Green Bay Packers: Clark Hinkle was the Toughest of the Tough

Clark Hinkle

packers.com

The Green Bay Packers won six NFL titles under head coach Curly Lambeau. Those NFL championship teams have been honored by having a number of the players from those teams get inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

That would include Lambeau himself, along with Cal Hubbard, Don Hutson, Johnny “Blood” McNally, Clark Hinkle, Mike Michalske and Arnie Herber.

There should be at least three other players who also played for the Packers in that era who also deserve a bust in Canton. I’m talking about Lavvie Dilweg, Verne Lewellen and Cecil Isbell.

In fact, they all came close to getting in the Hall of Fame recently, as all three were among the 20 finalists for the centennial class in 2020.

I heard all about those players from my dad, as we would be eating dinner talking sports while I was growing up. The Lambeau Packers were the ones my dad grew up watching and by the time he was 18 and serving his country in the Pacific during World War II in the Navy, he had seen the Pack win six NFL titles, including one in person, as he and his dad saw the Packers defeat the New York Giants 27-0 at State Fair Park in West Allis (a Milwaukee suburb) in 1939.

So while I was enamored with the Vince Lombardi Packers in the 1960s and players like Bart Starr, Paul Horning, Jim Taylor, Jerry Kramer, Willie Davis, Ray Nitschke and Herb Adderley, dad made sure that I learned about the earlier version of the Packers under Lambeau.

When I watched the Packers of my childhood, I was in awe of the toughness of players like Taylor and Nitschke and would gush about them to my dad. My father agreed with my assessment, but then told me about the toughest player he ever saw play for the Packers when he was a kid. The player he was talking about was Clark Hinkle.

Hinkle played both fullback and linebacker during his playing days and he was ferocious, both as a runner and a tackler. In addition to that, Hinkle was a fine receiver when called upon, plus could also kick and punt.

But when it came to being just flat out mean and vicious in terms of tenacity, no one could top Hinkle. Not to mention, Hinkle was very talented as well.

The 5’11”, 202-pound Hinkle played much larger than his size. He joined the Packers in 1932 after playing his college football at Bucknell, which was right after the Packers had won three straight NFL titles (before the playoff era started in 1933).

In 10 years in the NFL, Hinkle gained 3,860 yards on the ground. When he retired after the 1941 season, that was the NFL record for rushing yards at the time. Hinkle also scored 35 touchdowns on the ground.

In his career, Hinkle also caught 49 passes for 537 yards and nine more scores. In terms of overall scoring, Hinkle scored 379 points in his career, as he scored 44 touchdowns, kicked 31 extra points and 28 field goals.

Plus just like Lewellen was for the Packers in the 1920s, Hinkle was considered the best punter in the NFL when he played.

Clark Hinkle punting

On defense, opponents of the Packers always kept a close eye on Hinkle, as he would bring the lumber on every play. Ken Strong, who is another Hall of Famer who mostly played with the Giants, said this about Hinkle, “When he hit you, you knew you were hit. Bells rang and you felt it all the way to your toes.”

Hinkle had a great competition with Bronco Nagurski of the Bears, who also played fullback and linebacker. In fact, both Hinkle and Nagurski were selected to the NFL All-Decade team from the 1930s at fullback. They had a number of collisions with each other when they played in the still fierce rivalry between the Packers and da Bears.

Hinkle talked about one of those impacts. “I was carrying the ball and Nagurski charged in to make the tackle. WHAM! We banged into each other. Nagurski had to be removed from the game with a broken nose and two closed eyes. Strangely enough, I suffered no ill effects and was able to continue playing.”

Nagurski certainly respected Hinkle, as he once said, “The toughest man I ever played against.”

In his ten years in the NFL, Hinkle was named first-team All-Pro four times and second-team All-Pro six times. Hinkle also was named to three Pro Bowl teams.

In 1964, which was the second year of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Hinkle joined Lambeau, Hubbard, Hutson and McNally in Canton, as they were part of the inaugural class the year before.

In 1972, Hinkle was enshrined into the Packers Hall of Fame.

There are two practice fields across the street from Lambeau Field, one on each side of the Don Hutson Center. One is Ray Nitschke Field, where the team practices in front of the fans in training camp, while the other is named Clark Hinkle Field, which is the practice field closest to Lambeau.

The names for the practice fields are very apropos. Nitschke was as tough as they came during his era in the NFL.

The same could certainly be said about Hinkle when he played in the NFL.

Green Bay Packers: Will Clay Matthews III Come Back to Titletown?

Clay Jr and Clay III After Super Bowl XLV

Author Thomas Wolfe once wrote, “You Can’t Go Home Again.” Well, Clay Matthews III might just prove Wolfe wrong for the second year in a row.

In 2019, even though Matthews wanted to remain in Green Bay and finish his career as a Packer, the team never gave Matthews a chance to stay in Titletown. Matthews was an unrestricted free agent and was willing to take less money to stay with the Pack, but that opportunity never materialized, as general manager Brian Gutekunst and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine thought they were set at outside linebacker with the signings of Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith in free agency.

Plus the team also had Kyler Fackrell, who had led the team in sacks in 2018 with 10.5.

So, Matthews went home to his old stomping grounds in southern California, as he signed with the Los Angeles Rams as a free agent. Matthews grew up in that region and played his college football at USC.

Matthews had a very nice year for the Rams, even though he missed three games due to a broken jaw. Still, No. 52 had 37 tackles, eight sacks and two forced fumbles as a right outside linebacker.

And after the somewhat shocking release of Matthews by the Rams yesterday, there is a chance that Matthews could once again return to his first NFL home in Green Bay. But there will be other suitors as well, as Matthews was contacted by 14 NFL teams after his release by the Rams.

The situation has changed quite a bit for the Packers now at the linebacker position in terms of Matthews coming back to Titletown. The Packers have seen three linebackers leave the team in free agency, as Fackrell (New York Giants), Blake Martinez (New York Giants) and B.J. Goodson (Cleveland Browns) all moved on.

The Packers did sign free agent Christian Kirksey to handle one of the inside linebacker positions. But that still leaves a possible spot open for another ILB, although Oren Burks may be given an opportunity there, along with second-year ILB’s Tyler Summers and Curtis Bolton.

Matthews played very well at ILB in 2014 and 2015 when the Packers moved him there to shore up the run defense. Matthews was recognized for his efforts, as he went to the Pro Bowl in both of those seasons.

Matthews has the talent and versatility to move inside or outside depending on the situation. But it’s good to know that No. 52 has a great track record in either situation.

Matthews was originally drafted by the Packers in the first round of the 2009 NFL draft by then general manager Ted Thompson. Matthews was the second of two first round picks by Green Bay that year, as the team selected defensive tackle B.J. Raji with pick No. 9 and then Matthews with pick No. 26.

Clay and B.J. as rookies

The defense of the Packers became one of the best in the NFL in 2009 with the additions of Raji and Matthews, as Green Bay was ranked No. 2 in total defense that season after being ranked No. 20 in 2008. Matthews went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, as he had 10 sacks.

In 2010, the Packers once again had a great defense, as they were ranked No. 5 in total defense. Matthews was a big reason why. Once again, No. 52 went to the Pro Bowl and was also named AP first-team All-Pro.

In his 10-year career as a Packer, Matthews had 482 total tackles, a franchise record 83.5 sacks, 40 passes defended, six interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), 15 forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries (one returned for a score).

That type of production led Matthews to be honored with six overall Pro Bowl berths, as well as being named AP first-team All-Pro once and AP second-team All-Pro once.

Matthews was also a terror in the postseason. In 15 games, No. 52 had 53 tackles, 11 sacks, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

No forced fumble was bigger than the one he helped to cause in Super Bowl XLV in the 2010 postseason. Matthews forced Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall to fumble on the first snap of the fourth quarter in Super Bowl XLV, with help from defensive lineman Ryan Pickett.

Pittsburgh was driving for a potential go-ahead score at the Packers’ 33-yard line until Matthews’ helmet dislodged the football, popping it into the air.

