Mentored by the Best

107 Packers played during the nine years Vince Lombardi coached in Green Bay. Two of those men, Bob Long and Tom Brown, also played for Vince in 1969 in Washington. 45 of the remaining 105 played for at least one other Hall of Fame coach during their NFL careers. Three of those 45 actually played for more than one other Hall of Fame coach.

In addition to three games for Lombardi, kicker Ben Agajanian also appeared in one game for Greasy Neale, 12 games for Steve Owen, 17 games for Sid Gillman and three for Hank Stram. That’s five Hall of Fame coaches for the itinerant footman!

Receiver Gary Barnes played for Lombardi as a rookie in 1962, for Tom Landry in 1963 and for George Halas in 1964. Three Hall of Fame coaches in three years. In 1965, he took a giant step down and played minor league ball before becoming one of the first two players signed by the expansion Atlanta Falcons for 1966. He eventually became a municipal court judge in Clemson, South Carolina.

Center Bill Curry played two years with Lombardi, three with Don Shula and one-half season with Sid Gillman. He has frequently spoken and written about the differences of his first two charismatic NFL coaches. In essence, his opinion seems to be that Lombardi unpleasantly forced him to grow up and become a man, and while Curry is grateful for that, Shula was more humane.

Here’s the Hall of Fame coach breakdown:

Tom Landry (11): Adderley, Barnes, Borden, Butler, Caffey, Cvercko, Folkins, Gregg, McIlhenny, Norton, Roach.

Paul Brown (7): Bob Brown, Carpenter, Davis, Freeman, Jordan, Quinlan, A.D. Williams.

George Allen (7): Currie, Dowler, Gremminger, Iman, Moore, Pitts, Robinson.

Don Shula (5): Tim Brown, Curry, Fleming, Grimm, Kostelnik.

George Halas (3): Barnes, Bettis, Bratkowski.

Weeb Ewbank (3): McHan, Mercein, Thurston.

Sid Gillman (3): Agajanian, Curry, Whittenton.

Chuck Noll (3): Gros, Rowser, Voss.

Steve Owen (2): Agajanian, Tunnell.

Bud Grant (2): Dale, Hackbart.

John Madden (2): Ben Davidson, Howie Williams.

Greasy Neale (1): Agajanian.

Hank Stram (1): Agajanian.

A few other coaches who may one day be elected to the Hall also employed Lombardi players. Buddy Parker used eight, Buck Shaw two, Chuck Knox two and Don Coryell and Lou Saban one a piece.

(Custom Ben Agajanian 1961 Fleer, custom 1962 Topps Gary Barnes and custom 1966 Philadelphia Bill Curry)

1961fbagajanian2   1962tgbrnes  1966pbcurry


The Svendsen Brothers


The only brothers in the Packers Hall of Fame were both centers from Minnesota who played in Green Bay in the 1930s.

Older brother George played for the Gophers from 1932-34 before signing with the Packers in 1935. The 6’4” 230 pounder was the bigger and better brother and was especially noted for his range as a hard-hitting linebacker on defense. He played for the Packers from 1935-37, played pro basketball for the Oshkosh All-Stars of the National Basketball League in the 1937-38 season and then coached high school football in 1938 and 1939.

George returned to the Packers in 1940, made second team All-Pro in 1941 and then went into the Navy. After the War, George spent four years as the Minnesota line coach, worked as a broadcaster for the team for two decades, scouted for the 49ers and was involved in the family’s electrical supply business.

Younger brother Earl “Bud” Svendsen played for three-straight national champions at Minnesota from 1934-36. Drafted in the fourth round in 1937, he joined George on the Packers that year. While George coached high school in 1938, Bud coached Kirkland Teacher’s College in Missouri that year before returning to Green Bay in 1939. Bud was activated for the 1938 title game against the Giants, and New York coach Steve Owen lodged a protest with the league until he realized it was Bud, not George.

Both brothers were in Packer training camp in 1940, but Bud was traded to Brooklyn at the beginning of September. He would play for the Dodgers for four seasons, facing brother George and the Packers in 1941. He also coached at Connecticut University in 1942.

Bud entered the Navy in 1944 and later coached Hamilton College in 1948 and Lafayette in 1949 before replacing his brother as Minnesota line coach in 1950. After four years at Minnesota and two at Northwestern, Bud returned to the family electrical supply business.

George had two sons, Steve and Jeff; Bud had two sons, Mike and David. All four played center in high school, Bud’s son Mike also played the position for the Gophers from 1956-58.

