Johnny Sample’s Ratings: Wide Receivers

Last week, I posted 1960s’ cornerback Johnny Sample’s ratings of quarterbacks Bart Starr and Zeke Bratkowski from Sample’s 1970 autobiography, Confessions of a Dirty Ballplayer. Here are his assessments of Packer receivers Max McGee, Boyd Dowler and Carroll Dale according to the criteria of speed, ability to run pass patterns, ability to catch the ball, blocking ability and susceptibility to intimidation. The Packer trio does fairly well in the ratings of the brash corner:

receivers

1954bmmcgee2  1960fmmcgee

1959tbdowler2  1960tbdowler

1965pcdale1  1970kcdale

McGee custom cards are colorized.

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Packers Top Rookie: 1926

rookies1926clidberg

Of the 10 rookies employed by the 1926 Packers, half would never play in the NFL again. Guard Walt McGaw had just a one-game pro career; guard Wes Carlson played in just four contests and guard Adolph Bieberstein appeared in only one as a Packer, although he also played for Racine that season. Back Jack MacAuliffe and end Dick Flaherty had more extensive playing time in their one year as Packers. Flaherty was a starter and even scored two touchdowns.

Meanwhile, backs Rex Enright and Pid Purdy, as well as tackle Hector Cyre all had two-year pro careers. Notre Dame’s Enright scored one touchdown as a rookie, while Beloit’s Purdy was the team’s primary kicker with 14 extra points and two field goals. Pid was one of three rookies from Beloit, along with the aforementioned McGaw and MacAuliffe, and the 5’5” 150-pound Purdy also played left field for four years in the major leagues.

The two best rookies were 235-pound Gonzaga tackle Ivan “Tiny” Cahoon and Minnesota fullback Carl “Cully” Lidberg. Cahoon was a four-year starter in Green Bay until a knee injury ended his career in 1929. Lidberg was a rugged fullback who dropped out of the league for two years after scoring 24 points in his rookie year only to return for the 1929 and 1930 championship seasons; Cully Lidberg was the Packers’ top rookie in 1926.

A Two-Bob Birthday

February 23 marks the birthday of two Packer defensive stars: safety Bobby Dillon and defensive tackle Bob Brown.

Despite losing his right eye due to two childhood accidents, Bobby Dillon went on to become an All-American at Texas and be drafted in the third round, the 28th overall pick, by the Packers in 1952. Dillon was 6’1” 180 pounds with good speed and unerring instincts. He was a fine tackler, too.

With Green Bay, Dillon played mostly as a wide-ranging centerfielder-type free safety, but switched off to left safety and even cornerback at times because of his ability to stick to receivers. Even though he followed the ball with only one eye, he remains the Packers’ all-time leading interceptor with 52 in just eight seasons. Dillon was also a shifty runner when he grabbed the ball, averaging 18.8 yards per interception return and scoring five times.

From 1953 to 1958, Dillon recorded at least six interceptions in every season and picked off nine balls three times, in 1953, 1955 and 1957. And that was in the era of the 12-game season. In fact, in 1953, Bobby played in just 10 games. While picking off a team record four passes against the Lions that Thanksgiving, Dillon tore ligaments in his knee and missed the last two games of the year.

Dillon teamed with Val Joe Walker, who incidentally had only eight fingers, for a few years to form one of the best safety tandems in the game and was a leader on the defense. In 1957, defensive coach Tom Hearden suffered a stroke, so Coach Lisle Blackbourn appointed Dillon to help out new defensive coach Jack Morton. In 1958, Bobby acted as player-coach of the defensive secondary under Scooter MacLean.

Although Bobby received All-Pro notice seven times and went to four Pro Bowls, he has never received serious consideration for the Hall of Fame, probably due to the fact that he was usually playing on one of the worst defenses in the league. By the time Lombardi arrived in 1959, Dillon was reaching the end. After a lackluster final season, he retired, with Vince saluting him by saying Bobby’s retirement was, “a difficult blow. He is the best in the league.”

