Packers Top Rookie: 1978

Rookies1978jlofton

For the second year in a row, Coach Bart Starr brought in an impressive class of rookies in 1978. In fact, that season 18 rookies played in at least one game for the Packers, the most rookies Starr ever used. Eight of the team’s 14 draft picks made the team and all but one became significant contributors in Green Bay. Once again, Starr had two first round picks and chose very wisely with Stanford wide receiver James Lofton and Michigan linebacker John Anderson. Additional picks included: Minnesota linebacker Mike Hunt in round two, Illinois State defensive back Estus Hood in round three, San Diego State linebacker Mike Douglass in round five, Arkansas guard Leotis Harris in round six, Arizona State quarterback Dennis Sproul in round eight and Alabama nose tackle Terry Jones in round 11. Lofton , Anderson and Douglass are all members of the Packer Hall of Fame.

One of the ten free agents to make the 1978 Packers also is in the Packer Hall of Fame, Kansas State tight end Paul Coffman, who was the subject of my last blog entry. The other nine free agents were: Delaware State receiver Walter Tullis, Pittsburgh receiver Willie Taylor, Arkansas tackle Gerald Skinner, Arkansas defensive back Howard Sampson, Michigan State linebacker Paul Rudzinski, Clark fullback Walter Landers, Tennessee State linebacker Danny Johnson, Wyoming linebacker Francis Chesley and Eastern Kentucky receiver Elmo Boyd. All but Coffman, Sampson and Rudzinski originally were drafted by other teams and obtained via the waiver wire.

Altogether, that’s five rookie linebackers and four rookie wide receivers. Among the linebackers, Anderson, Hunt and Douglass would all move into the starting lineup by 1979, although Hunt’s career ended abruptly by injury. Starr had less luck with his three free agent wideouts who collectively caught 10 Packer passes – all by Tullis. However, Bart hit it big with Lofton who established himself immediately as a star deep threat, went to the Pro Bowl in his first season and eventually was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame; James Lofton was the Packers top rookie of 1978.

1978tdsproul2  1978tjanderson

Custom cards in 1978 Topps style.

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Free Agent Birthdays

March 29 marks the birthday of two notable undrafted free agents who excelled in Green Bay: Emlen Tunnell and Paul Coffman. Tunnell was already the NFL’s all-time leading interceptor with 74 in his 11 years as a New York Giant when new Coach Vince Lombardi brought him to the Packers in 1959. Tunnell started for two years, but his more significant role was in the locker room and in training his successor at free safety, Willie Wood, another undrafted free agent who, like Em, later would be elected to the Hall of Fame.

From a modest start, Paul Coffman went on to become Green Bay’s all-time leading pass receiving tight end. In 1978, Packer assistant coach John Meyer was dispatched to Manhattan, Kansas to work out linebacker prospect Gary Spani, and Coffman — Spani’s roommate and a walk-on at Kansas State — tagged along to help out. Spani was drafted by Kansas City in the third round that year, but Coffman was ignored due to his slow 4.9 40 time and his lack of size. However, when the Packers needed another tight end in camp, Meyer remembered Coffman. Once in camp, Paul made the team. A year later, he was the starting tight end and set a team record for a tight end with 56 catches. Position coach Lew Carpenter told the Milwaukee Journal, “Paul doesn’t have great athletic ability, but because he pushes himself so hard he produces with all the best tight ends.”

The 6’3” Coffman was a complete ball player despite lining up at a mere 220 pounds. He was a solid and tenacious blocker, a very dependable sure-handed receiver and a spirited and vocal teammate. Although he was neither fast nor shifty, he consistently found open spaces on the field and was a hard runner after the catch. Both David Whitehurst and Lynn Dickey relied heavily on Coffman popping open over the middle of the field to extend drives and to score touchdowns.

Paul’s best season was 1983 when he averaged 15 yards per catch on 54 receptions and scored 11 touchdowns in one of his three Pro Bowl seasons. A year later, he caught nine touchdowns. Two years after that, however, the 30-year old Coffman was cut by Coach Forrest Gregg in a youth movement and signed with Kansas City. While it may have seemed harsh at the time, Coffman dropped to 17 receptions over two seasons with the Chiefs and finished his career quietly in Minnesota in 1988.

During his seven years as the Packer starting tight end, though, Coffman was a leading part of one of the most prolific passing offenses of the early 1980s. Green Bay has not had as consistent a receiving tight end either before or since.

(Adapted from Green Bay Gold)

1960twelcome3  1961fetunnell2

1978tpcoffman  1979tpcoffman

1960 Tunnell and 1978 Coffman custom cards are colorized.

Obscure Origins: Part 1 of 2

Recently, I created Packer alumni teams for each of the major colleges that have produced the most Green Bay players. Here, let’s take a look at the more obscure launching points for Packers. Below is a list of colleges that sent between 6-10 players to the NFL through 2015. I have limited the search to players who have played since 1950, but earlier Packer players for these schools are noted, too.

