Blair Kiel

Blair Kiel was born on November 29, 1961, in Columbus, Indiana. Highly rated nationally as a schoolboy quarterback, he was heavily recruited by several major college programs. Staying close to home, Kiel was a four-year starter at Notre Dame. However, after the team went 9-2-1 in his 1980 freshman year during Dan Devine’s final season, the Irish plodded along at 18-15-1 from ’81-’83 under new coach Gerry Faust. Kiel threw for 3,650 yards, 17 touchdowns and 32 interceptions in his time at South Bend.

Blair was an eleventh-round pick of Tampa in 1984 and appeared in ten games but threw no passes in two seasons in Florida. Moving on to Indianapolis in 1986, Kiel got into seven games over the next two years, throwing for 431 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions while losing his only start. He also punted 17 times.

Green Bay signed Kiel in 1988, and over the next four years he appeared in eight games with two starts–both losses. He threw for 865 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions and averaged just 5.8 yards per pass. Released in 1992, he spent time on the Falcon practice squad and with Toronto in the CFL. He finished his professional playing career with the Cincinnati Rockets of the Arena Football League in 1993, throwing for 899 yards, nine touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Overall, the 6’2” 210-pound Kiel was an unimpressive dink passer who also punted on occasion. After retiring from the game, he worked in real estate and as a quarterback tutor until his tragic death by heart attack on April 8, 2012, at the age of 50.

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Don McIlhenny Turns 88

38 men played for the Packers during their 1-10-1 1958 season. Adding Bob Skoronski and Ron Kramer who were in the military that season and veteran tackle Jerry Helluin who was injured, we have a  41-player nucleus that Vince Lombardi inherited in 1959. 16 of those players retired, were cut or traded before Lombardi’s first regular season game, leaving 25 returning veterans. 6’ 1” 195-pound halfback Don McIlhenny was one of the 26.

McIlhenny was born in Cleveland on November 22, 1934. The standard online reference tools like Pro Football Reference say that he graduated from South Houston High School, but numerous newspaper clippings indicate that Don instead went to Hillsboro High School in Nashville, Tennessee. In fact, McIlhenny was All-State as a senior in 1951 and was inducted to the Metro Nashville Public Schools Sports Hall of Fame in 2007.

Don starred in the backfield for Southern Methodist University, where he played with future pros Forrest Gregg, John Roach, Raymond Berry, Doyle Nix and Jerry Norton. He was drafted in the third round by the Lions in 1956 and spent one year in Detroit as a sometime starter who finished third on the team in rushing with 372 yards. Fellow rookie Jerry Reichow told the story to The Tennessean that quarterback Bobby Layne took McIlhenny, Reichow and Howard Cassady out drinking one night, but that Don was the first to fall, “McIlhenny obviously hadn’t been much of a drinker because [Layne] wiped him out early.”

The next season, McIlhenny was one of four Lions (along with linemen Norm Masters, Ollie Spencer and Jim Salsbury) traded to Green Bay for quarterback Tobin Rote and safety Val Joe Walker. Don had his best year in ’57 when he gained a team-best 384 yards on the ground, 362 on receptions and led the Pack with a 25.9 kick return average. Although his totals dipped in 1958, McIlhenny was praised in The Tennessean by coach Scooter McLean, “There are some backs who are faster and fancier than Don, but there aren’t any with more power and more desire.”

Lombardi made McIlhenny his starting right halfback in 1959, but by midseason, rookie flanker Boyd Dowler took Don’s place in the lineup. In the second Bears’ game, however, Paul Hornung had such a terrible game (four carries for -3 yards and three fumbles) that McIlhenny replaced him mid game. Don gained 54 yards on 11 carries and caught two passes for 27 yards in the 28-17 loss. McIlhenny told John Eisenberg for That First Season that Lombardi followed Don to the showers and told him that he played a “hell of a football game.”

That was McIlhenny’s last hurrah in Green Bay. In the coaches’ evaluations of the 1959 season that were later published in Launching the Glory Years, Don received middling praise. One coach said, “The best we have but we should try to get better ones.” Another coach added, “Good hard runner 100 percent boy. Can’t catch the ball very well. Fair blocker. We can use players like Don.”

