guessed it. It was Duncan. That really stoked up the talk that “Evy” was going to be the next head coach of the Packers.

But there was another fellow who was very interested in becoming the Packers new head coach. And this fellow knew all about the Packers, as he was one of the founders of the team and was their first head coach. Yes, I’m talking about Curly Lambeau.

Lambeau coached the Packers from 1921 to 1949, as the team won 209 games (a .656 winning percentage) and six NFL championships.

Lambeau and Lombardi

Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi on the cover of the Green Packers Packers Yearbook in 1965.

The newest Packer player to get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Jerry Kramer, saw Lambeau late in the 1958 season when the rumors about who might be the next coach of the Packers were really swirling.

“Before we played the Rams in Los Angeles in 1958 on the last game of the season, a bunch of us went out to dinner at the Rams Horn restaurant, which was owned by Don Paul, who used to play linebacker for the Rams,” Kramer said. “Our group included Paul [Hornung], Max [McGee] and Jimmy [Taylor].

“We noticed that Curly Lambeau was also at the restaurant. By then, the word have been circulating that Scooter McLean would soon be without a job as our head coach. So when Curly sat at our table, we asked him if he was interested in coming back to the Packers and being our next head coach. Curly said, ‘Hell yes!’ So we all figured that would end up happening.”

In fact, three days after the Packers lost to the Rams 34-20 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, McLean submitted his resignation to the Packers.

Soon after McLean’s resignation, as Maraniss noted in his book, Lambeau sent a wire to the Packers promoting himself to become general manager of the team, which would likely include also becoming head coach as well. At least based on what he told Kramer and the other Green Bay players in Los Angeles.

Lambeau even flew into Green Bay and met with Dominic Olejniczak, who was the president of the Packers board of directors.

But Lambeau had burnt too many bridges with the Packers executive committee, as I wrote about Lambeau’s time in Green Bay.

For instance, Lambeau ticked off members of the executive committee by purchasing the Rockwood Lodge north of Green Bay for $25,000 for the Packers to practice at from 1946 to 1949.

There were also a number of people who were not that enamored with Lambeau anyway, as he spent his offseasons in California. The word in Green Bay was that “Lambeau’s gone Hollywood”, especially among committee members.

Plus Lambeau’s teams weren’t exactly playing well either at the end of his tenure in Green Bay. The Packers went 3-9 in 1948 and then 2-10 in 1949.

Then after the Rockwood Lodge burned down on January 24, 1950, Lambeau resigned a week later to coach the Chicago Cardinals (later the St. Louis Cardinals, the Phoenix Cardinals and now the Arizona Cardinals).

The Cardinals were considered a very talented team when Lambeau arrived there. The Cardinals had won the NFL championship in 1947 and had played in the NFL title game in 1948, and next to the Chicago Bears, were clearly the next-biggest rival to the Packers at the time.

The only thing that could have made his departure worse, was if Lambeau had gone to the Bears to be their head coach.

The shining light of the Packers in the 1950s was super scout Jack Vainisi. That decade was the worst in Green Bay history, as the Packers were 32-74-2 heading into the 1959 season.

Still, Vainisi accumulated some fantastic talent for the Packers in the NFL draft, as he selected seven players who would eventually be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Vainisi also led the charge in getting Lombardi to come to Green Bay. He talked to coaches like Red Blaik, George Halas, Paul Brown and Sid Gillman, who all heartily endorsed Lombardi.

Vince and Jack

Vince Lombardi talks with Jack Vainisi.

It was Vainisi who convinced the Packers board of directors that Lombardi was the man they needed to hire.

And that’s what they did. The board named Lombardi not only head coach, but also general manager.

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, as the team won five NFL titles in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls.

Would Evashevski or Lambeau had the same success? I mean, both were very successful coaches.

The answer is highly unlikely.

There is a reason why the Super Bowl trophy is named after Vince Lombardi.

He was not only a great coach, but a great teacher, a great motivator and a great man.

Kramer said it best to me once.

“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.”

 

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

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

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

Here are the Packers who have a bust in Canton:

They are Curly Lambeau (Class of 1963), Robert “Cal” Hubbard (Class of 1963), Don Hutson (Class of 1963), Johnny “Blood” McNally (Class of 1963), Clarke Hinkle (Class of 1964), Mike Michalske (Class of 1964), Arnie Herber (Class of 1966), Vince Lombardi (Class of 1971), Tony Canadeo (Class of 1974), Jim Taylor (Class of 1976), Forrest Gregg (Class of 1977), Bart Starr (Class of 1977), Ray Nitschke (Class of 1978), Herb Adderley (Classof 1980), Willie Davis (Class of 1981), Jim Ringo (Class of 1981), Paul Hornung (Class of 1986), Willie Wood (Class of 1989), Henry Jordan (Class of 1995), James Lofton (Class of 2003), Reggie White (Class of 2006), Dave Robinson (Class of 2013), Ron Wolf (Class of 2015), Brett Favre (Class of 2016) and Jerry Kramer (Class of 2018).

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

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

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

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

Here are the NFL titles won by da Bears:

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

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

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

That tells you something right there.

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

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

Players like Lavvie Dilweg, Verne Lewellen and Cecil Isbell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Packers-Bears Helmets

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

That needs to change.

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

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

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

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

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