Packers Top Rookie: 2008

rookies2008jnelson

I seem to recall some shuffle at the quarterback position in 2008, ending with the incumbent reluctantly moving on. I believe it may have been contentious. In response to the originally announced retirement, Ted Thompson drafted two quarterbacks in the 2008 draft as insurance.

Thompson traded down out of the first round by sending the 30th overall pick to the Jets for the fourth pick in the second round an additional fourth rounder. The Packers top pick then was Kansas State receiver Jordy Nelson. Also coming in round two were Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm and Auburn corner Patrick Lee. Texas tight end Jermichael Finley came in round three, Wake Forest defensive end Jeremy Thompson and Central Florida guard Josh Sitton in round four, Louisville tackle Breno Giacomini in round five and LSU quarterback Matt Flynn in round seven.

Nelson, Finley and Sitton were the gems in this draft, although Flynn proved to be a fine backup, unlike the higher drafted Brohm who never appeared in a game for the Packers.

Five undrafted rookies also joined the team in 2008: cornerback Joe Porter, linebackers Spencer Havner and Danny Lansanah, runner Kregg Lumpkin and long snapper Brett Goode. Goode is still with the team nine years later, but the rest were simply transients.

Of the three draft stars, Finley was very young and contributed little in his first year. However, both future All-Pros Sitton and Nelson started to move into the lineup as rookies. Sitton was slowed for a time by a preseason knee injury, but Nelson caught 33 passes and scored twice; Jordy Nelson was the Packers’ top rookie in 2008.

2010jsitton  2010jfinley

2010mflynn  2010bgoode

Custom cards in the 1961 Fleer style.

14 Plays and Three and a Half Minutes…

The day after the Packers October 27, 1935 comeback 17-14 win over the Bears in Wrigley Field, Chicago Tribune sportswriter George Strickland began his game account:

Fourteen plays and three half minutes from the end of yesterday’s game at Wrigley Field the Chicago Bears were a swaggering smug aggregation out in front 14 to 3 and seemingly unstoppable on their march to another National Professional Football league championship. Fourteen plays and three and a half minutes later they left the field beaten 17 to 14 by a Green Bay team that staged one of the most sensational finishes in the history of football.

One paragraph later, Strickland continued:

Then out of the dusk came a long pass. Arnie Herber to Don Hutson and down the west side line went Hutson, Bears lurching futilely in his wake. First Sisk and then Joe Zeller hurled themselves at the twisting, side stepping All-American end. Bernie Masterson gave chase and a lunge, and finally Ed Kawal slapped the fleeting Hutson on the heels just before he crossed the north goal, completing a 69 yard gain. Schwammel kicked the extra point and the score was, Bears 14: Green Bay 10. Green Bay had put itself back into the ball game in four plays after Sisk apparently had definitely put it out.

A kickoff over the goal line, a fumble by Masterson on the first play, and Green Bay again had the ball, this time on the Bears’ 13 yard line. Four more plays and then Herber again passed to Hutson, this time a short flat toss which gained three yards for a touchdown. Ernie Smith place kicked the extra point, and the Packers led 17-14.

Strickland followed up on Tuesday with an analytical piece on the game that included this explanation:

The success of the Herber-Hutson duo in Sunday’s game may be attributed to the fact that Jack Manders, the Bears big full back was not in the game. He had been replaced by Gene Ronzani. Manders, much faster than Ronzani, had kept the fleet Hutson well covered most of the day. Ronzani, the hardest charging back on the Bear squad, was no match for the former Alabama All-American in a race to the open.

In two victories over the Bears in 1935, the rookie Hutson scored all three Packer touchdowns via passes from Arnie Herber and introduced himself to the NFL as its most dangerous player.

2waydhutsonc  1968tairpair

53mandhutson  1948ldhutson

All but the 53-Man custom cards are my colorizations.

