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!

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

NFL 100 All-Time Team(1)

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

“What the hell’s going on out here?”

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

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

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

That feat has never been duplicated before or since.

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

Forrest Gregg vs. Deacon Jones

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

To me, that’s a BIG crock!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I could go on and on.

There is halfback Paul Horning.

There is fullback Jim Taylor.

There is center Jim Ringo.

There is defensive end Willie Davis.

There is defensive tackle Henry Jordan.

There is linebacker Dave Robinson.

There is safety Willie Wood.

There is safety Bobby Dillon.

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

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

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

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

Bart's QB sneak behind Jerry

Photo by John Biever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ray bloody

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, back to Adderley. No. 26 had 48 picks for 1,046 yards and seven touchdowns in his NFL career. 39 of those interceptions came when he was a member of the Packers. All of his touchdowns also came while he played in Green Bay.

Adderley also played on six teams which won NFL titles.

Herb vs. the Colts

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

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

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

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

Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions: A Historical Perspective

Jim Taylor scores vs. the Lions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bart being harrased by the Lions in 1962

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Football: NFC playoffs. Green Bay Packer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rodgers did not disappoint either.

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

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

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

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

Richard Rodgers catch vs. the Lions

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

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

Historically, Rodgers has fared very well versus Detroit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Green Bay Packers: The D gets an A in Beating da Bears

P. Smith chasing Trubisky

Preston Smith of the Packers chases quarterback Mitch Trubisky of the Bears.

The final score on Thursday night at Soldier Field was…Green Bay Packers 10, Chicago Bears 3.

It was apropos that this NFL game between the Packers and Bears was played 60 years after Vince Lombardi made his head coaching debut against George Halas and the Monsters of the Midway at City Stadium (now Lambeau Field).

Yes, in 1959, Lombardi coached his first ever game in the NFL and it was also against da Bears. And like the game was on Thursday night, the contest was a defensive battle. The Packers ended up winning 9-6.

On Thursday night, Matt LaFleur made his head coaching debut for the Packers and like it was for Lombardi in 1959 against the Bears, the defense saved the day.

In 1959, all the Packers could muster on offense was a late Jimmy Taylor touchdown. The only other points scored by the Pack that day was because of a safety after Taylor had scored his fourth quarter touchdown.

In that game, the Packers defense, which was coordinated by Phil Bengtson, held the Bears to 164 total yards. The defense also forced two fumbles, plus scored on the safety.

The Packers only had 262 total yards themselves, led by Taylor’s 98 yards rushing. Paul Hornung also rushed for 61 yards. In all, the Packers rushed for 177 yards behind the work of Jerry Kramer and company on the offensive line.

Quarterback Lamar McHan was only 3-for-12 for 81 yards in passing the ball and also threw an interception.

After the win, the players of the Packers hoisted up Lombardi and carried him across the field.

Lombardi carried off the field in his first game

The Packers carry head coach Vince Lombardi off the field after his debut win versus the Bears in 1959.

On Thursday night, Aaron Rodgers took his career record in the regular season versus the Bears to 17-5, but it wasn’t easy. Rodgers was just 18-of-30 for 203 yards and one touchdown pass, which went to tight end Jimmy Graham from eight yards out in the second quarter.

Rodgers was also sacked five times, as he was trying to implement the new offense that LaFleur has the Packers running this year. The offense is definitely a work in progress. The key to the offense is the outside zone running scheme, but the Packers only had 47 yards rushing, with running back Aaron Jones picking up 39 of those yards.

Rodgers also led the Packers to another score in the fourth quarter, when kicker Mason Crosby connected on a 39-yard field goal.

Other than that, it was the defense coordinated by Mike Pettine which was the story of the game. The Packers harassed quarterback Mitch Trubisky of the Bears all night long and sacked him five times, with 2.5 of the sacks coming from two of the big free agent signings from this offseason, Preston Smith (1.5) and Za’Darius Smith (1.0).

Trubisky was just 26-of-45 for 228 yards and one very costly pick, as former Bear Adrian Amos (another free agent signing) intercepted Trubisky in the back of the end zone late in the fourth quarter.

Adrian Amos pick vs. da Bears

Safety Adrain Amos of the Packers celebrates his late interception of Mitch Trubisky of the Bears.

The defense of the Packers was just as stingy against the run, as they only allowed 46 yards rushing.

The bottom line was that the Packers had a crucial win on the road against their top rival in the NFC North and now will return to play at Lambeau Field to play five of their next six games there.

The next tilt will be against the Minnesota Vikings on September 15, which will also be alumni weekend and also the time when the Packers will honor the late, great Bart Starr.

You may have noticed in the game between the Packers and Bears, that the No. 15 decal was on the back of the Green Bay helmet.

So while the offense of the Packers will continue to have growing pains, the defense looks to be the strength of the team right now. The defense looks to be a top five unit in the NFL this year based on what I saw on Thursday night.

The last time that occurred was in 2010.

That was also the year the Packers went on to win Super Bowl XLV.

 

The Fantastic Blocking Sequence That Jerry Kramer Didn’t Remember

Jerry on a knee

When it came to making some great blocks in his Pro Football Hall of Fame career, Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers had many. The two most obvious ones occurred in the postseason.

One was in the 1965 NFL title game in Green Bay, when the Packers hosted the defending NFL champion Cleveland Browns. The block occurred in the third quarter when Kramer swept left and first hit the middle linebacker with a block and then went outside to get a cornerback. Halfback Paul Hornung utilized Kramer’s blocks perfectly as he scored his last championship touchdown on a 13-yard run, as the Packers ended up winning 23-12.

The other one is maybe the most famous block in NFL history, as the Packers hosted the Dallas Cowboys in the 1967 NFL title game, better known as the “Ice Bowl” game. Kramer put a classic wedge block on defensive tackle Jethro Pugh, which allowed Bart Starr to shuffle right of No. 64 and score the winning touchdown with 13 seconds left on a quarterback sneak from one yard out, as Green Bay prevailed 21-17.

Earlier in the 1967 season, Kramer had one of the five best blocks of his career, at least according to the former Idaho Vandal star. The block (actually a number of blocks on one play) came against the Chicago Bears in the second game of the season at Lambeau Field.

Kramer knew all about the rivalry with da Bears, as head coach Vince Lombardi always had his team up versus head coach George Halas and his Monsters of the Midway.

Lombardi was always thinking the Halas had some spies watching the Packers practice.

“We would be practicing and Coach would see a lineman on a power pole a couple of blocks away doing electrical work,” Kramer said. “And Coach would go, ‘There’s one of Halas’ spies! Somebody go down there and check out that guy!’

Lombardi also had other ways to help hinder any spy tactics of Halas.

“At practice, Bart would wear No. 75 at times,” Kramer said chuckling. “We would change our numbers and everyone would wear a different number to confuse the spies of the Bears. Like Halas was going to think an offensive tackle is playing quarterback for us.”

Lombardi was always primed to play the Bears and he let his team know about as well.

“We were practicing on day before playing the Bears and Coach Lombardi brought us together,” Kramer said. “Coach said, ‘You guys go out and kick the Bears’ ass. And I’ll go out and kick old man Halas’ ass too.’

So when the Packers hosted the Bears on September 24, 1967, odds were that it would end up being a very physical game, which is exactly the way it turned out to be.

