Cardless Starters of the Lombardi Era: Hank Gremminger, part 1

Here’s an excerpt from my book, Green Bay Gold about an unappreciated Packer defensive back. Baylor’s Hank Gremminger was a seventh round draft pick as an end in 1956 and was moved to the secondary as a rookie by Liz Blackbourn. In his first three years starting at cornerback, Gremminger was learning on the fly. In his book, T.J. Troup describes Hank’s play in those years by saying he “battled” and “gave maximum effort.” Those two qualities remained Gremminger’s hallmark even as his play improved, and he became a solid starter under Vince Lombardi.

Gremminger teamed with right corner Jesse Whittenton and free safety Johnny Symank, to form a trio known as the “Katzenjammer Kids” in the early days of the Lombardi era. The defensive backfield was also called “Hecker’s Wreckers” after secondary coach Norb Hecker. Comparing his two cornerbacks in the 1961 Packer Yearbook, Hecker said, “Hank waits for his man to make his move and for the ball to be thrown,” because his reaction time wasn’t as fast as Whittenton’s. Hecker also pointed out that Gremminger was more conservative because he didn’t have the deep safety help on the left that Whittenton did on the right.

The 6’1” 200-pound Gremminger was never the fastest player, but was quick, with good instincts and was a hard-hitter. He was also excellent in run support. That sounds more like a safety, and Hank moved to the back end in 1962 when Herb Adderley took over at left cornerback. While Gremminger was good enough to start at corner for a championship team, he was better as a safety. He repeated his high of five interceptions in 1958, 1961 and 1962 and scored his only touchdown on a game-clinching 60-yard return of a blocked field goal with seconds left against the Vikings in 1963. By 1964, age was beginning to catch up to Hank, and he lost his starting job the following championship season. Traded to Dallas in 1966, he was unable to agree on salary and was traded to Atlanta and eventually cut. George Allen signed him for the Rams, and Hank finished his NFL career that season in Los Angeles. After that, he retired to Texas where he worked as a building contractor.

1961nuhgremminger  1956thgremminger3

1957thgremminger2  1958thgremminger

1959thgremminger  1960thgremminger2

All Custom Cards are colorized aside from the 1960 Topps.

Monday Night Football Before Howard Cosell

As the Packers prepare to play the Chiefs this Monday night, it’s interesting to remember that Green Bay played on Monday night three times before ABC introduced Monday Night Football as a regular thing in 1970.

The Packers faced the Lions in Detroit on September 28, 1964 in the first meeting in over a year of Paul Hornung and Alex Karras following their one-year suspensions from the NFL for gambling. This game also marked the first time since 1950 that the Packer-Lion game in Detroit was not played on Thanksgiving. Bart Starr led Green Bay to a 14-3 lead in the first half, but injured his shoulder and had to leave the game after the first series in the second half. With Zeke Bratkowski under center, the Pack only gained 34 yards for the rest of the game. The Lions, too, changed quarterbacks from Milt Plum to Earl Morrall, and Earl completed 11 of 12 passes. His one misfire was intercepted by safety Hank Gremminger on the Green Bay five in the fourth quarter. Gremminger later clinched the 14-10 victory by recovering a Pat Studstill fumble at midfield in the closing minutes.

Three years later, the Packers faced the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday, October 30, 1967 in St. Louis. The Cardinals were led by rookie quarterback Jim Hart and gave the defending champions all they could handle. Herb Adderley started the scoring with a 12-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter, but he was beaten for touchdowns of 48 and 49 yards by rookie receiver Dave Williams. The second Williams score gave the Cardinals a 23-17 lead in the fourth quarter, but that lasted only one play. On the ensuing kickoff, Packers rookie Travis Williams, getting his first chance to return kicks, took the ensuing kickoff 93 yards for the go-ahead score in a 31-23 Packer victory.

The final Packer Monday night game of the 1960s occurred on October 28, 1968 when the 2-3-1 defending champs limped into Dallas to face the 6-0 Cowboys. After spotting Dallas a 10-0 lead in the second quarter, Bart Starr took over the game. Starr threw four touchdown passes in the game, two to tight end Marv Fleming, while Dandy Don Meredith was picked off three times in the Packers 28-17 win. The triumph was a rare high point in Phil Bengtson’s first year as head coach. As a side note, Errol Mann drilled all four extra points, but missed his only field goal attempt after being activated from the taxi squad that week.

