Packers Top Rookie: 1939

Rookies1939lcraig

After losing to the Giants in the 1938 Championship game, Curly Lambeau brought in a huge crop of 14 rookies in 1939. Nine came via the NFL draft: Minnesota back Larry Buhler in round one, Nebraska center Charley Brock in round three, South Carolina end Larry Craig in round six, Minnesota guard Frank Twedell in round seven, Notre Dame tackle Paul Kell in round eight, Arizona center Tom Greenfield in round 15, Iowa fullback Frank Balazs in round 18, Michigan guard John Brennan in round 19 and Minnesota tackle Charlie Schultz in round 20.

Twedell and Brennan were gone in less than a year, Kell lasted two seasons and Buhler, Balazs, Greenfield and Schultz all stuck for three years, but none made a strong impact. The top-ranked Buhler would ultimately prove to be a disappointment whose career ended after an auto accident in 1941. Brock and Craig turned out to be the jewels of the draft.

Five undrafted free agents made the team, too: Rice end Frank Steen, Texas A&M end Allen Moore, Minnesota tackle Warren Kilbourne, Lake Forest guard John Biolo and Fordham end Harry Jacunski. The first four appeared in between one and five games for their careers, although Biolo later had a successful coaching tenure at Green Bay West High School where he worked as a principal. Jacunski had a six-year Packer career and is a member of the Packer Hall of Fame. As a rookie he caught five passes for two touchdowns.

Brock and Craig are also members of the Packer Hall of Fame. Both made an immediate impact in their first seasons. Brock would play outstanding center and linebacker for Green Bay from 1939-47, drawing All-Pro notice four times. Craig appeared in 121 games for the Packers from 1939-49, playing blocking back on offense and defensive end on defense, and twice drew All-Pro notice. Craig’s versatility allowed slightly-built Don Hutson to move from end to safety on defense and strengthened the whole team in the championship season; Larry Craig was the Packers’ top rookie in 1939.

1939lcraigc  1939cbrockc

1939hjacunskic  1939lbuhlerdraft

1939jbioloc  1939tgreenfieldc

All custom cards are colorized.

Birthday Pairing

May 21 is another shared birthday for the Packers with defensive end Robert Brown who played from 1982-92 and runner Dorsey Levens who played from 1994-2001. Brown was an intense competitor on the field who played in more games than any other Packer defensive lineman in history. He was drafted out of Virginia Tech in the fourth round of the 1982 NFL draft as a 6’2” 240-pound outside linebacker. In 1983, he bulked up to 270-pounds and was moved to defensive end to replace Mike Butler in the Packers’ 3-4 defense.

Brown was not a strong pass rusher, accumulating just 25.5 sacks in his career, but that was also a function of his position in the 3-4. Explaining his responsibilities on the team’s website, Brown noted, “The defensive end did a lot of the dirty work. We were taking on a lot of double teams and giving up our bodies, so we weren’t going to see a lot of sacks.” Generally, he played on the right side and often came out in passing situations when the team would shift to a four-man front. Despite his small size, he even played some nose tackle in 1992, his final year, because of his ability to hold the point and plug holes. Defensive coach Dick Modzelewski told the Milwaukee Journal in 1987 that Brown was a “steady performer” who “comes to practice every day, works on his techniques and plays hard all the time.” Brown should be remembered fondly for his efforts on some lackluster Packer teams.

Levens transferred out of Notre Dame to Georgia Tech where he finally got a chance as a senior in 1993 and was named All-ACC. Drafted in the fifth round by Green Bay in 1994, Levens played on special teams as a rookie before winning the starting fullback position in 1995. He caught 48 passes that season, but fullbacks rarely carry the ball in Coach Mike Holmgren’s offense.

In 1996, William Henderson took over at fullback, and Levens was used as a change-of-pace back to supplement starter Edgar Bennett during the championship season. Levens showed his full potential in the NFC championship game when he amassed over 200 yards in offense highlighted by three key plays: a 35-yard run on third and one, followed immediately by a leaping 29-yard touchdown catch over the defender and then later a 66-yard gain on a screen pass that led to another touchdown.

Levens had good speed for a big man and was a hard runner who bounced off of tacklers. He had outstanding hands and used his blocks very well. When healthy, he could carry the load for the team, but his time in the spotlight was short.

When Bennett ruptured his Achilles the next preseason, Levens stepped in and had one of the three greatest years a Packer runner has ever had, rushing for 1,435 yards and catching 53 passes for 370 more yards – 1,805 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns. A lengthy contract holdout followed by a leg fracture and ankle sprain caused Levens to miss most of 1998, and, in truth, he was never the same player again; he had lost a step. In 1999, he gained over 1,000 yards again, but averaged just 3.7 yards per carry; he did catch 71 passes that year, though. He was supplanted as the starting running back by Ahman Green in 2000 and left as a free agent in 2002.

