Green Bay Packers: Dan Devine’s Quarterback Miscalculations

Dan Devine

When it comes to having great quarterbacks, Packer Nation has been pretty spoiled. Since 1992 up until today, the Packers have been led under center primarily by Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.

Starting in 1992, Favre had 160 wins over 16 seasons, with 96 of those wins occurring at Lambeau Field (.762 winning percentage).

The former Southern Miss gunslinger also started 253 straight games (275 including the postseason) for the Pack in his career in Green Bay.

Favre also threw 442 touchdown passes for 61,655 yards while he was a Packer and also won three straight NFL MVP awards in 1995, 1996 and 1997.

The Packers went to the postseason 11 times under Favre and won the NFC Central/North seven times.

The big prize was the victory in Super Bowl XXXI.

Favre also had his No. 4 jersey retired by the Packers, plus was also inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016.

Rodgers took the reins at quarterback in 2008 after Favre and the Packers had a messy divorce. No. 12 has kept the winning ways of his predecessor intact.

Rodgers has a 80-39 record as a starting quarterback and has led the Packers to four NFC North crowns.

Rodgers has also led the Packers to seven straight appearances in the postseason.

Like Favre, Rodgers has won multiple NFL MVP awards, as he won the honor in 2011 and 2014.

Rodgers is also the highest rated passer in the history of the NFL with a 104.1 mark.

Rodgers also led the Packers to a victory in Super Bowl XLV, when he was named MVP of that game.

Then there was the Bart Starr era. In the 1960s under head coach Vince Lombardi, Starr led the Packers to five NFL titles in seven years, which includes the first two Super Bowls.

Starr was NFL MVP in 1966, plus was also the MVP in both Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II.

The former Alabama Crimson Tide star was 94-57-6 as a starting quarterback with the Packers and was an amazing 9-1 in the postseason.

No. 15 also had his jersey retired by the Packers and was also inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.

Bart, Brett and Aaron

The wins and postseason appearances were hard to find between the Starr era and the one that began in 1992 with the arrival of Favre.

So was the uneven play at the quarterback position. Nothing illustrated that more than the play at quarterback during the Dan Devine era from 1971 through 1974.

Devine became head coach and general manager of the Packers in January of 1971. That was about three weeks after Phil Bengtson resigned from both positions.

Devine had three quarterbacks on the roster at the time he was hired. One was Starr, who was physically a shadow of his former self due to a shoulder injury. Plus, there was also Don Horn, who had played very well for the most part when given the chance to play from 1967 through 1970.

In addition to Starr and Horn, there was Frank Patrick, who only played sparingly.

Horn looked to be the quarterback of the future under Devine. Horn had been 4-2 as a starter in 1969 and 1970. No. 13 was remembered most for the performances he had versus the Chicago Bears in the last game of the 1968 season at Wrigley Field in relief of Zeke Bratkowski and also the game he had against the St. Louis Cardinals in the last game of the 1969 season at Lambeau Field.

In the game against the Bears in 1968, the Packers were already eliminated from the NFL Central Division race and had a 5-7-1 record going into the game. Da Bears, on the other hand, were 7-6, and a win would give them the NFL Central title.

Bratkowski started the game but was injured and Horn came into the game as a surprise backup, as Billy Stevens was also an option. Horn had just gotten out of the Army 10 days earlier and he had missed most of the season up to that point due to his stint with Uncle Sam.

When the game was over, the Packers had beaten the Bears 28-27. Horn ended up throwing for 187 yards, plus had two touchdown passes without throwing a pick. Horn’s quarterback rating for that game was 142.4.

Don Horn

Then came the 1969 season. Horn started five games that year, with the Packers winning four of those games. The capper was the final game against the Cardinals.

That game was also the day the Packers honored Willie Davis, as No. 87 had announced that he was retiring after the season.

The Packers whipped the Cardinals in that game, 45-28. Horn had a fantastic performance, as he threw for 410 yards and also threw five touchdown passes. At the time, Horn was the first quarterback of the Packers to ever throw for more than 400 passing yards.

1970 was not a particularly good year for Horn or the Packers, which led to Bengtson’s resignation and the hiring of Devine.

Horn told me about a conversation he had with Devine about a week before the 1971 NFL draft.  Horn told Devine that he was happy in Green Bay and wanted to get his contract situation resolved and was looking forward to working with the former Missouri head coach. Devine seemed pleased with the discussion and told Horn he would fly him into Green Bay after the draft to get a new contract done.

But on the morning of the draft, Horn received a phone call from Devine. In a very short conversation to the best of Horn’s recollection, Devine said this, “Don, this is Coach Devine. I’m just calling you to let you know that I just traded you to the Denver Broncos. Good luck.”