1964phgremminger3  1967ptwilliams3

1968tmfleming5  1968temann

Cardless Starters of the Lombardi Era: Johnny Symank

Defensive back Johnny Symank was a bit undersized, listed at 5’11” and 180 pounds, but was a fierce competitor of whom Vince Lombardi said in Run to Daylight, “There is no actor in Symank. He is serious and intense, and in a game, he’d just as soon break your leg as not. He has made it in this league because he gets a great deal more out of himself than his ability and size justify, and I wish I could say this about all the rest of them.”

Symank played some at cornerback, but was primarily a left safety who loved to hit. When Johnny Unitas was forced to miss two games with three broken ribs and a punctured lung in 1958, it was because Symank had landed on his back hard in game six. He started for the 1961 champs, but lost his starting position in 1962 when Herb Adderley took over at left corner and bumped Hank Gremminger back to safety. After one season on the bench and one with the Cardinals, Symank spent nearly 25 years as a coach in the pros and college.

1951tjsymank  1957tjsymank3

1958tjsymank2  1959tjsymank

1960tjsymank  1961tjsymank

1961fjsymank  1962tjsymank2

1951 Topps-style and 1957 Topps-style custom cards are colorized.

Cardless Starter of the Lombardi Era: Bill Quinlan

Here’s what I wrote about the colorful right defensive end from the first two Lombardi championships in Green Bay Gold:

Irish ruffian Bill Quinlan is the subject of many stories of Lombardi’s early teams, and Vince seems to have put up with Bill’s obstreperous personality only until he could replace him. Quinlan spent 1952 at Staunton Military Academy before enrolling at Michigan State in 1953. By 1954, he was playing for Hamilton in the precursor to the Canadian Football League. When his MSU class graduated in 1956, Quinlan was in the military, but he was drafted by the Browns in the third round, and reported as a 25-year-old rookie in 1957. Quinlan started for the Browns for two seasons but did not mesh well with authoritarian Coach Paul Brown. One story goes that Brown had a rule against smoking in the locker room, but when the head coach walked in on Quinlan having a puff one day, Bill didn’t try to hide it, but instead blew smoke in the coach’s direction.

With new coach Vince Lombardi looking for defensive line help, Brown sent him Quinlan and versatile back Lew Carpenter for receiver Bill Howton. Quinlan refused to go at first, saying, “Would you want to go from the Yankees to the Athletics? It’s the same thing going from Cleveland to Green Bay.” Once signed, though, he was a big improvement at end for the Packers, even drawing some All-Pro notice in 1960. Lombardi acknowledged Bill’s difficult character but praised him in Run to Daylight, “I know he’s a celebrator, but I also know that in a game he is a 6-foot-3 250-pound hard-nose tough guy who doesn’t think anyone can beat the Packers. He’s a ballplayer.” Of course, by the time the book came out, Lombardi had traded him to the Giants.

The Giants immediately traded him to the Eagles for another defensive end, and Quinlan bounced from the Eagles to the Lions to the Redskins in his last three years in the league. Lombardi unloaded him after an incident late in the 1962 season when an inebriated Quinlan was loudly complaining about fellow defensive end Willie Davis making All-Pro instead of him. With Philadelphia in 1963, he was the instigator of a grotesque, bloody locker room brawl that left two Eagles in the hospital.

While known for his toughness at the point of attack and stoutness against the run, Quinlan was not a complete player. Henry Jordan told Chuck Johnson for Greatest Packers of Them All, “He never put any pressure on the passer. He might as well have been sitting in the stands.” Looking back, Herb Adderley told Packers’ historian Cliff Christl, “Quinlan was a freelance guy. He was disruptive. He’d run down the line of scrimmage no matter what defense was called. Sometimes he guessed right. Most of the time he guessed wrong.” According to the sack research of Webster and Turney, Bill averaged under four sacks a year in his time in Green Bay. He was part of a great defense, but in 1963 was replaced by a better ballplayer, Lionel Aldridge.

