Packers Top Rookie: 1965

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Vince Lombardi made 25 selections in the 20 rounds of the 1965 draft, but ended up with little to show for it in the short term. Once again, the AFL outbid Green Bay for five draft picks. Vince’s best selections were future picks Donny Anderson (1), Jim Weatherwax (11) and Phil Vandersea (16) who would not join the team until 1966.

What the Packers got out the draft for 1965 were Washington running back Junior Coffey (7), Stephen Austin tackle Bud Marshall (10) and taxi squad members Wally Mahle, Bill Symons and Allen Brown. The last two were injured, and of those three taxi/IR members, only Brown would ever play with the Packers.

Overall, the Packers employed five rookies in 1965. The other three were future picks from prior drafts. Actually, Dennis Claridge (1963 future pick) was on the roster as the third quarterback in 1964, but never appeared in a game, so 1965 was his official rookie year. Reserve fullback Allen Jacobs was a 10th round future pick out of Utah in 1964, and center Bill Curry was a 20th round future pick out of Georgia Tech in 1964.

Curry is the only one of the five rookies to have a significant impact on the Packers, even though he only spent two seasons in Green Bay. As a rookie, he was a backup at both center and linebacker, snapped the ball on punts and field goals, and played on other kicking and coverage units, too. A year later, he stepped in as starting center when Ken Bowman injured his shoulder in August. Curry held onto the job until he himself was injured in Super Bowl I. Bowman took over that day, and Bill went to the Saints in the expansion draft in 1967. With little competition, Bill Curry was the Packers’ top rookie in 1965.

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1965pajacobs  1965pdclaridge2

 

Celebrating the Birthday Boy

December 29, 2015 would haqve been Ray Nitschke’s 79th birthday. One of six Packers whose names have been retired, here is what I wrote about him for Green Bay Gold:

With his angry, toothless snarl, 6’3” 235-pound Ray Nitschke was an intimidating sight across the line of scrimmage for quarterbacks in the 1960s. His was the face of the great Green Bay defense of the time, but the key to that defense was how well everyone worked together, met their responsibilities and didn’t make mistakes. Ray was voted the league’s top linebacker of its first 50 years in 1969, but he actually wasn’t; Bill George and Joe Schmidt were probably better. With Bill Forester and then Dave Robinson to his left, Ray probably wasn’t even the best linebacker on his team many years.

That being said, Nitschke was a great and fierce player, the leader of the Packer defense and a legitimate Hall of Famer. Teammate Willie Wood said on Ray’s death, “He was THE man. He was a guy who played with a lot of tenacity. Every time you saw him, you knew he was ready to play.” Lee Remmel added, “He was a thunderous tackler. He didn’t know the meaning of taking it easy on the football field.”

Nitschke had an odd career for an all-time great. He did not burst onto the scene like a Butkus or Lawrence Taylor; instead, Nitschke struggled to find a place in the starting lineup for three years after he was drafted out of Illinois in the third round of the 1958 draft. T.J. Troup wrote amusingly of Ray’s play as a rookie in The Birth of Football’s Modern 4-3 Defense, “This hustling young man of physical gifts was usually out of control and out of position.” Chuck Johnson wrote in the Milwaukee Journal in July 1960, “He’s strong and mean, but still lacks savvy.” Even under the discipline of Lombardi, Nitschke did not emerge as a starter until 1961 and a star in 1962.

An unnamed assistant coach chronicled the change in Nitschke’s play to Chuck Johnson for Greatest Packers of Them All, “Ray used to play on instinct rather than according to the situation. Now he does what the play call tells him to. He reads the play and coordinates with the rest. This is the only way for an effective defense.”

From 1962-69, Nitschke was among the top handful of middle linebackers in the game. He was a sure tackler who once said, “You want them to have respect for you when they run a play at you. You want them to be a little shy and a little shyer the next time.” But the former college fullback also had good speed and was excellent in coverage. To me, his signature play came late in the third quarter of the 1965 NFL championship game against Cleveland. Ray tightly covered Jim Brown 35 yards down the field and knocked away a Frank Ryan pass in the end zone to maintain the Packers’ eight-point lead.

