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

Johnny McNally

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnny Blood and company

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

Boyd Dowler Talks About Bart Starr and Also Playing Some Tight End

Bart and Boyd

Bart Starr and Boyd Dowler. (Photo: Darryl Norenberg-USA TODAY Sports)

In the 12 seasons that Boyd Dowler  played in the NFL, 11 of those seasons with the Green Bay Packers, No. 86 was 10th in all-time receptions in the NFL and 12th in receiving yardage when he retired.

The game was different in the era that Dowler played in, as the running game was featured much more often, plus the rules in those days allowed defensive backs to pretty much mug a receiver running down the field and not see a flag thrown.

The Packers utilized the running game more than most in the NFL, especially in the early years when Vince Lombardi became head coach. Both Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor put up big numbers between 1959 through 1962. Hornung was the NFL MVP in 1961, while Taylor was the NFL MVP in 1962, when the Packers won back-to-back NFL titles.

Still, Dowler put up some nice numbers himself, which was recognized, as he was named to the NFL 1960’s All-Decade team, as well as the NFL 50th anniversary team (second team).

In his 11-year career with the Packers, Dowler had 448 receptions for 6,918 yards and 40 touchdowns. In the postseason, Dowler also had 30 receptions for 440 yards and five scores.

Also, in his rookie year in 1959, Dowler was named Rookie of the Year by UPI (United Press International), plus was named to two Pro Bowl teams in his career.

That is why I believe Dowler deserves a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

There are very few quarterbacks in the Pro Football Hall of Fame who do not have at least one receiver or tight end from their team in Canton with them.

One of those quarterbacks is Bart Starr.

Starr passed away in May and is going to be honored in Green Bay this weekend, which also just happens to be alumni weekend for the Packers. A number of former teammates will be on hand, as well as players who were coached by Starr during his tenure in Titletown.

One of those teammates is Dowler. Another is a guy who used to hang with Dowler and Fuzzy Thurston after practice and have a few beers. They called themselves the Three Muskepissers. I’m talking about Jerry Kramer, who will be one of the speakers to honor No. 15 this weekend.

I had a chance to talk with Dowler recently and we talked about what it was like playing with Starr.

“Let me give you an example about how smart Bart was and how he trusted guys like me,” Dowler said. “In the ‘Ice Bowl’, when I scored my first touchdown, it was not a play called in the huddle. It was an audible at the line of scrimmage.

“We had never, ever talked about running that play or pattern from that formation with me in tight. We never practiced it either. We never did anything close to what we did on that play. It was the first time we ever did that.

“Bart called the ’86 audible’, which had nothing to do with my number. The play was designed for the split end to run a post in a blitz situation. But normally it was called when the split end was out wide, not in tight like I was. Bart called the play because Mel Renfro was near the line of scrimmage. Now Renfro didn’t blitz, but it didn’t matter because he was already committed to the line of scrimmage.

“So when Bart called that audible, I knew I was supposed to run a quick post, even though I was inside. I had the linebacker on my outside shoulder and the cornerback on my outside shoulder, which is not sound coverage. So all I had to do release inside and look for the ball. It turned out be an easy pitch and catch and we were up 7-0.

“Bart and I laughed about that play after the game. I knew that particular audible was used with the split end on the left side of the formation to run a post. But I was in tight, like a tight end would be. I knew I couldn’t call a timeout. I couldn’t shout out to Bart and say, ‘Do you want me out wide?’

“The bottom line is Bart had enough confidence in me to figure out what I was supposed to do in that situation. The thing that made it so great, is that Bart called that audible, even knowing that we had never run it from that formation in nine years. Even in practice. And Bart called it in a NFL championship game!

“That is a capsule comment about Bart Starr.”

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No. 86 continued.

“Bart did things like that,” Dowler said. “And you know the funny thing about plays like that he called? They always worked! Just like the sneak in the ‘Ice Bowl.’

I wrote about how well thought out that sneak was in this piece. Starr carried the ball in his left arm as he crossed the goal line and not in his right, as outside linebacker Chuck Howley of the Cowboys tried to strip the ball from his empty right arm.

“When you start talking about doing a tribute to Bart Starr, just look at he ‘Ice Bowl’ game,” Dowler said. “I’m talking about making big plays count or making big plays work. You can look at both my touchdowns in that game, you can look at the give play to Chuck Mercein and you can look at the sneak.

“You can take four, five or six plays alone from that game and hang an MVP award around Bart’s neck. Not just because of the plays, because they were good plays. But because when they were called. It was the brain of Bart Starr that made those plays work.”