1959tbquinlan2  1960tbquinlqn2

1961tbquinlan  1961fbquinlan2



1961 Nu Card-style custom card is colorized.

Cardless Packer Starters of the Lombardi Era: Ron Kostelnik, Part 2

Ron Kostelnik played eight years for the Packers and then finished his NFL career with one year in Baltimore. He died of a heart attack while driving at age 53 in 1993. One way that he lives on is through the blog that one of his daughters writes called Molly B and Me ( that touches on the Pack from time to time. Here are some more cards to commemorate Ron.

1964prkos  1965prkostelnik3

1966prkostelnik2  1967prkostelnik2



The 1969 Topps custom card is colorized.

Cardless Packer Starters of the Lombardi Era: Ron Kostelnik, Part 1

Seven starters from the Lombardi era, never had an official Topps, Fleer or Philadelphia football card: Ron Kostelnik, Norm Masters, Marv Fleming, Bill Quinlan, Hank Gremminger, Tom Brown and John Symank. The longest serving was Ron Kostelnik, so let’s honor him first. Here’s what I wrote about Ron in Green Bay Gold:

When age overtook Dave Hanner, the backup he had trained, Ron Kostelnik, was ready to take over at left defensive tackle. Kostelnik assumed the same anonymous role that Hanner had filled. Years later, teammate Dave Robinson recalled to the Milwaukee Sentinel, “The only reason why Henry [Jordan] could rush the passer and Willie [Davis] could go after the quarterbacks so hard and make all those big headlines was because they knew if there was a draw, Ron had it. He took care of all the draws. He took care of the middle. I don’t think that people other than guys who played against him and with him really understood the worth that Ron Kostelnik brought to the Green Bay Packers.”

The 6’4” 260-pound Kostelnik was a second round pick out of Cincinnati in 1961 who made the team as a rookie despite injuring his knee in training camp. Ron was a reliable reserve for three seasons, while learning his craft from Hanner and Jordan. When Jordan missed a couple of games due to injury in 1964, Kostelnik replaced him and did so well that when Jordan returned, Kostelnik was moved to the left side, and the veteran Hanner was benched. Ron remained the starter for the next five seasons, through three consecutive championships, until he was traded to Baltimore during training camp in 1969. He played one final season with the Colts and then retired.

Kostelnik described his physical approach to reporters in 1965, “You really want to crack someone as hard as you can. It’s temporary meanness. You want to lay into a ball carrier. They want to lay into you. They’d rather run over you than around you.” Within the Packers’ defense, Ron made his share of big plays, but the team’s run defense did decline after he succeeded Hanner. Of course, Davis and Jordan were aging, too, so that may have contributed to the weaker run defense. Personnel man Pat Peppler told the Journal Sentinel, “His job was unheralded, but Vince respected him as a solid performer who did his job well.” Like many of the vital cogs in that championship machine, Kostelnik was not spectacular, but did his job and did not make mistakes.

1961nurkos  1961trkostelnik2  1961frkostelnik

1962trkostelnik3  1963trkostelnik

1961 Nu-Card is colorized.

More to come in part 2.

Trading with Paul Brown

Last week, I wrote about some of the great trades Vince Lombardi made with Paul Brown, but Brown was quite familiar with banishing players to Siberia. In the nine years before Lombardi came to Green Bay, the Packers and Browns were frequent trading partners, making 15 deals in that time. Because two of those deals gave the Browns two decade-long stalwarts for their defense, Bob Gain and Walt Michaels, we tend to think of the deals as a complete disaster. A little analysis changed my view a bit.

Listed below are all 15 deals. Following each player’s name are up to four numbers: years played with new team, games played with new team, times elected to Pro Bowl with new team and times receiving All-Pro notice with new team. If the player never appeared with his new team, just one 0 is listed.