Over his first 13 years in Green Bay, Nitschke missed just six games: two for Army Reserve duty in 1961, two for a broken forearm in 1963 and two for leg injuries in 1965. When Dan Devine arrived in 1971, though, he benched the popular aging veteran for young Jim Carter and Nitschke’s career came to a disappointing end as an unhappy reserve in 1971 and 1972. Nitschke said at his retirement in 1973, “The only regret I have is that I can’t turn the clock back to 1958 and become a Packer all over again.”

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1958trnitschke3  1972trnitschke

Top Ten Ron Wolf Trades

10. 9/29/1998. Overpaid Buffalo a fourth round pick to rent reserve runner Darick Holmes. After Dorsey Levens went down to injury in week two, backups Raymont Harris and Travis Jervey demonstrated that they were not serviceable running backs over an eight-week stretch. Holmes got his first start in week 10 and racked up the first of two 100-yard games in his four starts before Levens returned to finish the season. Holmes returned to finish his career in Buffalo in 1999, but he did give the Packer offense a shot in the arm in 1998.

9. August 30, 1998. Traded returner Glyn Milburn to the Bears for a seventh round pick. Wolf had acquired Milburn from the Lions four months earlier for a seventh round pick, but Roell Preston beat out Milburn, so Wolf essentially moved up in the draft by getting a higher final round pick in 1999. What made the deal special was Wolf’s selection of Donald Driver with that seventh round pick. Driver, an inexperienced project, eventually caught more balls than any other Packer.

8. April 26, 1993. Traded special teamer Dave McCloughan to Seattle for a sixth round pick that Wolf used to draft cornerback Doug Evans, the team’s best cornerback in the 1990s.

7. August 26, 2000. Traded a fifth round pick to Philadelphia for kick returner Allen Rossum. Rossum would score on both a punt and kick return in his two seasons in Green Bay.

6. April 22, 1995. Traded backup quarterback Mark Brunell, originally drafted with a compensation pick after the Bucs signed Vince Workman, to Jacksonville for a number three (William Henderson) and number five (Travis Jervey). Both Henderson and Jervey became Pro Bowl Packers.

5. March 29, 1995. Having lost Jackie Harris to free agency and Sterling Sharpe to a career-ending injury, Wolf rolled the dice and traded a second round pick to Miami for tight end Keith Jackson, despite Jackson’s protests that he would only play for Don Shula, Buddy Ryan or Barry Switzer. Jackson held out until October 21st before agreeing to terms with Green Bay. He only played for the Packers for a year and a half before retiring, but was a significant contributor in two consecutive postseasons. Green Bay also got back the fourth round pick it had earlier traded to Miami for Mark Ingram, while the Dolphins used the second round pick to take Andrew Greene, a guard who appeared in just six games with them.

4. June 27, 1996. Wolf dealt defensive end Matt LaBounty to Seattle for veteran free safety Eugene Robinson. Robinson’s heady play was key to the Packers’ two Super Bowl appearances in the 1990s, and he also groomed his successor, Darren Sharper.

3. April 15, 2000. Wolf traded injury-prone defensive back Fred Vinson and a sixth round pick (John Hilliard) to Mike Holmgren in Seattle for running back Ahman Green and fifth round pick (Joey Jamison). Vinson never played again in the NFL, while Hilliard appeared in 27 games for the Seahawks. Meanwhile, Green ran for over 1,000 yards six times in becoming the Packers’ all-time leading rusher.

2. January 10, 1992.  Wolf signs San Francisco offensive coordinator Mike Holmgren as head coach and is forced to give back a second round pick that the 49ers had traded to Green Bay in the Tim Harris deal because of a clause in Holmgren’s contract. The 49ers got Amp Lee; the Packers got a playoff team.

