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

Vince Lombardi II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerry and Fuzzy

Photo by Jack Robbins

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thurston loved to tell anyone who would listen, “There are two good reasons the Packers are world champions. Jerry Kramer is one of them, and you’re looking at the other one.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Willie Davis

Sports Illustrated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Green Bay Packers: Vince Lombardi Wheeled and Dealed in the Months of April and May

Vince Lombardi with coaching cap on.

When the Green Bay Packers hired Vince Lombardi in 1959, he was given two titles. They were, head coach and general manager. Obviously his coaching ability turned out to be fantastic, as his Packers won five NFL titles in seven years, which also included the first two Super Bowls.

Yes, there is a reason the Super Bowl trophy has his name on it.

Lombardi also made some fine acquisitions for the Packers as general manager through the draft and trades. Who knows how history would have been written had super scout Jack Vainisi lived, instead of tragically dying in 1960 at the age of 33 due to a heart attack. Vainisi played a key role in getting Lombardi to come to Green Bay in 1959.

Back in the day, the months of April and May were normally pretty quiet in the days when Lombardi led the Packers. That being said, Lombardi did make a number of notable trades during those two months while he was with the Packers from 1959 through 1968.

Here are some of the notable ones:

April 25, 1959: The Packers trade offensive end Bill Howton to the Cleveland Browns for defensive end Bill Quinlan and halfback Lew Carpenter.

The result? Quinlan started at defensive end for the Packers for four years, while Carpenter was a key role player who excelled on special teams and remained with the team for five years. Also, the trade of Howton opened the door for rookie Boyd Dowler to start at end and he became the NFL Rookie of the Year in 1959, plus had a fabulous 11-year career with the Packers.

Boyd Dowler scores TD in Ice Bowl

May 23, 1959: The Packers trade a third-round 1960 draft pick to the Chicago Cardinals for quarterback Lamar McHan.

The result? McHan starts 11 games in 1959 and 1960 and splits time at quarterback with Bart Starr. The competition drives Starr to become the full-fledged starter midway through the 1960 season when he became the true leader of the Pack, as he led the team to five championships, including the first two Super Bowls, where he was named MVP in both games. Starr also won three passing titles, was the NFL MVP in 1966 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.

May 5, 1964: The Packers trade center Jim Ringo and fullback Earl Gros to the Philadelphia Eagles for linebacker Lee Roy Caffey and a first-round draft pick in the 1965 NFL draft which was used on halfback Donny Anderson.

The result? The Packers had to scramble at the center position for the 1964 season, as Bob Skoronski and Ken Bowman split time at center. To add to that issue, right guard Jerry Kramer missed almost the entire 1964 season due to intestinal issues. Caffey became part of the best trio of linebackers in the NFL for five years, along with Ray Nitschke and Dave Robinson. Anderson had a fine career with the Packers, but his biggest moment was his performance in the “Ice Bowl”, as he played a key role in the final drive of that classic game.

Lee Roy Caffey in the Ice Bowl

April 23, 1965: The Packers trade linebacker Dan Currie to the Los Angeles Rams for wide receiver Carroll Dale.

The result? After Currie is traded, Dave Robinson becomes the starter at left outside linebacker and has a Hall of Fame career with the Packers. Dale becomes the starter at flanker for the Packers replacing Max McGee and becomes the deep threat for the Packers in the passing game for eight great seasons. Lombardi also starts to use Dale, McGee and Boyd Dowler at the same time on passing downs, as Dowler took over at tight end for Marv Fleming in those situations.

April 25, 1966: The Packers trade halfback Tom Moore to the Los Angeles Rams for quarterback Ron Smith, defensive tackle Dick Arndt and a second-round draft pick in the 1967 NFL draft.

The result? The trade allows halfback Elijah Pitts to become the main backup to Paul Hornung, who ended up being hurt for most of the 1966 season. Pitts ended up starting seven games in 1966 and 24 games in his career in Green Bay. The trade also allowed Donny Anderson to get more of a role on offense at halfback and No. 44 became the starter in 1967 when Pitts was lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon.

Donny Anderson in the Ice Bowl

May 2, 1968: The Packers trade linebacker Tommy Joe Crutcher and offensive tackle Steve Wright to the New York Giants for offensive tackle Francis Peay.

The result? Peay plays in 62 games over the next five years, starting 45 of them at left tackle. Crutcher was later traded to the Rams by the Giants, but then returned to Green Bay when head coach and general manager Dan Devine traded a fourth-round pick in the 1973 NFL draft to the Rams.

Jerry Kramer Talks About the Packers Playing at Milwaukee County Stadium

Packers Sideline at County Stadium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting over the ankle injury was the first step.

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

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

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

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

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

County Stadium II

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

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

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

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

Kramer also talked about the accommodations in Milwaukee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee Roy Caffey II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Green Bay Packers: Catching Up with “Ice Bowl” Hero Chuck Mercein

Chuck Mercein I

We are nearing the 50th anniversary of the 1967 NFL Championship Game, better known as the “Ice Bowl”, when the Dallas Cowboys met the Green Bay Packers at frigid Lambeau Field on December 31, 1967.

It’s apropos that the Packers and Cowboys would meet during the 2017 NFL season, although the meeting will take place at AT&T Stadium in Arlington this upcoming Sunday.

It’s very possible that both teams will meet again in the postseason later on, just like they have done twice in the past three seasons. And you never know, that game could take place at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

I had an opportunity to talk with two of the stars for the Packers on that extremely cold day on New Year’s Eve in 1967, guard Jerry Kramer and fullback Chuck Mercein.