Favre Bio Out Today

The new 448-page Jeff Pearlman biography of Number 4, Gunslinger: The Remarkable, Improbably, Iconic Life of Brett Favre, comes out today. In my working life, I am a reference librarian and review sports books for Library Journal. Each August, I do a roundup of upcoming football books and so read a reviewer’s copy of the book in June. Here is what I wrote for LJ:

Jeff Pearlman is known for writing the full story, warts and all. He did so with Walter Payton (Sweetness, 2012) and the 1990s Dallas Cowboys (Boys Will Be Boys, 2009). Here, he takes on perhaps the most celebrated football player of the last 25 years, Brett Favre. The record-setting quarterback was tough as nails on the field, but his giant talent was hampered by a tendency to make bad decisions and costly mistakes at key moments. Likewise, Pearlman, who interviewed over 500 sources for this biography, demonstrates how Favre regularly undermined himself and his family with problems of addiction and serial infidelity. All of which was kept out of the press until his final years when he was implicated in an embarrassing sexting scandal with a Jets employee. Still, the author presents Favre as a congenial, larger-than-life character, a “gunslinger,” who was fun to watch play and hard to root against.

VERDICT: Pearlman is a good match for his subject and this book is compelling to read.

The interesting thing to Pearlman was that even though Favre declined to participate, he put up no barriers to the author in his interviews with Favre’s family and closest friends. With the picture that emerges of Brett and his father and their robust drinking and womanizing, that openness is surprising. There is also a new biography of Snake Stabler coming out in November, and there are clear similarities in how these two southern quarterbacks lived their lives on and off the field…to destructive excess but with undeniable charm.

1996bfavre  1996leaders

53manbfavre  mayofavre

Some custom Favre cards.

Someone Should Write a Book About That: The 1965 Season

Several books have been devoted to single seasons of the Lombardi Era in Packer history, but one championship season has been strangely neglected.

The 1967 Season was first documented by Jerry Kramer and Dick Schaap in Instant Replay. Two books entitled The Ice Bowl, a fine one by Ed Gruver and a slipshod one by Mike Shropshire, delved into the entire 1967 campaign. The 1966 team was surveyed on its 20th anniversary, again by Kramer and Schaap, in Distant Replay, and for this year’s 50th anniversary of that first Super Bowl team, the Pro Football Researchers’ Association put together The 1966 Green Bay Packers: Profiles of Vince Lombardi’s Super Bowl I Champions.

The 1962 team was first examined by Coach Lombardi himself in Run to Daylight (1963). In 2011 Bob Berghaus followed up with The First America’s Team: The 1962 Green Bay Packers. 1961 is somewhat served by the 1963 second edition of Chuck Johnson’s Green Bay Packers: Pro Football’s Pioneer Team that included a supplement on the 1961 and 1962 seasons. Even 1959 was celebrated in fine fashion by John Eisenberg in 2009 with That First Season: How Vince Lombardi took the Worst Team in the NFL and Set It on the Path to Glory.

Still no love for 1965, though. After two years in second place, the Packers were being written off as aging that year just as they were about to embark on the magnificent three-year run of world titles that defined the team and cemented Lombardi’s legacy as the most iconic and successful of all NFL coaches. Jim Taylor, Paul Hornung, Max McGee, Fuzzy Thurston were all winding down and in the process of being replaced; Dave Robinson, Lee Roy Caffey, Lionel Aldridge and Bob Jeter were coming on; and Bart Starr was taking full command. The season concluded with two memorable playoff games against the Colts in the fog and the Browns in the mud and restored the Packers to the top of the league.

Someone should write a book about that.

1965tsjtaylor2  1965tsphornung

1965pmmcgee  1965pfthurston2

1965pdrobinson2  1965plrcaffey

1965plaldridge3  1965pbjeter

1965tsbstarr  1965pvlombardi2

Custom cards in 1965 Philadelphia and Topps styles.

UPDATE: Oops, an alert reader noted that I mistakenly posted 1964 Topps versions of Taylor, Hornung and Starr. I have corrected that, but note that I use a “short boy” version of the 1965 Topps “tall boys.” I never liked the outsized 65s.

Packers Top Rookie: 2007

rookies2007rgrant

After employing 24 and 21 first-year players during the rebuilding years of 2005 and 2006, the contending Packers used a more normal total of 13 rookies in 2007. Nine of the 13 came from the draft, although two very significant contributors came via other means.

