Ol’ Bag o’Donuts

Today is the 54th birthday of Frank Winters, or “Frankie Baggadonuts” as John Madden liked to call him. He was known for his confident, belligerent attitude, and his career reflects the essence of the NFL. A 10th round afterthought draft choice of the Browns in 1987, he bounced from Cleveland to New York to Kansas City until landing in Green Bay as an unheralded Plan B free agent in 1992.

Primarily a guard and long snapper, the 6’3” 300-pound Winters took over at center when James Campen suffered a career-ending injury in week four of the 1993 season. A year later, Winters again started the season at guard before replacing free agent Jamie Dukes at center halfway through the year. He would remain the starting center until 2001 when the younger, more athletic Mike Flanagan finally beat him out. In 2002, Frank returned to the starting lineup when Flanagan was shifted to tackle to replace the injured Chad Clifton. At 39, Winters tried one last time to make the team in 2003, but was cut at the end of August.

Winters had a special bond with his quarterback and roommate, Brett Favre, and went a long way on modest talent. He was tough and crafty and very chippy. In 1998, Winters made Sports Illustrated’s list of the 12 dirtiest players in the league for his play after the whistle blew, although Frank disputed that classification. Position coach Larry Beightol considered him a coach on the field, and he was the leader of the Packers’ offensive line for a decade. In truth, he was never considered one of the top centers in the league. The one year he made the Pro Bowl, 1996, it was as an injury replacement for Ray Donaldson. However, he was a durable, constant, solid intimidator throughout his 11 years in Green Bay.

(adapted from Green Bay Gold.)

1994fwinter  1996fwinters

1998fwinters  2000fwinters

Custom cards in altered Topps, Fleer and Bowman styles.

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National Chicle

In 1935, the National Chicle Gum Company produced the first set of football cards to feature NFL players. Although only 36 cards were produced, the cards were beautifully done with a stylized artistic sense with painted players standing out against brightly colored backgrounds. I’ve never had much luck trying to approximate them, but recently decided to give it a try using the original backgrounds and the greatest passers in Packer history; the result is below.

ncclambeau  ncrdunn

ncaherber  nccisbell

nctrote  ncbstarr

ncldickey  ncbfavre

ncarodgers

Lambeau, Dunn, Herber and Rote custom cards are colorized.

Packers by the Numbers Update: #19

19 does not have a rich history in Green Bay. It’s been worn by 28 different players, but 23 of them wore it for just a season and three others for just two seasons. The two who wore 19 the longest were end Carl Mulleneaux for six years and the forgettable quarterback Rich Campbell for four. Since 1950, there have been three long gaps when no one has worn the number: 1952-74, 1985-93 and 1995-2004.

In the Lambeau era, the number was worn by six backs: Jack McAuliffe (1926), Red Smith (1927), Herdis McCrary (1931), Buster Mott (1933), Arnie Herber (1937) and Bob McDougal (1947); five guards: Frank Mayer (1927) Jim Bowdoin (1928), Mike Michalske (1932), Mike Buchianeri (1944) and Ralph Olsen (1949); and five ends: Tom Nash (1929), Duke Hanny (1930), Al Norgard (1934), Mulleneaux (1938-41, 1945-46) and Ray Riddick (1946).

Since then, seven receivers, four quarterbacks and one kicker have donned 19. The receivers: Al Baldwin (1950), Dan Orlich (1951), Bill Schroeder (1994), Jamal Jones (2005), Shaun Bodiford (2006-07), Biren Ealy (2009) and Myles White (2013). The quarterbacks: Carlos Brown (1975-76), Bobby Douglass (1978), Steve Pisarkiewicz (1980) and Campbell (1981-84). Tom Birney was the kicker in 1979-80. Brown became better known in later years as actor Alan Autry.

1926jmcauliffe  1937yaherber

1945cmulleneaux2  1946cmulleneaux

1947rmcdougal  1949lrolsen2

1976tcbrown  1980tspisarkiewicz

1980ttbirney  1981trcampbell

All custom cards except Brown, Pisarkiewicz and Campbell are colorized.

A Desultory Day in Packer History

The only Packer I noticed having January 16 as a birthday was veteran Giants’ cornerback Mark Collins who stopped by Green Bay for one game in 1997. The date is more notorious for serving up two playoff losses to the Cowboys. On that date in 1983, the 1982 Packers lost 37-23 to Dallas in the second round of that strike year’s extended postseason tournament. The Cowboys would lose the following week in the NFC Championship to the Washington Redskins, who would win the Super Bowl that season.