By contrast, Bob Brown took a long, circuitous path in becoming a respected defender in the NFL. Drafted out of Arkansas AM&N in the 13th round of the 1964 draft by San Francisco, Brown tried out for the 49ers in both 1964 and 1965, but was cut both years. In 1964, he played for the semipro Wheeling Ironmen, and in 1965, Bob played for both Toronto in the Canadian League and Wheeling again as well. Personnel man Pat Peppler saw some impressive Wheeling game film of Brown and invited Bob to the Packers 1966 training camp.

Brown was a big man – 6’5” and roughly 280 pounds – who loved to eat, and that probably kept him from reaching his full potential. He often came to camp weighing well over 300 pounds and wouldn’t work himself fully into shape until the season was underway. With size and quickness, he made the defending champions’ roster in 1966 and served as a backup at both defensive end and defensive tackle for his first two seasons. Brown played a vital role in keeping the starters fresh and even recorded a sack in Super Bowl I.

1968 was a lost year for Brown, who broke his arm in training camp and his leg during the season, but in 1969 he became a starter at left defensive tackle, was named the team’s defensive MVP and also led the team in sacks according to Webster and Turney. Bob switched to the right side in 1971 and again was named the team’s top defensive player in 1972. That year, Brown was shot in the neck and had his jaw wired shut prior to training camp, so he reported to Green Bay in fairly good shape. Brown was selected for the Pro Bowl that year as well.

Brown was a powerful interior player. Detroit guard Chuck Walton told reporters in 1973, “He tries to knock your head off 50 times a game. His favorite move is a hard slap at the same time he likes to come in with the other forearm and catch you on the chest from below.” Teammate Jerry Kramer wrote in Distant Replay, “There was nothing cute about the way he played. He was just bull strength coming straight ahead with all he had. He wasn’t going to go around you…He was just going to run the hell over you.”

Brown held out in 1974 and was traded to San Diego for a draft pick. He spent two years with the Chargers and two with the Bengals before being cut by Oakland in 1977. In 1978, Bart Starr offered the 38-year old Brown a tryout, but he failed to report.

(Adapted from Green Bay Gold)

1967pbbrown3  1970tbbrown3

1973tbbrown  1952bbdillon3

1954bbdillon2  1956tbdillon2

Dillon custom cards all colorized.

Johnny Sample’s Ratings: QBs

Johnny Sample was a talented, trash-talking cornerback in the 1950s and 1960s who quickly wore out his welcome on every team for which he played in the pros. Drafted in the seventh round by the Colts in 1958, the industrious Sample played on NFL championship teams in his first two seasons. From his teammate Raymond Berry, Sample learned to keep meticulous notes on his opponents, ranking the receivers and quarterbacks in the league.

After his third season in Baltimore, Sample was traded to the Steelers. However, he did not get along with Pittsburgh Coach Buddy Parker and moved on to the Redskins after two seasons. Following his third year in Washington, the Redskins brought in new Coach Otto Graham, who Sample had despised since playing for Otto in the College All Star Game eight years earlier. Sample was blackballed from the NFL and signed with the AFL’s Jets under Weeb Ewbank, his former coach in Baltimore. Sample helped the Jets win Super Bowl III in his third year in New York and then again found himself on the outs with his team and the league; his 11-year career over.

A year later, Sample wrote his autobiography, Confessions of a Dirty Ballplayer, and it remains a lively read 46 years later. For example, Sample didn’t think too highly of Vince Lombardi either, commenting on the Packer coach:

“Lombardi, for instance, devotes a lot of time to things like making sure his players all wear white shirts and ties on road trips. As if that’s really going to make a difference. Meanwhile, he treats his players like animals and they’re supposed to take it.”

One of the most interesting parts of the book was Sample’s rankings of his contemporaries. He rates quarterbacks, according to five criteria: play selection, throwing the ball, ability to run, ability to throw both hard and soft passes and withstanding intimidation. Packer QBs Zeke Bratkowski and Bart Starr did not rank too highly with Sample:

zeke

bart

It should be pointed out that Sample never faced Starr on the field in either a regular season or preseason game after the 1960 season when he was traded from the Colts, so he never played against Starr at his mature best.

1968twiseheads (Custom card in 1968 Topps style.)