Clay forces fumble in Super Bowl XLV

The Packers took advantage of that turnover with a touchdown drive and went on to win 31-25 and the team’s fourth Super Bowl prize, aptly named the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Matthews has great lineage, as he is the son of Clay Matthews Jr., who I believe rightfully deserves a bust at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Much like Jerry Kramer, when he was finally recognized in 2018.

The Matthews family has cast a large net over the NFL throughout the years, starting with Clay Matthews Sr., who played with the San Francisco 49ers for four years. Clay Sr. started his career with the Niners in 1950, then served two years as a paratrooper during the Korean War for the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, and then came back and played with the 49ers from 1953 through 1955.

After that, his son’s Bruce and Clay Jr. both had terrific careers in the NFL.

Bruce was inducted into the Hall of Fame after a great career with the Houston Oilers for 14 years and then with the Tennessee Titans for five years after the team moved to Nashville.

Clay Jr. certainly deserves the same honor after 19 great years with the Browns and Falcons.

Plus there are Clay Sr.’s grandsons. There is Clay III, plus there is his brother Casey, who played with the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings. In addition, there are Bruce’s sons, one being Kevin, who played with the Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers and also Jake, who still plays with the Atlanta Falcons.

Bottom line, time will tell, but it would be ideal if Matthews returned to Green Bay to finish his career, which is what he wanted to do all along. He fills a need, still plays fast, plus is very productive.

Let’s also not forget that the Packers were ranked just 18th in total defense least year and just 23rd in run defense, plus were embarrassed in the 2019 NFC title game trying to stop the run.

And just like he did in 2014 and 2015, Matthews can help shore up that issue at inside linebacker.

If Matthews did return, that would mean that there would be just four players on the Packers who were also on the Super Bowl XLV team. The other three are Aaron Rodgers, Mason Crosby and Tramon Williams.

Williams left the Packers for three years before he returned home. It’s only been one year for Matthews, but returning to his original NFL home in Green Bay would certainly be apropos.

When Jerry Kramer Knew Bart Starr Would Keep the Ball on his QB Sneak in the ‘Ice Bowl’

Bart's QB sneak behind Jerry

Photo by John Biever

Looking back on the 100 years of history in the NFL, the play is considered one of the most iconic plays in league annals. I’m talking about Bart Starr and his surprising quarterback sneak in the closing seconds of the 1967 NFL Championship Game, better known as the “Ice Bowl” game between the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers at frigid Lambeau Field.

With just 16 seconds remaining in the game and with his team having no timeouts, Starr followed the classic block by right guard Jerry Kramer on defensive tackle Jethro Pugh, as he shuffled to the right of Kramer’s block  and tumbled happily into the end zone, as the Packers defeated the Cowboys 21-17 to win their third straight NFL title.

Before we dissect that play and talk about the many interesting nuances about that call, let’s first look at the arctic conditions the NFL title game was being played under.

The weather in Green Bay on December 30, 1967 was fairly mild as the Cowboys worked out for a while at Lambeau Field the day before the game. The field was soft and although it was cold (high 20s and low 30s), it was not bitterly cold.

That all changed on December 31, 1967, as one never knows what will happen in the region where the Fox River connects to the bay off Lake Michigan in the winter.

Yes, when the NFL title game started between the Cowboys and Packers began, the temperature was -13°. If you added in the wind throughout the game, the temperature plummeted to -50°.

Nice weather if you are a polar bear. But not if you are a professional football player. Making matters worse, as the game wore on, the field became an ice skating rink.

In the game, the Packers jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, thanks to two Starr touchdown passes to Boyd Dowler.

The Packers also had a fantastic chance to increase their lead, when cornerback Herb Adderley picked off a pass from quarterback Don Meredith of the Cowboys and took it to the 32 yard line of the Cowboys in the second quarter. But the Packers squandered that opportunity and didn’t score.

The momentum of the game changed late in that second quarter. Starr fumbled as he was hit by defensive end Willie Townes of the Cowboys going back to pass, and the other defensive end, former Marquette star George Andrie, scooped up the ball in rumbled in for a touchdown from seven yards out with a little over four minutes to go before halftime.

Then with less than two minutes to go in the first half, Willie Wood fumbled a punt from Danny Villanueva at the 17 yard line of the Packers. That led to a 21-yard field goal by Villanueva to make the score 14-10 at halftime.

In the second half, the offense of the  Packers was being throttled the defense of the Cowboys.

Things were so bad, that the Packers had had minus-nine yards in 31 plays in the second half at one point.

Then on the first play of the fourth quarter, the Cowboys took a 17-14 lead when wide receiver Lance Rentzel caught a 50-yard touchdown pass from halfback Dan Reeves on the first play of the fourth quarter.

That was the score when the Packers got the ball back on their own 32 yard line with just 4:50 left in the game.

Somehow the Packers were going to have to trudge 68 yards across the arctic-like football field to win the game.

I wrote a story about that ensuing drive, as Kramer, halfback Donny Anderson and Chuck Mercein provided the commentary.

Here is part of that article:

“I don’t think we ever considered the possibility of losing,” Kramer said. “We didn’t really acknowledge the fact that we didn’t gain any yardage in 31 plays prior to that. We knew where we were when we got in the final huddle. We knew what we had to do.

“I asked Bart about that years later, about what made him think we could go 68 yards and score a touchdown after we had made minus-nine yards on 31 plays prior to that. Bart said, ‘Jerry, I came into the huddle and started to say something. Then I looked in your eyes, I looked at Forrest’s eyes and everyone else in the huddle, and I knew I didn’t have to say anything. So all I said was, ‘Let’s go.’

Kramer said there was calm in that huddle.

“Even at that point of the game there wasn’t any panic with us,” No. 64 said. “There was a sense of urgency however. We still believed that we could do it.

“The beautiful part of that was the contribution by so many different players in that drive. Players like Chuck Mercein, Boyd Dowler and Donny Anderson.”

Anderson concurred with Kramer about what needed to be on that drive.

“I recall that there was no nonsense at all on that drive,” Anderson said. “It represented the discipline that Lombardi had taught us. We knew that we had to execute and we were determined to get the job done.”

The drive started with Starr completing a swing pass to Anderson which gained six yards. On the next play, Mercein ran the ball for seven more yards off tackle to the 45-yard line and near the sideline of the Packers.

Chuck Mercein II

Mercein vividly recalled that moment.

“I remember that play well, as it was the our initial first down of the drive,” Mercein said. “That was a big confidence booster for me and the team. Because at that point, none of us had done anything in the second half. I’ll never forget because I kind of got shoved out of bounds right in front of the Green Bay bench. I could hear Coach Lombardi yell, ‘Atta boy, Chuck!’ That really brought my spirits up. It was wonderful.”

On the next play, Starr completed his only pass to a wide receiver in the drive, as Dowler caught a pass that gained 13 yards and another first down. Dowler ended up having to leave the game for a few plays, as he was shook up a little after his head hit the frozen turf hard after he was tackled.

Even though Dowler only caught one pass in that drive, it was his two early touchdown receptions from Starr which put the Packers in position to win the game on that drive.

After the Dowler catch, this is when Mercein and the Packers had a hiccup in the drive. Townes made another big play, as he broke through and tackled Anderson for a nine-yard loss.

Mercein explained what happened on the play.

“It was the Green Bay sweep and my responsibility was to block the defensive end there,” Mercein said. “I expected Townes to be on my outside shoulder, but he rushed inside instead, and I only was able to brush him with my left shoulder. I didn’t give him a good enough pop and he was able to get through and put us in a big hole.

I felt particularly bad about that because of my bad execution. It was the lowlight of the drive for me.”

That loss put the Packers in a second and 19 hole, but two swing passes to Anderson netted 22 yards and the Packers had a big first down. If you look at those receptions on film, you see some pretty nifty footwork by Anderson. Not easily done on a truly frozen tundra.

Anderson explained.

“I recall that I had to balance myself,” Anderson said. “Not to run like a sprinter, but to balance yourself. Be a little more flat-footed. I also figured that a quicker guy might be better off under those conditions than a heavier guy.”

Donny Anderson in the Ice Bowl

It was at that point when Mercein caught a 19-yard swing pass from Starr after first conferring with No. 15.