The Packers ended up winning 13-10, but it wasn’t easy. The team rushed for 233 yards, led by fullback Jim Grabowski, who rushed for 111 yards on 32 carries. No. 33 also had a rushing touchdown.

But Starr was obviously playing hurt, which was evidenced by the five interceptions he threw. This came a week after No. 15 threw four picks against the Detroit Lions in the season opener.

The game was so physical that Kramer didn’t even finish out the first half, as he suffered a concussion in the second quarter and was replaced by his old running mate, Fuzzy Thurston.

No. 63 had lost his starting left guard spot to second-year lineman Gale Gillingham after he had suffered a knee injury in an early scrimmage in training camp.

Kramer didn’t recall much about the game, except remembering seeing two or three Bears being carried off the field in the second half.

When Kramer came back to see the film of the game two days later with his teammates under the supervision and prodding by his head coach, he recalled Lombardi coming up to him just before the film study began.

Jerry Kramer Closeup

Lombardi said, “Boy, you came out there on one block and knocked the halfback down and went on and knocked the end down. You were just great. One of the greatest plays I’ve ever seen.”

Kramer had no memory of the play. The first time he saw it was watching film. I talked with Kramer recently and he gave me a rundown of that play.

“I was pulling and got the halfback first,” Kramer said. “I kept heading upfield and and was able to hit two other defensive players before I ended up hitting the left defensive end who was pursuing across the field.

“The block on the defensive end happened about 10 yards downfield. He was coming across the field and I was coming up the field. So his body position was not a position of strength. So as he ran toward me and in front of me, he tried to engage me. His position was very bad for that.

“I ended up knocking him about five yards through the air.”

It’s no wonder that Coach Lombardi was so impressed.

Green Bay Packers: Catching Up with No. 33, Jim Grabowski

Jim Grabowski vs. the Eagles

Jim Grabowski had some nice karma going for him when he played fullback for the University of Illinois from 1963 through 1965. Grabowski created some of the good fortune himself, due to his fabulous play with the Fighting Illini.

In 1963 as a sophomore, Grabowski rushed for 616 yards and seven touchdowns, plus capped a nice season by being named the 1964 Rose Bowl MVP, as Illinois beat Washington 17-7.

In 1964 and 1965, the Chicago native was named Associated Press All-American in both seasons, as he rushed for a combined 2,262 yards and 17 touchdowns. The Chicago Taft High School alumnus also caught 15 passes in his career at Illinois for 144 yards.

Grabowski finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1965.

Because of his exploits, Grabowski, who wore No. 31 at Illinois, now is in the College Football Hall of Fame, as well as the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame.

That set things up quite nicely for Grabowski, as the NFL and AFL were still battling for the rights of the best college football talent before the two leagues finally merged in 1966.

Grabowski was drafted first overall in the AFL draft by the Miami Dolphins, who were about to start their expansion season.  Grabowski was also picked ninth overall in the first round of the NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers.

Grabowski explained to me how it felt to be in that enviable position.

“Yes, that was the last year of the competition between the two leagues,” Grabowski said. “It was wonderful for those players who were drafted then. Up until that time, everyone was sort of an indentured servant of the NFL.

“So I had an attorney who was my agent and our strategy was that we had to listen to both offers. Miami was a brand new team. For a little bit of trivia, the very first draft choice of the Miami Dolphins was me.

“But being drafted by the Packers was certainly a factor in their favor. I grew up in Chicago as a Bear fan and I was always aware of the Green Bay Packers. Plus on top of that, they had Vince Lombardi, the god of gods as head coach. That certainly weighed heavy in my decision.”

Grabowski told me how his contract was finalized with the Packers.

“The Packers sent a plane down to negotiate the contract with my agent and myself,” Grabowski said. ” The Packers wanted to fly us to Green Bay. As a kid then, I didn’t realize all this stuff about the best place to negotiate was on your home turf, not theirs.

“So they brought us up there and you have to remember I’m a 21 year-old kid who had not been around much and was happy to play for anything I could get. But my agent really insisted that we play this out. So he told me that no matter what Lombardi said, to not say anything except that we will get back to you.

“Well, we walk into Lombardi’s office and you see all these trophies, championships and pictures around the room. I remember walking into the office and it seemed like the biggest office that I had ever seen. We didn’t sit at his desk, we sat at what looked like a boardroom table. It was pretty impressive.

“So my agent told Lombardi that Miami offered us a wonderful contract. Coach Lombardi went right to the chase. He gave us a number and he said that only provision with that number was that he couldn’t give us anymore than anyone else.

“So he looked at me and said, ‘Son, what do you think?’ I couldn’t help but nod my head yes.”

Lombardi was going through another set of high-priced negotiations with halfback Donny Anderson of Texas Tech, who the Packers had drafted in the first round of the 1965 NFL draft as a future draft pick, which was allowed in those days.

The Packers were battling the Houston Oilers of the AFL for Anderson’s services.

In the end, Lombardi was able to snare both Grabowski and Anderson and the duo was known as the “Gold Dust Twins” because of the contracts they had signed.

Grabowski and Anderson replace Hornung and Taylor

The big deals that Grabowski and Anderson signed did not sit well with one player on the Packers. That would be fullback Jim Taylor. While Anderson received help and guidance from veterans Paul Hornung  and Elijah Pitts, Taylor did not do the same with Grabowski.

“Jimmy was a real competitor,” Grabowski said. “And he was ticked off about the contracts that were signed by Donny and I. And I understood that. Paul was more magnanimous with Donny and Elijah was one of the best guys on that team, as he was very helpful. Jimmy and I had very few words together.”

I know from talking with Jerry Kramer that he really enjoyed his time with Grabowski and Anderson and had no ill will about the contracts that had signed. As Jerry told me once, “Donny and Jim were at the right place at the right time when they came out of college.”

Another veteran on the Packers, Henry Jordan, said this to Grabowski. “I don’t give a crap how much money you make. If you help put a few more dollars in my pocket, I’m with you!”

In his rookie season with the Packers, Grabowski did not get a lot of playing time, as he rushed 127 yards on 29 carries (a 4.4  yards-per-carry average). The game in which Grabowski first received significant playing time was against the expansion Atlanta Falcons at County Stadium in Milwaukee. I happened to be in attendance at that game.

Grabowski led the Packers in rushing that day with 52 yards on just seven carries, as the Packers blew out the Falcons 56-3. It was after that game that Taylor told the media that he was playing out his option with the Packers. That announcement did not sit well with Lombardi.

The most memorable run that Grabowski had as a rookie occurred versus the Minnesota Vikings at Metropolitan Stadium. No. 33 bounced off two groups of tacklers as he scampered 36 yards for a score. All told, Grabowski rushed for 61 yards on just seven carries in the game which was won by the Pack 28-16.

Grabowski also had a big play in the 1966 NFL title game at the Cotton Bowl versus the Dallas Cowboys. He was assisted on that big play by Green Bay’s other No. 1 pick in the 1966 NFL draft, guard Gale Gillingham, who was the 13th pick of the first round by the Pack.

After the Packers had grabbed a 7-0 lead after scoring on the opening drive that championship game, on the ensuing kickoff, Gillingham forced a fumble by Mel Renfro, which was recovered by Grabowski and returned 18 yards for another touchdown.

Grabowski recalled that moment.

