Green Bay Packers: Boyd Dowler Talks About the ‘Ice Bowl’, Davante Adams and the Pro Football Hall of Fame

I had the pleasure of speaking with Boyd Dowler of the Green Bay Packers on the 53rd anniversary of the 1967 NFL championship game, better known as the “Ice Bowl” played on December 31, 1967 at Lambeau Field. Boyd and I talked about that game, as well as other subjects such as Davante Adams of the Packers and also the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In terms of the “Ice Bowl”, Dowler recalls that he caught four passes from Bart Starr in that game for 77 yards and two scores. Dowler recalls what happened on each of his touchdowns. The first touchdown came on the first drive of the game of the Packers and it was when Green Bay was on the 8-yard line of the Cowboys.

“Bart noticed that the cornerback was lined-up a couple of yards outside of me and I was in tight,” Dowler said. “So was the linebacker. Plus, Mel Renfro, who was a safety, was near the line of scrimmage near the center. So Bart calls an audible called 86, which had nothing to do with my number. 86 was a quick post or slant and it was a blitz audible when the safety was up. But Bart never once called that audible when I was in tight. He always had called it when I was split out wide.

“But he called it anyway. But the call did not throw me off, as I knew how Bart thought and was in my ninth year playing with him. So I thought to myself to just not screw up and run what Bart had called, even though I was in tight. The linebacker gave me a clean release off the line of scrimmage and I just broke inside to where Renfro should have been and Bart just threw it to me and it was an easy pitch and catch. But it was the play call that got me open. Bart sort of surprised me with the call, but when I broke wide open in the end zone, I realized it was a damn good call by Bart.”

Dowler also recalled the second touchdown, which occurred in the second quarter.

“It was third and short and Bart called the 36 pass,” Dowler said. “If Renfro was playing deep where he was supposed to be, Bart would have changed the call to a 36 run, when the fullback would run off tackle.”

On the 36 pass, Starr had two options. One, he could throw to the halfback out in the left flat or throw to the end who would run a post pattern. This play occurred when the Packers were at the 43-yard line of the Cowboys.

“On that 36 pass play, Bart first faked the handoff to Ben Wilson and then looked to pass,” Dowler said. “The wind was blowing in Bart’s face on that play. Renfro was playing up a bit and when I got by him, my heart skipped a beat because I thought Bart would overthrow me, but he laid it in there perfectly. Renfro wasn’t far behind me when I caught it and he did tackle me in the end zone.

“The bottom line is that on both of my touchdowns, the coverage problem for the Cowboys was because of where Renfro was lined up. Bart saw that and took advantage of it.”

After Dowler retired, he coached receivers for 15 years in the NFL. In fact, in 1971, Dowler was a player-coach with the Redskins. There he coached Charley Taylor, who like Dowler was on the NFL All-Decade team of the 1960s. Taylor was later inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1984.

So was another player Dowler coached when he was on the staff of the Philadelphia Eagles. That would be Harold Carmichael, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2020, which also included safety Bobby Dillon of the Packers.

Obviously Dowler knows a lot about playing receiver in the NFL, both as a player and as a coach. Which is why I wanted to get his take on Davante Adams of the Packers.

Davante Adams hands Aaron Rodgers the football after catching the 400th touchdown pass of Rodgers’ career against the Philadelphia Eagles on December 6, 2020 at Lambeau Field.

Adams is now ranked fourth in Green Bay history with 546 receptions. Dowler is ranked eight with 448 catches. Adams has 62 touchdown receptions, while Dowler had 57. In terms of yardage, Dowler leads in that category, as he had 6,918 receiving yards, while Adams has 6,568.

In 2020, Adams was basically unstoppable catching balls from Aaron Rodgers, as No. 17 had 115 receptions for 1,374 yards and 18 touchdowns. Because of the great season he had in 2020, Adams was named to the Pro Bowl squad and was also named first-team All-Pro.

“In terms of Davante, I don’t understand how he is being covered in games,” Dowler said. “For instance, when I coached under George Allen, he always had his defense set up by his generals. His generals were usually linebackers like Maxie Baughan and Jack Pardee. George also used safety Richie Petitbon in that role. And they would change defensive alignments and coverages based on where the star receiver of each team would line up.

“For instance, that would be the way we played Bob Hayes of the Cowboys. No matter where Hayes would line up, he would be double-covered. But in Davante’s case, it seems like he doesn’t get a lot of double coverage. I mean, he’s fast, he’s big, he’s got great feet and he has great moves. It seems like he is always open. But no matter how good you are as a receiver in the NFL, you aren’t always going to get open against two people.

“It just doesn’t make sense that Devante is not doubled at times. Even when he pressed, Adams has quick feet and can get away from the defender. I mean, Devante is awfully good. But it would be tougher with two guys covering him.

“Still, Matt LaFleur has a great offensive system. That’s due to using motion or different formations which seems to get Devante a lot of single coverage. I think that is a credit to the coaches and the quarterback.”

It sure looks like Adams will someday be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, just like the quarterback (Rodgers) who throws him the football. Speaking of the Hall of Fame, we will know on February 6th who will be part of the Class of 2021. One of the players who could be selected is Drew Pearson of the Dallas Cowboys.

Recently, I wrote a story comparing Pearson to Dowler and to me, both had very similar stats. Both were NFL All-Decade players for instance. So was another player who also is now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I’m talking about Lynn Swann of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Both Swann and Pearson were All-Decade in the 1970s, while Dowler was All-Decade in the 1960s.

In terms of comparing Swann and Dowler, in the regular season, Dowler had 448 catches for 6,918 yards and 40 touchdowns, while Swann had 336 catches for 5,462 and 51 touchdowns.

In the postseason, Dowler had 30 receptions for 440 yards and five scores in 10 games. One of those games was Super Bowl I, when No. 86 missed almost the entire game due to a shoulder injury.

Swann had 48 catches for 907 yards and nine touchdowns in 16 postseason games. So if you compare the two, Dowler and Swann each caught three passes per game in the postseason. Plus, each caught a touchdown pass in every other playoff game they played in. The only real difference between the two is that Swann is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, while Dowler is not.

Also, neither Swann or Pearson was ever named to a NFL All-Time Team. Dowler was named to the NFL 50th Anniversary Team. No. 86 was named to the second-team of that 45-man squad. Dowler was joined on that second team along with players like Sammy Baugh, Bronco Nagurski, Harold “Red” Grange, Forrest Gregg, Raymond Berry, Mike Ditka, Danny Fortman, Mel Hein, Len Ford, Ernie Stautner, Joe Schmidt, Jack Butler, Jack Christiansen and Ernie Nevers.

All of those players have a bust in Canton except for Dowler. As a matter of fact, Dowler has never been a finalist. That needs to change. When I was at a party that the Packers had for Jerry Kramer in Canton the day of his enshrinement in 2018, I talked with Hall of Fame voter Rick Gosselin, who is part of the Seniors Selection Committee.

Gosselin asked me what I was going to do next now that Kramer was finally inducted. I told Rick that there were a number of other former Packers who deserve to be in Canton and that I would continue to promote those players and write about them. Rick told me to make sure that I wrote about Dowler, Ron Kramer and Gale Gillingham.