(Colorized custom 1935 National Chicle-style card)

Tom O’Malley’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Cincinnati-native Tom O’Malley is the only T formation quarterback in NFL history to wear the number 76, but wore it for only one game, despite setting a Green Bay record that has yet to be topped.

After high school, Tom served in the Navy for three years during World War II before entering the University of Cincinnati in 1946. Under new coach Sid Gillman in 1949, O’Malley led the nation in passing yards as a senior with 1,617 and threw for 16 touchdowns. Gillman appreciated O’Malley so much that he retired Tom’s number 27 jersey for Cincinnati, although it did not stay retired. The undrafted 5’11” quarterback signed with the Browns as a free agent in March but was traded to Green Bay on August 28, 1950 for a draft pick.

Packers new coach Gene Ronzani went into his first league game three weeks later with two rookie quarterbacks: second round pick Tobin Rote and O’Malley. Rote started on opening day against the Lions at City Stadium and led the Packers to a first quarter touchdown, but was not very effective, completing three of ten passes for 55 yards and being intercepted once.

When Rote left in the second quarter due to a shoulder injury, though, things went completely downhill. O’Malley came into the game and attained a passer rating of 0, completing four of fifteen passes for 31 yards and being intercepted a team record six times. Detroit won the game 45-7, and O’Malley was waived three days later when Ronzani acquired veteran quarterback Paul Christman from the Chicago Cardinals.

O’Malley never played in the NFL again, but did surface with the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1951 and led them to a Grey Cup championship that year. Also on the 1951 champion Rough Riders was Bob Gain, the Packers top draft pick that year, who passed on Green Bay for Canada. Returning to the U.S. in 1952, Gain went to six Pro Bowls as a Cleveland Brown. O’Malley played two more years in Ottawa and then retired from football at age 29. He was elected to the University of Cincinnati Ring of Honor in 2006 and died in 2011.

(The colorized 1950  Bowman-style O’Malley on the left and colorized 1951 Bowman-style Gain on the right both feature the players in their college uniforms.)

1950bctomalley   1951bbgain

Safeties First

Bud Lea had an odd lead to his Milwaukee Sentinel piece on November 18, 1955:

Bobby Dillon has only one eye and Val Joe Walker only eight fingers, handicapped indeed for playing pro football.

It’s even more bewildering to see Dillon and Walker operate on pass defense. The two Texans are Packer safetymen, a position which requires an uncanny ability to break up enemy passes.

That year the two would intercept 15 passes between them, nine for Dillon and six for Walker, and it would be the culmination of a three-year period in which they were perhaps the best pair of safeties in the game despite playing on one of the bottom three defenses in the NFL.

Walker was drafted out of SMU by the Giants in the seventh round of the 1952 NFL draft as a futures pick, but was traded the following year before he ever reported to training camp. Val was in camp with the College All-Stars in August 1953 when he was traded to Green Bay for a draft pick, and the fleet high hurdles champion started at left safety opposite All-Pro Bobby Dillon through 1956.

Dillon continued to star throughout the decade and is still the team’s all-time leading interceptor with 52, but Walker’s performance dropped off in 1956, and he finished his career in San Francisco in 1957.

Dillon had lost his right eye due to two childhood accidents and wore a glass one. I can find no mention of Walker’s fingers aside from this piece by Lea. However, if you look closely at the 1955 Bowman custom card below, you’ll notice that the index and middle finger on his right hand appear to be stumps.

1955bvjwalker  1954bvjwalker2

1955bbdillon  1953bbdillon3

Custom cards on left are colorized 1955 Bowmans and custom cards on right are colorized 1954 Bowman (Walker) and 1953  Bowman (Dillon).

Happy Father’s Day

Several Packers have had either a father or son also play in the NFL, but only two father-son pairs both played for Green Bay: the Pitts and the Flanigans.

Halfback Elijah Pitts would bring his son Ron into the locker room to hang out during the 1960s glory days; in 1988, Ron joined the Packers as a defensive back.  He had spent his first two years in Buffalo (where his father was coaching), and would spend the last three years of his career in Green Bay.


Jim Flanigan Sr. was a rookie linebacker on Lombardi’s last title team in 1967.  His son, Jim Jr., grew up in the Green Bay area, went to Notre Dame, and then played defensive tackle for seven years for the Chicago Bears.  In 2001 he signed with the Packers as a free agent and spent a busy year on the defensive line for his father’s team before becoming a salary cap casualty in 2002.