I talked with Kramer first and we talked about the 50th anniversary of the “Ice Bowl”, especially about that epic 12-play, 68-yard drive to win the game in the final seconds, 21-17.

What made that drive even more remarkable, was that up until that point, the Packers had run 31 plays for -9 yards in the second half before that incredible march of the frozen tundra started.

While we discussed the drive, Kramer talked about the many players who came up big in that drive. Obviously there was quarterback Bart Starr, halfback Donny Anderson, wide receiver Boyd Dowler, left tackle Bob Skoronski and Kramer himself.

Plus, there was also Mercein. In fact, Mercein picked up 34 of the 68 yards in that extraordinary drive just by himself.

Kramer certainly remembered how important No. 30 was for the Packers in that drive.

“Chuck was huge in that drive for us,” Kramer said. “He went to Yale and he had the intellect to prove it. Plus, Chuck was a tough kid and he was strong. In fact, he threw the shot put 61 feet one time. That was  stunning. I set a state record in high school in Idaho in the shot put with a toss of 51 feet, 10 inches. And Chuck beat that by 10 feet.

“Chuck made a number of big plays for us in that drive. Hell, Chuck came up big for us the week before in the playoff game against the Rams as well. I remember Chuck talking to Bart shortly after he missed Willie Townes on a block and Donny was tackled for a big loss. That was the first time I recall Chuck ever talking to Bart in the huddle.

“Chuck told Bart that the linebacker was going back really deep and that he would be open on a swing pass because of all the room he was given. Sure enough, Bart throws a swing pass to Chuck that gains 19 yards. That was a really key play for us in that drive.”

Later in the evening, I had an opportunity to talk with Mercein. Not only to talk about the “Ice Bowl”, but also his strange set of circumstances joining the NFL and also the Packers.

Mercein came into pro football in 1965, which was a point in time when the NFL and AFL were bidding against each other for the top players in college football.

Mercein was certainly that coming out of Yale, which is why he was named to the College All-Star squad to play against the defending NFL champion Cleveland Browns at Soldier Field in Chicago in 1965. Mercein score 10 points in that game, as he also kicked as well as playing fullback.

Mercein talked to me about the ongoing process of bidding for his services between the two leagues.

“I knew the Buffalo Bills were going to draft me in the AFL to replace Cookie Gilchrist, who was going to retire,” Mercein said. “I was already in discussions with the Bills before the NFL draft even took place.

“So when the NFL draft did take place, my phone rang right away in the first round around the eight or ninth spot in the draft, when I talked to William Ford, who owned the Detroit Lions. He told me that he wanted me to play fullback for the Lions, because Nick Pietrosante was retiring. I thought that was very fortuitous, because it looked like I would be able to play right away there.

“The first question Ford asked me was whether I had been talking to the AFL at all. Of course, I said yes. I didn’t have an agent then. None of us had agents then. I was very open and honest with him. He also asked if I had signed anything. I said no. He then asked where I was in my negotiations with the Bills.

“I was frank with him. I said that the Bills had offered me a three-year, no-cut contract, with $25,000 per year in salary and $25,000 a year in bonuses. So basically it was for three years and $150,000.

“And Ford says, ‘No, we could never pay that!’ I said that I didn’t understand his position. Ford then told me he wasn’t going to get into a bidding war with the AFL. So then I asked him what he would offer me. Ford said he could give me one year with $25,000 in salary and $25,000 in bonuses.

“I mean, I was married with a kid coming in August, so I told him him if that was his best offer, not to draft me. So, he didn’t. The Lions took Tom Nowatzke instead. Anyway, the phone didn’t ring at all again in the first round, so I was a little upset. It didn’t ring in the second round either. Finally I get a call in the third round at the the first pick of that round by the New York Giants.

“Wellington Mara (owner of the Giants) told me that Alex Webster was retiring and he wanted me to replace him. I was a bit wary at that time. So I told Mr. Mara that I had heard this before and that if he wasn’t going to compete with the offer I received from the Bills, then we should stop right there. I gave him the terms and Mara said that he would compete with that offer.

“Wow, I was excited. I then asked him one more question. I asked why the Giants took Tucker Frederickson, who also played fullback, in the first round and then wanted to take me. Mara told me that Allie Sherman (head coach of the Giants) told him that Frederickson was going to play halfback (because Frank Gifford had just retired) and that I was going to play fullback. So I said great and I thought I was all set.”

Things didn’t turn out quite the way Mercein had planned playing under Sherman in New York. For one thing, Frederickson did not play halfback for the Giants, but instead played fullback, which made Mercein his backup.

Right away Mercein had been misled by the Giants. But it was not the fault of the owner.

“That did not happen because of Wellington Mara, who was not that person. He was very honest and was a great guy. He was really wonderful to me and helped get me over to Green Bay when he recommended me to Coach Lombardi.

“It was all Sherman. I never trusted him again after that. He also wasn’t that happy with me because I went to Yale instead of a bigger program. I did have over 50 offers from from various schools, including those in the Big 10, but I liked Yale because of their standards academically and the fact that they were undefeated  my senior year in high school. Plus a good friend of mine, Mike Pyle, was on that team.”

In his rookie year with the Giants, Mercein rushed for 55 yards and scored two touchdowns, plus kicked a field goal.

In his second season with the G-Men in 1966, Mercein led the team in rushing with 327 yards, plus caught 27 passed for 152 yards. All that happened while Mercein was hurt for half of the year.

Even with the nice year Mercein had in 1966, Sherman didn’t give Mercein a fair shake in 1967 competing for playing time and instead cut the fullback at the end of training camp.

