Matt Brock

Matt Brock turns 54 today. Born on January 14, 1966 in Ogden, Utah, the 6’5” 300-pound defensive lineman learned the hard way that in pro football you are either getting better or you are on your way out. Drafted out of Oregon in the third round in 1989, Brock moved into the starting lineup at defensive end in 1990 and led the Packers defensive linemen in tackles for three years from 1990-92.

Green Bay signed Reggie White in ’93, so Brock moved to the other side of the line, but his productivity declined. Ron Wolf signed veterans Sean Jones and Steve McMichael in ’94, but Brock thought he deserved more money even though it was clear the team was looking for better production from the line. He held out for six weeks before signing for the veterans’ minimum salary in late August. He was then listed as inactive for the first 11 games of the year.

Despite being a popular local player who had his own “Breakfast with Brock” radio program in Green Bay, Matt was eager to move on in 1995 and signed with the Jets under new coach Rich Kotite. Brock told the New York press that Ron Wolf was mad at him for holding out and told the coaching staff not to play him the previous year. Wolf rationally responded, “It’s about winning and losing and if a player isn’t doing it, he gets replaced.” Brock himself admitted, “In Green Bay, I got the job pretty easy when I was young. I think I got at a comfort level in Green Bay and I stopped improving.”

Brock scored his only NFL touchdown in his first game with the Jets on a three-yard fumble recovery, but it was all downhill from there. Kotite’s Jets went 4-28 in 1995-96, while the Packers won the division crown in ’95 and the Super Bowl in ’96. Brock’s career ended after the ’96 season.

Matt’s father Clyde also played pro ball. Clyde lettered one year at Utah State, playing behind future NFL stalwarts Merlin Olsen and Clark Miller. Still, the Bears drafted the 6’5” 275-pound tackle in the second round in 1962 while the AFL’s Oilers took him in the eighth round. The Bears cut Clyde, but he landed with the Cowboys for a year and a half. He finished 1963 with the 49ers, but was cut by San Francisco in ’64. Although Houston was still interested, he signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and appeared in 158 games with them from 1964-75. A five-time CFL All-Star, he was selected for the Canadian Pro Football Hall of Fame in July 2020 at the age of 80.

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Walter Jean, or Is It Le Jean, or LeJeune?

Born Walter Jean in Chillicothe, Ohio on January 12, 1898 was a football lineman of some mystery as to his name, his playing career and his race. According to recent research, Jean was a bi-racial man passing for white in the 1920s when he played for the Packers among other NFL clubs. In 2015, the website “Oldest Living Pro Football Players” noted its U.S. Census research had concluded that Jean had a black father, Marcel, and a white mother, Elizabeth, and was listed as black on the 1900 Census, mulatto in 1910 and 1920, and white in 1930 and 1940.

Packer historian Cliff Christl followed up on that with interviews with family and acquaintances of Jean, as well as tracking down official sources at institutions where Jean was said to have attended. Link The conclusion is that Jean, later referred to as Le Jean and supposedly sometimes as LeJeune, was likely the Packers first black player in 1925, 25 years before Bob Mann, who is commonly given that identifier.

Here is a timeline of Jean’s career, along with some additional post-Packer football affiliations that I have discovered in newspaper research of my own.

1916: Enrolls at Heidleberg University in Tiffin, OH where he is called “Bolo” Jean.

1917: Continues at Heidleberg

1918: In Student Army Training Corps at Heidleberg

1919: Military service

1920: Head coach at Bowling Green University, leading the team to a 1-4 mark.

1921: Finishes college playing eligibility at Bethany College in West Virginia

1922: Plays nine games for the 3-5-2 Akron Pros and scores four touchdowns by playing both in the backfield and line.

1923: Plays five games for the 1-6 Akron Pros.

1924: Plays nine games for the 5-8 Milwaukee Badgers.

1925: Plays nine games for the 8-5 Packers.

1926: Plays 10 games for the 7-3-3 Packers.

1927: Plays two games for the Pottsville Maroons and then joins the semipro Portsmouth Shoe-Steels as player and as the assistant coach to Jim Thorpe. When Thorpe leaves before the season finale, Jean imports former teammates, Red Dunn, Eddie Kotal, Rex Enright and Pid Purdy and coaches the Portsmouth’s 7-6 loss to the Ashland Armcos. Enright and Purdy were injured in car accident and missed the game, however.