“Yes, I always got a lot of crap from Gilly because he was in on that tackle,” Grabowski said. “He told me, ‘I caused the fumble and you get the glory.’ I was at the right place at the right time. Plus in that game, the difference in the game was one touchdown.

“I was thrilled. I would like to say that it was a real athletic play, but the fumble came right into my hands and what else could I do?”

Jim Grabowski picks up fumble in 1966 NFL title game

The Packers won that title game 34-27, which set up a match up the first Super Bowl, when the Packers played the Kansas City Chiefs at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The Packers took over the game in the second half and both Grabowski and Anderson got into the game late. Anderson rushed for 30 yards, while Grabowski ran for two, as the Packers won 35-10.

In 1967, both Taylor and Hornung were gone. The new starting backfield for the Packers that season was Grabowski at fullback and Pitts at halfback.

Grabowski got off to a great start that year, both running and catching the football. Against the Bears in Week 2, Grabowski ran for 111 yards on 32 carries and a touchdown, plus caught three passes for 26 more yards.

Grabowski remembered that game well.

“That was a real grinding game,” Grabowski said. “I had a couple carries that were called back. I ended up carrying the ball 36 times overall. I was pretty beat up after that.”

In Week 8, the Packers played the Baltimore Colts at Memorial Stadium. No. 33 was having a great year, as he was third in the NFL in rushing at the time. At that point, Grabowski had 448 yards rushing and had two TDs, plus had caught 12 passes for 171 yards and another score.

But Grabowski and the Packers were struck a cruel blow in the game, as No. 33 went out with a knee injury, while Pitts was lost for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon.

The injury to Grabowski’s knee was a cartilage issue and he kept rehabbing and working to get back on the field. In fact, Grabowski was able to play in Week 11 against the Bears at Wrigley Field, as he rushed for 18 yards on four carries.

But that would be his last appearance for the Packers that season, even with his efforts to get back on the field. In fact, Grabowski was supposed to start the “Ice Bowl” game at fullback, before he re-injured the knee in pre-game workouts.

Grabowski recalled that moment.

“Yes, I was slated to start,” Grabowski said. “When I had the cartilage injury back then, and I can’t speak for what happens with an injury like that today, but then it just popped and tore everything up and the knee swelled up. So you tried to ice it up and take it easy. I hadn’t done much prior to the “Ice Bowl” for a few weeks, but I was able to practice that week. But before the game I was warming up and I was making a cut on a pass and the knee went out and I was done.”

A lot of people don’t realize that even with the injuries to Grabowski and Pitts that season, the Packers still finished second in the NFL in rushing in 1967, as Anderson and Travis Williams filled in at halfback and Ben Wilson and Chuck Mercein filled in at fullback.

Mercein was a huge factor in the “Ice Bowl”, as he was responsible for 34 of the 68 yards made on that game-winning, epic drive that the Packers made to win the game 21-17.

Mercein told me in one of our conversations that one of his proudest moments came after the game when Grabowski told him that he couldn’t have played any better at FB than Mercein did that day.

With the victory over the Cowboys, the Packers now had won their third straight NFL title and were about to win their second straight Super Bowl, as the Packers beat the Oakland Raiders 33-14 at the Orange Bowl in Miami.

In 1968, Grabowski was once again the starting FB for the Packers and he led the team in rushing with 518 yards and also had three rushing TDs. No. 33 also had 18 catches for 210 yards and another score.

That touchdown catch came in the last game of the season, as the Packers played the Bears and Grabowski’s old teammate at Illinois, Dick Butkus. Going into the game, the Packers were 5-7-1 and were out of playoff contention behind head coach Phil Bengtson, who had taken over for Lombardi that year, as Vince was GM only.

Chicago was 7-6 going into the game and a victory would give da Bears the NFL Central title. But after a Zeke Bratkowski injury, Don Horn came into the game at quarterback for the Packers and had a big game. No. 13 threw for 187 yards and two scores and had a passer rating of 142.4 in the game, as the Packers won 28-27.

One of those TD passes was to Grabowski for 67 yards.

Needless to say, Butkus wasn’t too happy when he shook hands with his old buddy Grabowski after the game.

Dick Butkus and Jim Grabowski

The knee injury that Grabowski had suffered in 1967 continued to plague him throughout the rest of his NFL career. In 1969 and 1970 combined, Grabowski rushed for 471 yards and two scores, but people weren’t aware of all the health trauma that the 6’2″, 220-pound fullback was going through.

“What most people don’t know is that in the 1968 offseason that I had a staph infection and was in the hospital for over two weeks,” Grabowski said. “The recuperative part after that took several months. I lost thirty pounds. As I look back at it, the staph infection was a very serious thing and I could have died from it.

“I don’t really talk about this too much. Then the next year the staph infection returned. I was fighting a number of setbacks with my knee over the years. You get injured, then an infection and then another infection. I’m fortunate that I made it through all that.”

In 1971, Grabowski was in training camp with the Packers under new head coach Dan Devine.

Grabowski vividly remembers what happened next.

“I went through about six or seven weeks of camp under Devine and then I was extremely happy to get out of there,” Grabowski said. “Not because of anything to do with the players or the Packers, but I believe I’m in the majority of the people who I have talked to subsequent to those years about playing for Devine.

“Just when we broke up camp, Devine didn’t have the nerve to call me into his office. He cut me, but he made Red Cochran tell me. That’s how brave he was! I told Red that I couldn’t believe that Devine didn’t have the nerve to face me one on one.  I lost all respect for him then.”

Grabowski played with his hometown Bears in 1971 and rushed for 149 yards before he retired.

“I wasn’t sure I was going to continue to play after I was cut by the Packers, as I was basically running on one leg,” Grabowski said. “I was happy to play for the Bears. If you could have told a kid from Chicago that he was going to go on and play for the University of Illinois, then the Packers and end up playing for the Bears, you would say what a dream!”

After he retired from the NFL, Grabowski became a color commentator for Illinois football games and remained in that role for 26 years years before retiring in 2007.

I asked Grabowski what he was up to now.

“I’ve been retired for a number of years now,” Grabowski said. “An old friend of mine, Tom Boerwinkle, who was a center on the Chicago Bulls some years back, retired before I did and I asked Tom what it was like. And he said, ‘I can’t tell you what I’m doing, but I’m busy.’

“That has kind of been my motto. I have grandkids and I watch them do every sport that they are involved in. My wife and I stay busy. Spending time with friends and family and all that. We do a lot of traveling. We’re going to Alaska next month. We’ve been to a lot of places. I’m enjoying the fourth quarter.”

Finally, with the recent passing of Bart Starr, I had to ask Grabowski to share his thoughts about his old teammate.

“With Bart and I, it was like a general and a second lieutenant,” Grabowski said. “He was like Dwight D. Eisenhower and I was a guy with one bar on his helmet. He was the ultimate gentleman. Even in tough circumstances, he was going to treat you with kindness.

“He has always been like that. I felt a real loss when he passed. I knew he was sick and I had not talked with him since he first became sick, as I didn’t want to intrude upon his privacy. But I felt a real loss when I heard he was gone. He was the heart of the Packers. He was what it was all about.

“Thinking about him right now I’m sad that he in no longer with us. There was only one of those guys!”