“In terms of getting into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I haven’t given that a whole lot of thought,” Dowler said. “But I know one thing, you are doing about as much as can be done in terms of making people aware of what I accomplished as a player and I’m very happy about that.”

The 100-Year Rivalry Between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears: Starr, Favre and Rodgers Have Been the Difference

After Sunday’ 35-16 win by the Green Bay Packers over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, the Packers now lead the regular season series between the two teams 100-94-6. The two teams also have a 1-1 record playing each other in the postseason.

When the teams first played in 1921, the da Bears were known as the Chicago Staleys. Green Bay traveled to Wrigley Field (then Cubs Park) and lost to Chicago 20-0. The first time the Packers beat the Bears was in 1925 at old City Stadium, when Green Bay won 14-10.

The thing that is amazing about the Packers leading the regular season series by six games now is the fact that before the 1992 season began, the Bears had a 79-58-6 series lead over the Packers. That means that since the ’92 season, the Packers have had a 42-15 record against the Bears.

So, what are the reasons that the Packers have the series lead over their long-time rivals from the Windy City? Actually, there are three reasons. Bart Starr, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.

During his time with the Packers, Starr was 15-5 versus the Bears. When Vince Lombardi was his head coach, Starr was 12-3 against Chicago. Meanwhile, Lombardi was 13-5 versus George Halas from 1959 through 1967, which included five NFL titles in seven years, including wins in Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II, when Starr was the MVP of both games. Chicago did win the 1963 NFL title during that period as well.

It was a game against the Bears which elevated the status of Starr to both his head coach and his teammates. Jerry Kramer related that story to me in one of our many conversations.

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

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

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

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

Still, even with the great record of Starr against the Bears, the team still was down by 21 games in the series before the arrival of Favre in 1992. That all changed when No. 4 arrived. In 16 years in Green Bay, Favre had a 22-10 record against Chicago. Plus, like Starr did five times, Favre led the Packers to a NFL title, when the Packers won Super Bowl XXXI.

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

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

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

Rodgers has just been magnificent against the Bears. Since taking over for Favre in 2008, Rodgers has a 20-5 record against the Monsters of the Midway, plus beat da Bears in the 2010 NFC title game at Soldier Field. That victory came before Rodgers was the MVP of Super Bowl XLV, as the Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25.

The numbers that Rodgers has put up against Chicago are just amazing. In 25 games, No. 12 has thrown 55 touchdown passes for 6,013 yards and only tossed 10 interceptions. That adds up to a passer rating of 107.2.

There have been many memorable games by Rodgers against the Bears, but the one that most remember was the final game of the 2013 season when the Packers met the Bears at Soldier Field. The winner of that game would win the NFC North, while the loser would go home and not make the playoffs.

Rodgers and the Packers were in a very difficult situation late in the game. Da Bears led 28-27 and there were only 46 seconds to go and Green Bay faced a 4th-and-8 scenario from the Chicago 48.

In the moment of truth, Rodgers (who had returned for this game after missing several weeks because of a broken collarbone) first avoided being sacked by Julius Peppers by sprinting to his left and then getting a chip-block by fullback John Kuhn. Rodgers then delivered a 48-yard touchdown pass on the move to Randall Cobb, as the Packers won 33-28.

Bottom line, when Starr, Favre or Rodgers have played against the Bears, their record has been a combined 57-22. That’s 35 games over .500 folks. In addition to that, the Packers won seven NFL titles behind those three quarterbacks, which includes four Super Bowls.

So, what then would the season series look like without the record of Starr, Favre and Rodgers included? Well, da Bears would lead the series by a 72-43-6 margin.

That’s all you need to now about how impactful Starr, Favre and Rodgers have been in the most storied rivaly in the NFL that dates back to 1921.

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: Five Teammates Pay Tribute to Herb Adderley

Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback Herb Adderley passed away on October 30. Adderley’s death was yet another loss over the past two years that has seen a number of players who played with the Green Bay Packers under head coach under Vince Lombardi pass on.

Hall of Famer Jim Taylor passed away on October 13, 2018. Bob Skoronski died 12 days later.

In 2019, the Packers saw two Hall of Fame players who were in the same 1956 draft class pass away. Forrest Gregg passed away in April and Bart Starr passed on in May.

Later in November of 2019, Zeke Bratkowski, who was the capable backup to Starr at quarterback and Bart’s best friend, also passed away.

2020 has been a tough year for the Lombardi Packers. It started on New Year’s Day when Doug Hart passed on. Less than a month later, Allen Brown also passed away. A week later, Hall of Famer Willie Wood died.

In April, the captain of those great defenses in the Lombardi era, Hall of Famer Willie Davis, passed away.

And just recently, Adderley passed on.

That’s nine players in just a little over two years. And six of those players have busts in Canton, which obviously includes Adderley.

In his career, the former Michigan State Spartan star had 48 picks for 1,046 yards and seven touchdowns. 39 of those interceptions came when he was a member of the Packers. All of his touchdowns also came while he played in Green Bay.

Adderley was also a very good kickoff returner with the Packers, as he had two return touchdowns.

No. 26 finished his career in Dallas with the Cowboys in 1970, 1971 and 1972.

Adderley was part of six teams which won NFL titles and three teams which won the Super Bowl.

In 1980, Adderley was rewarded with a bust in Canton.

I talked to five of Herb’s teammates on the Packers to get their thoughts and insights about No. 26.

Boyd Dowler remembers when Adderley was drafted out of Michigan State in the first round in 1961 as a halfback and practiced on offense with the flankers most of his rookie year.

“When Herb was drafted, Coach Lombardi thought of him as a flanker,” Dowler said. “I was a starter at that position at the time and Vince thought of Herb as a wide receiver then and that’s where he played most of his rookie year.”

An injury to cornerback Hank Gremminger late in the ’61 season caused Lombardi and defensive coordinator Phil Bengtson to rethink where to play Adderley. No. 26 started the last game of the year at cornerback.

“It was in Los Angeles,” Dowler said. “I remember that very well. At one cornerback, we had Jesse Whittenton, who was All-Pro that year and went to the Pro Bowl and on the other side we had Hank Gremminger. As I recall, Gremminger must have been hurt and after Herb played that game against the Rams at corner, he came back the next year and was put at cornerback permanently.”

The Packers beat the Rams that day 24-17 and two weeks later would win their first NFL championship under Lombardi when the Packers shut out the New York Giants 37-0 at new City Stadium (now Lambeau Field).

Even when he was practicing as a flanker as a rookie, Dowler sensed that Adderley wanted to become a defensive back.

“I think Herb, all along, wanted to be a defensive player,” Dowler said. “He definitely had the temperament, the aggressive nature and the attitude of a defensive back.”

When Dowler practiced against Adderley, he knew he would be going up against great competition.

“I remember one day at training camp coming back to the huddle not having not caught the ball because Herb had batted it down,” Dowler said. “I remember saying that Herb was tough to beat. And Vince who was right there near our huddle nodded his head and said, ‘I know.’

Lombardi definitely knew.