1. February 11, 1992. Wolf trades a number one draft pick to Atlanta that is eventually used by Dallas to select Kevin Smith for Brett Favre, who had spent one dissipating year embarrassing himself as a Falcon. Wolf began his Packer tenure with an enormous gamble in the style of his new high-risk-high-reward quarterback, and it paid off many times over.

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Colorized custom 1951 Topps-style card of Holmgren when he was O.J. Simpson’s teammate at USC.

Christmas Eve Birthdays

A couple of Packers were born on Christmas Eve: disappointing current receiver Davante Adams and 1950s guard Al Barry. Let’s talk about Barry.

Al played for Southern California with Frank Gifford and Al Carmichael in the early 1950s and then got to play with both those college teammates in the pros as well. Al was drafted in the 30th round as a future pick in 1953 and joined the Packers in 1954. After one year as a starter, he was called into the service and did not return to the NFL until 1957 when he returned to Green Bay and again won a starting slot. In 1958, Al was traded to the Giants, where he started at guard for two years – the first under offensive coach Vince Lombardi. He finished his career with the fledgling Los Angeles Chargers for the AFL in 1960.

A few years ago, Barry self-published his memoirs called The Unknown Lineman and told several funny stories of his time in Green Bay, including ones about Paul Hornung, Max McGee and Hawg Hanner. My favorite story though was about Dick Afflis, or “Dick the Bruiser” as he was known in his wrestling career:

We were playing in Chicago and “Dick the Bruiser” told me before the kickoff, “Watch this, Al, see that number 52 on the kickoff return team? Watch me go down and cold-cock him and knock him out of the game.” Since this was a new experience for me, I watched carefully as “Dick the Bruiser” ran down the field and threw a mighty forearm into the head of number 52 and knocked him unconscious and they carried him out of the game. Right after that play Dick came up to me and said, “Welcome to the NFL.”

Would someone please assist Commissioner Goodell to his fainting coach, please? Commissioner, you’ll be happy to hear that the Bears did not have a number 52 in 1954. Of course, the Milwaukee Sentinel did report on Tuesday, November 9, two days after the Packer-Bear game at Wrigley Field, that George Halas stated that a record 22 Bears reported to the training room the day after the hard-hitting game for treatment of injuries suffered in the contest. Oh no, down goes Roger again.

1954babarry  1957tabarry4

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Packers Top Rookie: 1964

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Vince Lombardi had accumulated nine picks in the first five rounds of the 1964 draft, but lost four of those top draftees to the AFL. Vince selected three centers and 12 offensive lineman out of his overall 23 picks. He then traded both his veteran centers, Jim Ringo and Ken Iman, in the offseason. The Patriots outbid Vince for second round center Jon Morris, and 20th rounder from Georgia Tech Bill Curry was drafted as a future pick, so the plan was to move tackle Bob Skoronski to the pivot with Wisconsin’s Ken Bowman, taken in round eight, as backup.

Nine rookies made the roster in 1964. Nebraska defensive lineman Lloyd Voss was the Packers’ top pick, but would never live up to billing. The second and third rounds saw Morris, Ode Burrell and Joe O’Donnell all sign with the AFL, but linebacker Tommy Joe Crutcher did arrive from TCU in the third round. Speedy Wichita wideout Bob Long came in round four and enormous Alabama Tackle Steve Wright in the fifth. Later round picks included, Bowman and St. John’s tackle John McDowell. Two picks from 1963 joined the team in 1964 as well – second rounder Tom Brown and 15th round Virginia linebacker Gene Breen. The final rookie to step up was defensive back Doug Hart, who spent 1963 on the Packers’ taxi squad.

This was a depth draft. Voss, McDowell and Breen were all gone from the team within two years, but Crutcher, Long, Wright and Hart proved to valuable reserves and sometime starters for several seasons. Tom Brown became the starting strong safety a year later, and Ken Bowman became the team’s primary starting center for the next decade starting midseason of his rookie year. Ken Bowman was the Packers’ top rookie in 1964.