Green Bay Packers: Clay Matthews and Randall Cobb Have Joined a Legendary Fraternity

Clay Matthews XLV (1)

Packer Nation had a very painful day last week, when they learned that both linebacker Clay Matthews and wide receiver Randall Cobb would be moving on to play for other teams.

Matthews will be going back to his old stomping grounds in southern California, as he signed with the Los Angeles Rams as a free agent. Cobb was a also a free agent and he signed with the Dallas Cowboys.

Both signings occurred on the same day, March 19. It was a double punch to the ribs.

Both Matthews and Cobb left great legacies in Green Bay and gave the Packer faithful many great moments to remember.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clay forces fumble in Super Bowl XLV

Cobb didn’t arrive in Green Bay until 2011, but he had a great career in both the regular season and postseason. In his eight-year career as a Packers, Cobb had 470 receptions (sixth all time in franchise history) for 5,524 yards (11th all time in franchise history) and 41 touchdowns.

No regular season touchdown was bigger than the one Cobb scored in the last game of the 2013 season, when the Packers played the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. The winner of that game would win the NFC North, while the loser would go home without a playoff spot.

Here was the situation: There were 46 seconds to go in the game, with the Packers trailing the Bears 28-27 and Green Bay facing a fourth-and-8 scenario.

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

Cobb was also money in the postseason. In 11 games, No. 18 caught 47 passes for 596 yards and five touchdowns. No TD was bigger than the 42-yard Hail Mary pass Cobb caught from Rodgers at the end of the first half in the 2016 Wild Card Playoff game between the Packers and New York Giants at Lambeau Field.

In all, Cobb caught three touchdown passes in the game, as the Pack whipped the G-Men 38-13.

Rodgers to Cobb in 2013 vs. da Bears

While there is no doubt that both Matthews and Cobb had great careers in Green Bay, they have also joined a legendary fraternity of players who played with the Packers but finished their NFL careers in other cities.

A number of them were players who ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as well.

Most notable was Brett Favre.

After announcing his retirement in March of 2008, Favre later decided he indeed wanted to return to the Packers. But the Packers decided by that time to turn things over to Rodgers at quarterback and instead traded Favre to the New York Jets for the 2008 season.

No. 4 then signed with the hated Minnesota Vikings the following year.  Favre played with the Vikings for two years before really retiring in 2011.

Plus there was Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung.

That tandem was the force of the Packers’ vaunted ground game in the Lombardi era from 1959 to 1966.  Taylor and Hornung won MVP awards and helped the team win four world championships.

However, in 1967, Taylor left as a free agent for the New Orleans Saints, and Hornung was also claimed by the Saints in the 1967 expansion draft but never played because of a neck injury.

Paul Hornung and Jimmy Taylor in 1962

There are many other examples of players who later were given busts in Canton, but who ended their NFL careers in other cities instead of Green Bay.

The list includes Arnie Herber, Jim Ringo, Forrest Gregg, Herb Adderley, Dave Robinson, James Lofton and Reggie White. Another player who will soon be joining that club is Charles Woodson.

Another Hall of Famer who could have been in that fraternity is Jerry Kramer. No. 64 retired after the 1968 season and was doing color commentary for NFL games on CBS in 1969.

But because of injuries at the guard position on the offensive line, both the Los Angeles Rams and the Minnesota Vikings wanted Kramer to join them in the 1969 season. Kramer never seriously considered playing for Bud Grant and the Vikings (although he was flattered by the offer), but he did agree to play for the Rams after conferring with George Allen.

But the Packers refused to relinquish the rights to Kramer to the Rams and No. 64 stayed in the broadcast both.

Plus there are the legendary coaches who both have a place among the best of the best at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Team founder and coach Curly Lambeau left the Packers after a dispute with the executive committee in 1950 to coach the Chicago Cardinals.  Lambeau coached the Packers from 1921 to 1949, winning 209 games with a .656 winning percentage and six NFL championships.

But even with that, Lambeau had issues with the executive committee.

Lambeau’s last two teams in Green Bay were a collective 5-19.  Plus, Lambeau ticked off members by purchasing the Rockwood Lodge north of Green Bay for $25,000 for the Packers to practice at from 1946 to 1949.  The facility burned down on Jan. 24, 1950, and Lambeau resigned a week later to coach the Cardinals.

The Cardinals were considered a very talented team when Lambeau arrived there.  The Cardinals had won the NFL title in 1947, and next to the Bears, were clearly the next-biggest rival to the Packers at the time.  Needless to say, people in Green Bay were not pleased when Lambeau joined forces with the Cardinals.

Then another coaching legend arrived a few years later—Vince Lombardi.  The result of his tenure?  Five NFL championships in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls.

Included in that tenure was three straight NFL titles (1965-1967), something that was never done in NFL history except once, when Lambeau did it from 1929-1931 with his Packers when the NFL did not have a playoff format.

Lombardi left the Packers after the 1968 season (Lombardi was a GM-only that season) to coach the Washington Redskins.  The Packers had stopped Lombardi from leaving a couple of times before, as the New York Giants had tried to get Lombardi back to his hometown and back with his close friend and college buddy Wellington Mara, who owned the Giants.

Lambeau and Lombardi

Together, Lambeau and Lombardi brought 11 world championships to Green Bay, with Lambeau winning six titles and Lombardi five in seven years, including wins in Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II.

Now I’m not saying that either Matthews or Cobb will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (although Matthews has a much better chance), but there is no doubt that both will be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame.

There they will join a number of other Green Bay legends who are not in Canton currently, but who also ended up in different locales to finish their pro careers.

People like Billy Howton, Tobin Rote, Ron Kramer, Dan Currie, Boyd Dowler, Elijah Pitts, Lee Roy Caffey, Donny Anderson, Edgar Bennett, Dorsey Levens and Mike Holmgren.

It’s always difficult saying goodbye to a great player or great coach who moves on to another NFL city, but the memories that they have left behind will live on forever.

That is certainly true of both Clay Matthews and Randall Cobb.

Wisconsin Sports Teams Have Fared Well at Yankee Stadium in the Postseason

lew burdette at yankee stadium in 1957 world series

As I was watching the Wisconsin Badgers pummel the Miami Hurricanes 35-3 in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at the new Yankee Stadium in December, I got to thinking about all the great moments other Wisconsin sports teams had at the original Yankee Stadium.

The new Yankee Stadium replaced “The House That Ruth Built” in 2009. That original stadium was considered to be the cathedral of baseball while it existed from 1923 through 2008. The stadium also hosted other sporting events such as college football, as well as NFL football (the New York Giants played there from 1956-1973), plus their were also a number of great boxing matches at the venerable stadium.

In terms of great moments for a Wisconsin sports team, it all started in 1957, when the Milwaukee Braves played the New York Yankees in the World Series.

Game 1 was played at Yankee Stadium and the Braves did not get off to a great start, as Whitey Ford out-pitched Warren Spahn and the Yankees won 3-1 in front of 69,476 fans. But in Game 2, Lew Burdette got the Braves back to even in the series, as he pitched a beauty as Milwaukee won 4-2, as 65,202 fans attended.

But that performance by Burdette was just the beginning of even more excellence as the series continued.

The Braves then won two out of three games played at Milwaukee County Stadium to take a 3-2 lead in the series as it headed back to Yankee Stadium. One of those wins in Milwaukee was another great performance by Burdette in Game 5, as he shut out the Yanks 1-0 in a great pitching duel with Ford.

