Packers in Oral Histories

I recently did a post on the wealth of oral histories concerning Vince Lombardi, but there have been several oral history books on NFL players over the years and usually Packers have figured prominently in them.

The first was Bob Curran’s Pro Football’s Rag Days (Bonanza Books, 1969). Curran’s book is the exception here in that not only did he not interview any former Packers, the team is almost never mentioned in its pages. It’s still an interesting title, but not for Packer research.

Myron Cope came out with The Game That Was (Crowell, 1970) a year later. Cope has interviews with Johnny Blood, Clarke Hinkle and Don Hutson, while Dutch Clark discusses the 1931 Packers and Art Rooney recalls Johnny Blood.

1929cjblood4flags  1948lchinkle  1948ldhutson

Richard Whittingham’s What a Game They Played (Harper & Row, 1984) features interviews with Blood, Hinkle and Hutson as well as Tony Canadeo. In addition, Glenn Pressnell talks about playing the 1930’s Packers and Alex Wojciechowicz and Jim Benton remember Don Hutson.

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Stuart Leuthner’s Iron Men (Doubleday, 1988) only talks with Jim Ringo, but it’s a very good interview.

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Bob Carroll’s When the Grass Was Real (Simon & Schuster, 1992) combines a narrative and oral histories to chronicle the decade of the 1960s. He includes interviews with Willie Davis, Jim Taylor and Forrest Gregg, but the whole book is a feast on the Lombardi Era.

1965tswdavis3  1963ffgregg  1966tjtaylor

Andy Piascik focused on African- American pioneers in Gridiron Gauntlet (Taylor Trade, 2009). He has a nice interview with Bob Mann, the Packers’ first black player, while Bobby Watkins remembers Curly Lambeau from the College All-Star Game.

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Most recently, Jackson Michael came out with The Game Before the Money (University of Nebraska, 2014) that features a host of lesser known players in its mix. Packer interviews were Nolan Luhn, Bob Skoronski, Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor and Carroll Dale. Also, Sonny Jurgensen discusses Lombardi and Don Maynard mentions college teammate Jesse Whittenton.

1948lnluhn  1967tbskoronski  1964tbstarr2  1970kcdale

1959bphornung2

All pre-1959 custom cards are colorized.

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Packers Top Rookie: 1991

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Tom Baartz’s final rookie class did not produce much for the present or the future. While six drafted rookies made the team, the player who ultimately had the best career in Green Bay was an undrafted free agent. In the draft, Braatz selected Ohio State corner Vinnie Clark in round one, Oregon State defensive tackle Esera Tualo in round two, Wisconsin defensive end Dan Davey and Tennessee runner Chuck Webb in round three, Grambling runner Walter Dean in round five and Houston linebacker Reggie Burnette in round seven.

Three undrafted free agents made the team: Eastern Illinois nose tackle John Jurkovic, Jackson State punter Paul McJulien and Florida State defensive tackle Steve Gabbard. USC receiver Erik Affholter came via the waiver wire. Jurkovic was a popular overachiever who ultimately had more success than anyone else in this rookie class.

As for the draftees, Clark was a bust, Davey was a nice role player and the trio of Webb, Dean and Burnette played in a total of 14 games combined for the Packers. Tualo is mostly famous for coming out as gay in 2002 after he had retired from the NFL. As a player, he was just a guy, but started all 16 games as a rookie, accumulated 3.5 sacks and sang the national anthem on October 17, 1991 before the Bears game; Esera Tualo was the Packers top rookie in 1991.

1991tjjurkovic  1991tddavey

Custom cards in 1991 Topps style.

Many Happy Returns, Chad Clifton

While it is true that Chad Clifton was pretty fortunate in spending his college and professional career protecting the blind side for quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers (not to mention Tee Martin for Tennessee’s national championship season of 1998). The converse is also true. Those top signal callers were lucky to have the ox-strong and ever-diligent 6’5” 330-pound Clifton watching their backs.

Drafted in the second round by Green Bay in 2000, Clifton was the team’s starter at left tackle for a dozen years, with some time missed for injuries and 17 surgeries. The most notorious injury occurred in 2002 when defensive tackle Warren Sapp blind-sided Clifton during an interception return with a cheap shot that dislocated Clifton’s pelvis. Clifton did not dispute the hit, but did call attention to the fact that blowhard Sapp didn’t bother coming to visit Clifton during the four days he was laid up in a Tampa hospital.

