Ten Essential Packer Books: #7

launching

Launching the Glory Years: The 1959 Packers: What They Didn’t Tell Us by Len Wagner (Coaches Books, 2001)

This book is a collaboration of the highest order. Phil Bengtson’s son Jay found in his father’s papers player evaluations done on Vince Lombardi’s request by the Packers’ four assistant coaches following the 1959 season. Bengtson enlisted former Green Bay Press-Gazette sports editor to write the historical overview that frames the book, Packer memorabilia collector par excellence Tom Pigeon to provide scores of period photographs and Maribeth Conard to design the very appealing layout.

The work of the collaborators is uniformly excellent, but the main draw, of course, are the coaches’ candid evaluations. The opinions of the four assistants (Phil Bengtson, Norb, Hecker, Bill Austin and Red Cochran) are not individually identified, but the key thing is reading what the coaches thought after coaching these players for one full season.

Some of the views were happily reversed by reality over the next eight years. Ray Nitschke “has physical ability, but cannot think. Will never be able to play for us.” Max McGee is “no team player and bad for the team.” Bart Starr is universally regarded as “a number two quarterback at best.” Wagner makes the point that these coaches brought out the any hidden talent the players had, and the result was a dynasty.

However, most of the assessments are pretty accurate as to who could play and who couldn’t. All in all it makes for very revealing reading for any Packer fan.

1964tbpbengtson  1964tbnhecker

1964tbrcochrane2  1964tbbaustin

Custom cards in the style of 1964 Topps baseball set.

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