McIlhenny was chosen by the Dallas Cowboys in the 1960 expansion draft along with Nate Borden and rookie Bill Butler. Thus, those three players got to experience the first head coaching season of both Lombardi and Tom Landry. Don later commented in The Tennessean, “Those two guys handled their first years completely different, but both did a terrific job.”

In the Cowboys’ inaugural season, McIlhenny appeared in 11 games and started seven. He finished second on the team with 321 yards rushing. The next year, Don was cut midseason and picked up by the 49ers to wrap up his pro football career. He later worked in insurance.

First custom card is colorized.

Gerry Ellis Turns 65

Eddie Lee Ivery’s backfield partner for the 1980s Packers was Missouri’s Gerry Ellis, an unheralded seventh round draft pick of the Rams in 1980 who was cut in training camp and signed with the Packers as a free agent. At 5’11” and 220 pounds, Ellis was not an overly large fullback, but was a very reliable runner and an excellent receiver. Three times, he led the team in rushing, although his high was just 860 yards. His rushing average was an excellent 4.6 for his career.

Ellis was born on November 12, 1957, in Columbia, Missouri and in college played in a Tiger backfield with future Tampa Bay Buc runner James Wilder and future Seattle Mariner outfielder Phil Bradley. Gerry was a good all-around ball player, but not a great one. He never earned any league-wide honors. He drew criticism for carrying the ball too loosely and did fumble too much. Ellis had 33 fumbles on 1,100 touches, while another back criticized for ball security issues, Ahman Green, had 34 on 2,200, so the criticism was valid.

Following the 1982 season, abrasive offensive coach Bob Schnelker told the Wisconsin State Journal, “Gerry Ellis had a crappy year. That’s what let us down.” Ellis admitted to this assessment and attributed it to some personal problems. He bounced back in 1983 to lead the team in rushing and catch 52 passes for more than 600 yards. As with Ivery, Ellis’ career ended with the 1986 season. In the offseason, he tore his ACL before training camp and was released by the Packers. His rushing total of 3,826 yards places him ninth in team rankings, but when you add in his 2,514 receiving yards, he ranks third among Packer running backs in yards from scrimmage with 6,340, although Aaron Jones is poised to surpass him soon. Gerry was chosen for the Packer Hall of Fame in 1994.

(Adapted from Green Bay Gold.)

First custom card is colorized.

Al Matthews Turns 75

Defensive back Al Matthews was born on November 7, 1947, in Austin, Texas. Drafted by the Packers out of Texas A&M–Kingsville in the second round of the 1970 NFL draft, Matthews moved into the starting lineup at right cornerback when Dan Devine arrived as head coach a year later. Not quite fast enough to play corner, Devine moved Al to strong safety in 1972 when Willie Buchanon joined the team. The 5’11” 190-pound Matthews played well at safety in tandem with Jim Hill. Personnel man Pat Peppler told the Journal-Sentinel that Al, “was a bigger DB, a hitter.” He was a solid defender against the run, but not as talented against the pass.

Al remembers himself as “not the fastest or biggest guy, but I was smart.” Led by an outstanding secondary, Green Bay won the division in 1972, but that was the high point of Matthews’ tenure with the Packers. Injuries and problems with the coaching staff led to a quick decline of the team. In 1974, Matthews got into a public squabble over special teams with combative assistant coach Hank Kuhlmann that left Matthews defending himself with a tennis racket. After an off year in 1975, Matthews was left exposed in the expansion draft and was chosen by Seattle. Al spent one season with the Seahawks and then a partial one in San Francisco before retiring in 1978. He has since worked in real estate, construction and sales.

(Adapted from Green Bay Gold.)

Custom cards 2 and 4 are colorized.

Ty Detmer

Ty Detmer was Texas Player of the Year for his senior year of high school in San Antonio where his father Sonny was his coach but was so frail looking that there was no major push to recruit him. Brigham Young Coach La Vell Edwards often told the story that when Detmer visited Provo that Edwards expected to see John Elway when “in walks Pee Wee Herman.” At BYU, though, Ty racked up an NCAA record 15,031 yards passing with 121 TD passes in three-and-a-half years. He threw at least one touchdown pass in 35 consecutive games at BYU and won the Heisman Trophy as a junior and the Davey O’Brien Award for the nation’s top college quarterback as both a junior and senior.