Trade # Year Packers Gave Browns Gave
1 1950 Gordy Soltau 0 Joe Spencer 2,24,0,0
2 1950 1950 4th (Bob Smith) 0 Tom O’Malley 1,1,0,0
3 1950 1951 8th (Art Spinney) 0 Bill Boedeker 1,9,0,0
4 1951 Dan Orlich 0 Walt Michaels 1,12,0,0
5 1951 Bob Gain 12,125,5,9 Dom Moselle 2,20,0,0
1952 4th (Zeke Costa) 0 Ace Loomis 3,33,0,0
Bill Schroll 1,12,0,0
Dan Orlich 0
6 1952 Walt Michaels 10,120,5,5 Dick Logan 2,19,0,0
Chubby Grigg 0
Zeke Costa 0
7 1952 Ace Loomis 0 Tony Adamle 0
Don Phelps 0
8 1954 1955 4th (Paul Reynolds) 0 Jerry Helluin 4,48,0,0
9 1954 Babe Parilli 1,5,0,0 Bobby Garrett 1,9,0,0
Bob Fleck 0 John Bauer 0
Jack Miller 0
Chet Gierula 0
10 1955 Art Hunter 4,44,1,0 Bill Lucky 1,12,0,0
Joe Skibinski 2,24,0,0
11 1956 1957 5th (Henry Jordan) 2,24,0,0 Don King 1,6,0,0
Gene Donaldson 0
12 1956 1957 6th (Joe Amstutz) 1,11,0,0 John Sandusky 1,12,0,0
13 1957 Bobby Garrett 0 Babe Parilli 2,24,0,0
Roger Zatkoff 0 John Petitbon 1,12,0,0
Sam Palumbo 1,9,0,0
Carlton Massey 2,14,0,0
Billy Kinard 2,24,0,0
John Macerelli 0
14 1958 Dick Deschaine 1,12,0,0 1959 8th (Bob Laraba) 0
15 1958 1959 4th (Gary Prahst) 0 Len Ford 1,11,0,0

If we total the figures for the two bad trades involving Gain and Michaels, the Browns gained 22 service years, 245 games played, 10 Pro Bowls and 14 All-Pro listings versus eight years and 84 games for the Packers. When we total all 15 deals, though, Cleveland obtained 31 years of service, 341 games, 11 Pro Bowls and 14 All-Pros compared to Green Bay’s 32 years, 335 games and no honors.

So what does that mean? Green Bay indeed gave up the only two stars (Art Hunter was the only other player who went to a Pro Bowl). However, the Packers got a lot of serviceable players better than what they had for very little in return. The comparison for the other 13 trades is Cleveland: 9 years, 96 games and one Pro Bowl; Green Bay 24 years, 251 games and no honors.

Parenthetically, there are some weird deals here: Michaels goes back and forth; Parilli and Garrett get traded for each other twice, the rights to Costa and Orlich go back and forth with neither player playing in either place after the trades, the draft pick Cleveland uses to select Henry Jordan comes from Green Bay and then Jordan is obtained by Lombardi two years later. My favorite, though, is Ace Loomis, having been drafted by Cleveland and traded to Green Bay in 1951, getting traded back to Cleveland in 1952…but none of the three principals in the deal ever plays for the team that obtained him. Adamle quits football in August to become a doctor, Loomis is waived back to Green Bay in September , and Phelps is injured and is waived back to Cleveland in November to appear in one last game as a Brown.

1954bbgarrett  1954bbparilli

1951bdorlich  1952bzcosta2


Opening Day of a Championship Season

As the Pack opened its 95th NFL season, anticipation is high for another Super Bowl run. 50 years ago, the Packers opened the 1965 season by travelling to steamy Pittsburgh on September 19 to play the lowly Steelers, just two weeks after Steeler Coach Buddy Parker had suddenly resigned, saying, “I can’t win with these stiffs.” While the Milwaukee Journal reported a temperature in the 90s and the Milwaukee Sentinel noted that the temperature was 94 on the field, Pro Football Archives tells us that the official readings at the Pittsburgh Airport that day went no higher than 83, although the humidity level of 69% would make it feel in the upper eighties.

It was hot enough that Steelers’ center Art Hunter was taken to the hospital at halftime suffering from heat stroke. In the Journal, Chuck Johnson recalled a Lombardi quote from July that proved apt, “We might not have the best team in the National Football League this season, but we’ll have the best conditioned team.” That conditioning and Green Bay’s depth that allowed for frequent substitution enabled the Packers to overcome a 9-7 halftime deficit to win going away, 41-9.

Herb Adderley scored the Packers first touchdown just two minutes before halftime on a 35-yard touchdown return of his interception of a Bill Nelson pass. Another Adderley pick, in addition to one by Ray Nitschke and a fumble recovery by reserve defensive tackle Bud Marshall led directly to 17 second half points. Meanwhile, Bart Starr completed 17 of 23 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns in a typical display of controlled brilliance.