When I talked to Jerry Kramer, he mentioned a story that he had heard from Herb about some glowing words that Lombardi told Adderley after a game.

“Herb had heard about the time Coach Lombardi had cussed me out in practice one day and then later in the locker room told me that I could be the best guard in football,” Kramer said. “Those words from Vince changed my career and made me the player I became. The same thing happened to Herb.

“Herb told me about the time when he came off the field after a game early in his career, Coach Lombardi came up to him on the field and said, ‘Herbie, you have played the finest game I have ever seen a cornerback play. Take that with you and keep ahold of it.’

“Herbie told me that for the rest of his career, he tried to play the best game a cornerback could ever play.”

Speaking of Lombardi, there was another time when a number of his players were playing golf at the Lombardi Classic to raise money for cancer research after their coach died of colon cancer in 1970.

“A bunch of us were at a bar on Wisconsin Avenue past Highway 100 after playing in the Lombardi Classic,” Kramer said. “Paul [Hornung], Max [McGee], Ron [Kramer] and Fuzzy [Thurston] were there with me.

“I looked across the bar and it was kind of dark in the bar and I saw an African American man over there, but I couldn’t clearly see who it was. I asked Fuzzy if that was Herb, and Fuzzy said no, because Herb would be with us. I told Fuzzy he was right.

“About 10 or 15 minutes later, I get a tap on my shoulder. And I turn around and it’s Herb. And he’s got his arms open. So I stood up and wrapped my arms around him and he did the same to me. And Herb says to me, ‘It’s still there JK. It’s still there.’ I told Herbie that it would always be there. It would be there forever.”

Dave Robinson played on the left side of the defense of the Packers. In front of him was Davis at left defensive end. Behind him at left cornerback was Adderley. Robinson considered Adderley the very best at his position.

“Herb Adderley was the best. You talk about shutdown cornerbacks, that’s what Herb was,” Robinson said. “He just shut people down. Herb is very proud of the fact that in the entire year of 1965, from the opening gun to the end of the season, not one receiver beat Herb for a touchdown.

“You have to remember that most quarterbacks in the NFL were righthanded, which means the those teams would load up the right side of the offense. So that meant Herb would be facing the best receiver on that team. But no receiver in that 14-game season of 1965 beat Herb for a touchdown.”

Robinson played with a lot of talented players in his 10-year career in Green Bay with the Packers and also in the two years he spent with the Washington Redskins. Robinson considers Adderley the best he ever played with.

“Herb was the most complete football player I ever played with,” Robinson said. “I played with a lot of cornerbacks, in Pro Bowls and championship games. Herb was head and shoulders above everyone else. The only one who came close to Herb was “Night Train” Lane.

“Both of them could cover very well. Both of them played the run very well. Both of them could knock you out if you were a running back. And they would. I saw Herb lay some wood on some people that was amazing. He played like a linebacker the way he could hit.”

Robinson also recalls the Herb was a leader for the Packers.

“Herb was more than just a cornerback, he was a team man,” Robinson said. “He always had a friendly thing to say and he always had a smile on his face. He would also say he was going to do something in the game and then challenge you to do something. I knew I better do what he asked me to do.”

Adderley also had a way to fire his teammates up.

“Herb was not a rah-rah guy. He would say, ‘I’m going to pick one today. Maybe two.’ Herb would lift up that whole defense, including the secondary. Willie Wood ran the secondary, but Herb was the example. Herb was the guy!”

Robinson also believes that Adderley’s presence in Dallas with the Cowboys is what finally brought them a win Super Bowl VI.

“When Herb arrived in Dallas, they couldn’t win the big one,” Robinson said. “Mel Renfro said he knew that Dallas would never win a championship until Herb got there. Herb taught them to win.”

In 1966, the Packers brought in a rookie running back by the name of Donny Anderson. Like Adderley was in 1961, Anderson was the No. 1 pick of the Packers in 1965 as a future pick.

For much of his rookie season, Anderson would return kickoffs and punts. When he returned kickoffs, he teamed with Adderley to return the kicks.

“When I was a rookie, I was put back there with Herb on kickoffs,” Anderson said. “Herb would tell me that between the goal posts if we were standing on the goal line, that anything that was to the middle or the right would be his and anything to the middle and the left would be mine.

“I said okay. I had returned kicks at Texas Tech. I recall a kickoff that was right to Herb’s goal post and he said, ‘Donny, you got it. You got it.’ That was kind of the way we started off. It wasn’t quite what he explained to me, but he later told me that it was easier to block than to return.

“You find out later on kickoffs that it’s pretty much a suicide mission, because if somebody misses one block you get clobbered pretty well. Then when Travis [Williams] came on in ’67, Herb was lucky he got off the kickoff team and Travis set all sorts of records.”

Anderson knew right away what a outstanding teammate and player Adderley was when he became a Packer in 1966.

“I always though Herb was a perfect gentleman,’ Anderson said. “He was classy and I recall that he dressed extremely well. And he played the position like it was supposed to be played. He was a running back at Michigan State and then tried out at wide receiver for a while, but when he became a cornerback, I can’t see how one could accomplish more than Herb did in his career.”

I also talked to Anderson about the many losses the the Packers family has gone through over the past two years losing nine of his teammates.

“It’s very close to all of us,” Anderson said. “Jerry and Boyd were there at the beginning. I was there six years and played most of the time in five of those years. You had a kindness and togetherness there that will never be replaced. You talked together. You practiced together. You played together.

“Coach Lombardi formed the personality of the team. We knew how great we were. That’s something in your lifetime on earth, I don’t know of anything other than your children, grandchildren and my family that can even touch that. So it’s sad. It’s very sad,”

Don Horn was able to practice against Adderley on a number of occasions, especially in 1969, when Horn started five games and won four of them.

“Herb had an uncanny knack for baiting people,” Horn said. “He would bait the quarterback and receiver. Herb did his homework and he knew how the pattern would develop and what the receiver’s tendencies were. He would act like he would play soft and then step right up and pick the ball off.”

Like Anderson, Horn knew right away what type of person Adderley was when No. 13 became a Packer in 1967.

“Herb was just a quiet leader,” Horn said. “I practiced against him a lot, especially in ’69 when Bart was hurt and I started a few games. From my perspective, I think Herb raised the bar for others in the secondary to play at a higher level. Especially Bob Jeter and Tom Brown. Herb and Willie [Wood] sort of set the bar.”

Horn was also able to reconnect with Adderley before Herb passed on.

“Herb and I stayed in touch the past few months,” Horn said. “Herb and I sort of had a special relationship. I don’t know why, but he helped me a lot. We stayed good friends over the years. About five or six months ago I reached out to him because I hadn’t heard from him in a while.

“We started some correspondence and it was really nice. The last time I was in touch with Herb was about six weeks ago. The news of his passing kind of caught me off guard.”

You can tell by the comments from Dowler, Kramer, Robinson, Anderson and Horn what a special person and player Adderley was.

Rest in peace, Herb. May God bless you and your family, as well as your close friends and former teammates.