Mercein was later brought back to the Giants, but only to be used as a kicker. Sherman told Mercein that if he missed a kick he would be waived again. Mercein made an extra point on his first kicking attempt, but because the Giants were holding, it didn’t count and the next attempt was 15 yards further out. As luck would have it, Mercein missed the kick and his time with the Giants was over.

Mercein was all set to sign with the Washington Redskins after his release by the Giants, as he had played for head coach Otto Graham in the College All-Star game, but before that could happen, he received a call from Wellington Mara.

The night Mara called was the same day that both halfback Elijah Pitts and fullback Jim Grabowski were lost for the season with injuries when the Packers played the Baltimore Colts at Memorial Stadium in Week 8.

Chuck Mercein III

“So the phone rings and it’s Wellington Mara,” Mercein said. “He told me that he had heard that I was talking to the Washington Redskins about playing with them. He was also very apologetic about what happened with me in New York. Anyway, he said if I didn’t sign anything, that he had recommended me to Vince Lombardi and that he was interested in bringing me to Green Bay. Mara told me the next call I would be getting would be from Lombardi himself.

“Sure enough five minutes later, Lombardi calls. It was quite something. It was like the voice of God on the other end of the phone, as I had so much respect for him as a coach and the Packers as a team. Lombardi was very frank about everything and he said that the Packers could really use my help. He also said that I could help the team win another championship.

“I told Coach Lombardi that I would be thrilled to join the team. After I hung up, I told my wife to unpack the car because we were going to play for the Green Bay Packers.”

The Packers were 6-1-1 when Mercein joined the team and were well on the way to winning the NFL Central division championship.

After the season-ending injuries to Pitts and Grabowski, the Packers utilized Anderson and rookie Travis Williams at halfback, while Ben Wilson and Mercein split time at fullback.

It’s amazing to know that even with the loss of Pitts and Grabowski, plus knowing that this was the first year under Lombardi that both fullback Jim Taylor and halfback Paul Hornung were no longer in Green Bay, that the Packers still finished second in the NFL in rushing in 1967.

Mercein was embraced by Lombardi and his teammates on the Packers when he came aboard the team.

“Right away, Lombardi welcomed me,” Mercein said. “I had to earn his trust, obviously. It wasn’t easy at first, but the players were very welcoming and it was just a wonderful time.”

By the end of the season and into the postseason, Mercein became the starting fullback. In the Western Conference Championship Game at Milwaukee County Stadium versus the Los Angeles Rams, Mercein scored on a six-yard run in the Green Bay’s 28-7 victory over the Rams.

No. 30 also helped open some holes for Williams, who received most of the playing time at halfback, as the “Roadrunner” rushed for 88 yards and two touchdowns.

That set up the NFL title game the next Sunday at Lambeau Field versus the Cowboys. Unlike the game against the Rams, Lombardi gave most of the playing time at halfback to Anderson, instead of Williams. Mercein remained the starter at fullback.

The 1967 NFL title game was later nicknamed the “Ice Bowl” because it was extremely cold that day in Green Bay, as the game-time temperature was 13 degrees below zero.

If you added the wind, it was bone-chillingly cold, as there was a minus-48-degree windchill for the game.

The Packers the jumped to an early 14-0 lead as Starr threw two touchdown passes to Dowler. But fumbles by Starr and punt returner Willie Wood led to 10 points by the Cowboys and the score was only 14-10 at the half.

The Packers couldn’t do anything in the second half until their final drive, while the Cowboys were moving up and down the field. Thankfully the defense of the Packers, led by linebacker Lee Roy Caffey, kept Dallas out of the end zone in the third quarter.

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

That was the score when the Packers started their 68-yard trek down the frozen tundra of Lambeau Filed with just 4:50 remaining in the game.

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 bit, as he was shook up a little after his head hit the frozen turf hard after he was tackled.

This is when Mercein and the Packers had a hiccup in the drive. Defensive end Willie Townes 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.”

Mercein would make up for that mistake soon enough, however.

First though, Starr completed two swing passes to Anderson which gained 21 yards to the 30-yard line of the Cowboys and another first down by the Packers.

It was at that point when Mercein caught the 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.

“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 than 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.

Then on two straight dive plays, Anderson slipped both times trying to score and didn’t get in. It was now third and goal when the Packers called their final timeout with just 16 seconds to go in the game.

Bart Starr QB sneak II

I’ll let Mercein explain what happened next.

“Bart came into the huddle and called a 31 wedge play,” Mercein said. “We had put that play in earlier in the week when Jerry [Kramer] suggested it to Coach Lombardi because Jethro Pugh played high on short-yardage plays.

“We didn’t have many goal line plays. We definitely didn’t have a quarterback sneak. Anyway, when Bart made the call, I was excited. It was brown right, 31 wedge. The 3-back, me, gets the ball and goes to the 1-hole, which is in between the center and the guard.

“I take off thinking I’m going to get the ball and after one and a half steps or less, I see Bart was keeping the ball. Now I’m thinking that I can’t run into him because that would be assisting him and be a penalty. But I can’t really stop, so I go flying over the top of Bart with my hands in the air, not because I’m signalling touchdown, but to let the refs know that I wasn’t assisting Bart.”

The Packers won the game 21- 17 on that legendary play as Starr was able to find his way into the end zone behind Kramer’s classic block on Pugh.

After the game, Mercein heard some kind words from Grabowski, who said that he couldn’t have played any better at fullback.

That victory put the Packers in Super Bowl II in Miami, where they would be facing the AFL champion Oakland Raiders.

Now one would think that Mercein would be starting again at fullback for the Packers, especially after playing so well against the Rams and Cowboys.