It wasn’t a coincidence that Dowler was in tight on his first touchdown pass against the Cowboys in the 1967 NFL title game. No. 86 started playing tight end on passing situations beginning in 1965 and continued to do that through his last year with the Packers in 1969.

That meant the Packers could basically use three wide receivers on third down.

“After Ron Kramer left and Marv Fleming was in his second year I believe, Coach Lombardi started using me at tight end on third down or in passing situations,” Dowler said. “When we were going to play the Bears or the Colts, I would be Mike Ditka or John Mackey on the scout team for our defense.

“So I got quite a bit of work at tight end. I was big enough and I could get off the line. I was able to run the tight end patterns pretty well. Coach noticed that and said to me, ‘You look pretty good in there.’

“Anyway after Ron left, even though Marvin was a fine player and a fine blocker at tight end, he didn’t have wide receiver quickness and speed to get down the field. He basically wasn’t much of a threat in the passing game as I would be. It came down to Max McGee getting in the lineup when I would play tight end instead of Marvin. Max had been a backup after Carroll Dale arrived in 1965.

“Vince wanted to get Max in the games and thought that would be a good way to do it. I slid in to tight end and Max took my spot at split end with Carroll on the other side. The first game we did it in was the ‘Fog Bowl’ in Baltimore in late 1965 and I caught a pass for a first down from the tight end position, plus caught a touchdown pass as a tight end. We scored six touchdowns in that game (a 42-27 win) and Paul had five of the TDs while I had the other one.

“Vince was very proud about that, as it was his idea to move me to tight end in passing situations. It gave us a little more downfield speed. I think it helped us. I was all for it. It kept me mentally sharp. I thought it was kind of fun.

“In 1968 against the Bears at Wrigley Field, I played the whole game at tight end. I caught two touchdown passes, one from Zeke Bratkowski and the other from Don Horn. I had a big game. So did Don.

“In Super Bowl II, one of my two catches that day came while I was playing tight end. My touchdown came when I was at split end, but the other catch came while I was at tight end.

“Bottom line, me playing tight end gave us a lot more flexibility. I really enjoyed playing the position too.”

 

Green Bay Packers: Catching Up With Carroll Dale

Carroll Dale vs. the Cowboys in the Ice Bowl

In the offseason preceding the 1965 NFL season, the Green Bay Packers made two very important acquisitions. Head coach Vince Lombardi, who was also the general manager of the team, first traded a draft pick to the New York Giants for kicker/punter Don Chandler and then also dealt linebacker Dan Currie to the Los Angeles Rams for wide receiver Carroll Dale.

Both Chandler and Dale were key contributors for the Packers from 1965 through 1967, when the team won three straight NFL championships, plus the first two Super Bowl games.

Dale recalled the moment he heard about the trade, as he talked with me earlier this week.

“I was working in Bristol, Tennessee for a sporting goods company,” Dale said. “I happened to be in a small town called Galax, Virginia staying at a motel. The local coach knew what motel I was staying in called me and said that my picture was in the Roanoke paper. I asked why. He said, ‘You’ve been traded to the Green Bay Packers.’

Dale knew that his fortunes were about to change, as the Rams had never had a winning season in the five years that he had played with Los Angeles, plus was 2-7-1 versus the Packers in that time.

“We were in the same conference as the Packers when I was with the Rams,” Dale said. “We played them twice a year and were very familiar with them. I was aware that the Packers had won the NFL championship in 1961 and 1962.”

With the Packers, Dale saw a couple of familiar faces who had gotten to know while he was with the Rams.

“It just so happened that (quarterback) Zeke Bratkowski and (offensive ends coach) Tom Fears had both preceded me to Green Bay,” Dale said. “I’m sure that they put in a good word for me with Coach Lombardi.

“It was like Christmas for me when I heard the news that I was traded. I grew up in a small town and with Green Bay being the smallest town in the league, it was right down my alley.

“But because the Packers were winners and a contenders is really what counted most. I was thrilled with the opportunity.”

Dale started his NFL career in 1960 with the Rams, after being drafted out of Virginia Tech, where he was an All-American receiver and where the school has retired his No. 84 number.

From 1960 through 1964, Dale, who went 6’2″ and 200 pounds when he played, caught 149 passes for 2,663 yards (a 17.9 yards per catch average) and 17 touchdowns for the Rams.

Lombardi made the trade to acquire Dale because wide receiver Max McGee was aging and also to give quarterback Bart Starr a deep threat in the passing game.

“You know, back then in the league, when a receiver got to be 33 or 34, your career was close to being over because of your legs,” Dale said. “That was kind of the thinking until guys like Jerry Rice proved them wrong.

