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.)
1969 Aldridge custom card is colorized.