The defending Western Conference champion Packers opened the 1961 season with six rookies, but only one would start any games that year. Five of the rookies came from the draft: halfback Herb Adderley from Michigan State (1). defensive tackle Ron Kostelnik from Cincinnati (2), tight end Lee Folkins from Washington (6), halfback Elijah Pitts from Philander Smith (13) and linebacker Nelson Toburen from Wichita State (14). Folkins’ Husky teammate Big Ben Davidson joined the team after having been cut by the Giants a week before the season commenced.
Other high draft picks that did not make the team included defensive back Phil Nugent drafted out of Tulane in the third round and guard Jack Novak, drafted out of Miami in the fifth round. Nugent came to camp late after the College All Star Game and had leg problems. He later signed with the Broncos, who had also drafted him, and picked off seven passes in 1961, but that was his only season in pro ball. Novak was placed on the injured list by Green Bay and never appeared in a game in the NFL.
The rookies who made the Packers in 1961 primarily played on the kicking teams. Pitts and Toburen were especially noted for their work there. Davidson and Folkins would be traded for draft picks a year later to the Redskins and Cowboys respectively.
The two rookies who made a bigger mark in 1961 were Kostelnik and Adderley. Kostelnik became the only rookie starter in week two against the 49ers when he stepped in for Hawg Hanner who has an emergency appendectomy two days earlier. Kostelnik held up in the middle and the Packers won easily that day. Hanner was back the following week.
Adderley was drafted to give the Packers speed on offense as a halfback/flanker, but he also practiced some on defense. His primary 1961 contribution was as a kick returner averaging 26.6 yards per return. However, on Thanksgiving Day in a key matchup with the Lions, Herb gave a flash of his true potential. When starting cornerback Hank Gremminger injured a rib making a diving end zone interception at the end of the first half, Adderley was drafted to replace him for the second half.
Vince Lombardi assessed Herb’s performance after the 17-9 victory: “Adderley did a fine job. He got beat a couple of times by Cogdill on short stuff, but recovered real well. Sure, he got called for interference twice, but he saved a possible TD on one, and of course he made the big play with his interception which put us in business on their 40. We were trailing 9-7 at that time and when we went in for the TD, we actually won it right there.”
It was a clear foreshadowing of greatness; Herb Adderley was the Packers top rookie in 1961.