What NFL scouts saw was a small, fragile player listed at six-foot and 190-pounds who was suspect as both a Heisman winner and a BYU quarterback. Detmer was not drafted until the ninth round by Green Bay. In four years backing up Brett Favre in Green Bay, Ty got into only eight games, but the Eagles signed him in 1996 as someone who was familiar with coordinator Jon Gruden’s offense. Early in the 1996 season, Eagles’ starter Rodney Peete hurt his knee, and Detmer finally got his chance. The Eagles won Ty’s first four starts, but in the second half of the year both Detmer and the Eagles were exposed a bit. The team made the playoffs but played poorly in being shut out by San Francisco in a first-round game. The next year, Detmer just barely won the starting job in training camp and was shuffled in and out of the lineup all season. 

At the end of the season, Detmer left Philadelphia to back up Steve Young in San Francisco. After just one year, it was on to the expansion Cleveland Browns where he prepped vaunted rookie Tim Couch for a year. Ty next spent three years in Detroit where he threw seven interceptions in his first start and mentored another vaunted rookie, Joey Harrington, before finishing his career as a third stringer in Atlanta. Despite being too short to see, too slight to endure and too weak armed to throw, his pro career lasted more than 10 years. Detmer was smart, competitive, mobile, could manage a game plan and was a nice touch passer. He was an fine NFL backup but was 11-14 as a starter. In retirement, Detmer followed in his father’s footsteps and became a high school coach, although he did have a two-year stint as the offensive coordinator at BYU. Ty’s younger brother Koy spent eight years as a backup quarterback in Philadelphia and has also gone into high school coaching in retirement.

(Adapted from The Quarterback Abstract)

Custom cards in a variety of styles.

Javon Walker

On October 14, Javon Walker turned 44. Walker’s name turns up in the local media every year around draft time when he is recalled as the last receiver drafted in the first round by the Packers, back in 2002. In reality, it’s a bit of a cautionary tale. The 6’3” 215-pound Walker was born in Galveston, Texas, went to high school in Louisiana and played college football at Florida State. He also spent three years as an outfielder in the Florida Marlins system.

Javon was the 20th overall pick in 2002 and made steady progress in Green Bay. As a rookie, he caught 23 passes for a 13.9 average and one TD. In 2003, he raised those totals to 41 catches for 716 yards, a 17.5 average and nine scores. In year three, he took off, catching 89 passes for 1,382 yards (15.5) and 12 touchdowns. That earned him a berth in the Pro Bowl, but his resentment of the team was growing.

Walker wanted to renegotiate his contract and was upset with his pay. When his quarterback, Brett Favre, made some unwanted comments, that just made him angrier. Eventually facing new GM Ted Thompson, Walker backed off his threats to sit out the season and reported to camp. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL in game one and was never the same receiver again.

In 2006, he signed a five-year $40-million contract with Denver and caught 69 passes for 1,084 yards and eight TDs. Immediately after the season, he was out at the clubs when his rookie teammate Darrent Williams was shot in the car Walker was in and fell over dead in Javon’s lap. Walker missed half the next season due to injuries and then was cut, having pocketed $21 million from his contract.

Al Davis then swooped in and signed Walker to a six-year $55-million contract. Just before training camp in 2008, Walker was found beaten and robbed on a street just off the Las Vegas strip. Walker appeared in 11 games for the Raiders over the next two seasons, caught 15 passes and pocketed $14 million before he was cut. Minnesota signed him in August 2010 and then released him in September.

The NFL suspended Walker for four games that December (most likely for use of some controlled substance) but then reinstated him in January. He never played again. He had great talent, but an aborted career.

Custom cards in variety styles.

Brent Fullwood

One of the Packer Pro Bowl players least likely to return to Lambeau as an honorary team captain, Brent Fullwood, was born on October 10, 1963, in Kissimmee, Florida. The 5’11” 210-pound Fullwood attended Auburn where it later became known that he stopped going to class altogether during his senior season but maintained his eligibility. That year that he finished sixth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy.