“Sure enough, I was open just like I expected and Bart flipped the pass to me that got caught up in the wind a bit and I caught it over my outside shoulder, ” Mercein said. “I was able to outrun linebacker Dave Edwards and took the pass to the 11-yard line, plus was able to get out of bounds.”

The next play was a running play, known as a give play to Mercein.

“Bart saved that give play for the right exact time,” Mercein said. “Bart later said it was the best play call he ever made.”

On the give play, left guard Gale Gillingham pulls to the right, which then opens up a hole as defensive tackle Bob Lilly followed Gillingham down the line. Still, left tackle Bob Skoronski had to seal off defensive end George Andrie to make the play work.

“On that play, if Bob didn’t block [George] Andrie on that play, Mercein would get killed,” Kramer said. “It was a very difficult block, too. So Bart looked at “Ski” and asked if he could make that block before the play. And “Ski” simply said, ‘Call it, on two.’

Mercein vividly recalls that run.

“The hole was great and I can still see that hole,” Mercein said. “I can still hear myself clomping down on the ice with the noise of my cleats hitting the ice. It was very loud. Forrest Gregg was coming down from the right tackle spot and if I could have cut, I think I could have scored.”

As it was, the Packers had a second and two from the three-yard line of the Cowboys. Anderson then took a hand off from Starr and to many it appeared that Anderson scored on the play. But the referee instead placed the ball about 18 inches from the goal line and it was first and goal.

“After the run, I’m laying across the goal line with my waist and the ball,” Anderson said. “Cornell Green of the Cowboys yelled that I scored, while Jethro Pugh told him to be quiet. The ref then picks up the ball and puts it 18 inches back from the goal line.

“Later on as we saw film of the game, Coach Lombardi said to me, ‘Young man, I think they took one away from you there.’

After two two unsuccessful running attempts by Anderson to score after that, as he slipped both times, the Packers called their final timeout. There were 16 seconds to go in the game.

This brings us to a key point of the game just before Starr carried the ball on his own on the quarterback sneak. Kramer has maintained that he knew Starr was going to carry the football.

No. 64 even wrote about that in his classic book, Instant Replay. Kramer wrote, “In the huddle, Bart said, ‘Thirty-one wedge and I’ll carry the ball.’

The problem is that no one else in the huddle heard that from Starr. And I’ve talked to Anderson, Mercein, Dowler and Carroll Dale. They all heard Starr call the 31 wedge play, but nothing about him carrying the football by himself.

That being said, I believe I have pinpointed when Starr told Kramer he was going to carry the ball himself.

If you have ever seen A Football Life – Vince Lombardi from NFL Films, Starr and Kramer talk about what happened after No. 15 called his final timeout of the game just before the sneak.

Kramer: “We take our final timeout and Bart asked me if I could make a block.”

Starr: “Can you get your footing for one more wedge play?”

Kramer: “Yeah, I think so.”

I believe it was at this moment that Starr told Kramer, and no other player on the field, that he was going to carry the ball.

Starr then went to the sideline and told Coach Lombardi that the wedge play was still the right call, but that he would carry the ball himself because the backs were slipping.

Lombardi concurred and replied, “Then run it and let’s get the hell out of here.”

I have mentioned this possible scenario to Kramer and he thought that my take was very plausible.

I can understand the confusion about the play from Kramer’s perspective. For one thing, the crucial wedge play itself was derived from film study by Kramer.

Kramer was watching film on the Cowboys and specifically regarding how they lined up in short-yardage situations.

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

And little did Kramer know that the play of the game would come down to his block and the play he suggested. That’s a hell of a lot of pressure.

So when Starr called the play, first by conferring with Kramer himself, what went through the mind of No. 64?

“Responsibility. I mean I had suggested the play on Thursday. It seemed like the play was squarely on my shoulders,” Kramer said. “I knew I had to perform. I knew that to be successful as a blocker that I had to keep my head up and my eyes open.

“And also put my face into the chest of the defensive tackle [Pugh]. That is not the easiest thing to do, but it’s the safest and the surest way to make a block. I felt great personal responsibility to the team on that block. When I came off the ball, I was on fire.”

Bottom line, one can see how there might have been a little uncertainty from Kramer regarding how Starr called the 31 wedge play knowing the magnitude of the moment.

Speaking of the 31 wedge play, if run the way it is supposed to, it simply means that the 3-back (fullback) goes to the 1-hole (between the center and the right guard).

Which bring us to center Ken Bowman and the role he played on this block.

“I’ve analyzed that play a lot. “Bow” was there, there is no question about that,” Kramer said. “But when Jethro got up like I expected and then I got into him, the rest was a forgone conclusion. Jethro was then out of position and also out of the play. The play was over for him then.”

IMAG0498

Plus, Starr did not go in between Bowman and Kramer like the play was designed. Instead, Starr shuffled to Kramer’s right and into a hole between No. 64 and right tackle Forrest Gregg.

And as I have I written about in another article, Starr’s intuitive sense of transferring the ball from his right arm to his left on the game-winning sneak was very timely and extremely important. Especially when one sees linebacker Chuck Howley ripping at Starr’s empty right arm as he crosses the goal line.

Yes, there certainly were a number of significant details about why Starr’s quarterback sneak was successful in the “Ice Bowl” game and is now considered the greatest play in the over 100-year history of the Packers.

Only One Player from the Vince Lombardi Green Bay Packers on the NFL 100 All-Time Team? Really???

NFL 100 All-Time Team(1)

I can imagine the response from Vince Lombardi in the spiritual world when he saw the final roster for the NFL 100 All-Time Team.

“What the hell’s going on out here?”

Now I’m sure that Lombardi was pleased that he was included among the coaches who were part of this NFL 100 All-Time Team, but to have only one player from his team when he was head coach of the Green Bay Packers make this illustrious squad, had to be appalling to someone who had as much pride as Lombardi had.

I’m talking about his team in Green Bay (aka Titletown) which won five NFL championships in seven years, which included the first two Super Bowls.

Plus, his teams that won the NFL titles in 1965, 1966 and 1967, became the only franchise to ever win three championships in a row since the playoff era started in the NFL in 1933.

That feat has never been duplicated before or since.

Lombardi’s Green Bay teams were 9-1 in the postseason overall.

Forrest Gregg vs. Deacon Jones

Even with that sparkling track record, only right tackle Forrest Gregg was deemed good enough to make the NFL 100 All-Time Team from those Lombardi teams.

To me, that’s a BIG crock!

Yes, safety Emlen Tunnell was also on the NFL 100 team, but he only played three years under Lombardi in Green Bay and spent the major part (11 years) of his NFL career with the New York Giants.

Now the Packers did get some representation on the all-time team, as Curly Lambeau was also part of the group of coaches.

Plus there were players like Don Hutson, Cal Hubbard, Brett Favre and Reggie White who made the all-time NFL 100.

But you can’t tell me that Bart Starr shouldn’t have been included among the all-time team at quarterback.

Or that Jerry Kramer shouldn’t have been among the group of all-time 100 guards.

Or that Ray Nitschke shouldn’t have been in the group of linebackers who made the NFL 100 team.

Or that Herb Adderley shouldn’t been part of the group of cornerbacks on the all-time 100 team.

I could go on and on.

There is halfback Paul Horning.

There is fullback Jim Taylor.

There is center Jim Ringo.

There is defensive end Willie Davis.

There is defensive tackle Henry Jordan.

There is linebacker Dave Robinson.

There is safety Willie Wood.

There is safety Bobby Dillon.

All of those players are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for a reason, although it took far too long for some of them to get inducted.

Plus, there are others who played under Lombardi in Green Bay who also most certainly deserve consideration for getting a bust in Canton. I’m talking about wide receiver Boyd Dowler, tight end Ron Kramer and guard Gale Gillingham.

Guard Fuzzy Thurston and kicker/punter Don Chandler also deserve an opportunity to be talked about in the seniors committee room regarding their accomplishments in the NFL.

But for this exercise, I’m just going to focus on why at least Starr, Kramer, Nitschke and Adderley all definitely deserved to be part of the NFL 100 All-Time Team.