Two rookies from the 1982 Packers were still on the team a decade later when Mike Holmgren took the helm. Guard Ron Hallstrom was Green Bay’s first round pick in 1982, and defensive end Robert Brown was a fourth round pick that year. However, neither player made the Green Bay roster for Holmgren’s second season that culminated in a second round 27-17 loss to Dallas on January 16, 1994. Hallstrom was still in the league, having caught on with Eagles for one final season in 1993. One of Hallstrom’s Philadelphia teammates for part of that season was James Lofton, the star of the 1982 Packers playing out the string for the Eagles and Rams in his final season in 1993.

When you look at the starting lineup for that 1994 postseason game with the Cowboys and see names like fullback Darrell Thompson, tight end Ed West, wide receiver Mark Clayton, tackle Joe Sims, guards Doug Widell and Harry Galbreath, defensive end Matt Brock and cornerbacks Terrell Buckley and Roland Mitchell, you appreciate how far that team came to win the Super Bowl three years later.

1997mcollins  1982tjlofton

1982trhallstrom2  1982trbrown

Hallstrom and Brown custom cards are colorized.

Two Who Died Young

Two Lombardi era Packers who died young shared January 14 as their birthdays: defensive tackle Ron Kostelnik and kick returner Travis Williams. They offered a true contrast, though. Kostelnik, whom I’ve written of before, was steady and reliable both on and off the field until his premature death at age 53; Williams was a blaze of brilliance on the field and a sad case off of it.

When Travis Williams died in 1991 at the age of 45, his former roommate Ken Bowman said, “For a brief flash, he was one of the best. He was without peer during that time with his speed and size.” The 6’1” 210-pound Williams reportedly ran a 9.3 100 in college and had run second to Olympian Henry Carr at the Compton relays and third to Bob Hayes and John Moon at an AAU meet in New Brunswick, N.J.

However, the Roadrunner’s career can be boiled down to a handful of games. Drafted out of Arizona State in the fourth round in 1967, Williams nearly didn’t make the Packers because of ball security issues. He wasn’t used as a kick returner until week seven against the Cardinals when his fourth quarter 93-yard kick return touchdown gave the Packers the game’s lead. Two weeks later against the Browns, he returned two kicks for touchdowns in the first quarter. Then in week 13, his third quarter 104-yard return against the Rams tied the game. In the first playoff game against the Rams, Travis scored twice from scrimmage, but then played little in the NFL title game and the Super Bowl.

In 1968, he averaged just 1.9 yards per carry as a runner and 21 yards per kick return. He had a better year in 1969, but his two big moments, a 96-yard kick return touchdown and an 81-yard punt return touchdown, both came in the same game against the 1-13 Steelers. Two years later, he was with the Rams, and a year after that, a knee injury ended his career. The subsequent plummet to alcoholism, homelessness and early death was precipitous and is well known.

Essentially, Williams had five great games with Green Bay. Even with his franchise record five kick return touchdowns, he is second in career kick return average in team annals to Dave Hampton.

(Adapted from Green Bay Gold.)

1968ttwilliams2  1969ttwilliams3

1969treturnaces  1970ttwilliams2

Custom cards in Topps styles.

Packers by the Numbers Update: #18

18 has been worn by just three Packers since the publication of Packers by the Numbers, but two of them share the number’s longest tenure for Green Bay at seven years a piece – backup quarterback Doug Pederson and receiver Randall Cobb.

Overall, the number has been worn by 34 Packers, 18 in the Lambeau era and 14 players since. 18 was first worn by end Elmer Wilkins in 1925. In the two-way era, he was succeeded by ends George Tuttle (1927), Carl Mulleneaux (1938), Alex Urban (1944), Bob Kercher (1944) and Ted Cremer (1948); backs Pid Purdy (1926), Paul Fitzgibbon (1930), Russ Saunders (1931), Bob Monnett (1933), Hank Bruder (1936-38), Tony Falkenstein (1943) and Ken Keuper (1945-47); and linemen Billy Young (1929), Leo Disend (1940), Fred Shirey (1940), Fred Vant Hull (1942) and Lou Ferry (1949).