1928: Jean continues as the Portsmouth coach for the first two games, with the team now community-owned and going by the name Portsmouth Spartans. After winning the first two games, Jean leaves the team and Keith Molesworth (backs) and Russell Hathaway (line) take over the coaching. Later that season, Jean surfaces playing for the semi-pro Cincinnati National Guards, a rival of Portsmouth.

1929: Jean continues with Cincinnati and is appointed coach on October 22.

1930-32: Jean coaches the semi-pro Dayton Guards.

After this, the 34-year-old appears to leave football. He married in 1935 and worked in various positions while maintaining a winter home in Clermont, Florida and a summer one in Jacksonport, Wisconsin. His wife passed away in 1960, and Jean died on March 28, 1961 from a heart attack at his Wisconsin home.

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Destroying the Village to Save It

I once wrote post on the Packers high number of players from the University of Tulsa in the late 1940s into the outset of the ‘50s. One more Golden Hurricane didn’t quite make the cut, and his is a very sad tale. Forrest “Chubby” Grigg was born on January 10, 1926 in El Dorado, Arizona, but grew up in Texas.

Grigg was a 300-pound tackle who graduated from Tulsa in 1946 and signed with the Buffalo Bisons of the All-America Football Conference. The next year, he spent with the lowly Chicago Rockets of the same circuit, but in 1948, Paul Brown traded Frank Signiago and three others to Chicago for Chubby and Alax Agase. Knowing of Grigg’s tendency to put on weight–reportedly he had played at 330 pounds in Chicago–Brown offered him a significant bonus to report to training camp in shape. And Chubby did, showing up at 270 pounds before he began eating again.

Grigg spent four seasons in Cleveland playing tackle on both sides of the ball and even filling in for Lou Groza as placekicker when Lou was injured. In April 1952, though, Chubby was acquired by Green Bay along with Zeke Costa and Dick Logan for linebacker Walt Michaels. Logan played two seasons for the Packers, but neither Grigg nor Costa ever appeared in a Packer uniform, while Michaels spent a decade starting in Cleveland.

Chubby was cut on September 23, the week before the season opener and was claimed by the Dallas Texans. He spent his last pro football season for that ill-fated franchise that was sold back to the league at midseason. Grigg then went into the restaurant business in his native Texas before retiring in 1972 after contracting diabetes.

Then on October 31, 1976, Grigg did something shockingly tragic. He shot and killed his only son, Michael. At the trial in 1977, Grigg admitted he killed Michael because his son had been using pills and smoking marijuana for the last three years and that he had changed. He had quit all sports activities and had been suspended from school due to his long hair. Feeling that he was unable to reach his son any longer, Chubby found Michael asleep in his room and shot him in the temple.

After being sentenced to five years’ probation upon being convicted of involuntary manslaughter, Grigg said, “Sure I regret what I did, but I’m still relieved that he’s relieved. He’s not on the drug anymore. He’s not under any more pressure.”

Chubby died in 1953 at age 57. His wife lived on till 2006.

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A Look Back at 1971

Dan Devine took over as head coach in 1971, and the offense did improve a bit by scoring 274 points, a league ranking of 13th that was up from 24th in ’70 and was built on the team’s improvement in rushing from 16th to fourth. The won-lost record slipped to 4-8-2 though, and Devine’s first game was marked by personal disaster when he was run over on the sidelines by former Packer Bob Hyland in a 42-40 loss to the Giants. The Pack was 3-3-1 at home and 1-5-1 on the road, 0-6-1 to winning teams and 4-2-1 against losers.

Bart Starr’s final bow was unimpressive, going 0-2-1 as a starter by throwing for just 286 yards, on touchdowns and three interceptions. Zeke Bratkowski returned to lose one start and throw for 298 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions. Weak-armed rookie Scott Hunter went 4-5-1 as starter, completing 46% of his passes for 1,210 yards, seven scores and 17 interceptions.

The offense was provided by rookie fullback John Brockington who gained 1,105 yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry. He was supported by Donny Anderson’s 757 yards. Anderson’s 26 receptions were third on the team. Carroll Dale, clearly in decline, was still the team’s top receiver with 31 catches for 598 yards and four TDs. Tight end Rich McGeorge added 27 catches, and once again, the team’s second wideout, John Spilis, was fourth on the team with just 14 grabs. Dave Hampton had another kickoff return touchdown, and new kicker Lou Michaels led the team with a paltry 43 points. Michaels, Tim Webster and Dave Conway combined to convert just 14 of 26 field goal attempts.