After missing the last six games of 2002, Clifton came back from that career-threatening injury to allow just 1.5 sacks in 2003 despite playing against the toughest pass rushers in the league every week. Clifton was a very good run blocker, but he truly excelled at pass protection. Friend and teammate Mark Tauscher told the Journal Sentinel, “He had the quickest get-off I’ve ever seen. He’s such a great athlete. He got in his position before the defensive guy got in his. He always got off the snap with surprising quickness.” Tauscher added, “I don’t know if you can [overstate] the impact he had and the sacrifice he made. Even with all the injuries he had, he always showed up.”

He made the Pro Bowl for a second time in the championship season of 2010 and also was named one of the NFL’s 100 best players that offseason by NFL Network. He is second only to Forrest Gregg in terms of games played at tackle amongst Packers and is second only to Gregg in quality as well.

(Adapted from Green Bay Gold)

2010cclifton

Custom card in 1960 Topps style.

Packers Top Rookie: 1990

Rookies1990lbutler

Coming off the surprise 10-6 season of 1989, things briefly appeared to be looking up for Green Bay in 1990, and the team did pick up some valuable talent in the draft that year. In fact, all eight rookies who made the team were draftees as the team looked to Plan B free agency to supplement the acquisition of new talent for the second straight year rather than undrafted free agents.

The packers had two first round picks in 1989 and selected Mississippi pass rusher Tony Bennett with the first and Minnesota runner Darrell Thompson with the second. Florida state corner Leroy Butler came in round two, North Carolina State linebacker Bobby Houston in round three, Louisiana-Monroe tight end Jackie Harris in round four, Memphis receiver Charles Wilson in round five, Northern Iowa linebacker Bryce Paup in round six and Stanford defensive end Lester Archambeau in round seven.

Bennett was selected to be a book end pass rusher to Tim Harris and did have a couple of good seasons in Green Bay, but was let go when the team switched to a 4-3 defense in 1994. Thompson was a bust, especially considering that the Giants selected fellow big back Rodney Hampton five slots lower and got 5,000 more rushing yards as a result. Harris and Paup slowly developed into very good pros, but Houston, Wilson and Archambeau never became much in Green Bay. Obviously, that leaves Mr. Butler, an all-time Packer. Although Leroy did not move into the starting lineup at cornerback until his second year, he got on the field a lot as a rookie and picked off three passes; Leroy Butler was the Packers’ top rookie in 1990.

1990tbpaup  1990tlarchambeau

1990tcwilson  Archambeau custom card is colorized.

Red Dunn’s Birthday

Joseph “Red” Dunn was the Packers’ first great quarterback, known for his accurate passing and kicking, field generalship and defensive safety play. Red joined the Packers in 1927 along with former college teammate end Lavvie Dilweg.  Both were born and bred in Milwaukee and both went to Marquette University. At Marquette, Dunn captained squads that went 8-0-1 in 1922 and 8-0 in 1923, outscoring opponents 374 to 15 in that time. Dunn achieved national notoriety in 1923 when he broke his arm on the kickoff in a game against Boston College but played the remainder of the first half. When Marquette scored a tying touchdown in the closing minutes of the game, Dunn came off the bench to kick the winning extra point. He was named a third team All-American that year.

Dunn spent 1924 with the hometown Milwaukee Badgers and then moved on to the Chicago Cardinals for two years before coming to Green Bay.  Each year Red shifted clubs, the record of the team he left would decline, while the record of the team he joined would improve.  The addition of Dunn to the Packers signaled their ascension into the elite teams of the league.

Dunn was the team’s signal caller.  And who can argue with success?  In his five years as a Packer, the team went 47-11-6, a .781 winning percentage.  Moreover, they won an unprecedented three consecutive titles.  For his part according to unofficial counts, Dunn caught 50 passes for 618 yards and a touchdown, rushed 80 times for 290 yards and five touchdowns, and completed 275 of 620 passes for 4,641 yards and 48 touchdowns.  In addition he kicked 2 field goals and 48 extra points.  Even with the fatter ball used at that time he was an expert at the long pass.  On December 9, 1928, he beat the Bears with a 50 yard scoring pass to Dick O’Donnell in the final two minutes of the 6-0 game.

The team’s first title came in 1929. Lambeau had signed three future Hall of Famers in the offseason — linemen Cal Hubbard and Mike Michalske and halfback Johnny Blood.  However, at the postseason celebration of the championship, Lambeau paid special tribute to his quarterback and is quoted in the Larry Names history of the team: “There is one man on the team I wish to accord a particular tribute.  He is a backfield man who has not scored a touchdown this season, but who has few equals in the game. He is Red Dunn.  Red always stepped out of the limelight when a touchdown was needed and called plays for other men.  At times he would shift a halfback to his position and drop into the vacated post and call a signal that resulted in a touchdown with the halfback going over on a play that he would ordinarily complete himself.”

