Cardless Starters from the Lombardi Era: Norm Masters

Adapted from my book, Green Bay Gold:

Norm Masters was the utility man for the great Packer lines of the early 1960s — sometimes a starter, sometimes an alternate and sometimes a backup. With the powerful Masters, the line remained at full strength even when a Jerry Kramer or Bob Skoronski went down to injury. Masters earned All-America status at Michigan State and played on the victorious Spartans’ Rose Bowl team in 1956. Drafted that year by the Chicago Cardinals in the second round, Masters instead accepted an offer from the B.C. Lions and played in Canada for a year. The Detroit-native returned to the U.S. when the hometown Lions acquired his rights in 1957, but before he ever played for Detroit, the team sent him to Green Bay in the six-man Tobin Rote deal that netted the Packers three starting offensive linemen.

Before ever playing in a league game, Masters was with his third NFL team when he reported to Green Bay in 1957. Starting at left tackle as a rookie, the 6’2” 250 pounder proved to be a capable player right from the start, particularly as a drive-blocker on running plays. When Bob Skoronski returned from two years of military service in 1959, he and Masters began a period of job sharing that strengthened the line as a whole under new coach Vince Lombardi. While Skoronski was the primary starter at left tackle, Masters got significant playing time rotating in at the position. When Skoronski was hurt in the first week in 1961, Masters took over as starter; soon after Skoronski came back full time, Jerry Kramer was lost for the season with an ankle injury, and Norm went back in at right tackle with Forrest Gregg moving to guard. Green Bay won Lombardi’s first title that year.

In 1962, the Packers alternated Masters and Skoronski at left tackle by series of downs. Again, they won a championship with the best offensive line in pro football. Masters told the Packers Yearbook in 1963, “We could be better players if we played regularly, but we feel that we are sacrificing a chance to be a regular for the sake of having a great team.”

Lombardi and line coach Bill Austin publicly spoke of Masters and Skoronski being so equal in ability that neither could beat the other out. They called the three tackles, with Gregg, the best “tackle corps” in the league. If the NFL had a Sixth Man award for linemen, Masters would have won it. Perhaps what is most amazing is that Masters and Skoronski remained good friends despite the shared playing time. Once Masters retired following the 1964 season, Skoronski finally began to get some due recognition. He earned the only Pro Bowl selection of either man two years after that.

1955nmasters1  1957tnmasters3

1958tnmasters2  1959tnmasters3  1960tnmasters3

1961tnmasters2  1961fnmasters

1962tnmasters

1963tnmasters  1964pnmasters

All Custom cards colorized except for those from 1960-1962.

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