Packers Top Rookie: 1925

rookies1925gvergara

The Packers employed six rookies in 1925, but only two would play pro football beyond that one season. The most famous rookie for Green Bay was Jim Crowley, one of Notre Dame’s famous Four Horsemen backfield for the previous three seasons. Crowley graduated from Green Bay East High School, where he was coached by Curly Lambeau during one season. Upon finishing at Notre Dame, Crowley took an assistant coaching job with the University of Georgia under Kid Woodruff in 1925. Once the Bulldogs finished their season, Sleepy Jim hooked on with his hometown Packers for the last two games of the year against Frankford on Thanksgiving and the Providence Steam Roller a week later. Crowley finished his brief NFL career by playing in one game for Providence that year as well.

Other one-year wonders among the rookies were Crowley’s Fighting Irish teammate George Vergara, an end and one of the Seven Mules that led the way for the Horsemen. Another end, Elmer Wilkins of Indiana, appeared in six games for the Packers. 5’7” “watch charm” guard George Abramson from Minnesota appeared in 10 games and booted two field goals as a Packer.

The two rookies who extended their pro careers were Wisconsin fullback Jack Harris, who spent two years in Green Bay, and Eddie Kotal, the “Lawrence Flash.” Kotal ultimately would have the greatest Packer career, scoring 10 touchdowns in a solid five-year stint and being named second team All-Pro in 1928.

However, the rookie who most likely had the greatest impact in 1925 was Vergara. He moved into the starting lineup at right end on opening day and was there all season, missing just one game after injuring his shoulder against the Bears. Although he returned for the last two games of the season. Vergara was forced to retire due to the injury but would spend more than two decades officiating college and NFL games. He and Crowley were later partners in an insurance agency, and George also served as Mayor of New Rochelle, NY in the 1950s.

Crowley told newsmen when the Packers signed Vergara, “Vergara is just the type that will make a name for himself on the pro gridiron. Although he weighs about 195, he can step off the hundred in less than eleven seconds. George is a wonder receiver of a forward pass. When he was playing end for Notre Dame, he was our ace receiver. I will be very much surprised if Vergara doesn’t turn out to be the greatest end that has ever played with the Packers.” George Vergara was the Packers’ top rookie in 1925.

1925sekotal  1925sjharris

1925sgabramson  1925sewilkins

1925sjcrowley

All custom cards are colorized.

Ahman Green

February 16 is the 40th birthday for former Packer Pro Bowl runner Ahman Green. Ron Wolf struck a deal with former Coach Mike Holgren to swap cornerback Fred Vinson to Seattle for Green in 2000. Vinson never played a game for the Seahawks due to injuries, but Green became an immediate star in Green Bay.

Green ran for over 1,000 yards his first five seasons as a Packer, before rupturing his thigh in 2005. He then returned in 2006 to run for 1,000 yards one last time. Ahman left for Houston as a free agent in 2007, but returned to finish his career as a Packer in 2009. 2003 was his greatest season, rushing for 1,883 yards and 15 touchdowns in addition to catching 50 passes for 367 yards and five more scores…2,250 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns altogether, the greatest year ever for a Packer runner. Green also joined Bo Jackson as the only two players to have more than one 90-yard run in his career. Green had a 98-yarder in 2003 and a 90-yarder in 2004. (Chris Johnson has since joined the club, too.)

When Green returned in 2009, he was able to break Jim Taylor’s team mark for career rushing yards that had stood for 40 years. In fact, it’s remarkable how similar the Green Bay rushing totals of the two backs are: Green carried the ball 1,851 times for 8,332 yards and 54 touchdowns; Taylor carried 1,811 times for 8,207 yards and 81 touchdowns; both averaged 4.5 yards per carry. Taylor has a big edge in rushing touchdowns, and then there is Green’s fumbling problem, supposedly due to his always carrying the ball in his left arm. The really surprising thing in the comparison is that while Green fumbled 34 times on 2,201 touches, Taylor fumbled a slightly worse 33 times on 1,998 touches.

