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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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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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.

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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.

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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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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.

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