1964pgbreen3  1964pjmcdowell6

1964tjringo  1964pkiman

The Replacement Packers

After a players’ strike in 1982 that wiped out seven weeks of the season, NFL owners decided not to ever allow that to happen again. So when the players went on strike again in 1987, the owners trotted out squads of “replacement” players, or “scabs” to use the union vernacular. The three weeks of replacement player football that year were the strangest three weeks in NFL history, according to Ted Kluck, whose interesting recent book, Three-Week Professionals: Inside the 1987 NFL Players’ Strike (Rowman & Littlefield) asserts that the quality of play was somewhat akin to a second preseason.

While that was pretty awful in itself, the replacement Packers fit right in with the general downward slide of the Forrest Gregg era that would end that season as a failure both on and off the field. In fact, the 2-1 replacement Packers fared better than the 3-8-1 regular Packers. It was a very sad time.

However, I never held the ugly replacement sub-season against the replacement players who were basically just looking for a shot. That mess was on management trying to foist it off onto the fans as pro football. So let’s take a look at some of Green Bay’s three-week professionals” in Kluck’s phrase:

Five continued with the Packers after the strike ended:

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1987xtmzendejas.jpg  1987xtscollier

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The team had three quarterbacks, McCarthy never appeared in a game:

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The leading replacement runner gained 251 yards in three games, as opposed to team leader Kenneth Davis’ 413 yards in the other 12 games:

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Top Ten Curly Lambeau Veteran Player Acquisitions

10. The dog that didn’t bark. The trade that didn’t happen. On April 10, 1938, Lambeau swapped guard Buckets Goldenberg and full back Swede Johnston to Pittsburgh for rookie Notre Dame center Pat McCarthy and rookie Minnesota end Ray King. Goldenberg immediately threatened to retire. Although Pittsburgh coach Johnny Blood mocked Buckets as posturing for more money, the trade was called off on July 21 supposedly because both drafted rookies had chosen coaching positions instead. While neither rookie ever played in the NFL and Johnston was traded to Pittsburgh again the following year, Goldenberg played for Green Bay for eight more years and drew All-Pro notice in 1939 and 1942.

9. In order to finally implement the T formation in 1947, Lambeau needed an experienced quarterback. He acquired Washington backup Jack Jacobs for fullback Bob Nussbaumer in January 1947. Jacobs had a decent first year in Green Bay before his statistics declined in proportion to the quality of the Packer team. Jacobs left for Canada in 1950 and was elected as a charter member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1963, having been the first pro quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in a season.

8. The first straight player trade I’ve ever found for the Packers was when Lambeau dealt lineman Jab Murray to Racine for guard Whitey Woodin in mid-October 1922. Woodin would be a fixture in Green Bay for a decade. Murray played eight games with Racine and then was loaned back to the Packers in 1923 before Racine gave up its claim on him entirely. He finished his career in Green Bay in 1924.

7. More about Johnny Blood below, but after having dropped Blood for disciplinary reasons in 1934, Lambeau brought him back in 1935. Blood played for Pittsburgh in 1934, but wanted to return to Green Bay, so during the Packers training camp in 1935, Blood turned up playing against the Packers in two exhibition games in September, one with the Chippewa Marines and one with the La Crosse Lagers. After this public audition, Lambeau re-signed his prodigal son.

6. Before the 1933 season, Lambeau loaned starting end Tom Nash to Brooklyn for future considerations. Halfway through the 1934 season, those considerations turned into guard/kicker Paul “Tiny” Engebretsen, who spent seven seasons as an important member of the Packers. Nash never played again after 1934.

5. In a nearly aborted trade, Lambeau traded for Don Hutson’s Alabama teammate tackle Bill Lee on October 27, 1937. Curly sent Brooklyn guard Zud Schammel in return, but Zud refused to report. Three days later, Lambeau sent tackle Av Daniell instead. Neither Schammel nor Daniell played after 1937. Lee became a five-year starter in Green Bay.