Bart's QB sneak behind Jerry

Photo by John Biever

So why does Starr deserve to be on the all-time team? Well, he did lead the Packers to five NFL titles in seven years. No NFL quarterback ever accomplished that type of achievement in a shorter period of time.

No. 15 was also the MVP of both Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II, plus was MVP of the NFL in 1966.

In addition to that, Starr led the NFL passing three times, and is the highest-rated passer of all time (with at least 200 passing attempts) when it counts the most…the NFL postseason. Bart had a 104.6 passer rating, as he threw 15 touchdown passes to just three interceptions in leading the Packers to a 9-1 record in the postseason.

So, how in the hell could Starr be left out of a group of the 10 best quarterbacks of all time? I have no idea, but the fact that he was left out does not bode well for the NFL history education of some of the voters.

The same goes for Kramer. No. 64 was named first-team All-Pro five times and went to three Pro Bowls. Kramer would have won more awards if not for injuries and illness.

Jerry also performed in the big games, much like Starr did. Kramer’s performance in the NFL title games in 1962, 1965 and 1967 put an exclamation point on that criteria.

Jerry was also named to the NFL All-Decade Team in the 1960s, plus was the only guard named to the first team on the NFL 50th Anniversary Team.

But Jerry was left off the NFL 100 All-Time Team. What made that even more outrageous is that two guards who were behind Kramer on the 50th Anniversary Team, Dan Fortmann (second team) and Jim Parker (third team), made the NFL 100 team.

That is a slap in the face to the voters of the NFL 50th Anniversary Team. Voters who actually witnessed the exploits of the players who they voted for. Unlike the voters of today, who seem to think the NFL started in 1980.

Nitschke was also on the first team of the 50th Anniversary Team. No. 66 was also named All-Pro five times, but for some unbelievable reason, was named to just one Pro Bowl squad.

Ray was the face of those great defenses that the Packers had under Phil Bengtson in Green Bay. The Packers were always a Top 10 defense when Bengtson was the defensive coordinator under Lombardi and were Top 5 seven times and were ranked No. 1 twice.

And Nitschke was the leader of that defense, which is why he was named to the NFL All-Decade Team of the 1960s. No. 66 was also named MVP of the 1962 NFL title game.

Ray bloody

But like Starr and Kramer, Nitschke did not make the NFL 100 squad. On the 50th Anniversary Team, Nitschke was first team, while Joe Schmidt was second team, but it was Schmidt who made the 100 team, not Nitschke.

Adderley was also on the 50th Anniversary Team (third team). Dick “Night Train” Lane was first team on that 50 team and was considered the best cornerback of his generation, due to his ball-hawking ability and his tenacious and vicious tackling.

Adderley played a similar style of football and he and Lane were considered high above any cornerbacks in the era in which they played in. Why? They played the pass and run equally well.

Compare that to someone like Deion Sanders, who is on the NFL 100 squad. There is no question that Sanders was the best shut-down cornerback in his day versus the pass, but against the run, Deion often looked like he was looking for a fox hole to dive into, as offensive linemen and running backs were heading his way.

Teams never passed on the side of the field that Sanders occupied, but they almost always ran in his direction.

Anyway, back to Adderley. No. 26 had 48 picks for 1,046 yards and seven touchdowns in his NFL career. 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 also played on six teams which won NFL titles.

Herb vs. the Colts

Like Starr, Kramer and Nitschke, Adderley was also on the NFL All-Decade Team of the 1960s. No. 26 was named All-Pro four times and went to five Pro Bowls.

No. 26 also came up big in the postseason, as he had five picks, which included a 60-yard interception return for a touchdown versus the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl II.

Bottom line, it’s unfathomable that only one member of those fabulous Vince Lombardi teams put together in Green Bay in the 1960s made the NFL 100 All-Time Team.

It’s actually embarrassing. For some of the voters, that is.

Looking Back on the Super Bowl I Victory by the Green Bay Packers Over the Kansas City Chiefs

Bart in Super Bowl I

The Green Bay Packers have won 13 NFL titles, which is the most by any team in league history.  The next closest team, the Chicago Bears, have won nine.

Included in their 13 NFL championships, the Packers have also won four Super Bowls.

Let’s take a look back on the first Super Bowl win by the Pack, which was Super Bowl I.

Going into Super Bowl I, which at the time was called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game, the Packers were 12-2 in the Western Conference in the NFL during the1966 season and had defeated the Dallas Cowboys 34-27 in the NFL title game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

The Chiefs were 11-2-1 that season in the AFL and defeated the Buffalo Bills 31-7 in the AFL title game at War Memorial Stadium in Buffalo.

When the two teams met in Super Bowl I, which was played on January 15, 1967, the Packers ended up winning the first championship game between the NFL and AFL 35-10, as quarterback Bart Starr was named the MVP of the game.

No. 15 completed 16-of-23 passes for 250 yards and also threw two touchdown passes. Starr was especially deadly on third down, as the Packers were able to convert 11-of-15 chances on that crucial down.

Fullback Jim Taylor led the Packers in rushing with 56 yards in Super Bowl I and also scored a touchdown on the vaunted play of the Packers, the power sweep.

Jim Taylor scores on power sweep in Super Bowl I

How the championship game got it’s Super Bowl name actually came from Lamar Hunt’s daughter. Hunt was the then-owner of the Chiefs, and like most kids of that era, Hunt’s daughter had a super ball.

The super ball was a rubber ball (with something super inside it) that could bounce way up into the air from the sidewalk and over houses. I had one myself. Anyway, that is how the title game between the NFL and the AFL got its name.

The game occurred after the merger of the two leagues in June of 1966, after the AFL had been trying to sign big-name stars out of the NFL as well as bidding against them to sign talent out of the college ranks after their respective drafts.

To illustrate the magnitude of the game, it was televised by not one, but by two networks, CBS and NBC. CBS was the NFL’s network, while NBC was the AFL‘s network. Between the two, there were over 51 million viewers that day.

The event was also the only game in Super Bowl history that was not a sellout. It was played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and the attendance was only 61,946 in a stadium that could seat close to 93,000 people in it. Why?

For one thing, Los Angeles wasn’t awarded the game until six weeks before the event, nor was a date set until then. Not exactly a well-planned event, to be sure.

Jerry Kramer first talked about the mindset of the Packers going into that first Super Bowl.

“It’s interesting, because we didn’t really the think the Kansas City Chiefs were a very good football team,” Kramer said. “We didn’t know, because we didn’t know anyone who had played them. We didn’t have any team to measure them against.

“I remember watching the Chiefs defense while we were watching film, and their two safeties ran into one and another. All of a sudden Max [McGee] starts doing the merrie melodies and looney tunes theme song and we all cracked up.

“So we were not really prepared for that first quarter and the quality of talent that showed up for the Chiefs. You were playing against guys like Buck Buchanan, E.J. Holub, Johnny Robinson and Bobby Bell. They had some damn fine football players!”

The Packers only led 14-10 at halftime. But things were completely different in the second half.

Safety Willie Wood picked off a Len Dawson pass early in the third quarter and returned it 50 yards to set up a five-yard touchdown run by Elijah Pitts.

Kramer explained what happened after that.

“We lined up for the extra point against the Chiefs,” Kramer said. “And that’s place where a defender can take a whack at a guy’s head while he’s blocking because it’s exposed. But the kid who was against me just leaned on me with the force of a good feather duster and groaned loudly.

“He used minimum pressure with his effort. He wasn’t trying to block the kick or do anything. After that, I knew the game was over.”

The Packers sacked quarterback Len Dawson of the Chiefs six times, led by the two sacks of Willie Davis and the 1.5 sacks by Henry Jordan.

While the Packers were surprised early in the game by the Chiefs, their head coach wasn’t.

Coach Lombardi knew how good the Chiefs were,” Kramer said. “He tried to impress us about the quality of the team as he raised the fine for breaking curfew from $500 to $5,000.”

That didn’t stop McGee from sneaking out the night before the game, however.

McGee was a star receiver for the Packers in Lombardi’s early years in Green Bay, but in 1965 and 1966, McGee didn’t get a lot of playing time. When he did, he was very clutch.