Pro Football Hall of Fame: Comparing Boyd Dowler to Drew Pearson

Boyd Dowler and Drew Pearson

Back in August, it was announced that Drew Pearson of the Dallas Cowboys was selected to be a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2021. I believe it’s honor he definitely deserves.

But that same honor is true for another receiver who played a decade before Pearson. I’m talking about Boyd Dowler of the Green Bay Packers.

Both Pearson and Dowler have a lot in common.

First, they both played with quarterbacks who were eventually inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Pearson played most of his career in Dallas with Roger Staubach throwing him the ball. Dowler had Bart Starr getting him the ball for almost his entire career in Green Bay.

Both also played under two of the greatest coaches in NFL history. Pearson played under Tom Landry, while Dowler played under Vince Lombardi.

In addition, they put up similar stats in their NFL careers during the regular season.

Pearson had 489 receptions for 7,822 yards and 48 touchdowns while he played with the Cowboys. Dowler had 474 receptions for 7,270 and 40 touchdowns while he played with the Packers and a short time with the Washington Redskins.

Both were honored for what they did in the decade they played in. Pearson was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame All-1970s Team. Dowler was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame All-1960s Team.

Pearson was named to three Pro Bowl squads, plus was named All-Pro three times.

Dowler was named to two Pro Bowl squads, plus was named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1959. In addition to that, Dowler was also named to the second team of the 50th Anniversary Team (named in 1969) and he was joined on that squad by the likes of Sammy Baugh, Bronco Nagurski, Harold “Red” Grange, Forrest Gregg, Raymond Berry, Mike Ditka, Danny Fortman, Mel Hein, Len Ford, Ernie Stautner, Joe Schmidt, Jack Butler, Jack Christiansen and Ernie Nevers.

Dowler is the only player on that second team not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Plus there is more to really like about what both Pearson and Dowler accomplished during their NFL careers. It’s about what they did in the postseason.

Pearson played in 22 postseason games and caught 68 passes for 1,131 and eight touchdowns. No. 88 also played on one Super Bowl championship team.

Dowler only played in 10 postseason games, but he caught 30 passes for 440 yards and five scores. No. 86 played on five NFL championship teams, which include wins in Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II. Dowler caught a touchdown pass in the 1961 NFL title game, another in the 1966 NFL title game, two more in the 1967 NFL title game (the “Ice Bowl”) and another one in Super Bowl II.

The big difference between Pearson and Dowler in the postseason is that Pearson, although he played in twice as many games, never caught a touchdown pass in a championship game, while Dowler caught all five of his in NFL title games. Games that his team eventually won as well.

When I was in Canton for a party that the Packers threw for Jerry Kramer just prior to the induction ceremony, I ran into Rick Gosselin (Talk of Fame Network), who is a voter for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Gosselin is on two very important committees for the Hall. One is the Senior Selection Committee and the Contributor Selection Committee.

Rick asked me what I was going to do next, as he knew I had been writing and advocating for Kramer’s rightful induction in Canton for years. I told Rick that there several more deserving seniors on the Packers who I would continue to support and write about.

One of those players was Bobby Dillon, who was inducted to be part of the Class of 2020 in Canton.

Rick told me to make sure that I wrote about Gale Gillingham, Ron Kramer and Dowler when I was writing about former Packers who deserve to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I have done that, plus have written about three other Packers (Lavvie Dilweg, Verne Lewellen and Cecil Isbell) who played under Curly Lambeau in Green Bay. All three were finalists like Dillon in 2020, but unfortunately they didn’t get inducted.

Pearson was one of the finalists who didn’t get inducted in 2020 too. But he has another chance in 2021. I hope he makes it this time.

I also hope that Dowler at least gets an opportunity to be a finalist. He certainly deserves to be. I mean, if you are among the top 45 players on the NFL 50th Anniversary Team, you should have been a finalist many, many years ago.

But Dowler still hasn’t gotten that opportunity, nor has Ron Kramer, who was also on that 50th Anniversary Team.

That definitely needs to change. Maybe it will now if Pearson gets inducted. I believe Drew will get a bust in 2021. Boyd deserves that same honor in the near future.

Jerry Kramer and Dave Robinson Talk About the Legacy of Willie Davis

Willie and Jerry

When Willie Davis passed away on April 15, Jerry Kramer lost one of his best friends. They had a close relationship which spanned close to 60 years. A number of the great memories that the two of them had will be shared in this story.

Thanks to the heartwarming and also heartbreaking movie Brian’s Song, people became aware that Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo were the first black and white NFL players to room together. But what a lot of people don’t realize is that Willie and Jerry were the second black and white roommates in the NFL. That happened in 1968.

That strong friendship happened due to just a brief comment that Davis made to Kramer late in the 1962 season.

“We were in Los Angeles at the practice facility,” Kramer said. “We were getting to play the Rams. Back then, we always played the last two games of the season in Los Angeles and San Francisco. We had finished practice and I was getting ready to take a shower.

“So I had a towel around my waist and I was heading to the shower. Anyway, I stopped to chat with one of the guys and Willie was in that area.  So I’m talking to the guy and Willie came by and said, ‘J, you had a hell of a season and I think you are going to make the All-Pro team.’ I thanked him, as it was a nice compliment. It was a big moment for me, because I had been named All-Pro once before, but you were never certain you might make it a second time.

“Willie then walked on and headed into the shower. After I finished my conversation, I went into the shower. I kept thinking to myself that was a nice thing for Willie to say to me. But I thought beyond that and I remembered that Willie had a hell of a year as well. He should have been All-Pro too. So I told him that. Willie had never made All-Pro up to that point and he was very pleased to have me say that to him. He thanked me for the compliment.

“Both of our comments were genuine too. When didn’t judge each other because of our color. We judged each other based on our contribution to the team. It was just a case of two guys playing on the same team who were making a difference and recognizing that fact.”

When the 1962 season was over, not only did the Packers win their second straight NFL title in a game in which Kramer received a game ball because of his play, but also Kramer and Davis were indeed named Associated Press first-team All-Pro along with eight of their teammates on the Packers.

In 1963, the Packers first-round draft choice was Dave Robinson out of Penn State. In his first two years in the NFL, Robinson saw spot duty at right outside linebacker and started seven game there. But in 1965, Robinson was moved over to left outside linebacker, where he would play behind Davis at left end.

Robinson commented about the left side of the Green Bay defense then.

“I want to tell you something. I felt that we had the strongest left side defense in the history of the NFL,” Robinson said. “Our leader was Willie Davis! Willie was the defensive end and I was behind him at linebacker. Behind me was Herb Adderley at cornerback. Sometimes middle linebacker Ray Nitschke would shade to the left, as did safety Willie Wood.

“That means that when we lined up in that formation, we had five players on the left side of the defense who were future Hall of Famers. Willie Wood was the one who kept the entire defense together, but it was Willie Davis who kept our left side strong. Nobody could run the same play on us twice successfully. ”

Robinson remembered a time when that happened against the Cleveland Browns.

“I remember very distinctly that we were playing Cleveland,” Robinson said. “Willie always had big games against Cleveland because they were the ones who traded him. On this one play, the tight end tried to hook me, while the tackled pulled to the outside. Willie went with the pulling tackle naturally and what happened was the Browns then brought the off guard behind him who blocked Willie in the back. It wasn’t a clip. You could do that then on a play tackle-to-tackle.