(Text adapted from Packers by the Numbers)

The Brothers Zoll

spmczoll    1939dzollc2

The three stout brothers Zoll who played guard for the Packers were the sons of a local stone cutter. Both Carl and Martin Zoll were members of the original Curly Lambeau-captained town team sponsored by the Indian Packing Company in 1919, and continued with the team in 1920 when its sponsorship was taken over by the Acme Packing Company.

Carl was the oldest brother, born in 1899. He was just 5’9” but weighed in at 215 pounds, a big lineman for the time. Green Bay native Red Smith recalled Carl in an April 7, 1980 column in the New York Times that extolled Zoll’s wrestling skills, particularly going up against strong men in traveling carnivals that would pass through town. Officially, Carl appeared in just one NFL game in 1922. He was the original vice president of the Packer Alumni organization that was formed in 1949. He died in 1973.

Brother Martin was born in 1900, stood 5’8” and weighed 185 pounds. He also wrestled and was good enough that a couple of his bouts were noted in the local Appleton newspaper in 1920. He, too, played in just one official NFL game as a Packer, in 1921. He died in 1968.

Youngest brother Dick was born in 1913, stood 5’11 and weighed 218 pounds. After playing collegiately for Indiana, Dick signed on with the Cleveland Rams in 1937 and played 22 games at guard and tackle for the Rams from 1937-38, including three against Green Bay. At the February 1939 NFL winter meetings, Curly Lambeau acquired Dick for the rights to his 17th round draft pick, end John Yerby of Oregon. Yerby signed with the Rams, but never played in the NFL; Zoll appeared in one game for the 1939 champion Packers.

Years later, Richard Zoll, a tackle from Green Bay lettered for Indiana in 1965 and 1966, while Robert Zoll lettered in 1966. Presumably, they were Dick’s sons, but I have not been able to confirm that. Dick died in 1985.

Altogether, each Zoll brother appeared in just one official NFL game as a Green Bay Packer — three local brothers, three games as Packers, and three different seasons.

Closing note: Appearances in official NFL games is according to most sources. However, Tod Maher’s Pro Football Archives lists Martin as playing in one NFL game in 1921 and 1922 and neither Carl or Dick ever appearing in an official game for the Packers.

(The Martin & Carl colorized mashup is in the 1926 Spaulding Champions style, while the colorized mashup card for Dick is derived from the 1968 Topps style.)

Memory Fails Me

Here’s an interesting discrepancy that illustrates the limitations of oral history. On October 17, 1965, the Packers played the Lions in Detroit and trailed 21-3 at halftime. On September 13, 2009, center Ken Bowman recalled to Tom Oates of the Wisconsin State Journal, “I think [Lombardi] knew he’d overworked us because we were down at halftime and we just played miserably. I don’t think anybody had any legs. Everybody came in at halftime figuring he was going to just start chewing butt and he sat down and said, ‘Gentlemen, last night I was reading my Bible—and Paul, you ought to pick up that book because there’s a lot of good stuff in there—and I was reading St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and St. Paul says this, ‘ There are many runners that run the race, but there is only one that runs to win.’ And, gentlemen, St. Paul says, ‘Therefore run to win,’ and that has been the tradition of the Green Bay Packers from its very inception under Curly Lambeau.’ Then he started building with that big, booming voice and he (reached) a crescendo. By the time he was done, you had Nitschke trying to take the door off without opening it when we were on our way out. As luck would have it, emotion carried the day and we beat them. They didn’t score another point and we scored four times.”

Was Bowman remembering that Lions game or a passage from guard Jerry Kramer’s Instant Replay? In the December third entry in Instant Replay, Kramer ascribes that same “Run to Win” speech as occurring in the pregame locker room of the 1967 divisional playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams.

Center Bill Curry has his own recollection in his excellent book, Ten Men You Meet in the Huddle. He also references the October 17, 1965 Lions’ game, but in his memory, Lombardi left the players to stew over their poor first half performance and did not even appear in the locker room till the last minute of the intermission. At which point, he gathered their attention and gave a seven-word pep talk, “Men, we are the Green Bay Packers.”

All great stories, but what actually happened? Kramer’s version seems likely since it was relayed in a diary at the time, but Lombardi may have used the Run to Win theme before. I seem to recall, Kramer telling the story to NFL Films and indicating that Run to Win was new to that playoff game, but who knows?

(Three 1965 Philadelphia custom cards…Curry is colorized)