Before Super Bowl I, McGee caught a 28-yard touchdown pass from Starr that was the difference in the 34-27 1966 NFL championship game win at the Cotton Bowl against the Cowboys. But Super Bowl I was where he really made his legend.

Max McGee in Super Bowl I

McGee didn’t expect to play, so he snuck out after curfew the night before the game. McGee couldn’t convince roommate Paul Hornung to go with him that night. No matter, McGee stayed out late that evening and didn’t return until the team breakfast the next morning.

Little did he know what was going to happen that day as he got a one-hour cat nap after breakfast. Starting wide receiver Boyd Dowler injured his shoulder early in the game and McGee had to go in to replace him. McGee was startled as he heard Lombardi yell, “McGee! McGee! Get your ass in there.”

Max got his behind in there all right. Besides catching the first touchdown pass in Super Bowl history, No. 85 put up amazing stats, as he ended up with seven receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns.

Kramer talked about how nervous Lombardi was before the big game.

“Frank Gifford and I were talking about the game,” Kramer said. “Gifford was part of the broadcast team for CBS and he interviewed Lombardi before the game.

“Giff told me, ‘I put my hand on Lombardi’s shoulder as I’m interviewing him and I could feel that he was shaking. He was so nervous that he was trembling.’

“Coach Lombardi did take this game very seriously. He was getting notes from the NFL hierarchy, which included George Halas, the Mara family and the Rooney family. They were telling Lombardi that he was our standard-bearer in the NFL and that he represents us. They were saying things like don’t let the NFL down.

“They didn’t want the Packers to just beat the Chiefs. They wanted the Packers to embarrass the Chiefs. So, Coach Lombardi had a lot of pressure on him.”

When it was all said and done, Lombardi and his Packers were victorious by almost a four-touchdown margin in the very first Super Bowl.

The NFL had to be pleased.

When talking about that historical game, Kramer talked about the event which is excited him the most.

“The highlight of the game for me was the astronauts flying around the stadium in a jet pack in the halftime show,” Kramer said. “I thought that was pretty sensational.”

Indeed, it was. I know I loved it being a big Lost In Space fan at the time, as that type of activity was part of the show.

In terms of being sensational, that word describes the Lombardi Packers of the 1960s. Those teams won five NFL championships in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls.

Plus, there were the three consecutive NFL titles in 1965, 1966 and 1967. No NFL team has ever duplicated the feat in the playoff era of the NFL, which dates back to 1933.

Coach Lombardi After Super Bowl Victory

Yes, there have been some dynasties in the NFL since then. Teams like the Dolphins, the Steelers, the Cowboys, the Raiders, the 49ers and the Patriots have been dominant at times.

But no team has ever achieved the consistent success of the Lombardi Packers in terms of winning it all in a short period of time.

After all, there is a reason why the ultimate prize in the NFL is called the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Why Clay Matthews Jr. Deserves to be Among the Best of the Best at the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Clay Matthews Jr. tackling Earl Campbell

It’s hard to believe that Clay Matthews Jr. is still in the modern era classification for when voters look at great players to put in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Just think about it. Matthews was a rookie in 1978 with the Cleveland Browns. That was 41 years ago. But when a player, especially a linebacker like Matthews, who played 19 years in the NFL and had such a amazing run of consistency and productivity, it’s truly astonishing.

Matthews played 278 games in the NFL throughout his career. No. 57 played with the Browns for 16 years and then finished the last three years of his career with the Atlanta Falcons.

Those 278 games are 22nd all time in the annals of the NFL. 12 of the players above him in terms of games played were either kickers or punters. George Blanda, who is fifth all time with 340 games played, played quarterback and also kicked.

Blanda is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. As are position players like wide receiver Jerry Rice (303 games played), quarterback Brett Favre (302 games played), offensive lineman Bruce Matthews (296 games played), cornerback Darrell Green (295 games played) and defensive end Bruce Smith (279 games played).

You will note that Clay’s brother Bruce’s name above. Yes, Bruce has a bust in Canton and so should his brother Clay.

Clay went to four Pro Bowls and was named to be on the Pro Football Reference All-Decade Team of the 1980s.

Just look at the stats Matthews put up over 19 seasons. No. 57 had 1,561 tackles, 83.5 sacks, 16 interceptions, 27 forced fumbles, 14  fumble recoveries and 140.5 impact plays.

Let’s compare those stats to other linebackers who are currently in the Hall of Fame.

Junior Seau + Clay Matthews

Derrick Brooks + Clay Matthews

Brian Urlacher + Clay Matthews

To me, there is no question that Clay Jr. belongs among the best of the best in Canton. I felt the same way when I was part of the crusade to get Jerry Kramer his rightful place among the greats at the Hall of Fame for several years.

In 2020, because of it’s centennial year of the NFL, there will be 20 new members to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There will be five modern era players, 10 seniors, three contributors and two coaches.

Besides Matthews, I’m also promoting LeRoy Butler to be named among the five modern era players going into the Hall of Fame.

As people also know, I’m also promoting a number of senior nominees in 2020 as well, which includes Boyd Dowler, who was NFL All-Decade in the 1960s, plus was on the NFL 50th Anniversary Team, as well as Lavvie Dilweg, who was NFL All-Decade in the 1920s.

I listed three Green Bay Packers above to be part of the Class of 2020. I also believe Jack Vainisi, who was the primary scout of the Packers in the 1950s, also should go in as a contributor.

Clay Jr. has a Green Bay connection as well. I’m talking about his son Clay III, who played with the Packers for nine great seasons. Clay III is the all-time leader in sacks for the Packers with 83.5 and was also named to six Pro Bowl squads.

Clay III currently plays with the Los Angeles Rams, after leaving the Packers via free agency after the 2018 season. Matthews wanted to continue his career in Green Bay, but was never given that opportunity. He also has eight sacks so far this year for the Rams and that has happened with Matthews missing over a month of the season due to a broken jaw.

No. 52 was a big reason why the Packers won Super Bowl XLV over the Pittsburgh Steelers, when he helped to force a fumble by Rashard Medenhall with the Steelers driving into Green Bay territory at the start of the fourth quarter.

Pittsburgh was driving for the go-ahead score when Matthews forced that huge fumble. Eight plays later, Aaron Rodgers threw a touchdown pass to Greg Jennings, as the Packers went up by 11 and never looked back.

Clay Jr and Clay III After Super Bowl XLV

The Matthews family has set a large net over the NFL over the years, starting with Clay Matthews Sr., who played with the San Francisco 49ers for four years. Clay Sr. started his career with the Niners in 1950, then served two years as a paratrooper during the Korean War for the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, and then came back and played with the 49ers from 1953 through 1955.

After that, his son’s Bruce and Clay Jr. both had terrific careers in the NFL.

Bruce was inducted into the Hall of Fame after a great career with the Houston Oilers for 14 years and then with the Tennessee Titans for five years after the team moved to Nashville.

Clay Jr. certainly deserves the same honor after 19 years with the Browns and Falcons.

Plus there are Clay Sr.’s grandsons. We talked about Clay III, who may end up in Canton himself, plus there is his brother Casey, who played with the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings. Then there are Bruce’s sons, who are Kevin, who played with the Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers and Jake, who still plays with the Atlanta Falcons.

When I was helping to promote Jerry Kramer to get his rightful place in Canton, I forged a great friendship with Jerry’s daughter Alicia, who worked very hard to get her dad the honor he richly received.

I wrote about that endeavor in the 2018 Green Bay Packers Yearbook.

In an apropos manner, I have also become friends with Jennifer Matthews, who like Alicia did, is working hard behind the scenes to help get her father the distinction he truly warrants for what he did in his NFL career.

Clay Jr. and Jennifer

Clay Jr. is also getting endorsements from players now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, just like Kramer did.

When you put up the excellent production that No. 57 put out on the field, people are bound to notice.

Especially the great players who he competed against and who eventually ended up in Canton. Take a look at two of those endorsements.

Anthony Munoz on Clay Matthews

Warren Moon on Clay Matthews

Plus there were his teammates who knew how great Clay Jr. was. The same held true for Kramer, when teammates and Hall of Famers like Paul Hornung, Willie Davis and Bart Starr heartily endorsed No. 64.