4. Former Marquette signal caller Red Dunn signed with Green Bay in 1927 after a year in Milwaukee and two with the Chicago Cardinals. Dunn was the team’s field general for its first threepeat from 1929-31.

3. Dunn’s former Marquette and Milwaukee teammate, end Lavie Dilweg, was purchased from the folding Milwaukee Badgers in 1927 as well. Badgers’ owner/coach Johnny Bryan held negotiations with the Bears, Giants and Frankford Yellow Jackets over DIlweg’s rights, but Lambeau won out. Dilweg, who announced, “Green Bay was one place he always wanted to play football,” was a perennial All-Pro who should be in the Hall of Fame.

2. Lambeau signed two free agents in 1929 who starred for the 1929-31 championship teams as well as eventually being elected to the Hall of Fame: guard Mike Michalske from the defunct New York Yankees and Johnny Blood, most recently from the Pottsville Maroons.

1. The third major acquisition in 1929 was tackle Cal Hubbard, a future member of both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Baseball Hall of Fame (as an umpire). Hubbard, however, was still the property of the Giants. Although the details of the acquisition are generally glossed over, a notice in the August 1, 1929 edition of the Milwaukee Journal declares that Cal was purchased outright from New York. No dollar amount was listed.

1938blee  1938tengebretsen

1925swwoodin  1949ljjacobs

Packers Top Rookie: 1963

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The 1963 draft was probably Vince Lombardi’s best and produced an impressive array of rookie talent for the defending champions. Seven rookies appeared for the 1963 Packers and six were drafted that year, with the seventh having been drafted three years before.

The Packers top draft choice was Penn State end Dave Robinson, who was converted to linebacker and developed into a Hall of Famer, the best linebacker the team has ever had. Second round choice Tom Brown, a halfback from Maryland, deferred his football career for a year and a half to enable him to establish that he could not hit a major or minor league curveball.

Green Bay had two choices in the third round. The first selection was Nebraska running quarterback Dennis Claridge as a future who would report in 1964. The second was Tulsa tackle Tony Liscio who was cut in training camp but went on to start for the Cowboys for several years.

Utah State lineman Lionel Aldridge came in round four, Colorado guard Dan Grimm in round five and Fresno State tight end Jan Barrett in round six. Aldridge replaced starting defensive end Bill Quinlan who had been traded in the offseason. The Packers were planning to move Henry Jordan to right defensive end before Lionel slid into the slot. Not only did Aldridge turn out to be superior to Quinlan in time, but he also allowed the team to keep Jordan in the middle where he was truly a special talent. Grimm was a sometime starter in 1964 and 1965 before leaving in the 1966 expansion draft. Barrett only lasted three games before being replaced on the roster by backup fullback Frank Mestnik. Barrett played the rest of 1963 and 1964 for Al Davis’ Oakland Raiders.

Seventh round pick Gary Kroner, a defensive back/kicker from Wisconsin, spent the 1963 season on the taxi squad as insurance for new placekicker Jerry Kramer. He spent 1965-67 as Denver’s kicker.

Utah tight end Marv Fleming came in round 11 and South Carolina linebacker Ed Holler in round 14. Fleming developed into one of the league’s best blockers, while Holler spent most of 1963 on the taxi squad before replacing an injured Ray Nitschke on the roster for the last two games. He was the Steelers’ punter in 1964. The one who got away was 12th round Notre Dame quarterback Daryle Lamonica who signed with Buffalo in the AFL instead. The Mad Bomber probably wouldn’t have been a good fit for Lombardi’s offense anyway.

The seventh rookie in 1963 was Bob Jeter, a 1960 draft pick who played in Canada for a couple years. Lombardi tried him at flanker for two years before finally switching him to cornerback in 1965. Jeter, Fleming, Aldridge and Robinson represent a tremendous haul, especially for a defending championship team, and all four would become significant contributors for the coming run of three consecutive titles.

Aldridge, though, is one of just three players to become starters in their rookie year along with Boyd Dowler and Ken Bowman. Aldridge is the only one of the three to start for the full year; he was the Packers top rookie for 1963.