The two were very different backs, though. Taylor was the more punishing runner, but the 6-foot 215-pound Green was very strong with thick thighs and was faster than Taylor. Green ran more upright and was a better pass receiver, too. Green had great speed and made slashing cuts, but he also made yards after contact by lowering his shoulder and pumping his legs. Guard Mike Wahle commented in 2003, “He comes to work every day and busts his butt, and you give him a seam and he’s out the gate.” William Henderson spoke of Green’s leadership qualities, “Ahman Green is a man and a champion because he has humbly taken any accolade and distributed it to every man on this team.” Green was not the dominant player in his time that Taylor was in his, but he was a great runner.

(Adapted from Green Bay Gold.)

53managreen

Custom Card in 1962 Topps style.

A-List Birthdays

Valentine’s Day marks the birthday of two Packer defensive stars: John Anderson and Lionel Aldridge.

Waukesha, Wisconsin native John Anderson can be said to be both overrated and underrated as a player. His selection to the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 1980s is a bit of a fluke in that the selectors voted on the best players at each position and since both he and Carl Banks each got one vote, they tied for the final spot on the second team. Still, he was a fine player who was not celebrated much even during his playing career. Joel Buschbaum of Pro Football Weekly said in 1983 that scouts considered the 6’3” 225-pound Anderson the best strongside linebacker in football in 1982.

In playing strongside linebacker in the 3-4, Anderson’s main responsibilities were to deal with the tight end, drop into pass coverage, and shut off the outside running lanes. Anderson did that quietly without much fanfare for a dozen seasons in Green Bay. Along the way he set the mark for most career tackles in Green Bay, intercepted 25 passes and recorded 24 sacks (according to the research of Webster and Turney). An all-around player, he stayed on the field for all three downs. Oh, and he kicked a 39-yard field goal in 1979.

Defensive coach John Meyer told the Milwaukee Journal in 1980, “He studies and works hard and has great instincts out there. He’s got tremendous talent and uses it well.” Linebacker coach Dale Lindsey told the same paper in 1987, “I doubt that anybody plays on the tight end as well as John.” There is not much to say negatively about Anderson. He had size, speed and strength, made few mental errors and showed up ready to play game after game. In retirement, this modest decent man spent six years as a local broadcaster and then became a middle school science teacher. Happy 61st, John.

 

The late Lionel Aldridge did not have such a stable post-football career. Sadly, he is remembered largely for his depressing descent into paranoid schizophrenia in his post-playing career and the long, slow climb back to stability. But let’s not forget what an outstanding defensive end he was. Aldridge twice led the team in sacks and accumulated at least 58 in his Green Bay years according to Webster and Turney.

Aldridge’s biggest distinction was that he was the only rookie to earn a starting job for the entire season during the Lombardi years. (The two other precocious freshmen starters, Boyd Dowler and Ken Bowman, were not starters from opening day in their rookie years.) In 1963, Vince drafted Aldridge as a guard out of Utah State in the fourth round. Starting defensive end Bill Quinlan had been traded in the offseason, and the Packers were planning to move Henry Jordan to right defensive end before Lionel slid into the slot. Not only did Aldridge turn out to be superior to Quinlan in time, but he also allowed the team to keep Jordan in the middle where he was truly a special talent.

Although Lionel was 6’3” like Willie Davis, he was 15 pounds heavier at 255 pounds. Maybe a little stronger than Willie, Aldridge was not quite as fast or quick, but was an excellent pass rusher who held up fairly well against the run. In the odd parlance of today, he was a three-down player. He showed remarkable toughness in 1967 when he broke a bone in his leg in the preseason and returned to the lineup by the third week of the regular season. His sack total took a big dip that year, probably due to him lacking full explosion from the healing leg, but he started for the rest of the season.

Lionel was a quiet man but possessed a sonorous voice that he used to his advantage as a sportscaster while still playing in Green Bay. In fact, he got to announce on local WTMJ that he had been traded to San Diego in 1972. After two years in San Diego, Aldridge retired and seemed to be on a fast track as a national football announcer before madness overtook him. When he died in 1998, he weighed more than 400 pounds

(Adapted from Green Bay Gold.)

1979tjanderson  1983tjanderson

1968tlaldridge3  1969tlaldridge5

1970tlaldridge2  1971laldridge

1969 Aldridge custom card is colorized.