“So Willie got knocked down and Leroy Kelly gained like seven or eight yards. Willie was mad and he yelled to the Browns, “You can take that play and throw it in the shit can because it won’t work no more.’ So in the huddle, Willie tells me if they run that play again, that I have to take the tackle and the tight end, because he was going to close on that guard. I said okay. I’m thinking to myself, how can I handle two men? But you didn’t argue with the “Doctor” when he told you something.

“Sure enough, three or four plays later, they called the same play again. So Willie took one step like he was going to chase the tackle and then stopped and waited for the guard. He put the guard on the ground with a forearm and then picked up Leroy Kelly and just slammed him to the ground. And Willie says to Leroy while he was stuttering a bit, ‘I…I…I told you not to run that play no more!’

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In the 1965 NFL title game at Lambeau Field against those same Browns…Davis, Robinson, Nitschke and company held the great Jim Brown to just 50 yards rushing in a game which turned out be his last ever in the NFL.

Meanwhile, the running attack of Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor combined for 201 yards and a score behind the blocking of Kramer, Fuzzy Thurston and company, as the Packers won 23-12.

Another play which involved Davis and Robinson occurred when the Packers were playing the Baltimore Colts at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore late in the 1966 season.

A win would clinch the Western Conference title for the Packers, while a win by the Colts would give them a slight chance to still win the title. Quarterback Bart Starr started the game at quarterback for the Packers, but after an injury, was replaced by the best backup quarterback in the NFL at that time, Zeke Bratkowski.

Bratkowski led the Packers to a touchdown drive in the 4th quarter which gave the Packers a 14-10 lead. But quarterback Johnny Unitas had the Colts driving late in the game and a touchdown would win the game for Baltimore.

Robinson remembered that moment well.

“Yes, Johnny had them on the move,” Robinson said. “I saw Unitas running with the ball and he looked at me and I looked at him and he tried to give a little rooster move, the old head and shoulders fake. When he did that, he held the ball away from his body a bit and I saw big Willie’s hand come out and hit right on the ball and it came out and hit the ground.

“It popped up and I picked it up. I knew all I had to do is hold on to the ball and we would win the game.  I ran about five yards or so and a bunch of Colts were trying to pry the ball out of my hands before I finally went down.”

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The Packers won their second straight NFL title in 1966, plus won Super Bowl I, when Davis had two sacks in the game, as Green Bay defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10.

In 1967, which was Vince Lombardi’s last year as head coach of the Packers, the Packers won their third straight NFL title by beating the Dallas Cowboys in the “Ice Bowl” game, plus also won their second straight Super Bowl, as they defeated the Oakland Raiders 33-14 in Super Bowl II. Davis had three sacks in that game, which gave him five sacks in two Super Bowl games.

That storybook 1967 season was chronicled by Jerry in the classic book Instant Replay, which was edited by the late, great Dick Schaap.

Kramer, Davis and Robinson had put together quite a legacy for themselves up to that point going into the 1968 season.

Kramer had been named AP first-team All-Pro five times and he been on three Pro Bowl teams. Davis had been named AP first-team All-Pro five times himself, plus had been on five Pro Bowl teams. Robinson, who got his first chance to start full-time in 1965, had become part of the best group of linebackers in the NFL, along with Nitschke and Lee Roy Caffey. Robinson was named AP first-team All-Pro in 1967 and had been on the Pro Bowl teams in both 1966 and 1967.

Heading into training camp in 1968, Kramer knew he would be without his old roommate, Don Chandler, as No. 34 had retired.

“Willie and I knew that we were both in the latter portion of our careers at that point, Kramer said. “So we would talk about what happens after retirement. I asked Willie what his plans were, as he had been doing a lot of studying, because he had gotten his MBA at the University of Chicago. So we would talk about the radio business, communications and restaurant franchises.

“I mentioned to him that there was a new steak house in town and that it was a franchise and it looked pretty hot. I said that we ought to go look at it. Willie agreed to do so. I was thrilled. So we did that after practice. When we were done and heading back to the dorm, we were flapping our gums about the possibilities.

“My room was fairly close to the door and so we walked down to my room while we were still chatting. We were continuing that conversation and at some point Willie said that he better get back to his room. And I said to him why don’t you room with me or something like that. I told him that my roomy wasn’t coming back. Willie looked at me like he was considering it. He thought about it for a minute and he said, ‘Okay. Let me get my stuff.’ So that was how we became roommates. It was just casual. It wasn’t a big deal. We had a lot in common and it just made a lot of sense.”

Robinson remembered when Kramer and Davis became roommates too.

“it was a monumental moment for the team when Jerry and Willie became roommates,” Robinson said. “They were the first interracial couple so to speak in our team’s history. But you know what, the way they did it, it wasn’t a big issue. It was just two guys rooming together that got along fine.

“We never thought of them as black and white roommates. They were just two guys who get along. They were a great blend. Color never came up. It wasn’t a big issue. It could have been with somebody else, but not with Jerry and Willie.

“In fact on our team, color was never an issue. Coach Lombardi saw something in Willie. Coach wanted Willie to be the liaison between himself and the rest of the club. Primarily the black ballplayers. If anything did come up, regarding any issues for the players, trainers, equipment guys, what have you, we would go to Willie and say that this is wrong.

“After that, Willie would go to Vince and the problem was fixed quickly. And if Vince saw a problem with one of us, he would go to Willie. And Willie would call the player into his room and that matter would be settled quickly as well.”

Kramer concurred with with Robinson said.

“Willie had the respect of the players,” Kramer told me. “Not just the players of color, but all the players.

“When there was a problem when black players were having trouble getting decent housing accommodations at one time, Willie would talk to coach Lombardi about it, and then coach would chew some ass and straighten it out.”

Davis also had a great sense of humor. He told his teammates that his nickname was Dr. Feelgood. Why? Because he made women feel so good.

“Willie was always chatting with the guys,” Kramer said. “He would always get the fellas cracking up with his jokes and humor.”

Kramer retired after the 1968 season and his last game was against the Chicago Bears at Wrigley Field, while Davis retired after the 1969 season and his last game was against the St. Louis Cardinals at Lambeau Field. The common denominator in each one of those games was the performance of quarterback Don Horn.

In Jerry’s last game in 1968, when Horn came into the game for an injured Zeke Bratkowski, Kramer saw Horn and yelled, “What the hell are you in here for? Where’s Zeke?”

But Horn soon had Kramer and the other players on the Green Bay offense at ease, as No. 13 threw for 187 yards, plus had two touchdown passes without throwing a pick, as the Packers won 28-27.

In Davis’ last game in 1969, one in which Davis spoke to the crowd at Lambeau Field, Horn had a masterful performance, as he threw for 410 yards and also threw five touchdown passes, as the Packers beat the Cardinals 45-28.

Late in the game on the sideline, Davis came up to Horn laughing and said, “You stole my thunder!”

Robinson played with the Packers through the 1972 season and then was traded to the Washington Redskins where he spent the last two years of his NFL career playing under head coach George Allen.