“The thinking was that Max had hit that age, plus the Packers had also drafted Bob Long in 1964. So in ’65, because Boyd (6’5″, 225) and Max (6’3”, 220) were bigger guys and better blockers, they played X end or split end, while Bob and I played flanker. Still, we all knew each other’s assignments in case someone got hurt.

“In terms of starting, I pulled a muscle in the front of my leg in an exhibition game. It wasn’t as bad as a hamstring pull, but you really couldn’t stride. So for a game or two I didn’t start. But then we played Detroit that year, and either Boyd or Max was hurt and I was healthy then, so I played at X end.

“I had one of my better games while I was in Green Bay against the Lions and caught a 77-yard touchdown or something and made some key blocks. So after the game on the plane ride to Green Bay,  Coach Lombardi came up to me and told me I had my starting job back. I pretty much started at flanker the rest of my career in Green Bay.”

Lombardi and Dale celebrate after beating Colts in 1966

The 1965 season was a turning point for the Packers in terms of getting back to championship-style play. It certainly was for right guard Jerry Kramer, who was trying to come back after missing most of the 1964 season due to intestinal issues.

Kramer had nine medical procedures to resolve the situation, which included removing 16 inches of Kramer’s colon due to a boyhood accident in which a number of large slivers were in his intestine for 11 years.

But thanks to hard work and the assistance of Chandler during training camp, Kramer earned his starting job back at right guard, which happened ironically in the same Detroit game in which Dale got his job back.

The ’65 season started out well enough for the Packers, as they won their first six games of the season. But in the middle of the season, the offense sputtered, as the team scored just 36 points in four games.

But thanks to the fabulous defense by the Packers, the team went 2-2 in those four games. Still, when it was all said and done, the Packers were ranked 12th in total offense for the year. Fortunately, the defense was ranked 3rd, which is a big reason why the Packers finished 10-3-1 and tied the Baltimore Colts for the Western Conference crown.

For the first time since 1959, fullback Jim Taylor did not run for over 1,000 yards. Starr spread the ball around in the passing game, as Dowler led the team with 44 catches for 610 yards and four touchdowns, while Dale added 20 receptions for 382 yards and two scores.

Dale came up big in the postseason however. In the Western Conference title game at Lambeau Field versus the Colts, No. 84 had three catches for 63 yards, one which set up the game-winning field goal by Chandler in OT, as the Packers won 13-10.

Dale caught all three passes from Bratkowski, as Starr injured his ribs on the very first play from scrimmage trying to make a tackle after Don Shinnick recovered a fumble by tight end Bill Anderson and scored a touchdown.

I also talked to Bratkowski this week and he gave me his thoughts on Dale.

“I knew Carroll when I was with the Rams,” Bratkowski said. “I knew the quality receiver that he was, as well the quality of person he was.  He was the leader for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He helped to bring the speakers in.

“Carroll was a hard working, smart football player. He was very humble. Carroll was not selfish at all. He also loved to hunt. He and I would go hunting west of town to hunt grouse on Mondays.

“I can’t say enough positive things about him because he was such a great team player.”

Carroll Dale II

In the 1965 NFL title game also at Lambeau Field versus the defending NFL champion Cleveland Browns, Starr was able to return and once again Dale came up big.

Dale caught two passes for 60 yards, including a 47-yard touchdown. Dowler also caught five passes for 59 yards, but it was the Green Bay ground game that dominated the contest.

Taylor and halfback Paul Hornung combined for 201 yards toting the rock and No. 5 scored the last touchdown of the game as the Packers won their third NFL title under Lombardi 23-12.

I also had the opportunity to talk to Dowler this week and he talked about the arrival of Dale from the Rams prior to the ’65 season.

“When Carroll came over, I think everybody figured that he came into replace Max,” Dowler said. “Max was pretty old at the time. But Max played pretty good for a long, long time. But when Carroll came in, he got most of the playing time over Max.

“But later in the ’65 season, Coach Lombardi wanted to get Max in the game because we weren’t getting a lot of production from Marvin [Fleming]. And that’s no knock on Marvin, because he was a wonderful blocker, but not much of a receiving threat.

“So what Coach Lombardi did was put me at the tight end position, because I used to run plays from the next week’s opposing team at practice and I would be John Mackey from the Colts or Mike Ditka from the Bears.

“Coach Lombardi asked me late in the year if I wanted to play the tight end position on passing plays so we could put Max in my old spot outside. I told him that I would love it. The very first time we tried that maneuver against the Colts, I caught a third down pass for a first down and then later a touchdown pass from the tight end position. We did that quite often for the next four years at times, but it isn’t talked about a lot.”

Dowler then talked about what Dale brought to the team as a receiver.