In Game 6 at Yankee Stadium, New York evened the series at 3-3, as the Yankees edged the Braves 3-2 in front of 61,408 fans.

That set up a winner-take-all situation in Game 7, as the Braves were putting out Burdette on the mound again versus Don Larsen. Milwaukee was led offensively by Bob Hazle, Del Crandall and Hank Aaron, who each had two hits, while Burdette was magnificent on the mound. Crandall hit the only homer of the game, as the Braves won 5-0.

Burdette had his third straight complete game win in the series and his second straight shutout.  In all, No. 33 was 3-0 in the series, pitched 24 consecutive scoreless innings, had an ERA of .067 and was named the MVP of the World Series.

On this offensive side, Aaron was fantastic in the series, as No. 44 hit .393, plus knocked out three homers and drove in seven runs. Third baseman Eddie Mathews added a homer (the game-winner in Game 4) and four RBIs.

As it has turned out, 1957 was the only year the city of Milwaukee has had a World Series champion. And that clinching victory happened at Yankee Stadium.

braves celebrate winning 1957 world series

Then there was the 1962 NFL Championship Game played at Yankee Stadium between the Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants. This would be the second straight year the two teams had played for the NFL title, as the Packers beat the G-Men at new City Stadium (now Lambeau Field) 37-0 in the 1961 NFL Championship Game, as Paul Hornung scored 19 of those points by himself.

The environment at Yankee Stadium was reminiscent of the conditions at the 1967 NFL Championship Game, better know as the “Ice Bowl”, as it was a bitterly cold day (13 degrees), plus the wind was gusting up to 40 miles per hour, which made things feel much colder.

Even with the blustery weather, right guard/kicker Jerry Kramer was awestruck as he walked into the storied stadium.

“It was really a highlight for me walking into Yankee Stadium,” Kramer said. “It was an emotional experience for me. All the great fights and the World Series games that had gone on there. You had the statues of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio in center field.

“You also looked into the crowd and saw the sophisticated sports fans who were booing your ass. Then you look across the line of scrimmage and you see [Andy] Robustelli, [Jim] Katcavage, [Sam] Huff, [Dick] Lynch and that whole group, you definitely get pumped.”

Kramer wasn’t the only one pumped on the Green Bay sideline. Being at Yankee Stadium was also a homecoming for head coach Vince Lombardi, as he was a New York City native and was the offensive coordiantor for the Giants from 1954-1958.

“We knew how badly coach Lombardi wanted to win that ball game,” Kramer said. “And we knew the Giants had been embarrassed the year before in Green Bay. We knew the Giants were going to be loaded for bear that day. But we also knew coach Lombardi desperately wanted a victory, and so we wanted to win for him and much as ourselves.”

Kramer was excited for another reason. No. 64 had missed the 1961 NFL title game due to a broken ankle/leg suffered midway in the 1961 season. But Kramer went on to have his best season in the NFL in 1962.

Kramer was named first team All-Pro by AP, NEA and UPI, while No. 64 was also named to his first Pro Bowl squad.

Not only was Kramer exceptional playing right guard for the Packers, but he also took over the placekicking duties of the Packers during the season after Hornung suffered a knee injury.

For the season, Kramer scored 65 points, which included being 9-for-11 in field goal attempts.

The NFL title game in the Bronx turned out to be extremely physical in arctic-like conditions. The Packers rushed for 148 yards in the game, with fullback Jimmy Taylor getting 85 of those yards, as well as the only touchdown scored by the Packers.

jim taylor in 1962 nfl title game

Taylor and middle linebacker Sam Huff of the Giants brawled all game long. Huff made it a personal mission to stop Taylor, and he hit the bruising fullback after the whistle a number of times in the game. Talking about that confrontation, Kramer said, “Huff probably would have gotten arrested for assaulting Taylor today.”

After the victory by the Packers, middle linebacker Ray Nitschke was named the game’s MVP, as he had been tenacious with his tackling on defense and also recovered two fumbles.

Kramer certainly could have received that honor as well, based on the way he played that day. Besides blocking very well and recovering a fumble by Taylor, Kramer had to kick that day under very difficult conditions, with the gusty wind hampering his efforts.

Kramer ended up scoring 10 points (three field goals and an extra point) in the 16-7 victory for the Packers. After the game, the coaches and the players presented No. 64 with a game ball because of the great performance he had in that year’s championship game.

jerry kramer fg

Then there was the 1981 American League Division Series between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Yankees. The 1981 season was a strike year in baseball and the season was split into halves. The Yankees won the AL East in the first half of the season, while the Brew Crew won the AL East in the second half of the season. That set up this playoff series to find out who would go on to the AL Championship Series.

1981 was the first time the Brewers had ever played in the postseason. The season was set up by a big offseason trade that saw Milwaukee acquire relief pitcher Rollie Fingers, starting pitcher Pete Vuckovich and catcher Ted Simmons from the St, Louis Cardinals.

Fingers was awesome all season long as he was 6-3 with 28 saves, plus had a phenomenal 1.04 ERA, which led the Brewers to the second-half AL East title. That performance garnered Fingers the AL MVP award, as well as the Cy Young honor in the AL.

In the series against the Yanks, the Brewers did not play very well in the first two games at County Stadium in Milwaukee, as they were beaten 5-3 in Game 1 and then 3-0 in Game 2. That meant all the Yankees needed was just one win at Yankee Stadium to move on to the ALCS.

paul molitor in 1981 al division series at yankee stadium

But the Brewers battled back in Game 3. Randy Lerch went up against Tommy John and allowed just one run over six innings. Fingers came in to finish the game in the seventh inning, and although he allowed two runs, the Brewers won 5-3. Fingers got the victory, while Simmons (three RBIs) and Paul Molitor each had a homer.

In Game 4, Vuckovich allowed only one unearned run over five innings, as the bullpen took over after that, as Jamie Easterly, Jim Slaton, Bob McClure and Fingers finished it out, as the Brewers won 2-1. Vuckovich got the win, while Fingers got the save. Ben Oglivie and Cecil Cooper each had a RBI.

In Game 5, the Brewers started Moose Haas, who would be going up against Ron Guidry. The Brewers got off to a nice start, as they led 2-0. Gorman Thomas hit a homer and Robin Yount had three hits, but the Yankees stormed back and won 7-3.

Still, it was a great experience for the Brewers, as it set the stage for 1982, when Milwaukee advanced to the World Series under manager Harvey Kuenn, who took over for Buck Rodgers early in that season.

The Badgers had their way against the Canes at the new Yankee Stadium on this past December with running back Jonathan Taylor leading the way, as No. 23 rushed for 205 yards and a touchdown.

The game was attended by just 37,821 fans, but most were Wisconsin backers who enjoyed another great moment in the Big Apple. The bowl victory was the fifth straight for the Badgers and gave head coach Paul Chryst a perfect 4-0 record in bowl games.

NCAA Football: Pinstripe Bowl-Wisconsin vs Miami

The Badgers are now 16-14 in their bowl history.

The bottom line is that both old Yankee Stadium and new Yankee Stadium have given the state of Wisconsin some great sports memories. The memories may continue still, as the Brewers are now in the National League and it’s entirely possible that they might match up one day in the near future with the Yankees in the World Series.

