Packers Top Rookie: 1955

Rookies1955dnix2

Selective Service had an impact on the Packers again in 1955. Number two pick Jim Temp and round six selection Norm Amundsen, both from the University of Wisconsin, had to complete a two-year military commitment before they could report to the Packers in 1957. In addition, third rounder Buddy Leake from Oklahoma bolted to Canada rather than sign with Green Bay. Leake would go on to lead the Canadian Western league in scoring in 1956.

The top draft choices who signed with the Packers were Purdue linebacker Tom Bettis, the fifth overall pick, and Michigan State guard Hank Bullough in the fifth round. Bettis, though, was a disappointment as a rookie according to contemporary accounts and was publicly criticized by Coach Lisle Blackbourn in October. Bullough was an adequate lineman, but only played two years as a Packer, bookending his two-year hitch in the service. Bettis would start for several seasons in Green Bay and develop into a solid run stuffer. Both Bettis and Bullough went on to have long successful careers as NFL assistant coaches.

Five other draft picks played for the Packers in 1955: 7 fullback Bob Clemens; 16 quarterback Charlie Brackins; 18 cornerback Doyle Nix; 25 defensive end Nate Borden; and 26 defensive end Jim Jennings. Clemens, Brackins and Jennings lasted just one year in the NFL, and I will have more to say about Brackins on Sunday. Borden was an ordinary player, but spent five years as a sometime starter before being selected by Dallas in the 1960 expansion draft. Nix showed surprising promise, picking off five passes as a first-year man.

Defensive tackle Bill Lucky came via trade from Cleveland, and the other four Packer rookies all were free agents: cornerbacks Al Romine, Jim Capuzzi and Billy Bookout as well as punter Dick Deschaine. In 1955, Green Bay employed four rookie cornerbacks, but surprisingly still ranked fourth in team passing defense. Deschaine never played college ball, but received a tryout on the strength of his play in semipro ball and was a decent punter for three seasons.

Amongst these slim pickings, I think Nix had the best rookie season, although Bettis ultimately was a better player by far and had much more of an impact for the franchise. Nix went into the army in 1956. When he mustered out in 1958, the Packers traded him to Washington for journeyman defensive tackle J.D. Kimmel. Nix would play two years in Washington and then finished his career in the AFL with the Chargers and Texans.

Packers Top Rookie: 1954

Rookies1954mmcgee

Injuries and military service commitments decimated the 1954 rookie class for the Packers. Of the first six players drafted, four would leave Green Bay within two years to serve a two-year stint in the military, one (linebacker George Timberlake) was lost for the season with an injury and the last (fullback Tom Allman) left camp in August.

The Packers actually had two first round picks in 1954, but neither made a lasting impact in Green Bay. Art Hunter from Notre Dame started at tackle as a rookie but then went into the service and was traded to Cleveland. Halfback Veryl Switzer showed promise in his two years in Green Bay, but failed to make the team when he returned from the army in 1958. Second round pick Bob Fleck of Syracuse was even more disappointing. He signed a contract with the Packers in the spring, but then signed with Ottawa, requiring Green Bay to get a court injunction in July to keep Fleck in the U.S. Uncle Sam then intervened, drafting Fleck into the army in August. The Packers then traded him and quarterback Babe Parilli – also bound for the service – to Cleveland for quarterback Bob Garrett, halfback Don Miller, guard John Bauer and tackle Chet Gierula. Fleck served for two years, then tried out in Canada, but never played pro football.

As for the trade acquisitions who made the team, Garrett and Miller both lasted just one season in Green Bay and the NFL. Another rookie, defensive back Gene White, was signed as a free agent, but also lasted just one year in the league. Two future picks from 1953 made the team and were pretty solid performers, slotback Joe Johnson and guard Al Barry. Barry also had his time in Green Bay interrupted by a two-year military commitment. Tenth round pick Gene Knutson, a defensive end, made the team in 1954, spent 1955 in the army and returned to the Packers in 1956.

