Sam Shields

Today, Sam Shields is 29. He has not played a down since opening day due to a concussion, his fourth in six years, and his career as a Packer sadly may be over for that reason. The team has certainly noticed the absence of its top cornerback this season.

With Sam Shields playing opposite Tramon Williams, the Packers started two undrafted free agents at cornerback from 2012-14. Shields emerged as a starter as a rookie out of Miami in the team’s championship season of 2010 and has come up with four interceptions in postseason play and 18 in the regular season. Shields is a bit slight of size at 5’11” and 180 pounds but is fast and a good cover man. He is not the most physical cornerback and was shoved away by the Seahawks Golden Tate in the infamous “Fail Mary” loss to Seattle in 2012. A solid, pugnacious and very effective player, he made the Pro Bowl in 2014. If his career in Green Bay is over, he will be missed.

(Adapted from Green Bay Gold.)

2010sshields

Custom card in 1961 Fleer style.

Packers Top Rookie: 2014

rookies2014clinsley

Ted Thompson had nine picks in the 2014 draft and got middling results from them. Six of the nine made the team, with two entirely relegated to the practice roster. Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix came in the first round, Fresno State receiver Davante Adams in round two, California tight end Richard Rodgers in round three, Ohio State center Corey Linsley in round five, Baylor defensive back Demetri Goodson in round six and Wisconsin-Saginaw Valley receiver Jeff Janis in round seven. Two picks from the 2013 draft – receiver Ken Dorsey and lineman J.C. Tretter – also made their initial NFL appearances in 2014.

Four undrafted free agents supplemented the draft picks: Colorado State nose tackle Mike Pennell, Toledo linebacker Jayrone Elliott, Maine tight end Justin Perillo and Miami defensive end Luther Robinson.

All the rookies except Dorsey and Robinson are still with the Packers in 2016, and Dix, Adams, Rodgers and Linsley moved into the starting lineup in their first year. Tretter was slated to be a starter in his rookie season as well, but was sidelined by injury and leapfrogged by Linsley…who returned the favor in 2016. Pennell and Elliot have shown potential but have yet to develop.

Of the rookie starters, Rodgers has yet to impress and Adams has been very slow to develop. Dix generally has played well, but the unheralded “short-armed” Linsley united the offensive line of the leagues’ leading offense in his first season; Corey Linsley was the Packers’ top rookie in 2014.

Playing for the Title in Milwaukee

After joining the American Professional Football Association in 1921, Green Bay played their first game in Milwaukee that year, but it was a non-league contest, and the Packers were the visiting team. On December 4, 1921, Green Bay met the Racine Legion in a contest billed as the professional state championship following the conclusion of the league season.

The Packers dominated the game. The Legion would never cross the Packers’ 30 although the Packers twice got into Milwaukee’s red zone, reaching the 6 and 12 yard lines. However, Green Bay only scored once on a placement field goal by Curly Lambeau in the second quarter. In the fourth quarter, the Press Gazette noted that Racine came out in a “split formation” and began to move ball. With roughly two minutes to play, The Press Gazette describes the action:

Time was nearly over and Gillo attempted a drop kick. The ball went wide but the head linesman called an offside on the Packers and it was first down again for Racine five yards nearer the Packer goal. Three rushed netted four yards and then Gillo made his kick which tied the score.

Here’s the Press Gazette’s lead to the game recap:

With but two minutes to go and defeat staring them in the face, the Racine Legion team lined up on the Packers’ 30 yard marker and Hank Gillo dropped back 12 yards further and made ready for a field goal. The result of the game hinged on this kick. Irv Langhoff, former Marquette star, squatted to take the ball from center. Bohte’s pass was good. Racine’s line held tight, and Gillo toe connected squarely with the oval. The ball sailed true between the uprights and joy broke loose in the Racine rooting section.