That would be apropos. Especially if the Brewers clinched the series at Yankee Stadium.

Green Bay Packers: Why Fuzzy Thurston Deserves to be Considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Fuzzy leading Jimmy

Photo by Jack Robbins

When Vince Lombardi became head coach and general manager of the Green Bay Packers in 1959, the first trade he ever made was to acquire guard Fred “Fuzzy” Thurston from the defending NFL champion Baltimore Colts.

Lombardi traded linebacker Marv Matuzak to acquire Thurston, who had been drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1956 out of Valparaiso, where he was a two-time All-American in 1954 and 1955 as an offensive lineman. The Altoona, Wisconsin native ended up getting cut by the Eagles that year and then spent 1957 in the Army before signing with the Colts and being a backup guard on the Baltimore NFL title team.

After watching film of the Packers, Lombardi knew he had an excellent young guard in Jerry Kramer, but he saw that the Pack needed another guard to team with No. 64.

The year before in 1958, then head coach Scooter McLean cut guard Ken Gray, who was part of the great rookie class of that year, when the Packers drafted Dan Currie, Jim Taylor, Ray Nitschke and Kramer.

Cutting Gray turned out to be a big mistake by McLean, as Gray turned into one of the best guards in the NFL with the Chicago/St. Louis Cardinals, where Gray was named to six Pro Bowl squads, plus was named first-team All-Pro four times.

But the departure of Gray from Green Bay opened the door for Thurston to come to the city that would soon become Titletown.

Lombardi saw that Kramer and Thurston had the attributes that would make his signature play succeed. That play was called the power sweep.

When Lombardi looked at the Green Bay film, he saw that Paul Hornung could become his Frank Gifford, who Lombardi had coached (as offensive coordinator) in New York with the Giants from 1954 through 1958.

Lombardi also saw that Taylor could play a similar role that Alex Webster had with the G-Men.

But for Hornung and Taylor to become successful, the offensive line had to be configured correctly. Which is why Lombardi acquired Thurston to play left guard.

In 1958, in a 12-team league, the Packers were 10th in the NFL in running the football. Toting the rock was not a strength for that woeful 1-10-1 team. But all that changed once Lombardi came to Green Bay.

In 1959, the Packers vastly improved running the ball to finish third in the NFL in rushing. From 1960 to 1964, the Packers were ranked either first (three times) or second (twice) in the league in that category.

The staple play was the power sweep.

In one of my many conversations with Kramer, he talked about why Green Bay and Lombardi were a perfect fit.

“Hornung was the reason I believe Coach Lombardi came to Green Bay,” Kramer said. “Bart [Starr] was an unknown then. There were three or four guys trying to become the quarterback then, and we didn’t know who the hell the quarterback was going to be.

“But we did know who Mr. Hornung was. And Coach Lombardi said many times, ‘That the power sweep was the number one play in our offense. We will make it go. We must make it go. And Hornung is going to be my [Frank] Gifford.’

“Hornung was the key with all that. To me, it seemed like Hornung was probably more instrumental in what Coach Lombardi had envisioned for his offense than who his quarterback was. So I think Hornung was the number one reason why Coach Lombardi came to Green Bay.”

The Packers took to the power sweep like a fish takes to water, as Kramer alluded to me.

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

There were a lot of important factors as to how successful the power sweep would be on a given play. Center Jim Ringo needed to make the onside cutoff block on the defensive tackle. Right tackle Forrest Gregg also had an important role.

“If Forrest hit that defensive end with a forearm, he would occupy him for the running back who was going to block him,” Kramer said. “Then Forrest would have a really good shot at getting the middle linebacker.

The tight end (Gary Knafelc or Ron Kramer) had to get the outside linebacker.

If all that happened, the pulling guards (Kramer and Thurston) could lead the ball carrier (Hornung or Taylor) to the second and third level of the opposing defense for a big gain.

Jerry and Fuzzy III

Photo by Jack Robbins

The very successful duo of Kramer and Thurston were awarded for their excellent play.

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 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.

Kramer also went to just three Pro Bowls, while Thurston never went to any. That seems pretty ridiculous to me, based on their excellent level of play.

That exceptional play at guard 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.”

Never was that more apparent than the 1965 NFL title game at Lambeau Field versus the defending NFL champion Cleveland Browns and their great running back Jim Brown.

Although the running game of the Packers had struggled almost the entire year in 1965, the Packers could not be stopped on this snowy and muddy day on the frozen tundra.

Green Bay rumbled for 204 yards behind Taylor and Hornung, as the Packers won 23-12.

Meanwhile, Brown, who was the NFL’s leading rusher that year with 1,544 yards, was held to just 50 yards by the stingy Green Bay defense.

The power sweep was especially effective for the Pack, as Kramer and Thurston kept opening big holes for the backs, mowing down defenders left and right, as the Packers kept getting big chunks of yardage on the ground.

Hornung scored the last touchdown of the game on one of those power sweeps. Kramer pulled left and first blocked the middle linebacker and then a cornerback as the “Golden Boy” found the end zone.

Kramer talked about the great success he and Thurston had blocking.

“Fuzz never made a mistake,” Kramer recalled. “We never ran into each other in the eight or nine years that we played together. He was bright and was aware about what needed to be done on a given play.

“Fuzzy also had a lot of heart. He wasn’t the strongest guy in the world, but he gave it everything he had. Fuzz had a lot of energy and he also had a lot of pride. He was going to do his part in helping the team out, no matter what it took.

“He was a great mate. We were like a balanced team of horses. You see pictures of us today, Bob, and you can see us planting our foot at the same precise instant. There is a great picture of the sweep where Hornung plants his right foot, I plant my right foot and Fuzzy plants his left foot. It happened almost precisely at the same instant heading up field.

“We just ran that damn play time and time again at practice. It got to be second nature. But early on in Coach Lombardi’s tenure, when somebody would screw up on the play in practice, we would hear Coach yell out, ‘Run it again! Run it again!’

“Then as time went on and when somebody made a mistake on the play in practice, we wouldn’t wait for Lombardi to yell. One of us would scream, ‘Run it again! Run it again!’

The Power Sweep

I share all this with you because I believe Thurston deserves consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Kramer finally received that honor after over four decades of waiting.

I also contend that the player who replaced Thurston at left guard when Fuzzy injured his knee during a scrimmage early in training camp in 1967 deserves the same consideration. That player is Gale Gillingham.

You see, Thurston was not just a great player on the field, but also a great teammate. And not just when he was a regular, but also when he lost his job to Gillingham in ’67.

“Fuzzy sat besides Gilly for the rest of the ’67 season, ” Kramer told me. “He coached Gilly. They sat together in every film session. Fuzzy gave him the benefit of everything he had learned about the defensive tackle that Gilly would be facing that given week.

“Fuzzy told Gilly what he liked to do against that tackle and told Gilly that he should think about doing the same thing. Basically, Fuzzy was Gilly’s personal coach.”

Thurston was always in a positive state of mind. It was always party sunny or the glass was hall full.

Thurston always found something positive even under trying circumstances. Case in point is the 1962 Thanksgiving day game against the Detroit Lions at Tiger Stadium. The Packers were 10-0 going into that game.

Kramer remembers that occasion well.

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

It was that kind of day for Thurston and his Packer teammates, as the Lions whipped the Packers 26-14. The score looked much closer than the game actually was, as the Packers scored 14 points in the fourth quarter after being down 26-0.

