Shipped Off to Texas

With the granting of a new NFL franchise to Dallas in 1960, the NFL embarked on a new process to staff the fledgling club: an expansion draft requiring each team to make available a list of 11 players from which the Dallas Rangers, as the Cowboys were then called, would select three players. The expansion draft has been used in various forms since then to stock 11 more new teams in the NFL and AFL, but Dallas was the first instance.

The Dallas draft generally is listed as being held on March 13, 1960, but that is only when it began. With this being a new procedure conducted by new commissioner Pete Rozelle, this first expansion draft operated by unique rules. Rozelle told the New York Times on March 8 that each team would present their list of 11 available players in secret to him and that he would pass these lists on to Dallas one by one. He explained, “We wouldn’t want the Bears for example to know what players the Rams will offer. We wouldn’t want the players Dallas turned down to know they’ve been offered. Bad for morale.”

As a result, Dallas picked six players from the Rams and 49ers on Sunday the 13th, but didn’t pick their Packer trio until Monday, March 14. The draft was not completed until Dallas made their finalselections from the Colts and Cardinals on Thursday, March 17. Two days later, the Rangers were renamed the Cowboys to avoid confusion with a minor league baseball team.

On March 20, Bud Lea wrote a piece for the Milwaukee Sentinel about the three Packers headed to Dallas. Green Bay lost veteran defensive end Nate Borden, halfback Don McIlhenny and defensive back/returner Bill Butler. Lea quoted Packer personnel man Jack Vainisi about the draft:

Borden took it pretty hard. He was one of the most well liked among his teammates. Even though McIlhenny played college ball in Texas (SMU), he was reluctant to go. Butler had obtained a job for a Green Bay tiling company, but the Dallas people said he should come right away, that an off-season job was waiting for him.

Those three players from Vince Lombardi’s first season would not be missed on the 1960 Western Division champs. Borden was replaced by Willie Davis, acquired from Cleveland in a trade. McIlhenny was replaced by top draft pick Tom Moore, and Butler’s main functions as kick and punt returner were filled by Moore and by free agent safety Willie Wood respectively.

We likely will never know who the other eight players Lombardi offered to Dallas because of the way the draft was conducted, but it is interesting to speculate. I would guess that 14 offensive players were protected: Dowler, McGee, Knafelc, Ron Kramer, Gregg, Skoronski, Masters, Jerry Kramer, Thurston, Ringo, Starr, McHan, Hornung, Taylor and Carpenter. I also would surmise that 11 defenders were protected: Quinlan, Temp, Jordan, Hanner, Bettis, Forester, Currie, Nitschke, Whittenton, Gremminger and Symank.

That leaves end A.D. Williams, guard John Dittrich, quarterback Joe Francis, defensive lineman Ken Beck, and defensive backs Bobby Freeman, Emlen Tunnell and Boby Dillon, as well as injured end Steve Meilinger and injured guard Andy Cvercko and perhaps guard Mike Falls who was also under contract at the time, as the most likely targets. Tunnell and Dillon were still starters, but neither was near the player he had once been. Indeed, Dillon would announce his retirement three months later.

If we look at the assistant coaches’ evaluations published by Phil Bengtson’s son Jay in 2001 as Launching the Glory Years, Lombardi may have considered putting underachievers Nitschke and McGee on the unprotected list, but I think they would have been taken by Dallas if they had been offered. Perhaps this is a question best put to Packer historian Cliff Christl to see if he can uncover anything on the Packers final expansion list.

1960Tnborden  1960tbbutler

1959tdmcilhenny3  1959tadwilliams2

1959tjdittrich2  1959tkbeck2

1959tbfreeman2  1959tacvercko

All custom cards colorized except Butler and McIlhenny.

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