NFL Players School Packer Earlier Packers
10 John Carroll Ed Ecker
10 SW Missouri State Bob Dees
10 Tarleton State Randy Winkler
10 West Alabama Charles Martin
10 Coastal Carolinas Maurice Simpkins
10 Henderson State K.D. Williams
9 Southwestern Texas Carlton Massey
9 Northeast State (OK) Bob Hudson
9 Wayne State (NE) Rubin Mendoza
9 Delta State Aubrey Matthews
9 Missouri Southern Allen Barbre
8 Austin Billy Bookout
8 Valparaiso Fuzzy Thurston
8 Morningside Herb McMath
8 Gustavus Adolphus Kurt Ploeger Earl Witte 1934
7 Oachita Baptist Ed Neal
7 Hillsdale Chester Marcol
7 American Intl. Terry Randolph
6 Wisconsin Superior Dom Moselle
6 Loras Howard Ruetz Tom Cronin 1922
6 Minnesota Duluth Dick Pesonen,

David Vianee

6 Calif. Riverside Michael Basinger
6 Clark (GA) Walter Landers
6 Trinity Joe Shield
6 Chadron State Don Beebe
6 Newberry Brandon Bostick

1951teecker  1951tfthurston

1952bbdees2  1953bhruetz2

Custom cards all colorized.

Remembering Aaron Brooks

March 24 is the 39th birthday of Aaron Brooks, a seven-year-starting quarterback who has been out of the league nine years. Originally drafted in the fourth round by Ron Wolf for the Packers in 1999, Brooks was traded to New Orleans a year later, primarily for linebacker K.D. Williams. Despite leading the Saints franchise to its first-ever playoff game, his career crashed and burned quickly after some early success. He was released by the Saints in 2006 following a 3-13 season and signed with Oakland where he threw for three touchdowns and eight interceptions in one season. The Raiders cut him and his career was over. No one was interested in this talented but wildly inconsistent mobile passer who was Michael Vick’s cousin and who was elected to the Saints Hall of Fame (yes, they have one) in 2014.

Brooks is a member of two uniquePacker clubs. First, he is one of 18 quarterbacks (not including replacement player John McCarthy during the 1987 strike) to be on the Green Bay active roster in a season, yet not appear in a game:

1964 Dennis Claridge
1974 Dean Carlson
1978 Neil Graff
1980 Mark Miller
1985 Vince Ferragamo
1985 Joe Shield
1989 Blair Kiel
1990 Mike Norseth
1992 Ty Detmer
1993 Mark Brunell
1994 Ty Detmer
1998 Rick Mirer
1999 Aaron Brooks
2002 Craig Nall
2005 Craig Nall
2006 Todd Bouman
2008 Brian Brohm
2010 Graham Harrell
2011 Graham Harrell
2014 Scott Tolzien
2015 Brett Hundley

 

Second, Brooks is one of a small handful of black quarterbacks to be associated with the Packers.

Charlie Brackins appeared in seven games for Green Bay in 1955, but mostly just kicking off; he only threw two passes before being cut at midseason.

Willie Wood came to the Packers as a free agent former USC quarterback in 1960 and reportedly got to throw a few passes in training camp before being shifted to safety.

Tulane’s Nickie Hall was a 10th round pick in 1981 and spent that season on the injured list before being cut in training camp in 1982. He spent 1983 and 1984 with Winnipeg and Saskatchewan of the CFL before falling out of football.

Brooks spent 1999 as the well-rested third quarterback behind Brett Favre and Matt Hasselbeck.

Henry Burris was signed out of Canada in 2001 and spent that season on the practice squad. After a season with the Bears, Burris returned to the CFL where his career has extended into his 40s.

Akili Smith was signed in the spring of 2003 and cut in August.

Seneca Wallace became the second black quarterback, and first to start a game, for Green Bay in 2013, but injury forced him to the sideline and ended his career. Wallace threw just 24 passes for the Packers.

Brett Hundley is the current backup to Aaron Rodgers. He has yet to throw a pass or appear in a game in the regular season.

1964pdclaridge  1974tdcarlson

1978ngraff  1980tmmiller2

Custom cards are colorized.

Packers Top Rookie: 1977

Rookies1977mbutler

After a streak of four years of skimpy rookie crops, the Packers began to turn that around in 1977. Bart Starr had two first round draft picks and used them both on defensive ends: Mike Butler from Kansas and Ezra Johnson from little Morris Brown. In the second round, he grabbed a tackle who would also prove to be a long-term starter: Greg Koch from Arkansas. Third round runner from Memphis Terdell Middleton came via a trade with the Cardinals and would have a brief moment of stardom in Green Bay. Seventh round guard Derrel Gofourth from Oklahoma battled injuries to serve as a decent starter for five years.