Grillo was a local hero I profiled in NFL Head Coaches:

Milwaukee’s Hank Gillo was a pile-driving fullback for Colgate at 5’10” and 195-pounds. Gillo captained the 1918 squad and was a third team Walter Camp All-American prior to serving as a flyer in World War I. With the formation of the APFA in 1920, Hank was hired as player-coach of the Hammond Pros, but the team was more like a semipro team in quality and was outscored 22-7 per game. Gillo spent five more years in the league with three other teams, but only as a player. He played in just one league game with Hammond in 1921 before jumping to the independent Racine Legion, closer to home. Perhaps the biggest highlight of Hank’s career came on December 4, 1921 when Racine met Green Bay in a non-league game billed as the Wisconsin professional championship. The Packers held a 3-0 lead for the whole game until Gillo tied the game with a 40-yard drop-kick field goal with three minutes to play.

The next year, Racine joined the NFL, and Hank unofficially led the league with 52 points scored. He also became the first NFL kicker to boot three field goals in a game that year against Rochester. In October of the next year against Akron, he became the first to kick a 50-yard field goal in a league game. Once his football career ended, Gillo became a high school biology teacher and football coach in Milwaukee for the next 20 years until he died from a heart attack at the age of 53. There was an odd postscript to his life 11 years later. Hank’s 29-year old son Robert H. Gillo went to court in 1959 to legally change his name to Paul V. Banner because his long-deceased father was so well known that Robert did not want to live in his shadow.

In 1922, the Milwaukee Badgers joined the league, and the Packers would go 9-0-1 against Milwaukee through the 1927 season, after which the Cream City dropped out of the NFL. Six seasons later on October 1, 1933, the Packers played their first home game in Milwaukee, losing 10-7 to the New York Giants, but starting a home game tradition that would last for 60 years.

spclambeau  spcbuck

Custom cards are colorized.

 

The Snow Bowl: Two Quarterbacks Passing in the White

Before the 2-10 Tampa Bay Bucs and 5-7 Packers lined up for their December 1, 1985 Battle of the Bays, 10 inches of snow was cleared from the tarp covering Lambeau Field. Five more inches would fall during the game with wind gusts up to 35 mph, a temperature of 27 degrees and a -10 wind-chill factor. Played in a blizzard, the game attracted just 19,856 hardy attendees, while 36,586 fans were no shows and 485 tickets went unsold. They missed an amazing game.

Bucs rookie quarterback Steve Young made the second start of his NFL career and attained what would be the second lowest passer rating of his career, completing eight of 17 passes for 53 yards and one interception, while being sacked five times for 42 yards in losses. Four of the sacks were by Alphonso Carreker, his personal best. Young was the Bucs leading rusher with 31 yards, and his 11-yard scramble was the Bucs’ longest play of the game. He told Bud Lea, “When I looked out the hotel window this morning, I felt this was going to be incredible. I’ve heard about Lambeau Field, the history of the Packers and everything…a snowstorm in Green Bay.”

In Young’s recently released biography, QB: My Life Behind the Spiral, he tells of being driven face first into a snowdrift during one of Carreker’s sacks and having the snow packed hard against his face behind his facemask. In a panic, he struggled to get up so he could dig the snow away from his face and be able to breathe.

Veteran Packers’ quarterback Lynn Dickey, meanwhile, was having a glorious game, completing 22 of 36 passes for 299 yards. All three of the Packers touchdowns in the 21-0 victory were scored on the ground, though, by Dickey, Gerry Ellis and Jesse Clark. Ellis and Eddie Lee Ivery both ran for over 100 yards, while James Lofton caught passes for 106 yards, as the Packers outgained the Bucs 512-65 and made 31 first downs to Tampa’s five.

Dickey commented after the game, “You’ve got to accept the weather. It isn’t going to get any better. Just grip the ball tight and throw the best you can.” As it turned out, the game was Dickey’s swansong; he never appeared in another NFL game. He injured himself on a weight training machine the next week and watched Jim Zorn start the last three games of 1985, including a season finale victory in Tampa on a cloudy day when the temperature was 59 degrees.

The 36-year old Dickey was cut over a salary dispute the following June but then re-signed for training camp. However, he was third on the depth chart behind Randy Wright and Vince Ferragamo and was cut for good on September 2, 1986, along with perhaps his favorite receiver, tight end Paul Coffman.