The same thing holds true with a Hall of Fame teammate of Matthews with the Browns.

Ozzie Newsome on Clay Matthews

The bottom line is that Clay Matthews Jr. deserves to be inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2020.

In two years, Matthews will fall into the seniors category for the Hall of Fame, which has become an abyss for so many worthy players who deserve a bust in Canton.

That is why Rick Gosselin of the Seniors Committee proposed getting 10 worthy seniors in as part of the Class of 2020, which was approved by David Baker, who is the President/Executive Director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

That will definitely help, but there will still be a number of worthy seniors who will still be waiting for a place among the best players in pro football history. Players who have fallen through the cracks throughout the years and decades.

That’s why it’s important to induct a great player like Clay Matthews Jr. while he is still a modern era nominee.

That, and because of his steady and prolific play in the NFL for close to two decades, which definitely deserves a place among the best of the best in Canton.

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

hall of fame packer logo 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerry getting his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring at Lambeau

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

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

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

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

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

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

That certainly helps players like Dowler, Dilweg and Isbell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lavvie Dilweg(2)

Lavvie Dilweg and Boyd Dowler

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

We should know something very soon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We will know soon enough.

Green Bay Packers vs. San Francisco 49ers: A Historical Perspective

Bart vs. 49ers

The Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers first started playing each other in 1950, when the two teams met at old City Stadium. The Packers beat the Niners 25-21 on that late November day, with 13,196 in attendance.

1950 was the year that Curly Lambeau left Green Bay to coach the Chicago Cardinals and Gene Ronzani was the new head coach of the Pack. It was also the first year that the 49ers started play in the NFL, after four years in All-American Football Conference.

The head coach of the 49ers then was Buck Shaw. When the two teams played for the very first time, neither team was very good, as both teams finished 3-9 that season.

Throughout the years leading into the encounter on Sunday night at Levi’s Stadium when the 8-2 Packers face the 9-1 49ers, Green Bay leads the regular season series by a 32-27-1 margin.

The two teams have also met seven times in the postseason in some very memorable games. The Packers lead that series four games to three.

Back to the 1950s now. The Niners pretty much dominated the Packers that decade, at least until Vince Lombardi arrived in 1959. San Francisco won 13-of-16 games between 1950 through 1958.

The 49ers were one of the better teams in the NFL in the 1950s, while the Packers were among the worst. In fact, the Packers were just 39-79-2 in the 1950s, which is the worst decade that the team has ever had in it’s history.

But things started to change with the arrival of Lombardi in 1959. The Packers beat the 49ers twice in 1959 and during the Lombardi tenure through 1967, Green Bay was 13-3-1 versus San Francisco.

It was during that time when the Packers won five NFL titles in seven years, which included the first two Super Bowls.

One of the more memorable games during that period occurred in 1960 at Kezar Stadium on a rainy and muddy day, as the Packers won 13-0. All the points scored in that game were put on the board by Paul Hornung, as he scored on a 28-yard touchdown run, kicked an extra point, plus kicked two field goals.

The Green Bay ground game was almost unstoppable behind the pulling guards Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston, as Hornung rushed for 86 yards, while fullback Jimmy Taylor gashed the 49ers for 161 more yards.

Fuzzy and Jerry in the Mud Bowl at Kexar in 1960

Kramer listed two San Francisco defensive tackles among the top five he ever faced in his NFL career. They were Leo Nomellini and Charlie Krueger.

In 1968, the year in which Lombardi was just general manager only and Phil Bengtson was the head coach, the Packers suffered their most painful defeat of the season against the 49ers at Kezar Stadium and the loss basically ended any postseason aspirations for the team.

The Packers had a 20-7 lead going into the fourth quarter of that game, but because of injuries to both Bart Starr and Zeke Bratkowski, the Packers were forced to turn to rookie quarterback Billy Stevens, who had to be the next man up, as Don Horn was still going through his military duties with the Army then at that point of that season.

The 49ers, behind quarterback John Brodie, roared back to score 20 unanswered points and beat the Packers 27-20, as Stevens did not even complete a pass against the 49er defense, nor the gusty winds of Kezar.

After that game and over the next decade, the series between the two teams was pretty much a push more or less, with the 49ers holding a four to three edge through the 1977 season.

However, a monumental decision that affected both franchises occurred during the 1979 NFL draft. Starr was now the head coach of the Packers, while Bill Walsh was the new head coach for the Niners.

Before the draft, both Bratkowski, who was then the quarterbacks/offensive backs coach under Starr and scout Red Cochran strongly advocated the the Packers select quarterback Joe Montana of Notre Dame in the draft if they had the opportunity.

That opportunity came in the third round of that draft, when the Packers had the 15th pick of that round and the 71st overall pick of the draft. Again, both Bratkowski and Cochran pushed for the Packers to take Montana with the pick then, but Starr (who was also GM) decided to take nose tackle Charles Johnson of Maryland with the pick.

The 49ers, who had the last pick in the third round, quickly snatched up Montana and the rest they say, is history.

In the 1980s, the Packers were 19 games under .500 and had just one postseason appearance, while it was 180 degrees different for the 49ers once they selected Montana, as they won four Super Bowls in that same decade.

The 49ers continued to be Super Bowl contenders into the 1990s, as Steve Young took the reins over from Montana starting in the 1992 season.

The man who had coached both Montana and Young as a quarterbacks coach and as an offensive coordinator in San Francisco, Mike Holmgren became the new head coach of the Packers when he was hired by general manager Ron Wolf.

Wolf made two other key acquisitions for the Packers in that period. First, Wolf traded a first round pick to the Atlanta Falcons for quarterback Brett Favre. Plus, Wolf also added defensive end Reggie White in free agency prior to the 1993 season.

That led to a great rivalry with Niners that decade, especially in the postseason. In the regular season, the teams only played four times in the decade, with the Packers winning three of those games.

That would be an apropos number, as Green Bay and San Francisco also met four times in the postseason in the 1990s, with the Packers once again winning three of those games.

In the 1995 postseason, in the NFC Divisional playoff round, the Packers upset the defending Super Bowl champion 49ers 27-17 at Candlestick Park, as Favre was phenomenal.

No. 4 threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns, plus had a 132.9 passer rating in the game.

That led to another postseason game after the 1996 season, but this time the Packers had the home field advantage at muddy Lambeau Field. Favre was solid once again with a 107.4 passer rating in the game, but it was the type of day for a good ground game and the Packers rushed for 139 yards in the game.

But the real difference maker in the game was the punt returning ability of Desmond Howard, who returned two punts for 117 yards, which included a 71-yard return for  a score, as the Packers won 35-14.

Desmond Howard vs. 49ers

The Packers would go on to win Super Bowl XXXI.

In the 1997 season, the top two seeds in the NFC were the 49ers and the Packers, with the No. 1 seed being San Francisco. That meant that the Niners would host the Packers for the NFC title game at Candlestick Park.

Favre continued his solid play against the 49ers and he threw for 222 yards and a score and had a 98.1 passer rating in the game. But the ground game became a big weapon in the game for the Packers just like the previous postseason game, and halfback Dorsey Levens would rush for 114 yards and a score, as the Packers won 23-10.

However, the Packers would end up losing 31-24 in Super Bowl XXXII to the Denver Broncos two weeks later.

The Packers and 49ers would play for the fourth consecutive time in the 1998 postseason, which turned out to be the last game Holmgren would coach for the Packers. Coaching the 49ers was Holmgren’s former quarterbacks coach with the Packers, Steve Mariucci.

Unlike the three previous postseason games against the 49ers, Favre did not have his “A” game, as he threw two interceptions to go with his two touchdown passes. No. 4 threw for 292 yards and had a 79.7 passer rating.

Still, that should have been enough to win, as Favre threw a late touchdown pass to Antonio Freeman to give the Packers a 27-23 lead with just 1:56 left on the clock.

In the ensuing drive, Jerry Rice fumbled the ball after a catch that by today’s replay rules would have been ruled a fumble, but back then the officials ruled that Rice was down before he fumbled.