It was in Washington when Robinson played with another Hall of Fame defensive end, Deacon Jones.

“I played behind Willie Davis for five years,” Robinson said. “And in Washington, at the end of his career, I played behind Deacon Jones. After playing with Deacon, I said to myself that he could not carry Willie’s jock strap. Now I’m not trying to say Deacon was a lousy football player, he was a great football player, but he was different from Willie.

“Deacon was the type of player who could execute. Willie was the type of player who could improvise and execute. That was a big difference. You sometimes could fool Deacon. Willie on the other hand, could sense what was coming. Both Deacon and Willie were great players, but Willie could improvise. He could analyze, improvise and then execute.”

After each of them retired, both Kramer and Davis became very close friends and were often in each other’s company.

“I was always comfortable with Willie,” Kramer said. “It didn’t matter where the hell we were. I could take him anywhere and he could take me anywhere. We were just comfortable with one another.”

Jerry and Willie by Dan

One of those times occurred in 1969. But before that happened, Kramer was invited to the inaugural ball for President Richard Nixon, who had just been elected in November of 1968. Jerry was there with some friends, including former NFL player Claude Crabb, attorney John Curtin and Jay Fiondella, the owner of the famous restaurant in Santa Monica, California called Chez Jay.

Jerry’s new book Instant Replay was doing very well and was on the bestseller’s list and was No. 2 at the time. There were some photographers there and a number of people wanted to be photographed with Kramer.

“So I’m trying to be as pleasant as possible and accommodating,” Kramer said. “One of the photos was with an African-American lady who was a beauty queen. She was just gorgeous. Plus she was very nice.

“So while this is going on, a photographer from Jet Magazine also took a few photos. Jay, who was standing next to the the photographer from Jet Magazine, decided to add a little spice to the evening. He told the photographer that the black lady I had just taken a picture with was my fiancée. And sure enough, the guy publishes the photos in Jet the next week.

“At the time, I was going through a divorce. So my wife was pissed, my girlfriend was pissed and I was pissed when this came out. I called a lawyer to see what we could do and the guy told me to leave it alone. That the story would go away. I was still pissed, as was the lady in the photo, but the story did go away eventually.

“But about three weeks later, I was going to be speaking at the Milwaukee Athletic Club as the Man of the Year, probably due to the book. There were going to have a dinner for me and the room held around 400 to 500 people. It had a stage and everything. Like a movie theater. So I get there early to check things out like the microphone and the setting in the room. I was there about 15 minutes doing that when Willie comes in.

“So Willie comes in the door which is quite a distance from where I was at. Willie starts laughing. He was laughing so hard he could hardly talk. He is just laughing his ass off. Finally he points at me and me and says, ‘Don’t ever let the white man say I can’t communicate. I room with the guy for a year and he’s ready to cross the road on me!’ Willie had obviously seen the photos in Jet and he was just jerking my chain.”

Yes, since they started rooming together in 1968 moving forward to when Willie passed, Jerry and Willie were very close. How close? Jerry told me that Willie was among his five closest friends in the world.

Another memory that Kramer will never forget was when he and Willie were on a fishing trip in Idaho in the Hell’s Canyon region.

“Yes, we were probably a couple hours from Boise,” Kramer said. “We went up over the mountain there over to a guide’s arrangement there with rooms, boats, fishing equipment and things. We stayed with him a couple of days and did a lot of fishing.

“One day we went about 15 miles upstream. The area was wild ass country because the river was only able to accessed by jetboat. We did a lot of lot of laughing and giggling, as we were doing something that Willie had never done. So we were fishing and Willie catches a carp. Of course they aren’t edible and they are basically a garbage fish.

“So Willie reels it in and the guide looks at it and says, ‘I’ll take care of that son of a bitch!’ He then reaches for his knife which had about an eight or nine inch blade on it and he just slits the fish from stem to stern and throws him in the water. Willie’s eyes became huge and he says, ‘J, what did that man do to that fish? What is that fish guilty of?’

“I know I was surprised, so I know Willie was. So we catch a couple more fish. Then Willie catches another carp and had it almost in the boat, but it’s hanging off his pole. The guide says once again, ‘I’ll take care of that son of a bitch!’ He reaches in a compartment in his boat and he has a 12-gauge there. In one motion he just blows the fish to hell and back with the shotgun. The empty hook and the sinker on Willie’s pole are just hanging there and Willie is just looking down at the water.

“Then Willie looks at the shotgun. Then he looks back at the water where the fish has been vaporized. Then he looks back at the gun. But we just had a great time out there and we came back to the cottage with our fish haul and Willie started cooking them. It was just a great time with a great friend!”

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When Jerry would get together with Willie and his wife Carol in California, Jerry always knew he had a great setting during his visit.

“I had the Kramer suite at the Davis home in Marina del Ray,” Kramer said. “It was the big bedroom upstairs looking out at the ocean.”

Besides being teammates, plus being together on various All-Pro teams and Pro Bowl squads, Davis, Kramer and Robinson were all on the Pro Football Hall of Fame All-Decade Team of the 1960s. The three of them were joined on that team by teammates Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, Boyd Dowler, Forrest Gregg, Jim Ringo, Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderley, Willie Wood and Don Chandler.

Everyone of those players I just mentioned have busts in Canton. All except for Dowler and Chandler.

Speaking of Canton, Kramer and Robinson were good luck charms to each other when they were each inducted in the Hall of Fame, a place where Davis received a bust in 1981.

“Yes, the night before I was inducted in 2013 in New Orleans, Jerry joined me for dinner and we had a couple of bottles of wine,” Robinson said. “We did the same thing in Minneapolis in 2018 the night before he was inducted.

“The weird part about being in New Orleans, is that was where Jerry didn’t get in as a senior in ’97. I kept thinking, I hope this isn’t déjà vu. I was a bit nervous. But Jerry settled me down. Jerry told me that our dinner would be good luck for me and it was. So when he came up in 2018 in Minneapolis, my son and I went to dinner with Jerry and some people at Ruth’s Chris and had a great steak dinner. Plus we had our wine, too! I was so happy when Jerry got in. Almost as happy when I went in!”

The legacy that Davis, Kramer, Robinson and so many of their Green Bay teammates have created all stems from the guidance of Coach Lombardi. I have talked with many of the players from those championship teams in Green Bay under Lombardi and all have shown exceptional class and humility.

I talk to Kramer more than anyone and it’s a relationship I truly cherish. I first got to meet Robinson at Jerry’s party in Canton before the induction ceremony and when we talked again recently, it was like we were old buddies. I was only able to chat with Willie once and that was when he was on the phone with his wife Carol talking to me, but what an honor that was.

Getting back to Vince Lombardi now. Obviously, he was a great coach and a great teacher. But he was more than that. He was also a great man. A man who molded great football players to be sure, but more importantly than that, he molded great people.

Davis, Kramer and Robinson are a testament to that!

Bret and Kandace Saberhagen: A Perfect Blend

Bret and Kandace

It’s funny how life can take one on a path to form an unexpected friendship with people. That was what happened with me a little less than four years ago. It all occurred because of one of the many conversations that I have had over the years with Jerry Kramer.