Second-year cornerback Ken Ellis led the Pack with six interceptions. Sack leaders were Clarence Williams with six, Alden Roche with five and Fred Carr with 3.5 (Webster/Turney data).

Brockington and Gale Gillingham were the only Packers to be named All-Pro and were selected to the Pro Bowl, too. Brockington (Offensive Rookie of the Year) and Hunter were the top rookies, but I have written before about how Devine could have better filled the team’s needs at quarterback and receiver by focusing on players from the Big 8 where he had coached. Instead of wasting his second-round pick on Grambling receiver Virgil Robinson, he should have taken Kansas State quarterback Lynn Dickey, and then in round six he could have nabbed his own Missouri Tiger wideout Mel Gray rather than Hunter. At least he got Brockington right.

Vince Lombardi was elected to the Hall of Fame posthumously.

Custom cards of Hunter, Ellis and Gillingham are colorized.

A Look Back at 1970

Phil Bengtson’s depressing final season as head coach in Green Bay was bookended by shut out losses to Detroit. The first, a sloppy 40-0 slipshod crushing at home, was punctuated by the booing of the Lambeau Field crowd. Herb Adderley, Marv Fleming, Lee Roy Caffey and Elijah Pitts had all been traded. Jerry Kramer, Bob Skoronski, Willie Davis and Henry Jordan had all retired. Vince Lombardi was dead. The glory years were in the past. Still the team stood at 4-2 six games in, but went 2-6 from then on including a first ever loss to Dallas in week 11. Green Bay was 1-7 against winning teams and 5-1 against losers. At home, they were 4-3 and 2-5 on the road, and finished the year on a five-game road trip.

An aging Bart Starr was 6-7 in 13 starts, completed 55% of his passes for 1,645 yards, eight touchdowns and 13 interceptions, while backup Don Horn lost his only start, completed 38% of his passes for 428 yards, two touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Donny Anderson rushed for 823 yards to lead the team and caught 36 passes, second most for the Pack. Carroll Dale caught 49 passes for 814 yards. Tight end John Hilton was the second receiving option with 25 receptions, while the next wideout was Jack Clancy with just 16 grabs. On the bright side, both Dave Hampton and Larry Krause returned kickoffs for touchdowns. New kicker Dale Livingston converted 15-28 field goals to lead the team with 64 points.

On defense, Willie Wood picked off seven passes. Lionel Aldridge had 13.5 sacks, followed by 4.5 by Bob Brown and 3.5 by Fred Carr. (Webster/Turney data).  Gale Gillingham was the only All-Pro, although Wood was named to the second team. Gilly, Wood, Carr and Dale all were selected for the Pro Bowl. Bengtson’s final draft was fairly successful, producing Mike McCoy, Rich McGeorge, Jim Carter, Ken Ellis and Al Matthews.

Custom cards of Gillingham, Livingston, Wood, Carr and McGeorge are colorized.

Byline: Blood, Parts 4 and 5

Johnny Blood’s next dispatch from Hawaii came on December 31 and was a preview of the second scheduled island game to follow on January 2 against a team of alumni from the McKinley school. He teased out that Curly Lambeau might play for the first time in four years, but that would not occur. An even bigger crowd of 18,000 was expected and indeed materialized as reported in Blood’s fifth report dated January 3, 1933.

That game was a rout, 32-0. Blood noted that the local team was outgained 320-110, and the Packers completed 21 passes to just two completions by the Hawaiians. Johnny’s performance was especially noted by the game account published in the Honolulu Star Bulletin: “Blood was pulling them out of the sky with one hand and it did not seem to matter if two or three Mickalums were right there trying to knock the pass down.”

The game was broadcast in Green Bay on WHBY. The delayed process involved the play-by-play being radioed from Honolulu to San Francisco and then relayed by direct wire to the Wisconsin station for Harold Shannon to broadcast. Moreover, another Press-Gazette story lauded the amazing technology of short-wave radio that allowed for direct communication of messages from Lambeau and Lavie Dilweg from the islands.