The Packers had just 122 total yards and quarterback Bart Starr was sacked 10 times for 93 yards.

But even with all of that, Thurston found some humor in the painful lesson he and his teammates had experienced.

“We are going home on the plane,” Kramer recalled. “And Fuzz says, ‘You know Jerry, at least the whole day wasn’t a loss.’ And I go, “What the hell are you talking about?” And Fuzzy goes, ‘You and I introduced a new block. You know, the look out block. Because every time Bart would go back to pass we would go, “Look out!”

“We giggled about that a little bit. I mean we were feeling lower than whale crap then, but Fuzz was making a joke and being positive. He was still Fuzz. He wasn’t sulking or sucking his thumb. He was just Fuzz.

“He was just that way no matter where you saw him. He always had a big smile and he was always happy to see you. Fuzzy was just a genuine pleasant guy to be around.”

After the debacle in Detroit in 1962, the Packers won the last three games of the regular season to finish 13-1 and then went on to win the 1962 NFL title game 16-7 over the New York Giants at Yankee Stadium.

The ground game and Kramer’s placekicking were the difference in the game.

Kramer ended up scoring 10 points (three field goals and an extra point) on a day when there were the wind gusts up to 40 miles per hour. Plus, Kramer, Thurston and the rest of the offensive line helped lead the way for Taylor to gain 85 yards rushing and also score the lone Green Bay touchdown. As a team, the Packers gained 148 yards rushing that day.

When Kramer kicked the game-winning field goal late in the title contest, Thurston, No. 63, jumped into the air and signaled for all to see that the kick was good.

Jerry's game-winning FG in the 1962 NFL title game.

It was an apropos gesture for Thurston, because to him, life was also good, even when he was dealing with tough times in business and in health.

Off the field, Thurston loved to hang with his teammates and hoist a couple.

“Fuzzy didn’t fish much and he didn’t bow hunt,” Kramer said. “He didn’t do some of the things I would do with Doug [Hart] and some of the other guys in terms of hunting or fishing. But if I wanted a beer, Fuzzy was the first one in line that I would call.

“He and I and Boyd Dowler used to go out on Monday nights once in awhile. We called ourselves the Three Muskepissers, instead of the Musketeers. Our wives would come looking for us and they we go to a place and find out that we weren’t there yet or that we had just left.

“We would go to a number of different bars and just socialize. We didn’t get in any trouble. We were just relaxing and having some laughs. It was pleasant to be with Boyd and Fuzzy. They were good company!”

Thurston retired after the 1967 season, due to a little prodding from Coach Lombardi.

“It was the 1,000 Yard Club banquet in Appleton,” Kramer said. “It was the dinner when Alex Karras and I exchanged some pleasantries. Anyway, Fuzzy was there and he ran into Coach Lombardi. Coach stopped and said, ‘Fuzzy, when are you going to announce your retirement?’ And Fuzz says, ‘Hmm, right away I guess, Coach.’

Shortly after the conversation with Lombardi, Thurston retired from football. Eight years later, in 1975, Thurston was enshrined in the Packers Hall of Fame along with Lombardi, Kramer, Hornung, Taylor, Don Chandler, [Ron] Kramer, Willie Davis, Max McGee and Henry Jordan.

Off the field, Thurston owned a number of Left Guard restaurants before they went out of business. He also owned a couple of taverns that I always stopped in whenever I was in the Green Bay area.

The first was Shenanigans, which was right across the road from the Fox River. More recently, it was Fuzzy’s #63 Bar & Grill. I always enjoyed going to both places.

If Fuzzy was there, he would be joking and taking pictures with patrons. If he wasn’t there, it was still a great time to walk around the place and look at the photos Fuzzy had accumulated. It was just a great atmosphere.

Thurston passed away in December of 2014 due to liver cancer.

But he will never be forgotten by family, friends and anyone in Packer Nation who ever met him.

“Fuzzy was always positive,” Kramer told me shortly after Thurston had passed away almost four years ago. “He was just consistently up. And he insisted that we all have a good time whether you wanted to or not. You were going to have fun. He would take that upon himself whether it was one or 40. Fuzzy would be the spark.”

When I saw Rick Gosselin at the party the Packers threw for Jerry on the day he was enshrined in Canton on August 4, he told me that he was hopeful that 10 seniors could be inducted on the 100th anniversary of the NFL in 2020.

Gosselin is on the Seniors Selection Committee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

That is why I am writing a series of articles about former Green Bay players who are in the senior category so that they might be considered to be in that group of ten. I’ve already written pieces about Dowler, Gillingham, [Ron] Kramer, Don Chandler and Bobby Dillon.

I realize that maybe only one or two of the players I have written about will be given strong consideration for being placed among the best of the best in Canton in 2020.

All that being said, I believe every one of the players I have written about need to be thoroughly discussed by the seniors committee. That certainly includes Thurston.

“Fuzzy had a great sense of humor,” Kramer told me. “Always up and always positive. He was like an internal flame that never goes out. That fire, that spirit inside of him was constantly there.”

I also stayed positive over the 16 years I wrote about getting Jerry his rightful induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I feel the same way about getting at least one or maybe even two former Packers in as seniors in 2020.

Green Bay Packers: Why Ron Kramer Deserves to be Considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Ron Kramer

Now that Jerry Kramer (first team) of the Green Bay Packers was finally rightfully inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after over four decades of waiting, that means that there are just two players who were on the NFL 50th anniversary team who do not have busts in Canton.

Those players are Boyd Dowler (second team) and Ron Kramer (third team).

I wrote about why Dowler deserves to be considered to have a place among the best of the best in pro football about a month ago. Today I am going to state the case for Kramer.

But before I do that, I want you to see the words that Rick Gosselin, who is on the Seniors Selection Committee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, said about both Dowler and Kramer in a podcast on the Talk of Fame Sports Network shortly after Jerry Kramer was named to the Class of 2018 for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“Can you enshrine too many players from one franchise in the Hall of Fame? That’s the question that came up last week when those of us on the Hall of Fame selection committee enshrined the 12th member of the 1960’s Packers. That’s guard Jerry Kramer.

“That’s more than half of the starting lineup, plus the head coach from one team. A team that won five championships in a span of seven years. And went to six title games in a span of eight seasons. No team of any era, has more players in Canton than those 1960’s Packers.

“They have indeed been rewarded for their success. Should the committee now draw the line there with the Lombardi Packers? Well, ponder this. In 1969, this same Hall of Fame selection committee was commissioned to pick the greatest players in the game’s first 50 years.

“There were 45 players selected to that team. And 43 are now enshrined in Canton. Only two are not. They both played for the ’60’s Packers, split end Boyd Dowler and tight end Ron Kramer. Dowler was selected to the 1960’s All-Decade team as well and Kramer would have been had the committee selected more than one tight end.

“Yet neither of those players has ever been discussed as a finalist for the Hall of Fame. If you were chosen as one of the best players in the game’s first half-century, don’t you deserve a spin through the room as a finalist to determine if you are indeed Hall of Fame worthy.

“It took [Jerry] Kramer 45 years to get in. It took teammate Dave Robinson 34 years and Henry Jordan 21. The Hall of Fame is a process. Maybe Dowler and Ron Kramer deserve to be Hall of Famers. Maybe they don’t. But they certainly deserve a few minutes in that room to start the process and have their cases heard, regardless how many teammates have been enshrined.”

