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)
Jeter Traded custom card is colorized.