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.

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


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