“Max and I were kind of the same type of guy,” Dowler said. “We were big and maybe a little stronger and maneuverable over the middle of the field.  Carroll was outstanding running full speed down the field and looking back for the ball.  I believe Carroll’s average yards per catch is close to 20 yards a catch. Maybe 19.8.”

Dowler has a magnificent memory, as Dale’s yards per catch average is actually 19.72 yards per catch, which is best in the history of the Packers. That tells you a lot with receivers like Don Hutson and James Lofton also playing with the Packers during their Pro Football Hall of Fame careers.

Dowler continued.

“Carroll gave us more of a long ball threat than Max and I,” Dowler said. “Carroll was special. He ran under the ball and was natural at finding the football on deep passes. He had a natural and smooth stride when he ran.”

In 1966, Dale led the Packer receivers in catches with 37 for 876 yards (23.7 average) and seven touchdowns. Starr was also the NFL MVP that year, as the passing game became a bigger emphasis on offense for the Packers, as the team finished 12-2.

Later that year, when the Packers made it to the NFL championship game again versus the Dallas Cowboys at the Cotton  Bowl, Dale showed off the deep threat attributes that Dowler was talking about, when he caught a 51-yard touchdown pass from Starr as the Packers won 34-27.

After the victory over the Cowboys, the Packers would be facing the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl I at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Packers won 35-10, as Starr was the game’s MVP and it was McGee who had the huge game at receiver taking over for an injured Dowler.

While No. 85 had seven catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns, Dale also chipped in with four catches for 59 yards. Dale also had a touchdown pass taken off the board after a phantom illegal motion penalty was called.

Carroll Dale in Super Bowl I

“Yes, the TD was for 60-plus yards and was fairly early in the game,” Dale said. “They called motion, but when we looked at the film, we couldn’t see anyone who moved. Maybe they were trying to keep the game close.”

In 1967, the Packers did what had never been done before or never been done since. That is win three straight NFL titles in the playoff era which started in 1933.

But what a difficult ride it was. The ’67 Packers were a team without Taylor and Hornung for the first time. Plus, the guys who replaced them, fullback Jim Grabowski and halfback Elijah Pitts, were both lost for the season in the same game against Baltimore midway through the season.

Starr was also nicked up at the beginning of the year, as Bratkowski had to start at QB in both the fourth and fifth games of the season.

In addition to that, the Packers had two heartbreaking losses on the road to both the Colts and the Rams in the final seconds of those games.

Still, the Packers persevered. Two weeks after losing to the Rams in Los Angeles, the Packers met the Rams again in Milwaukee for the Western Conference title. After a bit of a slow start, Green Bay dominated, as the final score was 28-7.

Dale caught a postseason touchdown pass for the third consecutive year, as he caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Starr, plus almost had another as he was tackled just short of the end zone on a 48-yard pass reception. All in all, Dale had six catches for 109 yards and a score in the game.

Eight days later came the “Ice Bowl” game versus the Cowboys at the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.

The game came down to an epic drive by the Packers, as they had to drive 68 yards in 4:50 across a frozen field which resembled an ice skating rink trailing 17-14.

The Packers got off to a quick start in the game, as they went ahead on two Starr touchdown passes to Dowler. But a 14-0 lead was turned into a 17-14 deficit after a Dan Reeves option pass to Lance Rentzel on the first play of the 4th quarter.

But the Packers were able to put together the signature drive of the Lombardi era, as Starr was able to sneak behind a classic block by Kramer on defensive tackle Jethro Pugh to score the game-winning touchdown.

In the game, Dale had three catches for 44 yards.

The Packers then went on to win Super Bowl II 33-14 over the Oakland Raiders at the Orange Bowl in Miami. Starr was once again MVP of the game. Dowler had two catches for 71 yards and a score, while Dale had four receptions for 43 yards.

McGee wasn’t quite as dynamic in Super Bowl II as he was in Super Bowl I, but he did make a fabulous 35-yard catch on a play-action pass from Starr.

Which was apropos for the Packers under Lombardi. On countless occasions, Starr completed big passing plays on third and short when the defense was expecting a run from the Green Bay vaunted running game.

Dale explained.

“Coach Lombardi had a philosophy of taking what the defense gave us,” Dale said. “If the defense loaded up the box on a third and short, Bart had a knack for taking advantage of that with a play-action pass for big yardage or even a touchdown.

“If you look at our games, we took what they gave us. I might have a game where I catch five or six passes and score a couple of touchdowns and they might double cover me the next week. And under Lombardi, you never threw to a double covered receiver, otherwise Coach would go nuts.

“That was our philosophy. Just take a look at Super Bowl I or the “Ice Bowl”, you see Bart call the play-action 36 post play and it almost always worked. That was a great play. It just held everybody for a second when they saw the blocking coming.”