But shortly before the game, Mercein heard some very disappointing news from his head coach, who said Wilson would be starting at fullback instead.

“I was terribly disappointed,” Mercein said. “I didn’t understand why. I knew I was a little banged up. But Coach was a real hunch player and it was hot down there in Miami  and it was the kind of weather that Ben Wilson was used to playing in, as he had played at USC.

“Plus, Ben was fresh and he hadn’t played a lot. So it was just a hunch, but it turned out to be the right hunch as Ben had a big game.”

The Packers beat the Raiders 33-14 and Wilson led the Packers in rushing with 65 yards.

Looking back on that year with the Packers, there are a lot of fond memories for Mercein.

“The 1967 season for the Packers was a team effort,” Mercein said. “Coach Lombardi made that team what it was. He was the difference. He made us all better. He made me better. Bart better. Jerry better. Boyd better. That’s what a great coach does. He takes players and makes them better than they thought they could be.”

Jerry Kramer Talks About Tommy Joe Crutcher

Tommy Joe Crutcher blocking on an extra point

Far left is No. 56, Tommy Joe Crutcher, as he blocks on an extra point in the 28-7 victory by the Green Bay Packers over the Los Angeles Rams in the 1967 Western Conference Championship Game at Milwaukee County Stadium.

When the Green Bay Packers drafted Tommy Joe Crutcher of Texas Christian University in the third round of the 1964 NFL draft, the Packers already had a number of talented linebackers on their roster. The group included Ray Nitschke, Dan Currie, Lee Roy Caffey and Dave Robinson.

Still, Crutcher had some talent himself. In high school at McKinney, the 6’3″, 230-pound Crutcher was considered one of the best players in Texas because of his speed and athleticism, which he showed at both fullback and linebacker.

At TCU, Crutcher again played both fullback and linebacker. In his senior year, Crutcher was named first-team All-America at fullback, plus was a team captain for the Horned Frogs.

In his rookie year of 1964, Crutcher played fullback for the Packers and wore No. 37. But for the rest of his career, Crutcher was strictly a linebacker and wore No. 56 with Green Bay.

In ’64, the Packers started Nitschke, Currie and Caffey at linebacker. The following year after Currie had been traded to the Los Angeles Rams for Carroll Dale, Robinson replaced Currie as a starter.

Crutcher’s good friend and teammate Jerry Kramer talked to me recently about that situation.

“It was interesting to be Tommy Joe, as he had to sit behind Nitschke, Robinson and Caffey,” Kramer said. “Maybe the best set of linebackers to ever play on one team. Certainly among the tops.

“But Tommy was a very bright kid. He used his wits a lot. He played well when he got the opportunity.”

One of Crutcher’s favorite activities was to tease fellow Texan linebacker Caffey about where he played football in high school.

Kramer recounted that story.

“Tommy Joe used to love to bust Lee Roy’s ass,” Kramer said. “Tommy Joe went to McKinney High School, which was not too far from Thorndale High school, which was Lee Roy’s school.

“The school mascot at Thorndale was the Little Red Rooster. Tommy Joe would get Lee Roy going in the locker room or on the bus when he would sing, ‘Little Red Rooster sitting on a fence. Root for Thorndale, he’s got sense.’

“Lee Roy would then shout out to Tommy Joe, ‘Damn you Crutcher! Knock that off!’

texas-contingent-of-the-packers

The Texas contingent of the Packers. From left to right, Max McGee, Doug Hart, Forrest Gregg, Donny Anderson, Lee Roy Caffey and Tommy Joe Crutcher.

Crutcher was part of quite a Texas contingent on the Packers which included Caffey, Max McGee, Forrest Gregg, Doug Hart and Donny Anderson.

Kramer used to hang with Crutcher quite a bit off the field, especially when the guys got together to play cards.

Kramer talked about that experience.

“We loved to play cards,” Kramer said. “Tommy Joe was a really savvy guy. He was just aware about everything, especially in poker. We would have Ski [Bob Skoronski], Doug [Hart], Kos [Ron Kostelnik], Tommy Joe and some other guys at times.

“Often times, Tommy Joe and I would end up as the last two guys at the table.  Everyone else had lost their money or needed to go home.”

One of the other guys who would play poker every now and then was Max McGee. As I wrote in a story about him recently, Max and his roommate in 1967, Zeke Bratkowski, often played golf with Kramer and his roommate, Don Chandler.

For money of course.

One of those golf outings became quite the experience for Kramer and his teammates.

“One day Max and Zeke are taking on Don and I,” Kramer said. “On the surface, it was an uneven match, because Max was a good player and Zeke was a very good player. So, we come down to the 18th hole and we were ahead by three shots.

“Max tries to get in our heads as he was teeing off, by saying, ‘Press, press, press, press, press.’ He proceeded to knock the ball out of bounds. I probably got the biggest kick of my life after Max did that after trying to put the pressure on us. But it backfired that day for Max, so Donny and I won $75 from he and Zeke.

“I enjoyed the hell out of that. We didn’t win very often and Max and Zeke won most of the time, but that victory was special.”

That takes us to the next part of that story which involves Crutcher. Kramer explained what happened next.

“So after the golf game, we all go to Max’s Left Guard restaurant in Manitowoc,” Kramer said. “So we go upstairs and play a little gin. We having a pretty good time celebrating. It’s our day off. And Tommy Joe is there as well.

“So later in the evening, we decided to leave as it was getting late. Well, I had been over-served and as we started down the stairs, I lost my footing and I tumbled head over heels. My ring came off and my shoes came off.