1981tldickey  1984tacarreker

Custom cards in Topps styles.

Packers Top Rookie: 2013

rookies2013elacy

16 first-year men played for the Packers in 2013, but only two proved to be impact players. Eight of the team’s 11 draft picks played for Green Bay that season and two others made the roster a year later. UCLA pass rusher Datone Jones was drafted with the top pick in round one, Alabama runner Eddie Lacy in round two, Colorado tackle David Bakhtiari and UCLA runner Johnathan Franklin in round four, Iowa cornerback Micah Hyde and Mississippi defensive end Josh Boyd in round five, Illinois State linebacker Nate Palmer in round six and South Florida linebacker Sam Barrington in round seven.

Having 11 draft picks offered a great chance to restock the team, but the opportunity was largely wasted. Datone Jones has been a major disappointment, and his college teammate, Franklin sadly had his career ended with a neck injury. Boyd, Palmer, and Barrington never developed into anything, and Micah Hyde showed promise as a returner and defensive back in his first two seasons, but has been stunted since.

Eight rookie free agents also made the team. Guard Lane Taylor and safety Chris Banjo each played four years in Green Bay, with Taylor gaining starter status in 2016. Linebacker Andy Mulumba lasted three years, but the other five – runner Michael Hill, tight end Jake Stonebreaker, linebacker Victor Aiyewa and receivers Myles White and Chris Harper – all were gone after just one season.

So the cream of the crop in 2013 were the draft picks Lacy and Bakhtiari. Both moved right into the starting lineup in 2013 and have stayed there ever since. Bakhtiari has been a reliable piece of a usually solid line. Lacy gained over 1,000 yards and was the AP’s Offensive Rookie of the Year; Eddie Lacy was the Packers’ top rookie in 2013.

Thanksgiving 1986

Thirty years ago today was Thanksgiving Day 1986, and the annual Detroit game that year featured the 5-7 Lions facing the 2-10 Packers. It was just the second time since 1963 that Green Bay had travelled to Detroit on the holiday and proved to be perhaps the sweetest moment of a long dismal season in Wisconsin. The Packers were quarterbacked by unimpressive third-year man Randy Wright and would finish 25th in the NFL in scoring in 1986, while the Lions employed 36-year old Joe Ferguson as their signal caller and would end up 22nd in points. On the other side of the ball, Detroit’s middle-of-the-pack defense was countered by Green Bay’s 27th ranked one. Not exactly a marquee matchup.

The Lions opened the scoring with a field goal and touchdown, but the Packers tied it up in the first quarter on a blocked punt recovered in the end zone by defensive back John Simmons and a field goal by Al Del Greco. In the second quarter, two Del Greco field goals were answered by one by Detroit three-pointer before Walter Stanley grabbed a 21-yard touchdown pass from Wright to put the Pack up by ten, but another Lions touchdown before half brought the score to 23-20 Green Bay at the intermission.

17 unanswered third quarter points gave the Lions a 37-23 advantage before Stanley closed the gap with a 36-yard touchdown grab of another Wright pass to make the score 37-30 Detroit going into the final quarter. The fourth field goal by Eddie Murray, set up by an interception of an errant Wright pass, then extended the Lions’ lead to 40-30 before Wright tossed his third touchdown pass of the day – 11 yards to Paul Ott Carruth to tighten the score to 40-37.

With less than a minute to go in the contest, the less-than-stalwart Packer defense forced the Lions to punt, and punt returner Stanley was given instructions to fair catch the punt to preserve time for the offense. Instead, Stanley fielded the ball at his own 17 and headed to the left before spinning back to the right sideline where he found clear sailing for an 83-yard game-winning punt return touchdown with just 41 seconds left in the game. It would be the only punt return touchdown of his career.

Stanley told reporters, “The thing is, I’m expecting to make big plays – not all the time – but if you want to be better than average, you’re going to have to make the big plays, and that’s what I try to do every chance I get. I wanted the touchdown because I felt that we needed it.”

Gruff Coach Forrest Gregg added, “All I know is the guy is a good athlete and has a lot of heart. I think they probably underestimated his ability a little bit. Nobody will be guilty of that again.”