Carroll Dale in the Ice Bowl

After the 1967 season, McGee retired and Dale went on to be named to three straight Pro Bowl squads from 1968 through 1970.

Dale stayed on with the Packers through the 1972 season, when Green Bay won the NFC Central title under head coach and general manager Dan Devine. Dale was one of three starters remaining from the Lombardi era teams, along with center Ken Bowman and outside linebacker Dave Robinson. There was also middle linebacker Ray Nitschke, but he was a backup to Jim Carter.

Dale talked about that ’72 team.

“Well, at least we got into the playoffs,” Dale said. “And as I mentioned earlier, Coach Lombardi would always take what they gave you, but that wasn’t the case under Coach Devine when we played the Washington Redskins in the playoffs.

“We went into Washington with a game plan that never changed. They put eight in the box and even though we had two great running backs, the ground game never got going. Eight people can outplay six or seven. I tried to get them to change things up, but nothing changed.”

I also heard from some very good sources that Bart Starr, who was the quarterbacks coach under Devine, also tried to get Devine to change things up and pass more. But it never happened and the Packers lost 16-3, as the Redskins completely shut down the Green Bay running attack.

Devine told Dale that he wanted him to return to the Packers in 1973 and continue to be a veteran leader, but Dale was ultimately cut from the team by Devine and was soon picked up by Bud Grant and the Minnesota Vikings.

The Vikings went on to Super Bowl VIII, but lost to the Miami Dolphins 24-7.

Dale retired after the 1973 season and what a career he had. Overall, with the Rams, Packers and Vikings, Dale had 438 receptions for 8,277 yards (18.9 average) and 52 touchdowns. In Green Bay alone, Dale had 275 catches for 5,422 yards (19.7 average) and 35 TDs.

Because of his great production on the field, Dale was inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 1979.

The honors didn’t end there either for Dale. He is also in Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, the Virginia Tech Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame.

Looking back on the legacy he has left behind, especially about his time in Green Bay, Dale is certainly thankful.

“Well, it was a great time for me in Green Bay,” Dale said. “It was like having your first car or first bicycle. Winning that first championship in ’65 after all the losing in Los Angeles was fantastic.

“Just being part of that team was just awesome. And also to win three NFL championships in a row was really something. The memories of my time in Green Bay are truly unforgettable!”

Green Bay Packers: Jordy Nelson and Boyd Dowler Have Many Similarities

Boyd Dowler Jordy Nelson side by side

Jordy Nelson (left) in Super Bowl XLV and Boyd Dowler (right) in Super Bowl II.

With the Green Bay Packers recently releasing long-time great wide receiver Jordy Nelson, it got me thinking about who was comparable to No. 87 in the annals of team history. The first player who jumped into my head was Boyd Dowler.

Both players had size and speed working for them. Nelson is 6’3″, 215 pounds, while when Dowler played in the 1960s for the Packers, he went 6’5″, 225 pounds. Plus, both Nelson and Dowler had a track backgrounds.

Both Nelson and Dowler were early draft picks by the Packers. Nelson was a second-round pick in the 2008 NFL draft and was the 36th player taken overall, while Dowler was a third-round selection in the 1959 NFL draft and was the 25th player taken overall (there were only 12 teams in the NFL back then).

Nelson went to one Pro Bowl in 2014, plus was named second-team All-Pro that same season.

Dowler went to two Pro Bowls (1965 & 1967) and was named second-team All-Pro in 1967. Dowler was also named the 1959 NFL Rookie of the Year by UPI and was also on the All-Decade team of the 1960s.

In terms of the Green Bay record book, both Nelson and Dowler appear prominently in the receiving records for the Packers.

In the nine years he played with the Packers (2008 through 2017), not counting the 2015 season when he tore his ACL in the preseason, Nelson had 550 receptions (third) for 7,848 yards (fifth) and 69 touchdowns (second). Nelson also had a 14.3 yards-per-catch average.

In the 11 years he played with the Packers, who were then a run-first team, Dowler had 448 catches (sixth) for 6,918 yards (sixth) and 40 touchdowns (11th). Dowler had a 15.4 yards-per-catch average.

Both Nelson and Dowler also came up big in the postseason.

In 13 games for the Packers in the playoffs, Nelson had 54 catches (first) for 668 yards and five scores (tied for third).

In 10 games with the Packers in the postseason, Dowler had 30 catches for 440 yards and five touchdowns (tied for third).

The teams Nelson played on were 7-6 in the postseason, played in three NFC title games and won Super Bowl XLV.