(Adapted from Green Bay Gold)

1984trbrown  1996dlevens

Brown custom card is colorized.

Packers Top Rookie: 1938

Rookies1938cisbell2

After a couple of thin rookie classes, Curly Lambeau hit the jackpot in 1938. Five of the 10 Green Bay rookies that year are members of the Packers Hall of Fame. From the draft came Purdue tailback Cecil Isbell in round one, Minnesota halfback Andy Uram in round four, Nebraska back John Howell in round seven and Georgia guard Pete Tinsley in round nine. Howell’s career consisted of just six games in 1938, but the other three each spent at least five years with the club and are in the team’s Hall.

Among undrafted free agents, Catholic University tackle Leo Katalinas had an eight-game career, Marquette center Roy Schoemann a mere three games and Creighton end Fred Borak just a single game. Willamette halfback Dick Weisgerber, a New Jersey native, stuck with the team for four seasons and then settled in Wisconsin for the rest of his life.

The two key free agents were Utah State Carl “Moose” Mulleneaux and Vanderbilt tackle Buford “Baby” Ray. Mulleneaux spent six seasons with the Packers, interrupted by his war service, while Ray played 11 years. Both were inducted to the team Hall of Fame.

Linemen Tinsley and Ray offered quite a physical contrast. The 5’8” 205-pound Tinsley appeared in nine games as a rookie and received All-Pro notice in 1941, while the 6’6” 250-pound Ray played 11 games in 1938 and four times drew All-Pro notice. Mulleneaux caught just four passes as a rookie, but for 97 yards and two touchdowns; Uram gained 145 yards rushing and also scored twice.

Isbell was a star from the start, throwing for eight touchdowns (including two to Arnie Herber) and leading the team with 445 yards rushing with two touchdowns as a freshman; Cecil Isbell was the Packers’ top rookie in 1938.

1938cisbelldraft  1938cisbell2

1938bray  1938ptinsley3

1938cmulleneaux2  1938auram

All custom cards are colorized.

The Golden Palomino

May 16 marks Donny Anderson’s 74th birthday. Few players have come into the league with more fanfare than Donny Anderson, one of the “Gold Dust Twins” with fellow first round pick Jim Grabowski, in 1966. In the last year of separate NFL and AFL drafts, the two “twins” signed three-year rookie contracts that were valued at $1-million combined, and they were seen as the soon-to-be-heirs of Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor in the Green Bay backfield. Anderson, the “Golden Palomino” out of Texas Tech was slated to replace Packer “Golden Boy” Hornung, and Donny’s $600,000 contract emphasized his predicament. No one was going to replace the celebrated Hornung, and Anderson’s huge contract just made the differences between the two blonde playboys more obvious.

What was missed and caused Anderson to be an underrated Packer is that, like Hornung, Anderson was an outstanding all-around football player. Neither he nor Hornung ever came close to a 1,000-yard season, but Donny did gain over 750 yards on three occasions, while Paul never did. Anderson also was a decent blocker, but Hornung was a fearsome one. Both were excellent receivers whose average yards-per-catch was in double figures. In fact, the Packers often considered shifting Anderson to receiver. Both halfbacks added to their team value with their feet, but Hornung’s placekicking put points on the scoreboard, while Anderson’s booming, high hang-time punts were less noticeable to a game’s outcome. The point is that, even though Anderson did not quite have Hornung’s Hall of Fame career, he was a damn fine winning ballplayer.

The 6’2” 215 pound Anderson played little as a rookie except as a return man, but saw more action from the middle of 1967 on after Elijah Pitts got hurt. Anderson, of course, was outstanding in the final drive in the Ice Bowl, catching three passes and running four times in that historic drive. Furthermore, anyone looking at the film will conclude that Donny actually scored the winning touchdown on a second down run from the three with about a minute to play, but the referee inexplicably marked the ball at the one, despite taking the ball from Anderson as he lay in the end zone. Not quite as dramatic as Starr’s sneak with 16 seconds to play, but a heroic moment nonetheless. Lombardi famously told him after the game, “Today, you became a man.” He followed that by scoring a touchdown in the Super Bowl II victory over Oakland.