Both Jerry Kramer and Dowler were on the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 1960s, as well as being on the 50th anniversary team. And as Gosselin stated in his comments above, Ron Kramer would have been on the All-Decade team of the 1960s if the team would have had more than one tight end.

That in itself makes a compelling case why both Dowler and Ron Kramer deserve to be in Canton.

Besides Jerry Kramer, Dowler and Ron Kramer, there were also a few of their teammates on the 50th anniversary team. They were Ray Nitschke (first team), Forrest Gregg (second team) and Herb Adderley (third team).

Nitschke, Gregg and Adderley were also all on the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 1960s. Plus, like Jerry Kramer, all three have busts in Canton.

The thing that voters need to realize is that the NFL was a different game back in the 1950s and 1960s. It was a much more violent game and the running game was still the main staple of most offenses in the NFL.

Originally, when the tight end position morphed into play in the NFL, it was mainly a position that helped out the running game by blocking. Catching the ball was almost an afterthought.

In fact, on the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 1950s, there isn’t even a tight end listed.

That was the state of the NFL when Ron Kramer was drafted in the first round by the Packers in 1957, thanks to the great scouting work done by Jack Vainisi.

Also selected in that draft was Paul Hornung, who was the first overall selection that year by the Packers, as teams were awarded bonus picks (the No. 1 overall selection) from 1947 through 1958.  Once a team was awarded a bonus pick, they were eliminated from further draws.

Ron Kramer didn’t win the Heisman Trophy like Hornung did in 1956, but he he did finish in the top 10 in Heisman voting, both in 1955 (eighth) and 1956 (sixth), when he was a consensus All-American at Michigan.

Kramer earned nine letters at Michigan, as he was also a talented basketball player who averaged 17 points a game and almost nine rebounds a game, as well being an excellent track athlete.

Kramer was so good at Michigan, that his No. 87 was retired after his senior year. Plus, Kramer was also inducted into the University of Michigan Athletic Hall of Honor, as well as the College Football Hall of Fame.

In one of our many conversations, Jerry Kramer talked about the tight end from Michigan who shared his last name.

“Ron was a 260-pound runaway truck,” Kramer said. “He was an outstanding athlete at Michigan. He high-jumped 6’4”. He threw the shot put around 60 feet. Ron was also very good in basketball, was the captain of the team and at one point was the all-time leading scorer in team history at Michigan.

“He was an All-American in football for two years running. Overall, Ron won nine letters in sports at Michigan, three each in football, basketball and track.”

Kramer had a nice rookie year in 1957 under then head coach Lisle Blackbourn, as he was second on the team in receptions to Billy Howton, as No. 88 had 28 receptions.

Kramer missed the 1958 season due to military service in the Air Force, which was probably for the best, as the Packers had their worst season ever that year finishing 1-10-1 under Scooter McLean, who took over for Blackbourn that season.

Kramer was back in 1959 with the Packers and also their new head coach and general manager Vince Lombardi.

In 1959 and 1960, Kramer did not start a lot of games, as Gary Knafelc was the starter at tight end most of the time. Because of his athleticism, Kramer played in every game in both 1959 and 1960 (mostly on special teams), but only started four games at tight end.

Ron Kramer and Vince Lombardi in 1961 NFL title game.

That all changed in 1961. Lombardi recognized that he had an immense talent in Kramer. Not only a receiver, but as a blocker. In fact, the power sweep was the signature play of the Packers under Lombardi, and Kramer was a key attribute on the success of that play due to his great blocking.

From 1961 through 1964, Kramer became the first of the great tight ends to ever grace the NFL. Kramer led the way for players like John Mackey and Mike Ditka, who were also on the NFL 50th anniversary team, plus also have busts in Canton.

I talked to Dowler recently and he talked about Kramer, who was his roommate in Green Bay for five years.

“You should talk to somebody who can talk about the tight end position and tell you who he thinks the best at that position was,” Dowler said. “Give Mike Ditka a call. Ditka has said, and he and Ron were pretty close friends, that the best of the bunch was Ron.”

In 1961, Kramer had 35 receptions for 559 yards (16 yards per catch) and four touchdowns.

In the 1961 NFL title game against the New York Giants at City Stadium (now Lambeau Field), No. 88 caught four passes for 80 yards (20 yards per catch) and two touchdowns, as the Packers won 37-0.

That was the year Titletown was born.

In 1962, Kramer caught 37 passes for 555 yards (15 yards per catch) and seven touchdowns. He later caught two passes in the 1962 NFL title game at Yankee Stadium, as the Packers won 16-7, as the other Kramer (Jerry) was the star of the game.

In 1963, Kramer caught 32 passes for 537 yards (16.8 yards per catch) and four touchdowns. And in 1964, Kramer caught 34 passes for 551 yards (16.2 yards per catch).

Ron Kramer in 1961 NFL title game

As you can see by the yards per reception average, Kramer made a lot of big plays down the seam, as quarterback Bart Starr scanned the field. And besides being a big receiving threat, he was also considered the best blocking tight end in football.

While he was in Green Bay, Kramer was named first-team All-Pro by AP in 1962, plus was named second-team All-Pro by various media sources like AP, UPI, NEA (Newspaper Enterprise Association) and the New York Daily News six times in 1962 and 1963.

Kramer was also named to the Pro Bowl in 1962.

Kramer played out his option in the 1964 season, which allowed him to sign with another NFL team. Kramer wanted to go back to Michigan to be with his family, so he signed with the Detroit Lions.

Back then, if a player played out his option like Kramer did, the team he played for would get a first-round draft pick. The Packers did receive one from the Lions and used that pick on fullback Jim Grabowski in the 1966 NFL draft.

The player that was probably the closest to Kramer was Hornung, who entered the NFL and Green Bay with No. 88. Hornung has as much fun as anyone in the NFL did off the field when he played. Kramer was with No. 5 on a number of those occasions.

Jerry Kramer recounted that with me.

“Ron was also quite the character off the field,” Kramer said. “He and Paul Hornung were very close. Ron was a unique human being. He was a bit wacky at times. He loved to put a drink on his head because he had a flat spot up there, and he would dance with it up there.

“Ron also like to mess with you. He would kiss you in the ear or some silly-ass thing. Just to irritate you. He would do that just for aggravation and he would giggle and laugh.

“So when Ron died, Hornung goes to his funeral up in Detroit and Ron’s son Kurt picked up Paul at the airport. When Kurt sees Paul, he gives him a big kiss right on the lips. And Paul yells, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ And Kurt said, ‘Dad told me about three months ago that if he didn’t make it and if you came to his funeral, I was supposed to give you a big kiss on the lips and to tell you it was from dad.’

“Paul started crying like a baby after that.”

You can bet that there will be more tears shed if Ron Kramer gets inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Perhaps it will be in 2020, as Gosselin has told me that he trying to get 10 seniors inducted into Canton on the centennial year of the NFL.

When I told Rick that I would be writing a series of articles about Packers who I believe deserve consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he told me to make sure I wrote about Kramer, Dowler and Gale Gillingham.

I have done that now. And it is my sincere desire that at least one of those three players is included among the ten seniors who will hopefully be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2020.