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Byline: Blood, Parts 2 and 3

Johnny Blood’s second Press-Gazette column chronicling the Packers 1932 postseason Western swing was published on December 22. It heralds the team’s celebrated arrival in Honolulu that day after a five-day passage across the Pacific. It insists the Packers are in fighting trim, however, Blood later recalled to Ralph Hickok for Vagabond Halfback that the voyage was more memorable for breaking training with Prohibition not yet rescinded:

Most of us were too young to have ever had a legal drink in a legitimate bar, but we had all taken a drink or two here or there. We got on a Matson ship called the Mariposa and, when she got outside the three-mile limit, the bars opened. It was really something for us to be able to drink legally. And the prices were half of what they would have been on the mainland–a shot of Johnny Walker for twenty cents. We were traveling second class, but they gave us the run of the ship. And the Packers were pretty well known, with those three championships, so we had no trouble at all making acquaintances. We had a ball.

Four days later the Packers played a team of alumni from the University of Hawaii, as detailed in Blood’s third column published on December 27. Being outmanned by a team of professionals that outweighed them by an average of 30 pounds per man, the Hawaiians, not surprisingly, took to the air. They struck on their first offensive play with a 70-yard scoring pass and near the end of the game drove the length of the field on three passes to score a second touchdown. In between those two highlights, the Packers scored three touchdowns and won 19-13. Overall, the locals completed seven of 16 passes for 220 yards and had five intercepted. They also benefitted from Green Bay being penalized 12 times for 120 yards.

And, unlike Blood’s joke in column two that the Hawaiians would play barefoot, they wore cleats. However, Johnny does note that at halftime, Henry Hughes, formerly of Oregon State University, entertained the crowd of 13,000 with 50 and 60-yard barefoot place kicks. Hughes was a Honolulu native who played for the Boston Braves of the NFL in 1932 and converted five extra points as a blocking back.

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Byline: Blood, Part 1

In 1932, Packer bon vivant Johnny Blood added a new line to his resume, football correspondent. That December and into February of 1933, he penned nine or ten columns chronicling Green Bay’s postseason barnstorming road trip West, not to mention booking two of the games in distant U.S. territory Hawaii. It should be remembered that Blood’s uncle was the publisher of the Minneapolis Tribune so he had some newspaper background.

At the outset of December, the 10-1-1 Packers appeared to be cruising to a fourth consecutive NFL title, with the 5-1-4 Portsmouth Spartans and 4-1-6 Chicago Bears as distant rivals. However, the title was then decided by winning percentage and ties were disregarded entirely, so when the Pack lost their last two games by shutout respectively to those Spartans and Bears on the fourth and the 11th, they dropped out of the running.

Four thousand miles away in Hawaii, the manager of the Honolulu Stadium, J. Ashman Beaven was trying to book former All-America fullback Ernie Nevers to bring a team of All-Stars to Hawaii for games at Christmas and New Year’s, but negotiations broke down. Beaven was moving to a Plan B option of inviting the University of Santa Clara when Johnny Blood, after consulting with Curly Lambeau, offered to bring the Packers to the islands. A deal was struck on December 3, and the Packers left Green Bay for the West Coast by rail ten days later.

Blood’s first column appeared in the Green Bay Press-Gazette on Saturday, December 17, hours after the Mariposa set sail from San Pedro, California for Hawaii with 17 members of the 1932 Packers aboard. Cal Hubbard, Dick Stahlman, Verne Lewellen, Herdis McCrary, Paul Fitzgibbons and Tom Nash did not make the trip. The theme of the first column was outlining the agenda for the trip and tossing in a few comments on his teammates as you can read below.

An interesting sidelight of this whole trip is how several well-known Johnny Blood stories came out of this trip. Related to this first column is the time Blood missed a Packer departure and raced ahead in his automobile, parked it on the tracks, and forced the train to stop so he could board. Blood told Ralph Hickok in Vagabond Halfback that he was hurrying along to the train depot with his date from the previous evening and was pulled over for speeding, which necessitated the train track stratagem. The alternate newspaper version is posted below.

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Summing Up the 1960s

The 1960s were the team’s greatest decade, and probably the greatest decade any franchise has ever had. Not only did they win five championships, including three in a row, but they were the team that ushered in the TV age for the NFL. Vince Lombardi’s offense was dominant for a few years, finishing first or second in points scored in the first four years of the 1960s and finishing first or second in rushing yards from 1960-64 and 1967. However, the defense was the key to Green Bay’s dominance. The team was first or second in fewest points allowed seven times, as well as being third twice and fourth the other season. The primary reason was the airtight pass defense. Phil Bengtson’s pass defense was first or second in fewest passing yards and in lowest opposition passer rating eight times each.