That led to a 25-yard touchdown pass from Young to Terrell Owens with just seconds remaining in the game. Owens caught the ball in a crowd after have many other drops during the course of the game, as the 49ers won 30-27.

That game was also the last game White, the “Minister of Defense”, would ever play for the Packers.

After that game, the Packers went on to dominate the series between the two teams for over a decade.

Through 2010, the Packers won eight straight games against the Niners, including another postseason game at Lambeau Field in the 2001 postseason. Favre once again had a better than average day against San Francisco, as he threw for 269 yards and had two touchown passes versus one pick. No. 4’s passer rating for the game was 112.6, as the Packers won 25-15.

Mariucci was still the head coach of the 49ers at the time, while Mike Sherman was now the head coach of the Packers.

In his career, Favre was 8-1 against the 49ers in the regular season, while throwing 14 touchdown passes versus 10 picks for 2,246 yards.

Sherman was fired after the 2005 season and general manager Ted Thompson made the offensive coordinator of the 49ers, Mike McCarthy, his new head coach in 2006.

That set up an interesting situation for McCarthy in Green Bay. First, he had to get Favre back to the way he used to play under Holmgren, plus he had to develop Aaron Rodgers to become a starting quarterback after the Favre era ended.

What made the second part of that dynamic very interesting was that McCarthy (then offensive coordinator for the 49ers) had told Rodgers prior to the 2005 NFL draft that the 49ers were going to pick the former Cal Bear with the first pick of the draft.

That didn’t happen and Rodgers never forgot that he was shunned by the team he grew up rooting for in Chico, California. Thompson and the Packers then happily selected Rodgers with the 24th pick of the first round of that draft.

After Favre left after the 2007 season, Rodgers became the starting quarterback and faced the 49ers once in the 2009 regular season and once in the 2010 regular season. The Packers won both of those games played at Lambeau Field.

Like Favre, Rodgers has played well against the 49ers in the regular season, as he is 4-2 lifetime going into Sunday night’s game. In those six games, No. 12 has thrown 13 touchdown passes to just two picks for 1,927 yards. His passer rating sits at 105.1.

Aaron vs. the 49ers

However, in the postseason, Rodgers is 0-2 against the 49ers. That being said, Rodgers has played well enough to win for sure, but in both losses, the defense was the main cause for the defeat.

In those two games, when Green Bay was outscored by a combined 68-51 margin, Rodgers threw three touchdown passes versus one interception for 434 yards. No. 12’s passer rating was a cumulative 94.7.

But the Packers could not stop Colin Kaepernick in those two playoff games,  as he had a combined 444 yards (263 yards passing with two touchdown passes and 181 yards rushing with two scores) in the 45-31 win in the 2012 postseason game, while he also dominated the 2013 postseason game with 227 yards passing (one touchdown) and 98 yards rushing.

Since those postseason losses, the Packers and 49ers have faced each other  twice. Once in 2015 at Levi’s Stadium when the Packers won 17-3 and also last season, when Rodgers brought the Packers back in a thrilling 33-30 win at Lambeau Field.

Since 2017, the 49ers have had Kyle Shanahan as their head coach. The Niners won six out of their last seven games in 2017 to finish 6-10.

Part of the reason for the 49ers late success in the 2017 season was the acquisition of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from the New England Patriots midway through the season.

In 2018, Garoppolo suffered a torn ACL in the third game of the year and the 49ers only won four games.

Things have definitely turned around for San Francisco in 2019, with the Niners now 9-1. Garoppolo is a big reason why, as he has thrown 18 touchdown passes versus 10 interceptions for 2,478 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 97.7.

Like the 49ers, the Packers did not play up to expectations in 2017 and 2018 and had a combined 13-18-1 record. That led to the dismissal of McCarthy. General manager Brian Gutekunst, who replaced Thompson in 2018, along with President and CEO Mark Murphy, hired Matt LaFleur to become the new head coach of the Packers in January of 2019.

The hiring of LaFleur looks to be an excellent one, as the Packers are currently 8-2 heading into Sunday night’s game and lead the NFC North.

Shanahan and LaFleur have worked together in three locations in the NFL, Houston, Washington and Atlanta, so they are very familiar with each other and they run basically the same offense.

In terms of Sunday night’s game, the 49ers have the big edge in team stats. The Niners are fifth in the NFL in total offense, while the Packers are 17th. San Francisco is second in the NFL in rushing, as they average 149 yards a game on the ground. Meanwhile, the Packers are 25th in the NFL in rushing defense.

The 49ers are also second in the NFL in total defense, while the Packers are ranked near the bottom of the league at No. 28.

Based on team stats, Sunday night’s game looks to be a blowout by the Niners over the Packers.

That being said, I believe Mr. Rodgers will have a great game in his old neighborhood (even against the second-ranked passing defense in the NFL), plus I also believe the running game with both Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams will be effective as well.

The Packers have to protect Rodgers well, as the Niners are tied for first in the NFL with 39 sacks. Arik Armstead has eight of those sacks, while Nick Bosa has seven.

The Packers have 25 sacks, which is tied for 15th in the NFL. The Smith “brothers”, Preston and Za’Darius, have combined for 18.5 of those sacks.

I also see the Green Bay “bend but don’t break” defense making some big plays in this game.

This game could come down to kicking and the Packers appear to have the edge there. Mason Crosby is 13-of-14 in field goals this year, while Robbie Gould of the 49ers has missed the last couple of game due to a quad injury and may not play in Sunday night’s game. If not, rookie Chase McLaughlin would be the kicker. McLaughlin is 4-of-5 in field goals, but did have a huge miss in overtime against Seattle a couple weeks back.

Both the Niners and Packers have two of the better punters in the NFC, as Mitch Wishnowsky has a net average of 42.1 per punt, while J.K. Scott has a 41. 9 net average.

The game on Sunday night has “classic” written all over it, as two of the better franchises in NFL history meet. The Packers have won 13 NFL titles and four Super Bowls, while the 49ers have won five Super Bowls.

Bottom line, even though the team stats say the 49ers should win handily, I like the Packers to go out to Santa Clara and win a close game against the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

Remembering Zeke Bratkowski: A Gracious, Kind and Cordial Gentleman

Zeke and Coach Lombardi in Baltimore

Next to the hundreds of conversations that I have had over the years with Jerry Kramer, the former Green Bay Packer who I talked to the most was Zeke Bratkowski.

Like Jerry, Zeke always had time for me. He was never short with me and was always very nice. Zeke was the epitome of being a gracious, kind and cordial gentleman. And also like Jerry, our conversations would run close to an hour.

We talked about a number of subjects and not just football either, seeing as we both called Florida home and the hurricane season can get interesting.

In terms of football, we talked about Bratkowski growing up in Illinois, being an All-American at Georgia, being drafted by the Chicago Bears and being coached by George Halas, being in the Air Force with Max McGee when his NFL career was interrupted for a couple of years, being traded to the Los Angeles Rams, being signed as a free agent by the Packers in 1963 and being the best backup quarterback in the NFL behind starter Bart Starr under the tutelage of head coach Vince Lombardi.

The relationship with Starr led to a life-long friendship. That over 50-year bond often saw the two of them and their wives getting together for the rest of their lives.

Zeke passed away yesterday at the age of 88, less than six months after his good buddy Bart passed on.

I can see Starr and Bratkowski on the spiritual practice field now with their former teammates like Henry Jordan, Ron Kostelnik, Dave “Hawg” Hanner, Lionel Aldridge, Ray Nitschke, Lee Roy Caffey, Dan Currie, Jesse Whittenton and Hank Gremminger facing them on defense.

On offense they are marching down the field with the likes of McGee, Ron Kramer, Jim Ringo, Fuzzy Thurston, Forrest Gregg, Gale Gillingham, Bob Skoronski, Elijah Pitts, Travis Williams and Jim Taylor.

I also see both Bart and Zeke holding for Don Chandler while he attempts extra points and field goals.

And yes, the whole time Coach Lombardi will be shouting out his emphatic verbiage for the players as the practice takes place.

After practice, Max and Fuzzy will be cracking jokes in the locker room, as per usual.

Finally, I see both Bart and Zeke in the quarterback’s meeting room with Coach Lombardi as they study the next opponent for the Packers. That was always an enlightening and enjoyable time.