Green Bay selected Fullwood with the fourth overall pick in the 1987 draft, but he struggled to learn the offense. He started just one game as a rookie, gaining 274 yards rushing on a paltry 3.3 average, although he did return kicks that year. In fact, his most memorable rookie moment came in the first exhibition game against the Broncos in August when he broke away on the opening kickoff only to fumble the ball out of bounds on the Denver two-yard line without being touched.

New coach Lindy Infante brought in a new offense in 1988, one in which the running backs were expected to catch passes as well, but that was a skill that Fullwood had yet to acquire. He did start 10 games that season and gained 483 yards rushing. The following year it was Majik Time, with the Packers having surprising success behind improvisational quarterback Don Majkowski. Fullwood gained a career record 821 yards rushing in ’89 and was named first alternate to the Pro Bowl. When the Bears Neal Anderson skipped the game due to injury, Fullwood was added to the squad, although he got no touches in the Pro Bowl game.

Even that season had question marks, though. Fullwood rushed for 434 yards in the first five weeks of the season and then gained just 387 in the last two-thirds of the year. Everything fell apart quickly in 1990. Fullwood had nearly been traded to Cleveland for quarterback Mike Pagel in ’89 and was being actively shopped during training camp in ‘90. After all, the Packers had selected runner Darrell Thompson with a first-round pick in the draft. However, Fullwood injured his knee and missed three weeks of the preseason, so he ended up starting the season for Green Bay, but that lasted just five weeks.

At halftime of the week five contest against the Bears, Fullwood pulled himself from the game because he felt sick. That night, though, he was spotted happily dancing in a local club. Neither the fans nor the club were happy. Two days later, he was traded to the Browns for a seventh-round pick. He would appear in just one game with the Browns, as a kick returner, and then his career was over.

Fullwood had a host of problems. First, he was a fumbler, coughing up the ball 15 times in 533 touches as a Packer. That’s one fumble every 35.5 touches. Not only does that contrast sharply with say Edgar Bennett (once every 169 touches) but also with known fumbler Ahman Green (once every 65 touches). Fullwood also struggled to learn the offense and had a tentative relationship with running back coach Willie Peete. Of most significance, he would not play hurt and was not considered a dependable player.

When Fullwood was traded to Cleveland, linebacker Brian Noble commented, “When I talk to players around the league that have played against him when he’s on, they are in awe of him. I think Brent Fullwood has all the ability any back in the NFL could ask for. At times I have questioned if his heart is in it as much as his body.”

Custom cards in Topps styles.

The Patriots Come to Town

Green Bay and New England don’t have a long history of meetings, but there have been some significant ones. From the time of the merger until the coming of the Wolf/Holmgren/Favre troika, the two teams faced off just four times, with the most memorable being on October 1, 1979, when the Pack upset the Pats 27-14 in the first Monday Night Football Game played in Green Bay.

Since 1994, the two teams have met eight times, including Super Bowl XXXI on January 26, 1997, which the Packers won 35-21. Overall, the two teams have split 12 matches, with New England up 6-5 in regular season tilts.

The last three matchups are interesting in that one of the two teams then went on to win the Super Bowl that season. On December 19, 2010, the Patriots prevailed 31-27 in Foxboro, with Matt Flynn starting in place of the injured Aaron Rodgers. Flynn played well, but the following week, Rodgers returned, and the Packers won their last six games including Super Bowl XLV.

The teams met again on November 20, 2014, and the Packers triumphed 26-21 in Lambeau as Rodgers bested Brady. Both teams left the stadium 9-3 and end up 12-4, but the Packers choked in the NFC title game in Seattle, while the Patriots eked out a Super Bowl victory over those same Seahawks two weeks later.

Four years ago, Brady’s 7-2 Patriots easily handled the floundering 3-4-1 Packers 31-17 in New England. By season’s end, Packer coach Mike McCarthy would be fired, while Bill Belichick would earn his sixth championship ring as head coach with the Pats SB win over the Rams.