“Don Chandler looked at me and said, ‘Jerry, you better ride with me. Let Tommy Joe drive your car.’ I had Lincoln convertible that had suicide doors, one opens backwards and one opens frontwards. It was an absolutely beautiful car. I think the most beautiful car I ever had. It was sea green with a tan top. I had the top down and it looked like it was a half mile long. I was “Mr. Cool” when I drove it.

“So I let Tommy Joe drive it back to St. Norbert. Anyway, the next morning I’m out in the parking lot and I see the car. The top is still down and there is a light rain. So I go to Tommy Joe’s room and he’s still asleep. I asked him where the keys were. As he’s looking through his clothes for the keys, he says, ‘Jerry, that’s really a great car. It really holds the road well. I’d go around a corner and it would slide a bit, but that’s really a nice driving car.’

“So then I asked him why he didn’t put the top up. Tommy Joe asks, ‘Was the top down?’

Crutcher initially played with the Packers from 1964 through 1967, which meant he was on the teams which won three straight NFL titles, along with the first two Super Bowls.

In those four years, Crutcher played in 14 games each year, plus picked off two passes in a reserve role.

Crutcher also played in each one of the seven victorious postseason games that the Packers played in from 1965 through 1967.

Tommy Joe on game-winning kick vs. Colts

Far right is No. 56, Tommy Joe Crutcher. He and his teammates are about to celebrate the game-winning field goal by Don Chandler in the 1965 Western Conference Championship Game at Lambeau Field.

In 1968, general manager-only Vince Lombardi traded Crutcher and offensive tackle Steve Wright to the New York Giants for offensive tackle Francis Peay.

Crutcher started two seasons for the Giants before being traded to the Los Angeles Rams in 1970, where he spent the year on injured reserve.  In 1971, Crutcher returned to Green Bay via another trade, as Dan Devine acquired No. 56 for a fourth round pick.

Crutcher played with the Packers in 1971 and 1972 before retiring and was part of the team which won the NFC Central in ’72.

After he retired, Crutcher had a very successful business career, as he was part owner and manager of the Southwest Grain Company in McCook, Texas.

The farm that Crutcher operated was not far from the Mexican border. Once when Kramer was visiting, Crutcher drove Kramer around part of the farm which was larger than the island of Manhattan. The overall spread of the farm was around 25,000 acres.

Sadly, Crutcher died at the way-too-young age of 60 in 2002.

Kramer talked some more about his buddy Crutcher.

“Everything Tommy Joe did on the field, he did well,” Kramer said. “When he got an opportunity, there wasn’t much of a fall off from the way Lee Roy or Robby played.

“Tommy Joe was really damn smart and he rarely made a mistake. He understood our defense and he understood the game plan of the offense he would be facing if given the opportunity.

“He was just a real bright kid. Plus, he was a lot of fun to hang with off the field as well.”

Jerry Kramer Talks About Doug Hart

doug-hart-and-bob-hayes

Doug Hart of the Packers looks to tackle Bob Hayes of the Cowboys.

One of the strengths of the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s under head coach Vince Lombardi was the defensive secondary of the team.

Two of the members of that secondary, cornerback Herb Adderley and safety Willie Wood, have been recognized for their great play by being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In the 1966 and 1967 seasons, Adderley and Wood were joined by safety Tom Brown, along with conerback Bob Jeter.

A key reserve for the secondary on those two teams was Doug Hart, who played both cornerback and safety in his career with the Packers.

Hart started at cornerback in 1965 and then played a reserve role for the next three seasons. From 1969 through 1971, Hart started at strong safety before he retired from football after the ’71 season.

Like Wood, Hart was not drafted. He was signed by the then St. Louis Cardinals in 1963 before being released. Hart went home to Arlington, Texas and got a job at Bell Helicopters.

Right around that very same time in mid-August, the Packers were in Dallas to play the Cowboys in a preseason game. The Packers contacted Hart and had him tryout for the team by practicing that week and by playing in that game.

Hart made enough of an impression to be signed to the team’s taxi squad for the ’63 season.

I had an opportunity to talk with Hart this past week and he reflected about how he became a Packer.

“The Packers came to Dallas to play the Cowboys in a preseason game,” Hart recalled. “Pat Peppler (personnel director) of the Packers called and told me that Green Bay wanted me to try out.

“I also had to meet Coach Lombardi, who was at the team hotel. I told Coach that I didn’t want to try out and get cut again. Lombardi said, ‘Okay. Let’s see what you can do.’

“I played in the last quarter of the preseason game and did okay. After the game, Phil Bengtson (defensive coordinator) came up to me and said, ‘We want you to come back to Green Bay with us.’

“That’s how it all started.”

In 1964, Hart made the actual roster and played behind a cornerback who also went to Texas-Arlington. That player was Jesse Whittenton.

After Whittenton retired after that season, Hart became a starter at right cornerback in 1965, when he had four interceptions. The Packers won the first of three straight NFL titles that season.

In his career with the Packers, Hart picked off 15 passes, three of which were returned for touchdowns. No. 43 also recovered five fumbles and also returned one of those for a score. Hart also scored another touchdown after a blocked kick, plus also had a safety in his last year with the Packers in 1971.

One of the players who associated with Hart quite often while he was with the Packers was guard Jerry Kramer. Hart would often hunt and fish with No. 64, plus was part of the gang who used to play poker as often as possible.

I also talked with Kramer recently and he shared some of his memories about his time with Hart back in the day.