That was the end of Horn’s career in Green Bay. And that also started the merry-go-round of quarterbacks under Devine in Green Bay.

In the 1971 NFL draft, Devine did draft quarterback Scott Hunter of Alabama in the sixth round. Although Hunter had broken a number of Joe Namath’s passing records at Alabama, he had also suffered a shoulder injury which hindered his development in the NFL.

To bolster his depth at the quarterback position, Devine also traded a third-round draft pick to the Minnesota Vikings to get back Bratkowski. That would be the first of five trades Devine would make to get another quarterback in his tenure in Green Bay.

In the 1971 season, when the Packers went 4-8-2, the cumulative passer rating of the Packers was 48.4. Bratkowski led the way with an 80. 7 mark, as he threw four touchdown passes versus three picks for 298 yards. Bratkowski started only one game due to injury that year.

Hunter was next with a 46.1 rating, as he threw seven touchdown passed versus 17 interceptions for 1,210 yard in 10 starts.

In three starts, it was quite apparent that Starr was playing hurt with his shoulder woes. No. 15 had a passer rating of 45.2, as he didn’t throw one touchdown pass, but did toss three picks for a total of 286 yards.

After the 1971 season, both Starr and Bratkowski retired, so Devine needed to add to the quarterback depth chart. With his second first-round pick (overall pick No. 11) of the 1972 NFL draft, Devine selected Green Bay native and former Nebraska star Jerry Tagge.

Although the Packers won the 1972 NFC Central Division with a 10-4 record, the success was mostly due to a great running attack led by John Brockington and MacArthur Lane, plus a very solid and opportunistic defense.

The quarterback play improved slightly, as the Packers had a cumulative 58.6 passer rating, as Starr was Devine’s quarterback coach for the 1972 season only. Hunter started all 14 games and threw six touchdown passes versus nine picks for 1,252 yards and a passer rating of 55.5.

Tagge had limited playing time, as he completed just 10-of-29 passes for 154 yards with no touchdown passes or interceptions.

After the Packers were beaten by the Washington Redskins 16-3 in the 1972 postseason, when Washington dared the Packers to throw the ball, Devine decided that more change was coming to the quarterback position.

Packers-Redskins Playoff game in 1972

That was when Devine made his second trade to acquire another quarterback in the offseason. Devine trade two second-round picks to the Miami Dolphins for Jim Del Gaizo.

The Packers struggled to 5-7-2 record in 1973 and the bad quarterback play was a big reason why. As a team, the Packers had a passer rating of 46.9.

Tagge had five starts at quarterback and had a passer rating of 53.2. No. 17 threw two touchdown passes versus seven interceptions for 720 yards.

Hunter had six starts and had a quarterback rating of 46.8. No. 16 also threw just two touchdown passes versus four picks for 442 yards.

Then there was Del Gaizo. The former Dolphin also threw just two touchdown passes versus six interceptions for 318 yards. That led to an abysmal passer rating of 30.9.

After the lack of production at quarterback for his entire tenure in Green Bay, one could sense that Devine started to panic, especially when one looks at the trades he made to find a quarterback who could lead the Packers in 1974.

First, he traded Hunter to the Buffalo Bills. Then he traded a fifth-round pick to the Dallas Cowboys for Jack Concannon. But Devine wasn’t done just yet.

He also traded a third-round pick to the Kansas City Chiefs for Dean Carlson. Finally Devine made a trade that will live on in Green Bay infamy. He traded two first-round picks, two second-round picks and one third-round pick for aging veteran John Hadl of the Los Angeles Rams.

So, what did those trades do for the Packers in 1974? Not much. The Packers finished 6-8 and once again the passer rating for the team was horrid, as it was 47.6.

Hadl started six games after he was acquired after the midway point of the ’74 season. Hadl threw three touchdown passes versus eight picks for 1,072 yards. That adds up to a 54.0 passer rating.

In 1975, after Devine has resigned to become the head coach at Notre Dame and had been replaced by Starr as head coach and general manager, Hadl was even worse. No. 21 threw six touchdown passes versus a whopping 21 picks for 2,095 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 52.8.

Meanwhile, the ridiculous trade made by Devine to get Hadl, not only set the Packers back in 1974, but also the first two years of the Starr regime in the draft.

John Hadl

Besides Hadl’s sorry performance in 1974, Tagge was even worse in six starts, if you can believe that. Tagge threw just one touchdown pass versus 10 interceptions for 709 yards and a 36.0 passer rating.

Concannon also started a couple of games in 1974, as he threw one touchdown pass versus three picks for 381 yards and a 57.7 passer rating.

All told, Devine just didn’t have the eye for quarterback talent in Green Bay. First, he traded a guy who had some real talent in Horn without even giving him a chance.