So of the 10 rookies in 1954, two lanky receivers were the only ones who had a significant impact in Green Bay, fifth round pick Max McGee and waiver acquisition Gary Knafelc. Knafelc was actually the 14th overall pick in the 1954 draft, taken in the second round by the Chicago Cardinal. After playing just one league game and making two catches in Chicago, though, he was waived with an injured hamstring and scooped up by the Packers. He would only catch three passes the rest of the season in Green Bay, but assumed a starting role in 1955 to replace McGee while Max was in the Air Force and caught a career high 40 passes and eight touchdowns. Gary would prove to be a reliable backup and sometime starter at both split end and tight end through the 1962 season.

McGee, of course, is the Packers top rookie for 1954. He immediately established himself as a formidable deep threat in the league by catching 36 passes for nine touchdowns and averaging 17 yards per reception and also served as the Packers punter. After two years in the Air Force, McGee returned in 1957 and became a local legend over the next decade.

Bye Week 1966

The Atlanta Falcons joined the NFL in 1966, giving the league an uneven number of 15 teams. Because of the odd number of teams, each squad drew a bye at some point during the 1966 season. Green Bay’s bye came on November 13. At that point the Packers sat atop the Western Conference with a 7-2 record, but were coming off a frustrating loss at the hands of the Vikings the previous week, 20-17, in which Minnesota scored the last 10 points of the game on two long drives in the fourth quarter. The Viking game was a letdown for the Packers who had won their previous three games over the Bears, Falcons and Lions by a combined 104-10 score. In fact, the Falcon and Lion games were the only two times Green Bay scored more than 30 points all year…until the postseason when the team put up 34 in the NFL championship against the Cowboys and 35 in the Super Bowl against the Chiefs.

According to Chuck Johnson of the Milwaukee Journal, scout Wally Cruice, a couple of assistant coaches and quarterbacks Bart Starr and Zeke Bratkowski would be in Wrigley Field to watch the Bears-49ers game on Sunday the 13th. The Bears would tie the 49ers that day 30-all to extend their disappointing record to 3-4-2 through the first 10 weeks of the season.

The week after the bye, the Packers met the Bears at Lambeau Field in a typical bruising defensive battle between the two ancient rivals. Starr injured his hamstring on the first series, so Bratkowski went most of the way, completing 14 of 25 passes for 190 yards, two touchdowns to Carroll Dale and one interception. Lombardi praised Zeke after the game, “I think Zeke deserves a great deal of credit. It’s pretty hard to come in there when you haven’t been playing much.” The Packers outgained the Bears in yards 296-160, but the game remained close throughout due to Green Bay being unable to complete drives and Don Chandler missing two field goals and an extra point. Ultimately, the Packers won 13-6.

The Bears victory started a new winning streak for the Packers; they won the last five games of the regular season and both postseason games to repeat as pro football champions. For the year, Green Bay led the league in fewest points allowed with 163, finished fourth in scoring with 335 points and were second only to the Cowboys in scoring differential. Bart Starr not only was named the league’s most valuable player in 1966, but also won the first Super Bowl MVP award as well.

1966pbstarr2  1966pzbrat2  1966pcdale4

Custom cards are in 1966 Philadelphia style.

Packers on the Job

One of the things that’s hard to conceive these days is that in the past professional football players had to find jobs in the offseason because football did not pay well enough to support them. Football was not an all-year thing in those days and there was no chance that a player would sign a contract that would make them “set for life.”

The player profiles in the 1954 game programs made note of what players did for a living off the gridiron. It’s interesting to imagine today’s players with the same responsibilities. Here are some of the more interesting jobs held by 1954 players with the current Packers at their positions in parentheses:

1954bdhanner  Hawg Hanner (B.J. Raji) worked on his dad’s farm.

