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.

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