Devine also drafted Hunter and Tagge. Both were given ample opportunities to succeed, but never did.

But it was the five trades that Devine made to acquire other quarterbacks which really set the Green Bay franchise back. In trading for Bratkowski, Del Gaizo, Concannon, Carlson and Hadl, Devine gave up two first-round picks, four second-round picks, three third-round picks and a fifth-round pick.

Together those five quarterbacks contributed 10 touchdown passes and 20 picks when they played under Devine. They were also 4-8 as starters.

Bottom line, the great play by Starr, Favre and Rodgers during their time in Green Bay has been a real delight to Packer Nation.

But the opposite held true in the Devine era in Green Bay, when it seemed like a never-ending Twilight Zone episode was on from 1971-1974 at the quarterback position.

The Postseason History Between the Packers and Redskins

On late Sunday afternoon, the 10-6 Green Bay Packers will take on the 9-7 and NFC East champion Washington Redskins at FedEx Field in a NFC Wild Card game.

The meeting between the two teams will be the third time the teams have met in the postseason.

Before I get into the two previous matchups between the Packers and Redskins, I wanted to point out some interesting connections between the two teams.

The Packers play their games at Lambeau Field. The stadium is located on Lombardi Avenue.

Why is that? Because Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi are the two most famous and successful coaches in the history of the Packers.

Between the two of them, the Packers won 11 NFL titles.

Both coaches also moved on to become the head coach of the Redskins after their tenures in Green Bay.

Lambeau initially joined the Chicago Cardinals after leaving the Packers in 1950, but after two years in Chicago, Lambeau became head coach of the Redskins in 1952.

In two seasons there, the Redskins went 10-13-1 under Lambeau.

After Lombardi relinquished his head coaching duties in Green Bay in 1968, he stayed on as general manager for one year.

But in 1969, Lombardi was hired by the Redskins to be Executive Vice President, General Manager and Head Coach. Lombardi was also given a stock interest in the team.

Lombardi led the Redskins to a 7-5-2 record in 1969, which was Washington’s first winning record in 14 years.

Tragically, Lombardi passed away in 1970 because of colon cancer at the age of 57.

Lambeau and Lombardi

Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi

In addition to those connections, there is also Green Bay’s current team President and CEO, Mark Murphy. Murphy has held that position since late 2007, when he took over the reins from Bob Harlan.

Murphy has presided over an organization which has gone 89-49-1 and gone to the postseason seven straight years. Included in that run was the Vince Lombardi Trophy the team brought back to Green Bay after winning Super Bowl XLV.

As a player in the NFL, Murphy had an eight-year career with the Redskins playing safety. During that period, Washington won Super Bowl XVII.

In 1983, Murphy led the NFL with nine interceptions and was a consensus All-Pro, as well as getting selected to play in the Pro Bowl.

In terms of their postseason meetings, the Packers and Redskins first met in the 1936 NFL title game.

That game was the very first postseason game the Packers ever played in. Green Bay had already won three NFL titles in 1929, 1930 and 1931, but that was when the NFL awarded the championship by league standing.

In 1933, the NFL went to a playoff system to determine the league champion.

The Packers were 10-1-1 in 1936, which was tops in the Western Division.

The Redskins won the Eastern Division with a 7-5 record. The team was also based in Boston that season.

Owner George Preston Marshall was not happy with the support the team was receiving in Boston. Because of that, Marshall decided to host the NFL title game in New York at the Polo Grounds, instead of Fenway Park.

In 1937, Marshall moved the Redskins to Washington.

The title game in the Big Apple drew 29,545 fans.

The Packers won the contest 21-6, mostly because of the passing of Arnie Herber. The Packers had twice as many passing yards in the game, compared to the Redskins.

The Packers had led the NFL in passing offense in 1936.

Herber hit Don Hutson with a 48-yard touchdown pass in the first three minutes of the game. Hutson finished with five catches for 76 yards and a touchdown.

Don Hutson and Curly Lambeau

Don Hutson and Curly Lambeau

Johnny (Blood) McNally also caught two passes for 55 yards. One was a 52-yard reception which set up a touchdown. Herber ended up throwing two touchdown passes.

Clark Hinkle led the Packers in rushing with 58 yards on 16 carries.

The game was marred by a number of turnovers. The Packers forced five turnovers (four fumbles and an interception), while the Redskins forced five themselves (three fumbles and two interceptions).

The bottom line is the Packers had their fourth NFL title with the win and their first via the playoff format.

The next time the two teams met in the postseason was in 1972, which was five years after the Lombardi-era had ended in Green Bay.