Packers (5)96375.714
Browns (1)92415.685
Colts (1*)92424.681
Bears (1)67656.507
Vikings (1*)52677.440
Eagles (1)57765.431
Championships in parentheses.

Bart Starr was 81-32-5 as a starter and led the team in passing by completing 56.5% of his throws for 19,126 yards, 125 touchdowns and 90 interceptions. Twice he led the league in highest yards per attempt and four times in completion percentage. He was league MVP in 1966. Backup Zeke Bratkowski, 4-3-1 as a starter, threw for 2,849 yards, 17 touchdowns and 26 interceptions.

Jim Taylor was the leading rusher with 7,508 yards and an average gain of 4.5. He scored 74 times on the ground to go with the seven scores from his 174 receptions. Altogether, he posted 486 points. His backfield mate Paul Hornung gained 2,401 yards for 38 touchdowns on the ground and added 12 TDs from his 94 receptions. Add in his placekicking and Paul scored a team-high 581 points. Tom Moore contributed 2,069 yards rushing and 71 receptions for 20 TDs on the ground and seven through the air. Elijah Pitts added 1,684 yards rushing and 97 receptions with 28 TDs on the ground and six through the air. Hornung was league MVP in 1961 and Taylor in ’62.

Boyd Dowler was the Pack’s top receiver with 416 catches for 6,369 yards and 36 touchdowns. Max McGee caught 225 passes for 4,109 yards and 28 scores, while Carroll Dale added 179 receptions for 3,693 yards and 28 TDs.

Willie Wood intercepted 40 passes and returned them for 581 yards and two touchdowns. He also scored on two punt returns. Herb Adderley picked off 39 passes for 795 yards and seven touchdowns. He added two scores on kickoff returns. Willie Davis tallied 99 sacks, Henry Jordan 57 and Lionel Aldridge 44.5 (Webster/Turney data).

Forrest Gregg and Wood each were named All-Pro eight times; Adderley, Jordan and Nitschke seven times; Taylor, Davis and Jerry Kramer six times; Fuzzy Thurston five times; Starr, Bill Forester and Jim Ringo four times; Dave Robinson and Dan Currie three times; Hornung, Jesse Whittenton, Ron Kramer, Bob Jeter and Gale Gillingham twice; and Dale, Lee Roy Caffey and Tom Moore once each.

For the Pro Bowl, Gregg and Wood were selected seven times; Adderley and Davis five times; Jordan, Ringo, Starr and Taylor four times; Forester, Robinson and Jerry Kramer three times; Whittenton, Jeter, Dale and Boyd Dowler twice; and Hornung, Currie, Nitschke, Caffey, Gillingham, Moore, Ron Kramer, Max McGee, Bob Skoronski, Donny Anderson and Don Chandler once each.

Custom cards of Lombardi, Bengtson, Hornung, McGee, Dowler, Gregg and Aldridge are colorized.

Davante Adams

Davante Adams, the fifth Packer to catch 500 passes, turns 28 today. Born on Christmas Eve 1992 in Redwood City, California, he was a second round pick out of Fresno State in 2014. At FSU, Adams caught over 100 passes twice and was a second team All-America. As a rookie, he replaced departed free agent James Jones as the team’s third option behind Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. Nelson left in 2015 and Jones returned. Injured and struggling, Adams slipped to the fourth option behind Cobb, Jones and tight end Richard Rodgers in that disappointing second season. Although he and Jones each caught 50 passes, Jones gained 890 yards for an average of 17.8 per catch, while Adams managed only 493, a miserable 9.7 yards per catch. Jones also scored eight times, while Davante caught just one TD pass.

Adams blossomed in his third season with 75 catches for 13.3 yards per catch and 12 scores, and he has been the team’s leading receiver ever since. Four times, including this year, he has caught at least 10 touchdowns. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2017, 2018 and 2019, and his best season thus far was ’18 when he caught 111 passes for 1,386 yards and 13 touchdowns. In the postseason, he has upped his per catch average to 15.3 yards and has nabbed six touchdowns in eight games.

While some receivers burst into stardom right out of college…like James Lofton and Sterling Sharpe. Many others, including such Packers like Donald Driver and Jordy Nelson, take a couple of years seasoning to gain their footing. Adams took the latter course, but all five of these Green Bay 500-catch receivers reached elite status.

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