1954bbdillon2  Bobby Dillon (Ha Ha Clinton-Dix) accountant at a lumberyard

1954bacarmichael  Al Carmichael (James Starks) movie extra

1954bjhelluin  Jerry Helluin (Leroy Guion) postal worker

1954brzatkoff  Roger “Zany” Zatkoff (Clay Matthews) teacher

1954bjmartinkovic2  John Martinkovic (Mike Daniels) construction foreman

1954bdstephenson Dave “Trapper” Stephenson (Corey Linsley) lifeguard

1954bdafflis3  Dick Afflis (Sitton or Lang) employed at Harold’s Club in Reno, Nevada (probably as a bouncer)

 

All the 1954 Bowman-style custom cards are colorized.

Game Program Notes from 1950

1950 Packer coaches

One thing that jumped out at me when looking at the game program for opening day 1950 was the above photo of the new coaching staff for the post-Lambeau Packers. The coaches on the far right and far left are not listed in the all-time roster of Packer assistants in the team’s media guide. For “Honorary Coach” Fred Miller, that’s understandable, but Clark Shaughnessy, the mad scientist of football strategy, should be listed.

Miller was the scion of the Miller Brewing Company and a member of the Packers’ Board of Directors. He is listed as an “Honorary Coach” in game programs from 1950-52, which seems to be an odd touch. However, Miller did have a football background, having been an All-America tackle under Knute Rockne at Notre Dame from 1926-28 and was team captain in his senior year. Frank Leahy was his backup in 1928. When Leahy returned from the War in 1946 to resume coaching the Fighting Irish, he had his friend Miller join him on the practice field regularly in an advisory capacity, despite Fred being the president of Miller Brewing by then. Sadly, Miller and his eldest son, Fred Jr., died in a plane crash in December 1954.

The irascible Shaughnessy had been fired as head coach of the Rams after leading the team to the NFL championship game in 1949. His former T-formation pupil, Ronzani, signed him on June 30th to “help plan strategy for the coming season,” as the UPI report phrased it. Although press stories note his being hired for the “training season,” I could find no record of when he left Green Bay. In February 1951, though, Shaughnessy was rehired by his old friend George Halas and took over the Bears defense for the next dozen years before being replaced by George Allen in 1962.

Rumors circulated in November 1957 that Shaughnessy was being courted by the Packers to replace Liz Blackbourn as head coach, but we got Scooter McLean instead.

Military Service in the 1950s

I have often been struck by how many Packers missed time from their NFL careers due to military service during the 1950s. Although an armistice was declared to end the Korean War in July 1953, military conscription continued. In fact, it appears the Packers felt their worst losses after the War ended. After some preliminary research, it appears the Packers led the league in players lost to military service in 1955, 1956 and 1957 with ten, nine and six players respectively.

The rebuilding Packers did not have the depth to withstand such losses, and Coach Lisle Blackbourn was forced to make trades to replenish his roster. In 1954, he traded newly conscripted quarterback Babe Parilli to Cleveland for Bob Garrett, who then went into the military in 1955. In 1955, he traded the Packers’ top draft pick from the previous year, newly conscripted Art Hunter, for Joe Skibinski and Bill Lucky. The biggest trade that was at least partly a result of military losses was the Tobin Rote deal in 1957. With starting linemen Forrest Gregg, Bob Skoronski and Hank Bullough all in the military, Blackbourn traded Rote and safety Val Joe Walker to the Lions for tackles Norm Masters and Ollie Spencer, guard Jim Salsbury and halfback Don McIlhenny.

For the decade, no team lost more players to the military as Green Bay. For the purposes of this study, players drafted by the military before beginning their NFL careers are listed as a loss to the team that drafted them. So even though Bill Roffler never played in Green Bay, he is listed as a Packer loss because they drafted him.

The tables below list the military service of 1950s’ Packers as well as breakdown for the league. (I updated the last two tables on 10/27/15.)