Anderson was named to the Pro Bowl for the 1968 season when he led the team with 761 yards rushing and caught 25 passes for 333 more yards. Coach Phil Bengtson tried to get more playing time for halfbacks Travis Williams and Dave Hampton in 1969, and Anderson’s numbers dwindled, but he again led the team in rushing in 1970 with 853 yards. Under new coach Dan Devine in 1971, Anderson teamed with rookie John Brockington for close to 2,000 rushing yards, but was traded to St. Louis for MacArthur Lane in the offseason. Lane was similar in size and style to Brockington, and the pair led a pounding two-fullback attack in 1972, but Lane tailed off appreciably after that.

Anderson played three years in St. Louis and then went to training camp with the Dolphins in 1975, but retired when he realized he no longer had the speed to get outside. Donny deserves his due as a very good football player on championship teams.

(Adapted from Green Bay Gold)

1966pdandersoncas  1966pdanderson

1967pdanderson2  1968tdanderson

College All-Star custom card is colorized.

Bloodline

Clay Matthews III turns 31 today as he approaches his ninth year in the league. Once a game-changing player, he has slipped in recent year and is probably better as an inside linebacker today. Still, his motor never stops. The 26th overall pick out of USC in 2009, Matthews, of course, is the grandson of former 49er Clay Sr. and son of former Brown and Falcon, Clay Jr., as well as the nephew of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews – not to mention the brother of Casey and the cousin of Jake and Kevin, three other current Matthews clan members in the NFL.

Clay has been a Pro Bowl player six seasons and set the team rookie record for sacks with 10 in 2009. So far, his career high is 13.5 in the championship season of 2010, and he has been the best player on the team’s defense throughout his career. Still, although he has drawn All-Pro notice in four seasons, I view him as more of a Pro Bowl quality player than an All-Pro. He is always in motion on the field, but sometimes he runs himself right out of a play.

That’s not to say that he hasn’t make more than his share of big plays, just that I think there is rarified level of play above his. The 6’3” 255-pound Matthews is a versatile player who has been moved all over the defensive alignment. Primarily a right outside linebacker in 2009, he switched to the left in 2010 and 2011 before returning to the right in 2012. In 2014, he is to be commended for moving inside in midseason to replace the faded A.J. Hawk, and Clay played very well there, tightening up the team’s defense.

Aside from injury problems in 2012 and 2013, he has been very consistent. It is likely that Matthews (72.5) will pass Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (74.5) in the next season and become the team’s official all-time sack leader, although he will still trail Willie Davis on the actual list that Webster and Turney have compiled.

(Adapted from Green Bay Gold)

2010cmatthews  2010leaders

Custom cards in 196o Topps style.

Packers Top Rookie: 1937

Rookies1937ejankowski

For the second consecutive year, the Packers’ rookie class in 1937 was pretty thin, with only one player lasting longer than two seasons in Green Bay. Four of the team’s eight rookies came via the draft and four others came from free agent signings.

All four free agents lasted just one year in the NFL. Iowa guard Zud Schammell appeared in eight games, North Dakota State tackle Lyle Sturgeon and Manchester back Herb Banet in seven, and San Francisco tailback Ray Peteson in just two.

TCU center Darrell Lester was drafted in the fifth round of the 1936 draft and played for the Packers in 1937 and 1938. Another rookie center, Minnesota’s Bud Svendsen, was drafted in the fourth round and joined his brother George (another former Minnesota center) on the Packers in 1937. Both brothers left the Packers to go into coaching in 1938. Bud returned in 1939 and George in 1940. Bud was traded to Brooklyn in 1940 for Beattie Feathers and Dick Cassiano but was later elected to the Packers Hall of Fame in an odd selection. The team was not able to sign its third round pick, although Minnesota signal caller Bud Wilkinson did lead the College All-Stars to a 6-0 victory over the Packers that August.

The Packers top two draft picks were Wisconsin fullback Ed Jankowski and Pittsburgh tackle Averell Daniell. Second round pick Daniell was traded to Brooklyn in midseason for tackle Bill Lee in a steal for the Packers. Lee would give the Packers seven steady seasons as a starting tackle, while Daniell’s NFL career ended after one year.

Jankowski finished second to Clarke Hinkle on the team in rushing in 1937 with 324 yards and scored four touchdowns. He would spend five seasons in Green Bay; Ed Jankowski was the Packers’ top rookie in 1937.

1937yejankowskidraft  1937yejankowski

1937ybsvendsen  1937yhbanet

1937ydlester  1937yzschammel

1937ybwilkinson

Custom cards all colorized.

Right Corner Celebration

Similar to the July 5th birth date shared by deep threats Billy Howton and James Lofton, May 9th is shared by two Packers who played the same position with excellence. In this case, right cornerbacks Jesse Whittenton and Bob Jeter, with Jeter essentially succeeding Whittenon at the position during the Lombardi Era.