With the 16th overall pick, Ted Thompson reached for Tennessee defensive lineman Justin Harrell who never panned out, but there was value in this draft. Green Bay drafted Nebraska runner Brandon Jackson in round two, San Jose receiver James Jones and Virginia Tech safety Aaron Rouse in round three, Missouri Southern guard Allen Barbre in round four, Boise State fullback Korey Hall, Cal linebacker Desmond Bishop and Colorado kicker Mason Crosby in round six and Florida runner DeShawn Wynn in round seven.

Jackson, Hall and Bishop all provided good depth for the team for at least four years. Jones was effective for years as a third receiver, and Crosby is now the all-time leading scorer for the franchise. Barbre has bounced around the league, but finally became a starter with the Eagles in 2015 at age 31.

The four other rookies in 2007 were Ryan Grant, obtained for a sixth round pick in a trade with the Giants and three free agents: defensive tackle Daniel Muir, defensive tackle Conrad Bolston from the Vikings and cornerback Tramon Williams from the Texans.

Williams developed into a very good rangy cornerback who became a starter in 2008 and picked off 28 passes in his eight seasons in Green Bay. Grant became a starter in the middle of 2007 and gained over 100 yards five times in the second half of the year. He would gain over 1,000 yards in both 2008 and 2009 before a knee injury ruined his career on opening day in 2010; unheralded September pickup Ryan Grant was the Packers’ top rookie in 2007.

2010bjackson  2010dbishop

2010mcrosby  2010trwilliams

Custom cards in 1961 Fleer style.

A Well-Populated Birthday

Three renowned Packers share October 18 as their birthdays: Forrest Gregg in 1933, Boyd Dowler in 1937 and Jim Carter in 1948.

Here’s what Vince Lombardi said of Forrest Gregg in Run to Daylight: “Gregg is big enough and he’s strong enough and he handles the best defensive ends in the league. He’s a downfield blocker, too. His speed isn’t great, but he’s very quick off the ball and he has that mental sharpness to adjust to sudden situations. He has the knack of getting in front of the runner and with his excellent sense of timing, of making the important block. When you combine all this in an offensive tackle with his ability and willingness to play guard, you’ve got yourself quite a man.”

In, short, he was the textbook offensive tackle for his time. In addition, he and Jim Parker of the Colts were the only tackles of their era so quick and skilled that they also made All-Pro at guard when shifted inside. Gregg was drafted out of SMU in the second round of the 1956 draft by Green Bay and moved into the starting lineup as a rookie. From the second game of his rookie year through the end of the 1970 season, Gregg appeared in 187 consecutive games for the Packers — aside from spending the 1957 season in the military. The 6’4” 250 pounder was also the most versatile lineman on the team, playing right and left tackle as well as both guard positions, but he spent most of his time at right tackle.

Forrest received All-Pro recognition in each of the nine seasons that Vince Lombardi coached the team, and, with Boyd Dowler, is one of just two players to play in every game Lombardi coached in Green Bay.

Dowler was a track man who won the Wyoming 120-yard hurdles title and finished second in the broad jump while in high school. He also was timed at 9.9 in the 100-yard dash.  The son of a high school football coach, Dowler played quarterback in a single wing offense at Colorado and actually led the Buffs in receiving. Drafted in the third round by Green Bay in 1959, Dowler reported with the quarterbacks to Vince Lombardi’s first camp but was quickly converted to flanker.

The 6’5” 220-pound Dowler was tough and durable. Dowler’s great size made him an effective enough blocker to fill in at tight end at times, and he was unafraid going over the middle, once telling Bud Lea, “Sure you get racked up. But it doesn’t hurt as much if you catch the ball instead of drop it.” He was also surprisingly fast with his long strides. On an earlier occasion, he told Lea, “If I’m free when I catch the ball, I feel I can outrun any defender.”

In Run to Daylight, Lombardi praised Boyd’s toughness, discipline and studiousness and added, “He is serious, intense and highly intelligent, and he is not one of those receivers who overrates himself and thinks he can get open on every play.” Dowler was no diva, but he was tall, savvy, steady, sure-handed and fast. He was selected for the 1960s NFL All-Decade team over Hall of Famers Bobby Mitchell, Tommy McDonald and Bob Hayes.