Yes, Zeke and I talked about his former teammates who passed on, especially his best friend Bart, as well as his Air Force and golfing buddy Max.

We also talked about the two icons he played under in the NFL, Coach Halas and Coach Lombardi.

When it came to the Packers of recent years, Zeke definitely followed the team. We talked about Aaron Rodgers, Brett Hundley, Mike McCarthy, Matt LaFleur, Ted Thompson, Brian Gutekunst and Mark Murphy.

Zeke and Bart

We also talked about the time he was an assistant coach under Starr in 1979 and the team came very close to drafting Joe Montana.

Zeke loved being a Packer, both as a player and a coach. He certainly appreciated the magnificent fan base known as Packer Nation.

When he backed up Starr, he led the Packers to a number of wins after No. 15 was injured. Nothing was more important than the victory he led the Packers to in the 1965 NFL Western Conference title game.

That was when No. 12 brought Green Bay back from a 10-0 deficit to the Baltimore Colts at Lambeau Field, as the Packers won 13-10 in overtime.

Bratkowski only started three games under Lombardi in Green Bay and was 2-1 in those three games.

But in 1966, the year Starr was named NFL MVP, Bratkowski came in to relieve an injured Starr to beat da Bears and Halas at Lambeau and also to beat the Colts in Baltimore to win the Western Conference title.

Zeke and the O-Line in Baltimore

Bratkowski was honored for his play with the Packers by being inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1989.

Yes, I’m going to miss talking to Zeke. I still will talk with Jerry and with Don Horn and Boyd Dowler, who I also have friendships with. The one thing I know from talking to guys like Zeke, Jerry, Don, Boyd and others like Willie Davis, Dave Robinson, Chuck Mercein, Donny Anderson, Jim Grabowski, Carroll Dale, Doug Hart and Bob Hyland, is that their demeanor certainly stemmed from their time with Coach Lombardi.

He taught them to be the best they could be on the field, as well as the best they could be off the field.

Coach Lombardi would be proud of every one of those gentlemen and what they all accomplished.

But most of all, he would be proud of how well they treat other people.

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Nobody is a better example in that regard than Zeke Bratkowski.

God bless you, Zeke. Rest in peace, my friend.

Green Bay Packers: Why Cecil Isbell Deserves Consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Cecil Isbell Football Card

When I was growing up in the 1960s in Milwaukee, the discussion at the dinner table at our home would almost always be about sports. My dad would give me history lessons on the teams in the state, the Milwaukee Braves, the Wisconsin Badgers and the Green Bay Packers.

Now we also talked about the current teams, as I was a big fan of players like Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn of the Braves, Pat Richter and Ron Vander Kelen of the Badgers, plus Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, Paul Hornung, Boyd Dowler, Willie Davis, Herb Adderley, Jerry Kramer and many others on the Packers.

The Packers received most of the attention at the kitchen table, as there were in the midst of dominating the 1960s like no other team in NFL history had ever done before.

Dad loved telling me about the Packers he grew up watching. He told me stories about Curly Lambeau and all the players who played under him like Lavvie Dilweg, Clark Hinkle, Johnny “Blood” McNally, Cal Hubbard, Verne Lewellen, Arnie Herber, Don Hutson and Cecil Isbell.

Just like I was spoiled watching the Packers win five NFL titles in seven years in the 1960s, which included the first two Super Bowls under head coach Vince Lombardi, my dad saw the Packers win six NFL championships under Lambeau by the time he was 18 years-old, while he was serving his country in the Pacific with the Navy in World War II.

When dad talked about the Lambeau Packers, he almost always told me some Don Hutson stories and the men who threw to No. 14, Herber and Isbell.

Hutson and Herber are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, while Isbell is not. In fact, Isbell is the only NFL All-Decade quarterback (1930s) not in Canton.

To me, the only reason is because his career was so short. Still, the NFL recognized how prolific Isbell was in throwing the football with him just playing two years in the 1930s, that he was named on that All-Decade team at quarterback along with Herber and Earl “Dutch” Clark of the Portsmouth Spartans/Detroit Lions.

The reason why Herber and Isbell got so much attention at quarterback was because of the record-breaking productivity of Hutson at wide receiver. To illustrate that, Hutson led the league in receiving eight times.

Some of that production came when Herber was the quarterback, but a lot of it came from when Isbell played QB.

In fact, for five years, between 1938 and 1942, Isbell would throw half the passes, for half the yardage and half the touchdowns Hutson would have during his 11-year career.

And to put a spotlight on it, Hutson’s two highest reception totals, two of his three highest yardage totals and three of his four highest touchdown totals all came when No. 17 was throwing him the football.

One of my dad’s biggest thrills was being at the 1939 NFL title game at State Fair Park in West Allis (suburb of Milwaukee) with his own dad, when the Packers hosted the New York Giants.

Both Herber and Isbell played quarterback for the Packers in that game and each threw a touchdown pass. Isbell had a perfect 158.3 passer rating in the game. Isbell also rushed for 27 yards.

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

Cecil Isbell carries the ball for the Packers in the 1939 NFL title game.

My dad and grandpa, along with 32,277 other fans, saw the Packers defeat the G-Men 27-0.

Remember that Isbell made the NFL All-Decade team of the 1930s, even though he was a rookie in 1938 and only played two years in that decade. Why was that? For one thing, he helped lead the Packers into two straight NFL title games at the beginning of his career. Also, it was his record-breaking production at quarterback, as he was throwing the ball more effectively than anyone who had ever played the position.

Plus he seemed to get better each year he played. Over the five years he played in the NFL, Isbell threw 61 touchdown passes versus 52 interceptions for 5,945 yards. That added up to a passer rating of 72.6.

By today’s standards, that doesn’t look like much, but in the 1930s and ’40s in the NFL, that was outstanding.

As an example, let’s compare the numbers of Isbell to those of Hall of Famer Sammy Baugh of the Washington Redskins in his first five years in the NFL. Baugh’s rookie year was in 1937, so this lines up very well in comparison to Isbell.

Baugh threw 41 touchdown passes in his first five years in the NFL (compared to Isbell’s 61), while he also threw 63 picks (compared to Isbell’s 52). That put Slingin’ Sammy’s passer rating at 57.7 his first five years in the league.

In Isbell’s last two years with the Packers, he threw 39 of his career 61 touchdown passes. 27 of those touchdown tosses went to Hutson.

The 24 touchdown passes that Isbell threw in 1942 was a Green Bay record that stood for 41 years with the Packers until Lynn Dickey threw 32 TD passes in 1983.

As Ron Borges noted in his piece on Isbell in the Talk of Fame Network, Isbell played out of this world the last two years of his NFL career.

In 1941, the average NFL quarterback accounted for 6.122 points per game. Isbell accounted for 12 (121 points in 10 games), which put his production 98.99 percent above the norm.

The following season, his last, was even more remarkable. That’s the year he threw a then-record 24 touchdown passes. That season he was 117 percent above the league norm in points accounted for by a quarterback and 62 percent better than the great Sammy Baugh, who passed for 497 fewer yards and eight fewer touchdowns than Isbell that season.

Don Hutson and Cecil Isbell

Don Hutson and Cecil Isbell

After the 1942 season, Isbell retired at the age of 27 to become an assistant coach at his alma mater, Purdue. Isbell made more money at Purdue as a coach than he did in Green Bay as a player with the Packers.

Why was that? Isbell explained it best.

“I hadn’t been up in Green Bay long when I saw Lambeau go around the locker room and tell players like Herber and (Milt) Ganterbein and (Hank) Bruder that they were all done with the Packers,” Isbell said. “I sat there and watched, and then I vowed it never would happen to me. I’d quit before they came around to tell me.’’

Bottom line, Isbell was as good or better than any quarterback who played in his era. As good or better than Herber, Baugh or Sid Luckman of the Chicago Bears.

The Packers certainly recognized that when Isbell was inducted into their Hall of Fame in 1972.

When Ken Stabler was finally and rightfully inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016, that meant that Isbell is the only NFL All-Decade quarterback not in Canton.

That needs to change at some point.