Wright finished the game 18-26 for 286 yards and three touchdowns for a career-best 128 passer rating; it was the one bright spot in his dreadful tenure as Green Bay’s starting quarterback. It was also the finest hour for the 5’9” Stanley who scored half of his six career touchdowns on this day. He returned punts for the Packers for four years, but his return average declined each season. In 1989, he moved on to the Lions and led NFL in punt return average in his one season with Detroit. It was a great day of surprising performances by a couple of lesser light Packers.

1985twstanley  1986trwright

Custom cards in Topps style.

A Thanksgiving Story

In November 1949, the Packers were on the brink of financial ruin. Two days after losing to the Giants 30-10 to drop the team’s record to 2-6, 100 local businessmen met on November 15 to fashion a plan to “Save the Packers,” according to the Chicago Tribune:

The public spirited committee met with club officials at a breakfast in the Northland Hotel this morning and made plans for an intrasquad game Thanksgiving afternoon. Each of the 100 will contact 20 people or organizations. Tickets for the game will be priced at $1, $2 and $3, plus tax. In addition, contributions will be accepted.

Four days after a 30-7 loss to Pittsburgh, the intrasquad game was staged on Thanksgiving Day, November 24. 15,000 fans showed up for the contest despite it being a windy, snowy day. The Green Bay Press Gazette reported that:

More than a thousand prizes were given away, ranging from a second hand automobile to 2,000 feet of lumber, 100 pounds of butter, baskets of groceries and even a shave and a haircut. Fans with lucky numbers sat on the bench and helped the coach. The spirit of Thanksgiving was so rampant that even small boys threw back the balls kicked into the stands, something that has become almost unheard of in football in recent years.

The intrasquad game pitted the Blue-jersey team of veterans led by quarterback Jug Girard against the Gold-jersey team of newcomers led by quarterback Stan Heath. Girard had been the Packers first round pick in 1948, but would complete just 34% of his passes and throw five touchdowns to 12 interceptions before shifting to halfback in 1950. Heath was the Packers first round pick in 1949 and completed just 24.5% of his passes with one touchdown and 14 interceptions in his single NFL season before leaving for Canada.

Playing against Packer defenders proved a tonic to both signal callers, though, as the Blues beat the Golds 35-31, with Girard throwing five touchdown passes to Ted Fritsch, Bob Forte, Nolan Luhn, Larry Craig and Ralph Earhart. Gold touchdowns wee scored by Heath, Jack Kirby, Bill Kelley and Walt Schlinkman The assistant coaches also got into the act, with 36-year old assistant Bob Snyder kicking placements for the Golds and 36-year old assistant Don Hutson kicking an extra point for the Blues, while 33-year old assistant Charley Brock and 38-year old former player Joe Laws also lined up for the play. 44-year old assistant Tom Stidham did not suit up.

At halftime, Curly Lambeau threw passes to Herb Nichols, his 1919 teammate. Verne Lewellen threw to Lavvie Dilweg, and Arnie Herber bombed one to Hutson. Old favorite Johnny Blood addressed the crowd, as did Lambeau who asserted:

This is the town they think is going to surrender its franchise. It will never happen here. Over there sits Jimmy Cowles, the son of a bootblack. Young Jimmy is a laborer in a mill here. He gave $100. It is about time they quit worrying about Green Bay and directed their attention to some less fortunate franchises in the business. Green Bay will be around for a long time.

The Thanksgiving festivities raised $50,000, as the fans helped save the Green Bay Packers once again. Three days later, the team traveled to Chicago and put up a season-high 21 points against the Cardinals. Unfortunately, the Cardinals scored 41. The Packers then lost the final 2 games of 1949 by a combined 51-7 score, but they survived the storm and remained solvent.

1949ljgirard  1948lsheath

1949lassts2  1949lassts1

1949ltfritsch  1949ljkirby

1949llcraig2  1949lbkelly3

1948lbforte  1949lwschlinkman

1948lnluhn  1949lrearhart

Custom cards in Leaf style are all colorized.