The teams Dowler played on were 9-1 in the postseason, won five NFL titles, including three straight (1965, 1966 & 1967), plus won Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II.

Nelson caught a 29-yard touchdown pass in Super Bowl XLV, while Dowler caught a 62-yard touchdown pass in Super Bowl II.

Jordy Nelson in Super Bowl XLV (II)

In Super Bowl XLV, not only did Nelson catch a TD pass, but he caught nine passes overall for 140 yards, which is tied for the all-time lead in team history in terms of receptions in a postseason game.

Dowler caught all five of his postseason touchdowns in championship games, either in a NFL title game or in a Super Bowl.

I had a chance earlier this week to talk with Dowler, and although he doesn’t personally know Nelson, he definitely tracked his career, even before he became a member of the Packers.

“I don’t know Jordy, but I followed him very closely,” Dowler said. “I read his bio coming out of Kansas State. He went to a small Kansas high school and what I couldn’t get over was that he wasn’t offered a scholarship. He was a walk-on at Kansas State.

“I read about what he did in high school. He was all-state in football at two positions, receiver and safety I believe. He was an all-state point guard in basketball. Plus he won the 100 meters in the Kansas high school track meet. I ran track in college (Colorado), and kids from Kansas or Kansas State were always good. It was a good track state.

“He did all those things and Kansas State didn’t offer him a scholarship. He was allowed to walk-on and he did and he earned a scholarship.

“I’ve really liked him as a player. He’s 33 years-old now. I was ready to retire about then. He’s a big guy with good speed. He was probably faster than I was.”

I mentioned to Dowler that he had a better yards-per-catch average than Nelson, but he responded with a great observation.

“Jordy did a lot of work inside the 20 or the red zone,” Dowler said.

The player who reminded Dowler of Nelson was Max McGee.

“Max was a college halfback,” Dowler said. “Max was real good run after catch. Max was pretty big, about 6’3″, about the same size as Jordy. Max went about 215 pounds (same weight as Nelson). He could run too, and he was in track as well in high school, I think maybe high jumping. Max was an awfully good athlete.”

As we talked about Nelson’s release by the Packers and he subsequent signing by the Oakland Raiders for $15 million over two years, Dowler was not shocked by the money.

“I’m not surprised,” Dowler said. “They have a former Green Bay person (GM Reggie McKenzie) in management. And I’ll bet Edgar Bennett was right there when Jordy first came out to Oakland.”

Bennett had spent most of the last 25 years in Green Bay, either as a player (five years, 1992-1996 and a member of the Super Bowl XXXI team), player development (four years, 2001-2005) or a coach (as running backs coach, wide receivers coach and offensive coordinator for 13 years, 2005-2017) .

When head coach Mike McCarthy hired Joe Philbin to become his new offensive coordinator in 2018, he left open a possibility that Bennett could return to the team in a different coaching role. Bennett declined however and instead took over as the wide receivers coach of the Raiders when he was hired by new head coach Jon Gruden, who had previously coached the Raiders from 1998-2001.

Obviously, Bennett had worked closely with Nelson in Green Bay, so that certainly had to be a plus with Nelson signing with the Raiders. Bennett had also been Nelson’s position coach for four years in Green Bay.

“The Raiders have a pretty good idea who they are getting,” Dowler said. “Plus, they are coached now by Jon Gruden (runs a similar offense that McCarthy runs in Green Bay).”

Like Nelson, Dowler did not finish his career in Green Bay as a player, as he played with the Pack from 1959 through 1969. The former Colorado Buffalo explained to me why he decided to move on.

Boyd Dowler scores TD in Ice Bowl

“After the ’68 season, after Vince [Lombardi] left, we just didn’t play the way we had played before in the ’60s,” Dowler said. “We just weren’t the same football team. We had some of the same players, but the nucleus of the team all got old at the same time. The defense was still pretty solid, but we had a lot of young guys on offense.

“We weren’t able to match up with the Colts in ’68 and the Vikings in ’69. Anyway, after we finished the ’68 season and went to camp in ’69, I just felt down deep that this team had gone through it’s great years and it was about over. In ’69, we were out of the race with like three games to go in the season.

“I kind of decided at that point that I was going to get into coaching.”

Dowler tried to hook up with his old coach in Washington, as Lombardi was now the head coach of the Redskins starting in 1969.

“I called Vince on the phone and told him what I was thinking of doing,” Dowler said. “He said, ‘I just hired Lew Carpenter as my receivers coach. If I had known you were available, I would have brought you here to Washington.’ But that wasn’t an option.

“So I called Don Shula, because he had coached me in the Pro Bowl one year. He told me, ‘I think you would be a good coach, but I just hired Howard Schnellenberger from the Rams, who was George Allen’s receivers coach.’ Shula told me that he would call George Allen and give me a recommendation.