Jim Carter was a fullback at Minnesota when he was drafted in the third round in 1970. After briefly trying him at tight end, Green Bay converted the 6’3” 235-pound Carter to linebacker as a rookie. When Dave Robinson suffered a season-ending injury in the first month of the season, Carter moved into the starting lineup at strong side linebacker. Robinson returned in 1971, and new coach Dan Devine shifted the productive Carter to the middle, as noted above, to replace the legendary Ray Nitschke.

Compounding the fans displeasure with Nitschke’s benching was Carter’s belligerent attitude. In 1987, Carter looked back and admitted, “I was always popping off that I could do his job, that I was just as good as Ray. That was whiskey talk.” What was lost at the time was that Carter was a very solid linebacker, especially stout against the run. He told the Milwaukee Journal in 1975, “In the middle, they’re coming from both sides. You’re kind of the center of it all. Plus, you have the added responsibility of calling defensive signals and audibles.” Carter rarely blitzed and could not compare to Nitschke in pass coverage.

The other problem with Carter’s career was injuries. He was healthy for his first four seasons and was named to the Pro Bowl in 1973. After that, each year he dealt with injuries. Jim had knee problems in 1974, a broken leg and a knee injury in 1975, and missed 1976 entirely due to a broken arm. He returned for one last good season in 1977, but the 30-year old was beaten out by rookie Mike Hunt in 1978.

(Adapted from Green Bay Gold.)

1958tfgregg  1962p0fgregg

1962fbdowler3  1967pbdowler2

1971tjcarter  1972tjcarter

Custom cards in a variety of years and styles; the 1958 Gregg is colorized.

An Unlikely Monday Night Football Comeback

On October 16, 1972, the resurgent Packers improved their record to 4-1 on Monday Night Football. Although Green Bay was coming off consecutive three-point victories over the Cowboys and Bears in which rookie kicker Chester kicked game-winning field goals in each, this comeback over the Lions was unique.

Green Bay fell behind the Detroit by a 20-7 score in the third quarter, but a Marcol field goal and an 80-yard punt return touchdown by Ken Ellis brought the Packers within three points. The Lions responded with another field goal to bring the score to 23-20 when the Green Bay offense took the field with 9:35 left in the game. From his own 16, Scott Hunter led the team on a methodical 84-yard game-winning touchdown drive that consumed 7:28 and concluded with a 15-yard strike to rookie starting wide receiver Leland Glass. The defense made that one-point margin stand up for the remaining two minutes of the game.

That drive was the only time in Scott Hunter’s Green Bay career that he led the team on a fourth quarter game-winning drive to overcame a deficit. The ground-driven Packers would rank 22nd in a 26-team league in passing yards for the 1972 season. Hunter led the team with six touchdown passes; the only other Green Bay touchdown pass in 1972 was by punter Ron Widby on a fake that resulted in the longest pass play of the season – 68 yards to Dave Davis against the Oilers. Widby actually led the team in passing yards that week against the 1-8 Oilers.

Running back MacArthur Lane led the team with 26 receptions and his backfield mate John Brockington was second with 19. Starting receivers Carroll Dale and Glass had 16 and 15 receptions respectively, although all of the team’s wideouts averaged at least 15.4 yards per catch.

Despite missing the last 12 games of the season, tight end Rich McGeorge led the 1972 Packers with two touchdown catches; there was a five-way tie for second with one touchdown reception each by Brockington, Dale, Glass, Davis and Jon Staggers. McGeorge also caught as many passes in two games, 4, as his successor, Len Garrett, did in the remaining 12 games.

The 1972 Packers won the division title on the strength of its seventh ranked rushing offense, its defense that finished second in both passing and rushing yards, a +22 turnover ratio and excellent special teams. But this Monday Night was a memorable shining moment for Scott Hunter and Leland Glass. After all, it was Leland’s only touchdown of his NFL career.

1972tshunter2  1972tlglass

1972trwidby  1972tddavis

1973tshunter  1973tlglass2

Glass and Davis custom cards are colorized.