In the modern era, 18 has been worn by guards Chuck Drulis (1950) and Charlie Robinson (1951); quarterbacks Tobin Rote (1952-56), John Roach (1961), Jim Zorn (1985), Joe Shield (1986), Mike Tomczak (1991) and Pederson (1996-98, 2001-04); punters Ken Duncan (1971) and Randy Walker (1974); kicker Joe Danelo (1975); and wide receivers Randy Vataha (1977), Carlyle Holiday (2006-07) and Cobb (2011-17).

Before Pederson, Tobin Rote was the Packer who wore 18 the longest, and he also was the most talented Packer to wear it, despite his inconsistency and the lack of team success in his time. Rote also threw more than 1,300 passes in the 60 games that he wore 18, while Pederson threw 77 in 66 appearances as Brett Favre’s caddy.

More recently, Randall Cobb has made 18 his own, appearing in over 90 games in the past seven years and catching more than 400 passes as one of Aaron Rodgers’ most reliable targets.

1925sewilkins  1935hbruder

1942fvanthull  1946kkeuper

1951bcrobinson2  1953btrote

1985tjzorn  1991tmtomczak

1998dpederson  Rookies2011rcobb

First 6 custom cards are colorized.

A Bright Starr and a Few Dimmer Ones

January 9 is the birthday of several Packers of note: Lombardi era defensive lineman Jim Weatherwax, 1990s’ wide receiver Bill Schroeder and current linebacker Blake Martinez. It also marks the 84th birthday of the finest Packer of them all, Bart Starr.

Despite winning a record five world championships at quarterback, Bart Starr is an afterthought today in discussions of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. His chief rival, Johnny Unitas, though, has maintained his reputation 40 years later. Indeed, Unitas was a great quarterback and leader, who had a stronger arm and ran a more pass-oriented offense than Starr. The two quarterbacked the two best teams in the NFL for the decade of the 1960s, and Starr should get his due as the equal of Unitas.

Starr, like Unitas, was an unheralded college prospect, and he was drafted out of Alabama in the 17th round, the 200th player chosen in the 1956 draft. While Starr showed ability as an accurate passer from the start, it took years for him to shed his tentativeness and become a leader. Even after Lombardi arrived in 1959, it took almost a year and a half until Bart fully claimed the starting quarterback position from journeyman Lamar McHan. When he led the Packers to the 1960 title game against the Eagles, Starr was coming off a season in which he threw just four touchdown passes and eight interceptions.

From that point on, Starr was the most accurate and most clutch quarterback in the league. As a playoff quarterback, he never had a bad game. In ten postseason starts, he completed 61% of his passes, averaged over eight yards per pass, threw 15 touchdowns and just three interceptions while recording a passer rating of 104.8, still the best in league history. By contrast, Unitas, in nine postseason games, threw for seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions and a 69.1 passer rating.

Starr’s career was noted for many things. He was both the most accurate and least interception-prone quarterback of his time. A crafty play caller, Starr was expert at reading defenses and calling audibles; his signature play was the deep pass on third or fourth down and short. If the defense bunched up to stop the expected run, Bart went deep and was very successful with this ploy.

The 6’1” 195-pound Starr did not have the strongest arm, but his yards per attempt number consistently hovered around eight; he threw the ball downfield. He took a lot of sacks, but that is due to two factors. First, he abhorred interceptions and did not throw into traffic. Second, Packer backs usually went downfield on pass patterns; they were not around for blitz pickups much of the time. Starr wasn’t a bad scrambler, though. He was an awkward, but effective runner who averaged over five yards per rushing attempt.

Unitas was chosen as the quarterback on the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 1960s shortly before Vince Lombardi succumbed to cancer. Vince responded, “Johnny Unitas has been a great, great, great quarterback, but Starr did the winning in the 1960s. And that is the object – to win. Starr is the smartest quarterback I ever saw. It was a miracle to me that they could pick Unitas.”

While his subsequent time as coach and GM of the Packers was not filled with glory and his days have had heartache over the death of his son and of his deteriorating mental state in recent years, he has remained a thoroughly decent man worthy of heroic status. God speed, Bart.

(Adapted from Green Bay Gold.)

1961tbstarr  1961fbstarr

1967pjweatherwax2  1997bschroeder

Custom cards in Topps, Fleer and Philadelphia styles.