Other draft picks to make the team included: Tennessee State runner Nate Simpson in round five, Syracuse defensive back Tim Moresco in round six, Furman quarterback David Whitehurst in round eight, Oklahoma runner Jim Culbreath in round 10 and American International defensive back Terry Randolph in round 11. Wide receiver Aundra Thompson, the fifth round pick from 1976, came off the injured list to start his career in 1977. Two free agents also joined the team: guard Blane Smith and wide receiver Keith Hartwig.

Greg Koch got to start three games as the heir apparent to right tackle Dick Himes, and Ezra Johnson showed flashes of his pass rushing prowess coming off the bench, gaining his first three sacks. Top pick Mike Butler moved right into the starting lineup on opening day and finished with five sacks, third on the team behind Dave Roller and Bob Barber; Mike Butler was the Packers’ top rookie in 1977.

1977tejohnson  1977tgkoch

Koch 1977 custom card is colorized.

Packer Bookshelf: Five Odd Titles of Interest (and two others)

  1. The Green Bay Packers: A Pictorial Drama. By Richard Rainbolt, Nodin Press, 1975. Rainbolt dramatized the history of the team through the 1974 season, mixing narrative and very corny and quirky dialogue. He wrote a similar book about the Vikings and several juvenile sports titles in the 1970s. Great photos, though.
  2. The Purple Lawman: From Horned Frog to High Sheriff. By Lon Evans, The Summit Group, 1990. 1930s Packer guard Lon Evans traces his past through his recollections and the scrapbook writings of others. The Packer years are somewhat interesting, and Evans also worked as a referee and served as the Sheriff of Tarrant County Texas (Fort Worth) from 1960-84
  3. Strike Three! And You’re Out: The Cal Hubbard Story. By Mary Hubbard, Walsworth, 1986. A hagiographic telling of Cal Hubbard’s life by his sister. Not much Packer info here.
  4. The 41st Packer: A Rookie’s Diary. By Dan Eckstein, Jacobs Press, 1970. 15th round pick Eckstein was cut from the Packers the week before the start of the 1969 season, hence the title. This is his diary of training camp and a subsequent brief experience in the CFL. It’s worth reading. Eckstein later got his PhD in psychology and wrote other books in his chosen discipline.
  5. Young Sports Photographer with the Green Bay Packers. By John Biever with George Vecsey, Norton, 1969. The one title in this list that was published by a major publisher and with a coauthor from the New York Times, no less, this is the story of team photographer Vern Biever’s son who later went to work for Sports Illustrated and is one of a small handful of men to photograph each of the first 50 Super Bowls.

Two other odd titles that I have not read and don’t plan on doing so are Green Bay Love Stories and Other Affairs by Sandy Sullivan (a Packer groupie recounting her brushes with fame in the 1960s) and Leap of Faith: God Must Be a Packer Fan and its two sequels by Steve Rose.

1936levans  1969tdeckstein

Custom cards colorized.

Packers Top Rookie: 1976

Rookies1976mkoncar

The disastrous John Hadl trade from 1974 was fully cashed out in the 1976 draft, costing the Packers first and second round picks. Bart Starr regained a later first rounder from Oakland as part of the fee for the Raiders signing Ted Hendricks, and he spent that on Colorado tackle Mark Koncar. Green Bay’s next pick came in round three and was used to grab Koncar’s fellow Buff, defensive back Mike McCoy.

The rest of the draft was pretty weak: Pittsburgh linebacker Tom Perko in round four, Nebraska defensive back Jim Burrow in round eight, Tulane linebacker Jim Gueno in round nine, Tulsa receiver Jesse Green in round 10 and USC guard Mel Jackson in round 12. Fifth round receiver Aundra Thompson from East Texas State injured his back and spent the season on IR. Perko, Burrow and Green all lasted just one year, while Jackson and Gueno stuck around for five years each.

The waiver wire brought guard Steve Knutson defensive back Steve Wagner and linebacker Bob Lally. Defensive end Bob Barber, came via a trade of a fourth round pick to Pittsburgh. The 12th rookie to make the team was undrafted free agent runner from Wisconsin, Ken Starch. Of this group, Lally and Starch lasted one year, Knutson two and Wagner and Barber four.

Altogether, it was not a rookie class that provides the foundation for a Super Bowl run. McCoy turned out to be the best player of the class, but Koncar moved into the starting lineup in his first year, unlike any others; Mark Koncar was the Packers top rookie in 1976.

1976tMMCCOY  1976tmjackson

Custom cards in 1976 style.