Lombardi had added five more NFL championships (including the first two Super Bowls) to the Green Bay trophy cabinet, along with the six titles Lambeau had won.

The Packers struggled after Lombardi had turned over the coaching duties to Phil Bengtson in 1968. In the three years that Bengtson coached the Packers, the team was 20-21-1.

After Bengtson resigned, the Packers brought in Dan Devine, who had been a successful college coach at Missouri. In Devine’s first year in Green Bay, the Packers were 4-8-2.

But the Packers rebounded in 1972 under Devine and ended up winning the NFC Central division with a 10-4 record.

The Packers were led by their defense, which was ranked second in the NFL in total defense. That included being eighth in passing defense and second in rushing defense.

The only remaining defensive starter from the 1967 title team in Green Bay was linebacker Dave Robinson. In addition, Ray Nitschke was also on the ’72 team, but was a backup to middle linebacker Jim Carter.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Packers had two players from the ’67 team who were still starters in ’72. They were center Ken Bowman and wide receiver Carroll Dale.

Speaking of the offense, it was a completely different story compared to the defense. The Packers were ranked 22nd in total offense. Remember that the NFL was just a 26-member league at the time.

Green Bay was ranked seventh in rushing offense, as the team averaged over 150 yard per game on the ground. The two primary reasons were the performances of John Brockington and MacArthur Lane.

Brockington ran for 1,027 yards and eight touchdowns, while Lane rushed for 821 yards and three touchdowns.

The passing game really struggled however. Bart Starr had retired after the 1971 season. Starr was brought on to be the quarterbacks coach for the 1972 season.

That being said, there wasn’t a lot that Starr could have done to help the quarterback situation that season. It’s hard to make chicken salad out of chicken sh*t if you know what I mean.

Starr was forced to work with second-year quarterback Scott Hunter, who had suffered a shoulder injury while he was playing for Alabama, the same place Starr had played college football.

That shoulder injury severely affected the way Hunter could throw the football once he got to the NFL. The Packers also drafted Green Bay native Jerry Tagge of Nebraska in the first round of the 1972 NFL draft, but Tagge was very raw in terms of his throwing skills.

That is what Starr had to work with in 1972. The Packers ended up throwing for just over 100 yards per game that season.

Hunter started all 14 games for the Packers that season and he threw just six touchdown passes versus nine interceptions for 1,252 yards. The passer rating for Hunter that season was 55.5.

Coincidentally, the Packers and Redskins met in the regular season in 1972, when they met in Week 11 at RFK Stadium in Washington. The Redskins won that game 21-16.

The Packers led in that game 14-13 in the fourth quarter, before the Redskins came back to win.

Lane rushed for 71 yards and a touchdown in the game, while Brockington gained 42 yards.

Hunter and Tagge split the duties at quarterback in the game, as between the two of them, they completed five-of-19 passes for just 66 yards and an interception.

At the end of the season, the Packers won the NFC Central, while the 11-3 Redskins had won the NFC East.

That set up another game at RFK Stadium in the playoffs.

The Redskins knew from their previous meeting with the Packers that they had nothing to fear from the Green Bay passing game, so they stacked up a five-man defensive line to stop the rushing attack of the Packers.

The head coach of the Redskins then was George Allen, who took over the team in 1971. Allen was always known for his coaching prowess on the defensive side of the ball.

That five-man front was a success in stopping the running game of the Packers, as the team had just 78 yards rushing that day, which included just nine yards by Brockington in 13 carries.

Hunter did throw for 150 yards in the game, but he also threw a key interception.

In the end, the Redskins won the game 16-3.

After beating the Packers, the Redskins defeated the the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game, before falling to the undefeated Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VII.

It’s somewhat hard to believe that the game on Sunday will be just the third postseason game that the Packers and Redskins have played.

The Packers joined the NFL in 1921, while the Redskins joined the league in 1932.

In addition to that, the two teams have only met 32 times in the regular season as well, with the Packers having the edge 18-13-1.

As I noted in my most recent story about the declining stats of quarterback Aaron Rodgers in 2015, the Packers have a real chance to kick-start their almost comatose offense versus the Redskins.

Washington is ranked 28th in total defense. The Redskins are also ranked just 25th in passing defense and have allowed opposing quarterbacks to throw 30 touchdown passes versus just 11 picks and have a passer rating of 96.1.

Washington also struggles in stopping the run. The Redskins are just 26th in rushing defense and have given up an average of over 122 yards per game on the ground.

The Redskins have also allowed opposing running backs to average 4.8 yards per carry.

We shall see if Rodgers, running back Eddie Lacy and the rest of the offense of the Packers can take advantage of that situation.

If they do, then they would have most likely won the rubber match in this postseason series between the Packers and Redskins, which first started 80 years ago.