That chat with Jerry led me to write a four-part series about stem cell therapy.  It was then when I was able to get to know Kandace Saberhagen.  I knew immediately that Kandace was a special person. That impression was cemented by other people who knew Kandace well. People like Don Horn, who played with Kramer in Green Bay when both were with the Packers. It was Kramer’s discussion about stem cell therapy at a reunion/autograph session several years ago which first got Horn interested in the subject. It also led to Don’s association with Kandace in the stem cell therapy field.

My association with Kandace led to another friendship, when she married Bret Saberhagen in February of 2019. I knew all about Bret and his career in Major League Baseball. A career that spanned 18 years in the big leagues in which Saberhagen twice won the American League Cy Young Award and also saw him being named the 1985 World Series MVP for the Kansas City Royals. In fact, I definitely feel that Bret deserves consideration for enshrinement in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. I wrote about that situation a little over a month ago.

I had never talked to Bret in the four years I covered the Milwaukee Brewers, as his rookie year came in 1984, a year after my last season covering the Brew Crew.

But I got to know Bret after he married Kandace, and while it was great to talk to Bret about his career in the big leagues, it was also very obvious that he and Kandace had an exceptional relationship. They were definitely a special blend as a couple.

Bret and Kandace first met in Chicago in May of 2018 when they were introduced to each other by Bill Bellah. This meeting occurred while Kandace was in the Windy City along with stem cell therapy advocate Mike Golic for a charity event.

Bellah explained to me how the meeting finally took place.

“It’s funny, I met Kandace through Kurt Walker, who had played in the NHL,” Bellah said. “He had been working with Kandace to help out older players in hockey with stem cell therapy. Unfortunately, Kurt passed away a couple of years ago. Anyway, when the hockey players were getting their stem cell procedures done at Kandace’s clinic, I let them use my house in Breckenridge (Colorado) to recuperate.

“Kandace, Don Horn and several others came to this birthday party that I had in Breckenridge. There were like 80 people there. Bret was there too. But at that time, Kandace was with Don, who was watching over her like a father. Bret was on the complete opposite side of the venue that I had put together, sitting by a fire pit. So they didn’t meet there.

“About eight months later, I had a charity event in St. Charles, Illinois. That is when Bret and Kandace finally met. Afterward, they both flew on my jet and they sat in the back of the plane. They really hit it off. It was great, because they are both great people. If I truly was cupid, they were a couple I would want to put together.”

The relationship between Bret and Kandace had begun. They soon realized that they had a lot in common, as Kandace explained to me.

“One of the first things I noticed about Bret was that he had a big heart,” Kandace said. “He’s just a great person, who is always looking out for me. We also have a lot of similar interests.”

Bret concurred.

“Obviously sports is one one reason we connected,” Bret said. “But it’s really everything. If Kandace wants to do one particular thing, I usually want to as well. The same holds true if I want to do something, she does as well. We just have similar likes. We both love cooking for instance. It doesn’t take a whole lot to make us happy.”

The relationship between the two was in full swing in October of 2018 when Bret asked Kandace if she was ever interested in getting married again.

Kandace on a swing

“When Bret asked me that, I said no, are you crazy,” Kandace said. “So I sat there for a minute and Bret was real quiet. Then I asked him if he was asking me to get married. And he said, ‘I might be.’ That was before I knew I was sick.

“A couple of days later, I felt a lump on my right side. At the time, we had a lot going on, as we were buying a house. So I went in and had a mammogram and the doctor told me it didn’t look good, but that he was going to send it off to get the test results. That was on a Friday. On Monday, they gave me the report. I really lost it when I heard the bad news. It was not the optimal time, as I was just ready to start the next chapter of my life. But God had other plans.

“I flew out of Colorado that day to go to Arizona. Bret’s daughter came out to stay with me. I was devastated the whole week and really couldn’t talk through a lot of things. I was meeting Bret that Friday. My mentality at that point was that I was going to have to let him go because I wasn’t going to take him into this situation with me. This was going to be huge ordeal. We were in the infantile stages of a serious relationship. I wasn’t going to have him take that on.

“Long story short, I met Bret in Chicago at the airport. I told him that I was sick and that I would love to spend the next chapter of my life with him, but that I’m going to have to do the next chapter alone and he wouldn’t be in it. Bret got what I said, but he cried. We both sat at the bar at Lou Malnati’s in downtown Chicago in front of crowded group and just sobbed unbearably. It was a very touching moment.

“The next day, Bret asked me if I would have coffee with him. I said sure. We passed like four different coffee shops before Bret pulled into the diamond district, also known as Jeweler’s Row and put a ring on my finger right there. He told me that we would start our time in sickness, but that we will also have happiness and asked me to marry him.”

“That was when my medical support from Bret started. He immediately moved from California to Colorado. Bret was with me on every IV and chemo treatment. He went with me on every doctor’s appointment. He was involved in everything I did. He made sure I had iron in my diet. Every time I threw up, he was there. He made a make-shift bucket on a stepladder by the bed so I didn’t have to leave the room and go into the bathroom. He would talk to my doctors one on one to see what would be best for me. He’s carried me up the stairs when I couldn’t walk. He also made me stop working and go on medical leave. He was with me every step of the way. That continues to this day.”

Bret and Kandace got married on February 16, 2019 in Paso Robles, California, which is also where the couple currently lives. Don Horn made the toast at the reception.

Don's toast at the wedding

Don Horn toasts Bret and Kandace Saberhagen.

“It was fantastic,” Kandace said. “There was a huge winery. There were 100 of our closest friends who celebrated with us.”

One thing that seems to be a common denominator when I talk to Bret and Kandace is their absolute love of cooking.

“We love to cook any type of meal. Italian, Mexican, American cuisine, you name it,” Bret said. “It’s a wide variety. I’m not a big seafood fan, so there is not a lot a seafood being cooked. I will  do shrimp though. I’m more of a meat and potatoes guy.

“Because I played so long in Kansas City, I just love to barbeque.  But as I said, I love to cook just about anything.”

Kandace talked about the pleasure of cooking with Bret.

“Cooking has become a major part of our lifestyle,” Kandace said. “I’m trying to be as humble as possible, and I’m not so much talking about the outcome of the food, but it’s really how we cook. It’s almost like a dance in the kitchen. We love to entertain. One of Bret’s specialties is the way he cooks his steaks. They are just phenomenal. The potatoes are great as well because of some of the ingredients we use. We spend a lot of time in the kitchen. It’s huge kitchen and it takes up most of our house. We also have an area outside where we can cook and grill.”

Bret and Kandace have a three-year plan. They obviously want to enjoy their life together. They would also eventually like to do a cooking show together. Plus they want to make sure people have the awareness about medical issues that Kandace and so many women go through each day in their lives. In lieu of that, Bret recently put out a statement on the Facebook page that the couple has, called The Saberhagens.