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Top Ten Lombardi Trades

10)       (Tie) Receiving number one draft picks for reserve clause free agents Ron Kramer and Jim Taylor. Kramer signed with Detroit in 1965, and the Packers received the ninth overall selection in 1966: Jim Grabowski. Taylor signed with the expansion Saints in 1967, and the Packers received the fifth overall selection in 1968: Fred Carr.

9)         Obtaining backup quarterback Zeke Bratkowski midseason in 1963 on waivers from the Rams. In unacknowledged return, the Packers sent center Ken Iman to the Rams on February 4, 1964. Bratkowski would prove to be a valuable backup for Bart Star, while Iman became a 10-year starter in Los Angeles, but was no better than Ken Bowman and Bill Curry, whom Lombardi drafted that year.

8)         Receiving the ninth overall pick in the 1967 draft from Pittsburgh for defensive lineman Lloyd Voss and tight end Tony Jeter. Voss would start for several years in Pittsburgh and Denver, but was an ordinary player that Lombardi had wasted a number one pick on in 1964. To get a high number one for him and Tony Jeter was a slick move. The trade would rank higher had Vince then drafted Alan Page or Gene Upshaw instead of Bob Hyland.

7)         Picking up reliable kicker/punter Don Chandler from the Giants for a third round pick in 1965. The Giants used the pick on Bob Timberlake who converted just one of 15 field goal attempts in his sole NFL season, while Chandler was a key figure in the Packers threepeat.

6)         Trading discontented end Bill Howton to Cleveland for defensive end Bill Quinlan and jack-of-all-trades Lew Carpenter in 1959. Howton spent just one year with the Browns before finishing his career with four years on the Cowboys. Once a great deep receiver, Howton was more of a possession receiver by 1959 and did not fit into Lombardi’s offense. Quinlan filled a major hole at defensive end for four years, while Carpenter was a solid role player for Lombardi’s first two title teams.

5)         In 1964, trading aging center Jim Ringo and disappointing fullback Earl Gros to Philadelphia for Lee Roy Caffey and the seventh overall pick in the 1965 draft. Ringo was still good, but on the decline, while Gros was no more than a decent runner. Caffey blossomed into a Pro Bowl linebacker and the draft pick was used for Donny Anderson who developed into a solid all-around contributor at running back and punter.

4)         Trading fifth linebacker Marv Matuszak to the Colts in 1959 for guard Fuzzy Thurston who became the final piece in the league’s best offensive line during the first half of the 1960s, not to mention an upbeat team leader.

3)         Obtaining underutilized receiver Carroll Dale from the Rams in 1965 for worn out linebacker Dan Currie. Dale immediately stepped in as the team’s best deep threat, replacing veteran Max McGee in the starting lineup.

2)         In 1959, acquiring Browns’ mismatched defensive tackle Henry Jordan for a fifth round draft pick. Although Cleveland used the pick to select solid tight end/linebacker John Brewer, Green Bay got a Hall of Famer once Jordan was set loose in Phil Bengtson’s defense.

1)         The second Hall of Famer that Vince Lombardi swindled from Paul Brown came at even a lower price than for Jordan. The Packers got defensive end Willie Davis for failed tight end A.D. Williams. Williams caught one pass for Green Bay, one for Cleveland and then 13 for Minnesota in his three-year career. Davis is still the all-time team leader in sacks with over 100 according to the research of Nick Webster and John Turney.

1963lrcaffey Custom card of Caffey as an Eagle.

The End of Team Cards

Topps regained the NFL football card contract in 1968. During the four years that Topps produced cards for the American Football League instead, the company only put out team cards in 1964. For 1968, Topps did a limited release of oversized test team cards in black and white, but they were not part of the regular set. At that point, team cards died.

Here are my custom card renderings of what Packer team cards could have looked like from 1968-72:

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1969tteam2 1969

1970tteam 1970

1971tteam 1971

1972tteam 1972