“We called him Little Brother,” Kramer said speaking of Hart. “Anything you wanted to do, he wanted to do it with you. If you wanted to go bow-hunting, he wanted to go bow-hunting. If you wanted to go fishing, he would go fishing with you. If you wanted to go golfing or shotgunning or whatever the hell you wanted to do, Doug wanted to go.”

That also included being part of the poker club.

“Doug was one of the regulars,” Kramer said. “The group included Fuzzy and I, Ski (Bob Skoronski), Ron Kostelnik, Tommy Joe Crutcher and Lee Roy Caffey. It was different guys at different times, but that was the base.

“I bought a poker table after the first Super Bowl. It was a beautiful oak poker table with seven chairs. I still have the table in my basement at home.

doug-vince-and-ski-after-super-bowl-i

Doug Hart, Vince Lombardi and Bob Skoronski at the end of Super Bowl I.

“Coach Lombardi arranged our lives so it seemed like we didn’t have more than an hour free. We would play poker when we got on the plane. Most planes at that time had a table in the back of the plane and that’s where we played when we would fly to away games. Sort of like a cocktail table I guess.

“Just the poker players would sit there. Jim Taylor played quite a bit with us too. So we would get to our destination and get on the bus and play poker until we got to the stadium to practice. Then we would get on the bus to the hotel and play poker again. And then at the hotel we would go to somebody’s room and play poker again until dinner time.

“Dinner was at 6:00 or 6:30 and Coach would have a meeting like from 7:30 to 9:00. Because curfew was at 11:00, we didn’t usually go out anywhere, but instead usually played poker again.

“Everyone had a little saying at the poker table as well. Little Brother (Hart) used to say, ‘My daddy used to say stick and play and it’s bound to pay.’ And we would say, your daddy’s right, put your money in and stick around as long as you can!”

Hart was also a great teammate. The mantra of those great Packer teams of the ’60s was all for one and one for all. Fuzzy Thurston proved that when he was coaching up Gale Gillingham after Thurston had injured his knee and Gillingham became a starter at left guard in the 1967 season.

Hart did the same thing in 1966, when Jeter became the starter at right cornerback.

Kramer recalled that situation.

“Doug would sit besides Jeter when we would watch film, just like Fuzzy did with Gilly in ’67,” Kramer said. “They would discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the various receivers. What to look out for in this formation and that this guy liked to do this and that guy liked to do that. Doug just opened up his mind and gave it all to Jeter.”

Hart also recalled that scenario.

“Bobby was really a great player,” Hart said. “He could move easily and he was aggressive. Bobby was also intelligent and he was just made for the job. It was easy to help him out.”

Even though Hart was not a starter in 1966, I was at one of the games when Hart returned an interception for a touchdown that season. The Packers were taking on the expansion Atlanta Falcons at Milwaukee County Stadium. The Packers throttled the Falcons 56-3, as Hart returned a pick for 40 yards and a score in that game.

That was also the game where another Texan, rookie running back Donny Anderson, returned a punt for 77 yards and a score.

texas-contingent-of-the-packers

The Texas contingent of the Packers. From left to right, Max McGee, Doug Hart, Forrest Gregg, Donny Anderson, Lee Roy Caffey and Tommy Joe Crutcher.

Hart and Kramer still get together on occasion. That includes time hunting, fishing and golfing. Kramer who lives in Boise, Idaho, often gets to Green Bay, where he sometimes connects with Hart, who lives now in the Minneapolis area.

“Doug and I have been going fishing for the past six or seven years,” Kramer said. “We’ve fished in Florida, we’ve fished in Idaho and also in Wisconsin. In fact, Doug is supposed to be coming out to Idaho late in November or early December for some steelhead fishing.”

Kramer and Hart have been friends for 53 years now. That friendship blossomed under the watch of Coach Lombardi and still lasts to this day.

Hart talked about that brotherhood that grew among the players who also became multiple champions in their sport.

“We had a great comradery as players,” Hart said. “It all started with Coach Lombardi. We enjoyed playing together and we also enjoyed hanging around together off the field. It was truly an enjoyable time in my life. And it still is.”

Jerry Kramer Talks About Lee Roy Caffey

lee-roy-caffey-ii

When the 1-1 Detroit Lions play the 1-1 Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday, the game will be the 2016 home opener for the Pack. Green Bay opened this season with two games on the road. The last time that the Packers had opened the year like that was way back in 1924.

The game on Sunday will also be the annual alumni game for the Packers, when former Green Bay greats will be on hand to watch the Packers.

One of the greats who will be attending is Jerry Kramer. Kramer played on five NFL championship teams with the Packers, which included the first two Super Bowls.

The Packers also won three straight NFL titles from 1965 through 1967. No team has ever duplicated that feat.

Unfortunately, a number of players from those three championship teams have passed on. The list includes Henry Jordan, Ron Kostelnik, Lionel Aldridge, Ray Nitschke, Tommy Joe Crutcher, Bob Jeter, Max McGee, Fuzzy Thurston, Elijah Pitts, Travis Williams, Gale Gillingham and Don Chandler.

The list also includes Lee Roy Caffey, who tragically passed on at the age of 52 in 1994 due to colon cancer. That same affliction cost Vince Lombardi his life at the age of 57 in 1970.

Caffey came to the Packers in 1964 in a famous trade. This was the trade when Lombardi traded center Jim Ringo and backup fullback Earl Gros to the Philadelphia Eagles for Caffey and a future No. 1 draft pick, which turned out to be Donny Anderson.

Caffey was a rookie in 1963 with the Eagles and had a fine rookie season. He had the longest interception return for a touchdown that season in the NFL, as Caffey ran one back to the house on an 87-yard jaunt. Caffey also recovered five fumbles that season.