So can the two teams keep the streak alive in 2022? Will one of them end the season as champion?

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Matt Hasselbeck

In the stadium where he began his pro career, Matt Hasselbeck leaned into the referee when Seattle won the overtime coin toss in their 2004 Wild Card game against the Packers in Lambeau and said, “We want the ball, and we’re going to score.” One thing Hasselbeck didn’t realize was that the referee’s mike was live, and his bold prediction was heard throughout the stadium and on television. The other thing he didn’t realize was that the game would indeed end on one of his passes, but on an Al Harris interception return for the winning touchdown minutes later.

Born on September 25, 1975, in Westwood Massachusetts, Matt is the son of former NFL tight end Don Hasselbeck and the brother of former backup quarterback Tim Hasselbeck. Both brothers played quarterback at Boston College. As a sixth-round pick of Green Bay in 1998, Matt played well in exhibition games each preseason to attract attention behind iron man Brett Favre. Former Packer coach Mike Holmgren made a draft day deal for Hasselbeck in 2001, and Matt was the Seahawk starter for ten years, going 69-62 and taking Seattle to one Super Bowl. He then spent two seasons in Tennessee and three in Indianapolis. Overall, he threw 212 TDs and 153 interceptions. He proved himself an accurate touch passer with fine timing.

The 6’4” 220-pound Hasselbeck was a good scrambler and a creative playmaker. Like his friend Favre, Matt threw into coverage sometimes, but once told Sports Illustrated, “A quarterback can’t play scared, and I never will.” 

(Adapted from The Quarterback Abstract.)

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Mark Brunell

Mild-mannered Mark Brunell, born on September 17, 1970, in Los Angeles, did not shy from competition. In college, he played for a Washington Husky powerhouse that went 31-5 and won three consecutive Rose Bowls. However, Mark tore up his knee in his junior year and lost the starting job to Billy Joe Hobert until Hobert was suspended by the NCAA during the following season. Due to his injury history, Brunell was not drafted until the fifth round – the 118th pick – by Green Bay in 1993. By contrast, the fast-living Hobert was picked in the third round by Oakland, 60 slots ahead of his teammate. While Hobert floundered in Oakland, Brunell sat behind Brett Favre in Green Bay. Coach Holmgren grew frustrated with Favre’s impulsiveness early in his career and strongly considered switching to Brunell, but it never happened. When Packers’ assistant coach Ray Rhodes took over the Eagles in 1995, he worked out a deal for Brunell, but Philadelphia’s management objected to Mark’s salary demands. Instead, Brunell was traded to the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars soon after.

By midseason, the much more mobile Brunell swept aside starter Steve Beurelein and took over the 1-5 Jags. Brunell led Jacksonville to a 4-12 record in their first year, and then to a playoff berth the next. In that second season, Brunell joined Johnny Unitas and Tobin Rote as the only three players in history to lead all quarterbacks in both passing and rushing yards. Brunell threw for 4,367 yards and ran for 480 in 1996 as the Cinderella Jags went all the way to the conference championship. Although he passed for more than 3,000 yards six times and accumulated over 2,400 rushing yards in his career, Mark would never have a better season.

In his eight years as the Jaguars’ starting quarterback, Brunell drove the team to the playoffs four straight years before salary cap problems caused the team to disintegrate under Coach Tom Coughlin. Mark was supplanted as starter by rookie Byron Leftwich in 2003 under new Coach Jack Del Rio. He then spent three years with the Redskins, two with the Saints and two with the Jets before retiring at age 41 in 2011 with 184 TD passes and 108 interceptions. He was 78-73 as a starter.

Since Brunell was a scrambling, left-handed quarterback who wore the number eight, he often was compared to Steve Young. Mark was a three-time Pro Bowl quarterback, but he could not approach the precision passing of Young, although he did set the NFL mark for consecutive completions with 22 while with the Redskins. By that point, though, Brunell had lost a good deal of mobility and arm strength and was no longer the same quarterback. Even then, Brunell remained a true professional who always played the game with heart.

(Adapted from The Quarterback Abstract.)

Custom Cards in a variety of styles.