Existing Players:

Bob Forte LB 1951
Len Szafaryn T 1951-52
Clay Tonnemaker LB 1951-52
Larry Coutre HB 1951-52
Clarence Self DB 1953
Bill Reichardt FB 1953-54
Tom Johnson DT 1953-54
Babe Parilli QB 1954-55
Gene Knutson DE 1955
Art Hunter C 1955
Max McGee E 1955-56
Bob Garrett QB 1955-56
Al Barry G 1955-56
Gene White DB 1955-56
Veryl Switzer HB 1956-57
Hank Bullough G 1956-57
Doyle Nix DB 1956-57
Forrest Gregg T 1957
Bob Skoronski T 1957-58
Jack Losch HB 1957-58
Ron Kramer E 1958

Packer Draft Picks:

Hal Faverty* LB 1950-51
Bill Roffler* DB 1952-53
Emery Barnes* DE 1954-55
Jim Temp* DE 1955-56
Norm Amundsen* G 1955-56
Team Players Years
Packers 26 46
Redskins 26 45
49ers 25 45
Browns 21 38
Giants 20 36
Eagles 17 32
Lions 20 31
Steelers 18 30
Colts/Texans/Yanks 18 30
Rams 17 30
Bears 19 27
Cardinals 16 25
                         Year U.S. Draftees NFL Players in Military
1950 219,771 6
1951 551,806 44
1952 438,479 74
1953 473,806 78
1954 253,230 66
1955 152,777 70
1956 137,940 43
1957 138,504 26
1958 142,246 7
1959 96,143 1

And some 1950s’ Packers chose to fulfill their military obligation by signing up for a six-year tour in the Reserves as the following custom cards reflect:

1961fphornungarmy  1962twisconsinreserves

Cardless Starters of the Lombardi Era: Marv Fleming

The last of the primary starters from the Lombardi years is tight end Marv Fleming. Here’s an excerpt from my book Green Bay Gold:

Marv Fleming was just 20 when Vince Lombardi drafted him out of Utah in the 11th round of the 1963 NFL draft, but he beat out veteran Gary Knafelc and sixth round pick Jan Barrett to serve as Ron Kramer’s backup at tight end. Fleming had excellent size for the time at 6’4” 235 pounds and proved to be a very strong blocker with five championship teams in two cities in his 12-year career under two of the hardest driving coaches (Lombardi and Shula) in NFL history.

Kramer left as a free agent in 1965, but Fleming did not fully inherit the starting job. Lombardi acquired veteran Bill Anderson from Washington and drafted Mississippi tight end Allen Brown in the third round to hedge his bets. Brown got hurt, but Anderson, a better receiver than Fleming, shared the job with Marv that 1965 championship season. Fleming took over the starting job fully in 1966 and caught a career-high 31 passes.

Lombardi told Marv, “the better you are, Fleming, the better we are. The tight end opens everything.” That was certainly true with Lombardi’s power sweep in which the tight end is responsible for sealing off the defensive end on his side. Fleming remained one of Lombardi’s favorite targets as he pushed laid-back Marvin to be his best. Ultimately, Fleming earned three championship rings with Green Bay and two with Miami and was the first player to appear in five Super Bowls. When Don Shula signed Fleming as a free agent in 1970, he said, “Fleming is one of the league’s best blockers. He should help the Dolphins greatly in building a consistent running attack.” That he did. The question remains why Fleming did not become more of a receiver. A lot of it is due to the run-based offenses in which he played, but it still always seemed that he had the ability to be more of a receiving threat, more of the complete tight end that is so rare.

1961numfleming  1963tmfleming5  1964pmfleming4

1965pmfleming3  1966pmfleming3  1967pmfleming3

1968tmfleming5  1969tmfleming

1970tmfleming

Custom cards representing 1961 Nu-Card, 1963 Topps and 1965 Philadelphia are colorized.