“As soon as I got off the phone, I called George Allen myself.”

Allen quickly hired Dowler to be his receivers coach that year, but the entire coaching staff of the Rams was fired after the 1970 season. But Allen was soon hired to become the new head coach of the Redskins in 1971, as Lombardi has not been able to coach in 1970 due to the colon cancer which took his life on September 3, 1970.

Lombardi had led the Redskins to a 7-5 record in 1969, which was Washington’s first winning season in 14 years. After Lombardi’s illness and eventual death in 1970, the Redskins were coached by Bill Austin, but the team slumped to a 6-8 record. That led to the hiring of Allen, which also led to Dowler coming to Washington as well as the receivers coach.

But that role soon became that of player-coach due to injuries at the receiver position. Dowler wore the same No. 86 which he wore in Green Bay and had 26 receptions for 352 yards in 1971, as the team went 9-4-1 and made the playoffs as a wild card team.

In 1972, Dowler strictly was the receivers coach for the Redskins, as the team went 11-3 and went to the Super Bowl, where they lost 14-7 to the undefeated Miami Dolphins.

Dowler stayed in coaching for the next decade or so, as he was receivers coach for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1973-1975, the offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals from 1976-1979, wide receivers coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1980-1982 and then quarterbacks coach for the Bucs in 1983 and 1984.

Dowler later worked as a scout for the Carolina Panthers when they became an expansion team in 1995. By 1996, the team had improved to the point where they ended up playing the Packers in the 1996 NFC title game at Lambeau Field, in which the Packers won 30-13.

The bottom line is not all the players that fans of the Packers grow to love over the years stay in Green Bay to end their careers. They move on to new locales.

It’s happened with Hall of Fame players like Jim Taylor, Forrest Gregg, Herb Adderley, Jim Ringo, James Lofton, Reggie White, Dave Robinson and of course Brett Favre.

It also happened with the legendary coaching icons of the Packers, Curly Lambeau and Lombardi.

Having a great player like Nelson move on to another team certainly is crushing to many in Packer Nation, especially since he was cut. But when the dust clears, Nelson will retire as a Packer and end up in the Packers Hall of Fame.

Just like Dowler did, when he was inducted in 1978.

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.

Zeke Bratkowski Talks About Playing for Both George Halas and Vince Lombardi

Halas and Lombardi

Zeke Bratkowski played quarterback in the NFL for 15 years. In 10 of those years, Bratkowski was coached by either George Halas or Vince Lombardi. Talk about playing under two of the greatest coaching icons in NFL history.

I had an opportunity to speak with Bratkowski recently, and he talked about playing under these two head coaching giants.

“Both Coach Halas and Coach Lombardi were very similar in their style of discipline,” Bratkowski said. “They were both very demanding and were coaches of repetition.”

Bratkowski originally played under Halas, as the Chicago Bears drafted the former Georgia Bulldog star as a junior in the second round in 1953 as a “future pick”, which was allowed in that era. Bratkowski played his senior year and joined the Bears in 1954.

Bratkowski talked about the start of his NFL career and how Halas helped him.

“In my rookie year, the Bears also had Ed Brown and George Blanda at quarterback,” Bratkowski said. “I learned a lot from Coach Halas. He told the whole team that year when we were 4-4, that if we win the last four games, we could win the conference.

“Coach gave me the chance to start those four games and we won them all. But unfortunately Detroit, who we beat on the last week of the season, won the conference when the kicker from Philadelphia missed an extra point against them the week before. So basically one point kept us out of the championship game.”

Bratkowski’s career in the NFL was put on hold in 1955 and 1956, as he served in the Air Force. While Bratkowski was serving his country, the Bears played in the 1956 NFL title game against the New York Giants at Yankee Stadium. The offensive coordinator for the G-Men was none other than Vince Lombardi, as New York won 47-7.

While in the Air Force, Bratkowski continued to play football and one of his teammates was wide receiver Max McGee of the Green Bay Packers.

“We went to the championship game when I was at the Air Force and Max was on our team,” Bratkowski said. “We also had Jim Dooley playing wide receiver. Jim eventually became head coach of the Bears. But both Max and Jim caught a lot of balls, as we threw a lot.

“Max and I were in the same squadron as pilots and we flew together. We were in the original drone squadron.”

When Bratkowski came back in 1957, it took awhile to become as proficient as he was before he left for the Air Force.

“When I came back in ’57, Coach Halas had me doing a lot of film study,” Bratkowski said. “I lived in Danville, Illinois which is about 110 miles south of Chicago. Coach had me doing film studies of all the games that the team had played while I was gone. I had to fill out this big form that he had created for me.