NEW ADDRESS and new name for our nonprofit! Each month I receive hundreds of cards, baseballs, and pictures to sign for people. All I ask is for a small donation to our nonprofit. My wife and I gave my old nonprofit that has not been doing anything for years a new facelift and made it something near and dear to us. SabesWings will relaunch next month in honor of my wife’s battle with breast cancer. It will assist those who suffer from medical financial toxicity. More information to come! In the meantime, our new nonprofit address is: 179 Niblick Road #411, Paso Robles, CA 93446! We receive so many requests for autographs and the best way to do it is send what you want signed to the above address with a return stamped envelope and a small donation to SabesWings! Pretty simple and your donation goes to those who struggle to pay for cancer treatments! It’s a cool way to give back. Suggested minimum donations $10 per 1 baseball card, $25 per signed ball, $50 per jersey, $25 for miscellaneous items. PLEASE include return shipping!!

Family is huge component in the relationship of Bret and Kandace. Together they have six children who range in age from 11 to 34. The oldest is Drew Saberhagen, who is 34 and is married to Kelsey. They have a baby named Sawyer and they are expecting another baby. Next up is Bret’s daughter Brittany, who is 33. She is married to Jacob Zachar.  Third on the list is Dalton Saberhagen, who is 28 and still single.

The Saberhagen Family

From left to right, Brittany Zachar, Aidan Stolz, Bret Saberhagen, Layton Stolz, Kandace Saberhagen, Drew Saberhagen and Dalton Saberhagen.

Plus there are the three children who are 16 or under. They are Kandace’s son Aidan Stoltz and Hannah Saberhagen, who are both 16 and are just five days apart with their birthdays. The baby of the family is Layton Stolz, who is 11.

Bottom line, It’s been a difficult time for Bret and Kandace, as they try to stay as positive as they can while Kandace, through Bret’s great assistance, battles breast cancer. Kandace is using alternative therapies to help her fight the good fight. That is why SabesWings will be launched next month.

I often hear from my friends and associates about how jealous they are of me because of all of the sports celebrities I have been able to interview and do stories on. I am indeed very blessed to have had that opportunity.

I have had the opportunity to interview Hall of Famers like Bart Starr, Jerry Kramer, Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Carl Yastrzemski, Johnny Bench, Reggie Jackson, Robin Yount, Rollie Fingers, Don Sutton, Paul Molitor and Ted Simmons.

It would be awesome if Bret can join that group someday soon. I know he deserves at least a chance to have his candidacy talked about in terms of someday having a plaque in Cooperstown.

In terms of the human life Hall of Fame, both Bret and Kandace are definitely members from my perspective. I hope and pray that their life together is long and rewarding. No couple deserves it more.

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.

Johnny “Blood” McNally Traveled His Way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Johnny McNally

There have been a number of really interesting characters who have played for the Green Bay Packers in the over 100 years that the team has been in existence, but maybe the most fascinating was Johnny “Blood” McNally.

I know I heard about the exploits of McNally often from my grandpa and my dad while I was a young lad. I grew up in the 1960s and was enthralled by the Vince Lombardi Packers, which won five NFL titles in seven years. Bart Starr was one of my heroes and I grew up collecting the football cards and bottle caps of players like Jim Taylor, Jerry Kramer, Ray Nitschke, Willie Davis and Herb Adderley, as well as going to some of their games. But my grandpa and dad made sure I knew about the Packers who played under Curly Lambeau, who also won six NFL titles, which included players like McNally, Don Hutson, Arnie Herber and Clark Hinkle.

McNally was born in New Richmond, Wisconsin in 1903. His father owned some newspapers, as well as some flour mills, so McNally lived better than most in the early 20th century.

After graduating from New Richmond High School, McNally became a bit of a nomad in college, as he went to River Falls State Normal School, St. John’s (Minnesota) and Notre Dame. That bit of traveling became a precursor to what McNally would do once he joined the NFL.

At St. John’s, McNally was a star in both football and baseball, plus was an excellent debater and acted in a number of theatrical plays, in which he often had the lead role.

In 1925, McNally had a job as a stereotyper for the Minneapolis Tribune (owned by a family member). That was when he and his buddy Ralph Hanson, tried out with the East 26th Street Liberties, a semiprofessional football team. Because he still had a year of college football eligibility left, McNally decided to not use his given name in playing for the team.

While McNally and Hanson were headed to a practice with the Liberties on a motorcycle, they passed a theater which was showing a film entitled Blood and Sand starring Rudolph Valentino. It was then when McNally said to his buddy Hanson, “That’s it! I’ll be Blood, you be Sand.” The legend of Johnny Blood was born at that moment.

Shortly thereafter, McNally played with the Milwaukee Badgers in the NFL, playing in six games and starting five. In 1926, McNally went to play for the Duluth Eskimos, which was led by the legendary Ernie Nevers. Unfortunately, the Eskimos folded after the 1927 season and in 1928, McNally went to play for the Pottsville Maroons.

But it was in 1929, when Lambeau was able to acquire McNally for his Packers, that the name Johnny Blood really became legend. McNally was part of a team that won three straight NFL titles from 1929 through 1931.

McNally was a multi-talented player, as he could throw, run and catch. He was one of the NFL’s first big-play threats. In 1931, when the forward pass was hardly used in the NFL (nor statistics officially counted), McNally caught 10 touchdown passes. That was a record that would stand for 10  years until Hutson tied that mark in 1941 and then broke it in 1942.

Before Hutson arrived, the Packers had a great one-two combination in the passing game when they threw to McNally and Lavvie Dilweg.

But as good as he was on the field, his actions off the field were also somewhat legendary. Let’s just say that McNally like to throw back the alcohol. One time, during contract negotiations, Lambeau offered McNally $110 a game if he stopped drinking after Tuesday each week. McNally countered, “Make it Wednesday and I’ll take an even hundred.”

Lambeau eventually had enough and traded McNally to the the NFL Pittsburgh Pirates in 1934. McNally came back to the Packers in 1935 and in 1936, the Packers won another NFL championship. But in 1937, McNally was traded back to Pittsburgh where he was a player-coach the last two years he played in the NFL. Because of all of his travels in the NFL, McNally was also nicknamed “The Vagabond Halfback” when he played.

Johnny Blood and company

Dan Currie, Gale Gillingham, Johnny “Blood” McNally and Francis Peay before a Packers game at Lambeau Field in 1972. Photo courtesy of Sandy Sullivan.

When he retired from football in 1939, McNally held NFL career records for most seasons played (15) in the league, 37 touchdowns scored (only those after 1932 were officially counted), and 224 points scored (only post-1932). We know McNally had 10 touchdown receptions in 1931 alone, so who knows how the stat total would look today for Johnny Blood had statistics from 1925 through 1931 had been counted. The exploits of McNally put him on the NFL All-1930s team for the decade in which his stats were actually counted.

As it was, in 1963, when the Pro Football Hall of Fame was founded, McNally was part of the 17-member inaugural class, which also included Lambeau, Hutson and Cal Hubbard of the Packers.

McNally’s wild nights off the field have probably only been somewhat duplicated by the likes of Paul Hornung and Max McGee when they played with the Packers. The role of George Clooney’s character (Dodge Connolly) in the film Leatherheads in 2008 was partly based on McNally.

Bottom line, Johnny “Blood” McNally was definitely one of a kind, both on and off the football field!