After eight years in the NFL, the 5’11” 175 pound Dunn was banged up, and he retired after the third straight title; true to form, the team’s record declined from 12-2 to 10-3-1 in 1932.  Red Dunn was an unselfish, versatile player who made his teammates better and regularly led his team to victory.  Twice he was named as a second team All-League player.  Considering he was competing against the league’s first great passer Benny Friedman, that’s not bad.  His three league titles are three more than Friedman earned.  The unheralded Red died at age 55 in 1957 and was inducted into the Packer Hall of Fame posthumously in 1976.

(Adapted from Packers By the Numbers).

1929crdunn  sprdunn

Custom cards are colorized.

Red Mack

Born on June 19, William “Red” Mack appeared in just nine regular season games for the Packers, but was part of the Super Bowl I team. Mack played for Notre Dame and was a 10th round pick of the Steelers in 1961. A deep threat with speed, Mack averaged 22.8 yards per catch on his 44 receptions over five years with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia before going to Atlanta in the expansion draft in 1966.

Meanwhile in Green Bay, Bob Long went down to an injury in the second week of the 1966 season. With the team looking for a replacement, ends coach Bob Schnelker remembered his Steeler teammate from 1961 who was waived by Atlanta after one game. Mack replaced Long on the team and then when Bob returned in November, Mack stayed on the roster with tight end Allen Brown going on the injured list.

Mack never caught a pass from Bart Starr, but was a feisty gunner on the kicking teams. The next year, Red returned for training camp, and Jerry Kramer recounted in Instant Replay the memorable duel between the 5’10” 180 pound receiver and 240 pound linebacker Ray Nitschke in the nutcracker drill. Nitschke was reluctant to take part in the mismatch, but Mack reportedly cried, “Get in here, you sonuvabitch, and let’s go.” Ray flattened the undersized Mack with a forearm, but Red woozily got back in line. He was cut in the second week of camp that year.

1966prmack

Custom card in 1966 Topps style.

 

 

Long & Laws

Two Packers who played on three championship teams each, one under Curly Lambeau and one under Vince Lombardi, were born on June 16: Joe Laws and Bob Long. Long was speedy and tall and known more for teaming with All-American Dave Stallworth on the Wichita State basketball team than for his one season on the Shockers gridiron when he was drafted in 1964. Long was a long-distance receiver. The 25 passes he caught for Green Bay from 1964-67 went for an average of 19.5 yards per catch. Traded to Atlanta for nondescript defensive end Leo Carroll in 1968 was a loss for the Packers over the next few years. While Long was not as good as Boyd Dowler or Carroll Dale, he was significantly better than players like John Spilis and Leland Glass who took their places in Green Bay.

Joe Laws was, simply put, a football player. At 5’9” and 185 pounds, he had a chunky build but was an all-around player, first at the University of Iowa and then for 12 years in Green Bay, from 1934-45. Under Lambeau, he lined up at halfback, but also often called signals for the offense. He was noted for his blocking, field generalship, defensive play and returns. In the first half of his pro career, he was consistently third on the team in rushing and receiving. Punt return statistics were not kept at the time, but he was highly valued for his elusiveness in that phase of the game. In 1940, he suffered a serious knee injury and missed eight games – in his other 11 years, he only missed four games.

After 1940, Laws was not as effective running the ball, but continued to be a valuable team member. Ollie Kuechle wrote in the Milwaukee Journal in August 1941 that, “Green Bay’s quarterbacking, for instance, was downright bad at times last year without Joe Laws in the lineup. Against the Bears in the game at Chicago, it left an odor all over the field.” He was also a ball-hawking defensive back, picking off 18 passes officially from 1941-45 and, according to Eric Goska’s research, 20 more before league records were kept from 1934-40. That total of 38 picks ties Joe for the fourth highest total in team history along with Don Hutson, Leroy Butler and Charles Woodson.

While Laws told Bud Lea in 1961 that the first championship in 1936 was his greatest thrill, Joe played a vital role in the final title game of 1944. That day in the 14-7 victory over the Giants, Laws led both teams by rushing for 74 yards on 13 carries, directed the offense and picked off three of Arnie Herber’s passes to help seal the win. In the 1939 title game, Joe caught a 31-yard touchdown pass from Cecil Isbell and intercepted a pass as well. In those latter two games, he also returned four punts for 67 yards.

He retired on January 7, 1946, saying, “I know when I’ve had enough. After 12 years of it, I’m not kidding myself. Maybe I could hang on for another year or so playing in spots, but I’ve got a family of five, and I’ve got to look ahead. The chance to be a district representative around Green Bay for a distillery came along and I took it.”

1965pblong3  1967pblong3

1936jlaws  1938jlaws

1941jlaws  1944jlawsc

Custom cards of Laws are colorized.