“So I would be in Chicago from Monday through Friday doing that exercise. The train out of Chicago went right into Danville, so it was an easy ride. Anyway, I had a lot of catching up to do, even though I was in great shape. But it took awhile for me to catch up to Ed [Brown] and George [Blanda] again.

“But Coach Halas helped me catch up. He set up a regimen for me to be better prepared. I would take notes and Coach Halas would answer my questions. He also watched film with me and would help out there as well.”

Zeke with da Bears

Bratkowski spent four more years with the Bears before he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams in 1961. In his five years with the Bears, Bratkowski was 11-5 as a starter, so it was a bit odd that he was shipped out to Los Angeles.

As a Ram, Bratkowski started 11 games in 1961 and then split time with rookie quarterback Roman Gabriel in 1962 and part of 1963 before he was placed on waivers.

It was at that point that Lombardi, then the general manager and head coach of the Packers, picked up Bratkowski on waivers and he became the backup to starting quarterback Bart Starr.

Lombardi used a similar film study routine for his quarterbacks, similar to what Halas did. Brakowski talked to me about that routine in a previous story I did about being in the QB’s meeting room with Lombardi.

This is a portion of that piece:

“We had to be there at 8:00 am to meet with Coach Lombardi,” Bratkowski said. “Then, we didn’t have quarterback coaches. But back then, the quarterback meetings were with Coach Lombardi. It was all him.

“He always started the meetings with the defensive frequencies of the upcoming team we would be facing. We would take notes on the fronts that they ran and also how they would cover.

“Coach was an excellent teacher. He was a great coach, but he was even a better teacher. He was obviously a great motivator, but he also explained how and why certain plays would work.”

Bratkowski talked about one of Lombardi’s techniques for teaching.

“All of his information was on cards,” Bratkowski said. “He didn’t show the cards to us, but he talked about what was on the card. We took notes. That is what we did consistently. Every game we had a notebook, that we ourselves had made.

“We had perforated notebooks where you could take that sheet and use it for the next time you played an opponent. Like Detroit for instance. Then we could see if our information matched up the second time or if they had changed their tendencies.”

In the five years Bratkowski played under Lombardi, No. 12 only started three games, winning two of them. But he came in for an injured Starr on a number of occasions and Bratkowski often brought home a victory.

One of those games was in the 1965 Western Conference Championship Game. Starr was injured on the first play of scrimmage for the Packers versus the Baltimore Colts in that game at Lambeau Field, but Bratkowski led the Packers to a 13-10 overtime win, as he threw for 248 yards against one of the top defenses in the NFL.

The next season, in 1966, Bratkowski had to come in another game when Starr was injured and this time it was against Halas and the Bears at Lambeau Field. Bratkowski threw for 190 yards and two touchdowns, as the Packers beat da Bears 13-6.

“I enjoyed that victory more than most,” Bratkowski said.

Bratkowski also came in relief of Starr in the second-to-last game of the season against the Colts in Baltimore in 1966. Once again, Bratkowski led the Packers to a win, as Green Bay scored a fourth quarter touchdown in a 14-10 victory, which also clinched the Western Conference title.

Zeke playing the Colts in Baltimore

Bratkowski then talked about the close friendship that Halas and Lombardi had.

“Coach Halas and Coach Lombardi were good friends,” Bratkowski said. “At least until they played each other. But they had great respect for one another. They had the same character. Both of them were devout Christians.

“When I was with Coach Halas, he would go to mass every morning in Chicago. Likewise, Coach Lombardi did the same thing in Green Bay. Both were very conscious of their character and their team’s character.

“We had some pretty good games when they coached against each other.”

Lombardi and his Packers were 13-5 against Halas and his Bears from 1959 through 1967. During that period, the Packers won five NFL titles, which included the first two Super Bowls, while the Bears won the 1963 NFL title.

Halas, along with Paul Brown of the Cleveland Browns, were largely responsible for the the Packers hiring Lombardi in 1959, as both gave big endorsements for the former offensive assistant of the Giants.

In his 15-year career in the NFL, Bratkowski had threw for 10,345 yards and 65 touchdowns. He later became an assistant coach in the NFL for a number of teams for 26 years, which included both the Bears and Packers. The lessons he learned under both Halas and Lombardi as a player came with him when he became a coach.

“It was a honor for me to play under both Coach Halas and Coach Lombardi,” Bratkowski said. “I learned a lot from each of them. Both were very disciplined and so were their teams. They had us doing the same play over and over again until it became second nature. Those practice habits helped us when we played the real games.

“Bottom line, we were always prepared.”

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.”