Misjudged by Lombardi

Vince Lombardi was always on the lookout for speed, but he cut three of fastest rookies only to have them forge Hall of Fame careers elsewhere. By elsewhere, I mean Canada. George Dixon, Garney Henley and Bill Symons were each late round draft picks of the Packers who never played in the NFL, but who are members of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame (CHoF).

George Dixon was a ninth round pick out of the University of Bridgeport in 1959. He had a 96-yard kickoff return against San Francisco in the preseason, and Vince said of the 6’1” 195-lb speedster, “He’s a big fast boy who can really help the Packers. We need a fast, breakaway runner.” Two weeks later, Lombardi cut Dixon to keep Timmy Brown. Dixon signed with the Montreal Alouettes immediately and, over a seven-year career, rushed for 5,615 yards, including 1,520 in 1962. That year, he was the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player. A year later, he rushed for 1,270 yards, including one run from scrimmage for a record 109 yards. He was elected to the CHoF in 1974.

In 1974, Garney Henley was still playing pro football, despite having been cut by the Packers in 1960. Henley was selected out of South Dakota State in the 15th round of the 1960 draft after having led the nation in scoring with 141 points in 1959. Lombardi tried the slight 5’11” 170-pounder at both defensive back and wing back and commented, “He is without question one of the fastest men I’ve ever seen in a football uniform.” Althjough he could not beat out fellow rookie Willie Wood in Green Bay, Henley played for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats from 1960-75. Mostly he was at defensive back, where he picked off 60 passes. However, Garney played on offense, too, at the beginning of his career and shifted to wide receiver exclusively for his final four years. He was a nine-time All-CFL defensive back and was also an all-league wide receiver in 1972 when he was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player while leading Hamilton to its fourth Grey Cup title during his 16-year career. He was elected to the CHoF in 1979.

Bill Symons was drafted out of Colorado in the sixth round of the 1965 draft, but injured his knee in the first exhibition game and spent the season in the taxi squad. Symons returned to training camp in 1966, when he was bounced back and forth from running back to defensive back, but ultimately was released and signed by British Columbia of the CFL. Still recovering from his knee injury, Bill was traded to Toronto in 1967, and a year later, ran for 1,107 yards while being named the league’s Most Outstanding Player. He played for Toronto through 1973 and accumulated 4,300 yards rushing. He was named to the CHoF in 1997.

1959tgdixon  1960tghenley  1965pbsymons

Custom cards are 1959 Topps Dixon, 1960 Topps Henley (colorized) and 1965 Philadelphia Symons.

2 thoughts on “Misjudged by Lombardi

  1. Nice job with the research. I’m not sure I agree with the headline, however. Just because someone was great in the CFL at that time does not necessarily translate into an erroneous decision by Lombardi. Also, if thes were really NFL caliber players, isn’t it reasonable to assume other NFL teams with more desperate roster needs would have taken a flyer? The best example of a true NFL quality player that languished in the CFL was Warren Moon around 1979 – and that was a result of his being a black QB when the NFL wasn’t really ready for a black QB. Fortunately for Moon, 6 or 7 years later, when his CFL contract expired, he was able to make it big time in the NFL and is now enshrined in Canton.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Norm:
    The main point of the post was to draw attention to the three players, but you are right. On the surface, it was a misjudgement to cut them, but one of the points I try to make in my book Green Bay Gold is there are many other factors involved in building a roster. A player may be very talented, but not fit into the overall roster mix or be able to play his best in the schemes you are using.
    Dixon said later that Lombardi told him that he could play in the NFL and offered to trade him to Baltimore, but George already had a deal set up with Montreal. Probably the real misjudgement was in Vince cutting Timmy Brown after week one because of his fumbling.
    I would think that if Dixon and Henley had come along a couple years later, Lombardi may have put them on the taxi squad, but he really didn’t begin to utilize that until the early 1960s.
    Thanks for visiting and for your comment.

    Liked by 1 person

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