Caffey then became a big part of the Ringo trade the next season.

The mythical story was that Lombardi traded Ringo because he was being represented by an agent. Actually, there was no agent involved, but Ringo did want a hefty pay increase, as he was coming off seven straight appearances in the Pro Bowl, as well as being named first-team All-Pro for five consecutive seasons.

But Lombardi wouldn’t meet Ringo’s demands and he made the trade. The move caused all sorts of issues on the offensive line for the Packers. Rookie center Ken Bowman wasn’t ready to play yet, so the Packers had to move left tackle Bob Skoronski to center for awhile.

In addition to that, Kramer was undergoing some intestinal issues which caused him to miss almost the entire 1964 season, as well as having to undergo nine medical procedures. It’s no wonder that the Packers started out 3-4 that season, before finally finishing 8-5-1 and missing the postseason for the second consecutive year.

Caffey immediately became a starter at right outside linebacker in ’64, opposite Dan Currie, who played left outside linebacker. Ray Nitschke manned the middle as usual.

The Packers had the No. 1 ranked defense in the NFL that season, as Caffey picked off another pass and was a great fit for the Packers at linebacker.

Before the 1965 season, Lombardi made another trade, this time sending Currie to the Los Angeles Rams for wide receiver Carroll Dale.

Replacing Currie at left outside linebacker was third-year linebacker Dave Robinson.

Over the course of the next five seasons, the trio of Caffey, Nitschke and Robinson was considered the best set of linebackers in the NFL.

From 1965 through 1969, the Packers were ranked third, third, first, third and fourth in total defense in the NFL.

Over that time period, Nitschke was named to four All-Pro teams, including first-team All-Pro by AP in 1966. Robinson was named to three All-Pro teams, including being named first-team All-Pro by AP in both 1967 and 1969. No. 89 also was named to three Pro Bowl squads

Caffey was named first-team All-Pro by AP in 1966, plus also went to the Pro Bowl in 1965.

In his career in Green Bay, Caffey had nine interceptions for 177 yards and two touchdowns.

I was there to witness one of them. It was the home opener for the Packers in 1966 and Green Bay would be facing the Baltimore Colts at County Stadium in Milwaukee on a Saturday night.

The Packers were losing 3-0 that night when Caffey made a huge play for the Pack. No. 60 picked off a Johnny Unitas pass and ran it back for a 52-yard touchdown. Not long after throwing that pick, Johnny U threw another one, this time to Bob Jeter, who also ran it back for a 46-yard touchdown. The Packers ended up winning the game 24-3.

Just three days before that game, Caffey’s daughter Jennifer was born. The pick-six by Caffey turned out to be a wonderful birthday present. Years later, Lee Roy told Jennifer that he dedicated that touchdown to her.

lee-roy-caffey-iii

Caffey was also an outstanding tackler and blitzer when he played with the Packers. No. 60 was one of the heroes in the 1967 NFL title game between the Packers and the Dallas Cowboys. The game is better known as the “Ice Bowl”, as it was played in truly frozen tundra conditions at Lambeau Field. The game-time temperature was 13 degrees below zero.

Caffey had a great performance in that game. The Cowboys dominated the third period, but thanks to Caffey, Dallas never scored in that quarter. Caffey stopped one drive by forcing a Don Meredith fumble and another drive by sacking Meredith.

In the end, and in the final seconds of the game, the Packers won 21-17, thanks to the classic block by Kramer on Jethro Pugh. The block by No. 64 allowed quarterback Bart Starr to score the winning touchdown on the most famous quarterback sneak in NFL history.

Speaking of Kramer, I talked with him recently and he shared his thoughts about playing with Caffey.

“When Lee Roy joined the team, there was an immediate connection with him,” Kramer said. “He was about my size. He was friendly and always had a big ole smile. Plus he was a hell of a ballplayer.

“He was a funny guy and I really enjoyed him. Lee Roy and Tommy Joe Crutcher played at high schools in Texas which were about 40 to 50 miles apart. Tommy Joe used to bust Lee Roy’s ass all the time.

“Lee Roy went to Thorndale High school. The school mascot was the Little Red Rooster. Tommy Joe would get Lee Roy going in the locker room or on the bus when he would sing, ‘Little Red Rooster sitting on a fence. Root for Thorndale, he’s got sense.’

“Lee Roy  would then shout out to Tommy Joe, ‘Damn you Crutcher!’ And then the two of them would get into it with each other a little bit. But it was all fun.

“Lee Roy was also part of our poker-playing group. I spent a lot of time with him over the years. Lee Roy also looked like me. We were mistaken for one another quite a bit.

“But Lee Roy was just a good all-around football player. He had great reflexes too. I remember walking down the sidewalk in Cleveland with him one day and a pigeon flew up while we were walking. Lee Roy instinctively jumped at it like it was a pass play, and he hit the pigeon with his hand. He didn’t catch it, but that was an amazing display of athleticism.”

In 1970, Caffey was traded once again, along with Elijah Pitts and Bob Hyland to the Chicago Bears for the second overall pick in the 1970 NFL draft. That pick turned out to be defensive tackle Mike McCoy of Notre Dame.

Caffey spent one year with the Bears and then played with the Super Bowl champion Cowboys in 1971, before finishing his NFL career with the San Diego Chargers in 1972.

But it was Green Bay where Caffey made a name for himself in the NFL. In six seasons in Titletown, Caffey showed off his athleticism time and time again at right outside linebacker for one of the NFL’s  most dominant defenses.

Caffey was rewarded for that play with three championship rings, plus was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1986.