Coach Lombardi summed up the performance to reporters by saying, “We were sluggish.” He added, “We’re not the best team I the country, but we’re not the worst either.” By December 26, 1965, they would be the best.

1965tshadderley3  1965tsrnitschke  1965tsbstarr


Adderly, Nitschke and Starr custom cards in 1965 topps style; Marshall is colorized and in 1965 Philadelphia style.

Lombardi’s One Bad Trade?

Vince Lombardi’s trading record is astoundingly good. Vince made over 50 player deals in his 10 years as the team’s general manager, and I see only one where he did not at least get equitable value for what he was giving up. Certainly many of the deals were entirely negligible, such as getting a seventh round pick for third string fullback Allen Jacobs in 1966 or trading training camp halfback Paul Dudley for a fourth round pick in 1962. As to what he did with those draft picks, Vince’s record was spottier, He wasted some high picks on names like Dave Dunaway and Bob Hyland, but that does not detract from his ability as a trader.

Vince, of course, made his reputation quickly by obtaining three fourths of a fearsome defensive line from Paul Brown in three separate superb deals. In 1959, he sent fading receiver Bill Howton to Cleveland for Bill Quinlan who would play a fairly solidly at defensive end for four seasons along with valuable role player Lew Carpenter. (Quinlan, incidentally, would be replaced by the fourth rounder obtained in the Dudley deal noted above, — Lionel Aldridge.) That same offseason, Lombardi sent a fourth rounder to Brown for Henry Jordan who blossomed into a Hall of Famer in Green Bay. Finally, in 1960, Vince swiped future Hall of Fame defensive end Willie Davis from Cleveland for ineffectual backup tight end A.D. Williams.

Lombardi and Browns were friends, though, and that leads to the one time Vince got taken, sort of. In 1962, Brown needed a back to pair with Jim Brown in his backfield after exalted rookie Ernie Davis contracted leukemia. Green Bay had drafted Ernie Green out of Louisville in the 14th round and he played well in training camp, but Lombardi had no place for him. Green was not ready to beat out Tom Moore as second string halfback, and second-year speedster halfback Elijah Pitts was a demon on kicking teams. So Lombardi sent Green to Cleveland for a seventh round pick, and Ernie excelled as Jim Brown’s halfback and Leroy Kelly’s fullback for the next seven years, even going to two Pro Bowls. Of course, when you think about it, trading a 14th rounder in his first training camp for a seventh round selection is a pretty good move.

1958tbquinlan  1958tlcarpenter2

1958thjordan  1959twdavis

1962tegreen  1962tpdudley

Among the custom cards, Jordan, Davis, Green and Dudley are all colorized.

Update: Replaced Carpenter card after realizing the photo in the original was of Sam Baker not Lew Carpenter. Apologies for the mistake.


The two championship runs of the Lombardi Packers were marked by a very efficient turnover of personnel on the defensive side of the ball. On the defensive line, Willie Davis and Henry Jordan were both fixtures for all five titles, but the 1961-62 pair of Dave Hanner and Bill Quinlan were supplanted by fresh faces Ron Kostelnik and Lionel Aldridge for the 1965-67 threepeat. Aldridge was an improvement over Quinlan at end, while Kostelnik was a pretty close replica of Hawg at tackle.

1961tfrontwall  1965pfrontwall

The early linebacking corps that was dubbed the best in football featured Dan Currie on the strong side and Bill Forester on the weak side, with Ray Nitschke in the middle. Again, the replacements brought youth and talent to surround the holdover Hall of Famer Nitschke . Hall of Famer Dave Robinson improved on Pro Bowler Currie, while Lee Roy Caffey replaced the crafty Forester with power and speed.

1963tlbtrio  1967ptoptrio

In the secondary, improvements began in 1962 when Herb Adderley took over at corner, leading to corner Hank Gremminger pushing Johnny Symank out at strong safety. Corner Jesse Whittenton and safety Willie Wood remained in place. For the second run, Bob Jeter replaced Whittenton and Tom Brown supplanted Gremminger. Jeter was at least Whittenton’s equal, although Brown was not as strong as Gremminger.

1963tnopassing  1968tnopassing

The earlier version of each unit in these custom cards is colorized.