Jesse Whittenton was drafted out of Texas Western (now Texas-El Paso) in the sixth round of the 1956 NFL draft by the defending Western Conference champion Rams. Whittenton moved into the Rams’ starting lineup at right cornerback as a rookie and spent two years in Los Angeles before being traded, along with end Bob Carey, to the Bears for tackle Kline Gilbert in July 1958. The Bears cut Jesse before the 1958 season, but three weeks later, Green Bay signed him to replace injured linebacker Carlton Massey on the roster.

That sorry Packers team was destined to finish 1-10-1, and Whittenton moved into the starting lineup before the season was done, still at right cornerback. With the arrival of Lombardi in 1959, the fortunes of the Packers and of Whittenton changed abruptly. Defensive backfield coach Norb Hecker told Len Wagner for the 1961 Packers Yearbook, “We saw some good potential in [Jesse] because of his speed and size, and we worked and worked and worked on him. And it has paid off.” Whittenton drew All-Pro notice from 1959-61 and made the Pro Bowl in 1961 and 1963.

The 6-foot 195-pound Whittenton was a complete cornerback, tough against the run and a sure tackler, as well as having the speed to cover receivers deep. He gave ground to no one.  Jesse augmented his natural gifts by keeping a thorough book on all the receivers in the league. Bears speedy deep threat Harlon Hill rated him highly as a defender. Whittenton even kept his roommate from the Rams, Del Shofner, in check when the Packers and Giants tangled for the championship in 1961 and 1962. Indeed, Lombardi wrote in Run to Daylight, “he is as close to being a perfect defensive back as anyone in the league.”

Whittenton’s most famous play came in a 1961 week 12 showdown with New York. On the third play of the fourth quarter with the Giants up 17-13, New York fullback Alex Webster broke free from his own eight-yard line. When Webster was hit by Henry Jordan at the 25, Whittenton swooped in and took the ball out of Alex’s hands as if it were a handoff. Four plays later, Jim Taylor scored the winning touchdown in the 20-17 decision.

Whittenton had a leg injury in 1964 that slowed him down. He joked that he spent the 1964 Playoff Bowl against the Cardinals chasing Billy Gambrell across the goal line. Offered the chance to become a partner in the purchase of a golf course in El Paso, Whittenton discussed it with Lombardi who told Jesse that he still had a few years left as a safety, but that he should take the business opportunity. So Whittenton retired. He qualified for the PGA tour in 1970, and then for the Champions (seniors) Tour in 1993, but his greatest golf success was sponsoring a young Lee Trevino in the late 1960s.

 

Bob Jeter was another college offensive star from the Big Ten that Lombardi tried at receiver before moving him to defense, where he thrived. As a junior, Jeter was the hero of the 1959 Rose Bowl by gaining 194 yards rushing on just nine carries for the Iowa Hawkeyes.

A year later, Green Bay drafted Jeter in the second round with the 17th overall pick in the 1960 draft. Two days after the draft, though, Jeter signed with the B.C. Lions of the CFL because he felt he was too small for the NFL. He spent two years in B.C. as a running back and then was traded to Hamilton in 1963. Jeter maintained he was cut by the Tiger-Cats and returned to the States, but he was forced to spend the season on the Packers’ taxi squad because Hamilton held his playing rights that season.

The 6’1” 200-pound Jeter was a reserve receiver for two seasons, but was not very impressive, catching just two passes. Switched to defense in 1965, he won the starting right cornerback job in training camp, but got hurt in the final preseason game and lost his job to Doug Hart. When Hart went down in the 1965 title game against the Browns, Jeter stepped in and played so well against Paul Warfield that Hart was relegated to the bench the following season. Jeter recalled to Bud Lea that Lombardi told Bob in the locker room on opening day 1966 against the Colts, “Jeter, when you go out there today, I want those 50,000 people in the stands and millions watching the game on television to leave saying they saw the best defensive back in the NFL today.”

Jeter picked off five passes in 1966, including two pick-sixes, and then nabbed eight interceptions in 1967, when he made All-Pro and the Pro Bowl for the first time. For a few years, Adderley and Jeter were the top pair of cornerbacks in the league, but then Adderley was traded in 1970 and Jeter a year later. The 34-year old Jeter clashed in an April minicamp with new coach Dan Devine in 1971 and was sent to the Bears in July. He spent three years in Chicago and then retired.

(adapted from Green Bay Gold)

1959tjwhittenton2  1961fjwhittenton

1962tjwhittenton  1964pbjeter2

1965pbjeter  1967pbjeter2

1972tbjeter

Jeter Traded custom card is colorized.