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

Vince at the Ice Bowl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vince and Jerry IV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lombardi celebrates 1966 NFL title

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vince and the Pack at Super Bowl I

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

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

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

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

Jerry Kramer Talks About Dave Robinson

From 1965 through 1969, the Green Bay Packers had the best set of linebackers in the NFL without question. Ray Nitschke was the middle linebacker, while Lee Roy Caffey played right outside linebacker and Dave Robinson played left outside linebacker.

The Packers defense was ranked third, third, first, third and fourth in the NFL, respectively, when the trio of Robinson, Nitschke and Caffey started together.

All three linebackers were excellent tacklers who also had a knack to create turnovers for the defense.

Take a look at their stats during that time.

Nitschke had 10 interceptions (one for a touchdown) and had seven fumble recoveries in the five years the trio played together.

Caffey had eight interceptions (two for touchdowns) and had three fumble recoveries.

Pretty good numbers for both Nitschke and Caffey, huh?

Now look at the stats for Robinson during that same time. Robby had a whopping 14 picks and also seven fumble recoveries.

Can you see why this trio was the best in the business?

Caffey was named first-team All-Pro once and also made one Pro Bowl appearance.

Nitschke was named first-team All-Pro twice and unbelievably only went to one Pro Bowl. But No. 66 was good enough to be the the All-Decade team of the 1960s, plus was on the NFL 50th anniversary team.

That all led to Nitschke getting inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Robinson was named first-team All-Pro twice, plus went to three Pro Bowls. No. 89 was also on the All-Decade team of the 1960s.

Robby was also inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013.

Nitschke (1978), Robinson (1982) and Caffey (1986) were all also inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame.

Nitschke, Caffey and Robinson all had something in common, besides being great playmakers. They all stood 6’3″ and all of them went between 240 to 250 pounds.

Big men who made big plays.

Robinson was the first selection for the Packers in the 1963 NFL draft out of Penn State. No. 89 played behind Dan Currie in his first two years in the league, but then took the NFL by storm after he became a full-time starter in 1965.

Robinson could go sideline to sideline, both in stopping the run and in coverage. He was a complete linebacker who could do it all.

Jerry Kramer talked to me recently about his time with Robinson in Green Bay.

“Robby was a bright kid. He just loved to argue. I think he would rather argue than eat I believe,” Kramer chuckled. “And Robby loves to eat. He would spit facts out at you that you would check out later and he was generally right on target.

“He studied engineering at Penn State. He was a good thinker on the football field too. He followed his keys very well and was tough to block. He was a really good football player.

“With Robby, Nitschke and Caffey there, that was maybe the best linebackers corps we have ever seen.”

Kramer then talked about when Robinson first joined the Packers in 1963.

“He was kind of a quiet kid. At first. But once you became friendly with him, you couldn’t hush him up.”

Robinson played on the College All-Star team that played the Packers in the first preseason game of 1963. The All-Stars shocked Vince Lombardi and the Pack, as they upset Green Bay 20-17.

Kramer recalled that evening.

“Robby had to join the team after the game and come and have dinner with us afterwards,” Kramer said. “When he came into the locker room he was full of piss and vinegar, smiling and laughing because of the win.

“Coach Lombardi glared at him and Robby looked around the room and he realized that he was now in the losing dressing room after coming from the winning dressing room.

“Bottom line, there was no laughter in Lombardi land that night. Losing to the College All-Star team was embarrassing to the coach and he was very pissed.

“Robby picked up that attitude very quickly and quieted down.”

In 1963, Robinson also kicked off at times for the Packers.

Paul Hornung was suspended for that season for gambling. That meant that Kramer would have to continue to be the placekicker for the Packers that season, just like he was for most of the 1962 season.

Kramer made 9-of-11 field goals in the1962 regular season, plus was 38-of-39 in extra points. No. 64 also added three more field goals and an extra point in the 1962 NFL Championship Game at windy and frigid Yankee Stadium, as the Packers beat the New York Giants 16-7.

Kramer wasn’t quite as accurate in the 1963 season, but he still made 16 field goals and 43 extra points for a total of 91 points, which was the fourth-best mark in the NFL.

While Kramer did the bulk of the kicking for the Packers, the Packers used other players for the actual kickoff, as that part of his kicking game was not Kramer’s strongest suit.

Kramer talked about that situation.

“We were looking for somebody to do that,” Kramer said. “When Hornung was kicking, they would take Hornung out of the game on third down often times and let him catch his breath.

“They never gave me a blow or took me out of the game. So I’m running the sweep 40 yards downfield and I came back to the huddle huffing and puffing. The next thing you know I have to kick. I was at a bit of a disadvantage there.

“I was not a deep kicker on the kickoffs. So we were looking for someone to take over that role. We tried Willie Wood out. And we tried Robby out. I still did the bulk of the kickoffs that year. We were looking for someone to kick the ball to the end zone and that wasn’t me.”

I talked to Kramer a couple of years ago after Robinson was inducted into Canton. Kramer told me about being with No. 89 in New Orleans (the site of Super Bowl XLVII) the night before Robinson heard that he was actually selected for a bust in Canton.

“Robby and I and some friends went to dinner at Commander’s Palace on Friday night and we just had an incredible dinner,” Kramer said. “The folks that ran the place came over and fussed over us a little bit, and then they started bringing us over shrimp, craw fish, pompano and this and that, and we just had a great time. I toasted Robby about his induction during the dinner and there were 13 of us there, and Robby teared up a little bit. It was a nice moment.”

Here’s hoping that Robinson can return the favor to Kramer in the very near future, because No. 64 has waited far too long for his rightful induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.