Trafton’s Touch

A Detroit News piece by the above title published November 21, 1945 recalls a colorful Bears Hall of Fame center, George Trafton. Trafton was famous in Green Bay for his tough guy duels with Packer center Jug Earp in the 1920s, but also made a name for himself for the occasional celebrity boxing match. He famously defeated Chicago White Sox first baseman Art Shires in one bout in December 1929, but was knocked out in just 54 seconds by future heavyweight champion Primo Carnera three months later in Kansas City.

Trafton retired from football in 1932 to run a Chicago gym and manage some boxers. A dozen years later, he ran into Packers’ coach Curly Lambeau and told him his linemen lacked toughness. Curly hired Trafton to replace Red Smith as the team’s line coach on June 11, 1944, and Trafton reported to training camp on August 20th when the Packers started drills.

With all the same linemen except for Mike Buchianeri replacing Chet Adams, Trafton elicited improvement. Under Smith in 1943, the Packers gained 3.6 yards per rush, fourth in the league, and allowed 3.2 yards per rush, also fourth. Under Trafton in 1944, they improved to 3.8 yards per rush, second in the NFL, and remained at 3.2 allowed, still fourth.

The Packers won the title in 1944, but two months later, Trafton was released. Apparently, he and Curly had their differences. Walt Kiesling was brought in to coach the line in 1945, and the yards per rush offensively and defensively evened out to 3.5, with the team rankings dropping to fifth on offense and sixth on defense.

Green Bay dropped to second in the conference that year to the Rams, led by rookie quarterback Bob Waterfield, who was protected by a line coached by George Trafton. That Rams line improved from sixth in rush average to first on offense and from ninth to third on defense. George remained the Rams line coach for five years, spent one year in the Los Angeles front office and then became the head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers with former Packer quarterback Jack Jacobs calling signals. Trafton’s record as head coach for three seasons was 28-17-1, with Winnipeg reaching the Grey Cup finals in 1953. At that point, he retired from coaching and returned to Los Angeles to work in real estate.

1944TEAMcard  1944clambeauc

Custom cards are colorized.


1961 Lake to Lake

The Wisconsin Lake to Lake Dairy added a special bonus to their milk in 1961, a Packer football card stapled to each carton. With 36 green-tinged cards, the Lake to Lake set represented just the second attempt by a local business to produce a complete team set for a football team. Bell Brand Potato Chips produced team sets for the Los Angeles Rams in 1959 and 1960, but before that, the only complete team sets were of glossy photos produced by the Rams, 49ers and Giants in the 1950s.

What I find interesting about the Lake set is who is included and who is missing. Three members of the 1960 team are included although they did not play for the team in 1960: Jim Temp who retired due to injury, Andy Cvercko who was traded and Larry Hickman who ended up in Canada. Three new players are included: backup quarterback John Roach acquired via trade, first round draft choice Herb Adderley and 14th round pick Nelson Toburen. What’s surprising to me is the inclusion of Toburen at the expense of second round pick Ron Kostelnik.

The Lake set provided the first cards of Hall of Famers Herb Adderley, Willie Davis, Ray Nitschke and Willie Wood, as well as Fuzzy Thurston, Bob Skoronski and Jesse Whittenton. For Hank Gremminger, Norm Masters and John Symank, the Lake card would be their only one. Members of the 1961 championship Packers who were excluded from the set were Ron Kostelnik, Elijah Pitts, Lee Folkins, Ben Davidson, Ben Agajanian and Coach Lombardi.

I have rectified the missing Packers from the Lake set with the custom cards below:

37agajanian  38lfolkins2

39pitts  40kostelnik

41bdavidson3  42vlombardi

1961ljfrancis2  1961llmchan


Dick Himes

May 25 birthday boy Dick Himes, from Canton, Ohio, had the unenviable task of following Hall of Fame tackle Forrest Gregg at right tackle for the Packers, but rose to the challenge and forged a solid career in Green Bay. Drafted in the third round out of Ohio State in 1968, Himes excelled on special teams as a rookie. The 6’4” 245 pounder was slated to start at right tackle in 1969, but right before the season began, Gregg, who was serving as the team’s line coach, unretired and returned to the starting lineup.

Gregg returned for one last season in Green Bay in 1970, but Himes took over as starter during that season and stayed there for eight years. The highlight of his career was 1972, one of only two winning seasons he experienced as a Packer. Playing next to Gale Gillingham on one of the league’s best run blocking outfits, Himes was nominated by the National 1,000 Yard Foundation that year for its 1972 Outstanding Blocker award. Himes’ fellow nominees included future Hall of Famers Bob Brown and Larry Little as well as All-Pro stalwarts George Kunz, Len Hauss and Bruce Van Dyke. Ultimately, Larry Little of the undefeated Dolphins won the award, but it was an honor for the unheralded Himes to be nominated.

Knee problems plagued Himes the next two seasons. He told the Milwaukee Journal, “The last two years, it was like playing with an ice pick in my knee. Anytime I made a sudden move, I had a sharp pain.” In addition, he was not happy with the general deterioration of the team under Dan Devine in those years. After undergoing knee surgery, Himes returned at full strength for new Coach Bart Starr in 1975, but without Gillingham, his long-term All-Pro running mate on the right side. Probably better at run blocking, Himes was good at pass protection, too. He retired in 1978 and was replaced by Greg Koch, continuing that nice run at right tackle from 1956-85.

(Adapted from Green Bay Gold)

1968tdhimes  1969tdhimes

1970tdhimes  1972tdhimes2

1973tdhimes2  1977tdhimes2

1968 and 1969 custom cards are colorized.

Packers Top Rookie: 1939


After losing to the Giants in the 1938 Championship game, Curly Lambeau brought in a huge crop of 14 rookies in 1939. Nine came via the NFL draft: Minnesota back Larry Buhler in round one, Nebraska center Charley Brock in round three, South Carolina end Larry Craig in round six, Minnesota guard Frank Twedell in round seven, Notre Dame tackle Paul Kell in round eight, Arizona center Tom Greenfield in round 15, Iowa fullback Frank Balazs in round 18, Michigan guard John Brennan in round 19 and Minnesota tackle Charlie Schultz in round 20.

Twedell and Brennan were gone in less than a year, Kell lasted two seasons and Buhler, Balazs, Greenfield and Schultz all stuck for three years, but none made a strong impact. The top-ranked Buhler would ultimately prove to be a disappointment whose career ended after an auto accident in 1941. Brock and Craig turned out to be the jewels of the draft.

Five undrafted free agents made the team, too: Rice end Frank Steen, Texas A&M end Allen Moore, Minnesota tackle Warren Kilbourne, Lake Forest guard John Biolo and Fordham end Harry Jacunski. The first four appeared in between one and five games for their careers, although Biolo later had a successful coaching tenure at Green Bay West High School where he worked as a principal. Jacunski had a six-year Packer career and is a member of the Packer Hall of Fame. As a rookie he caught five passes for two touchdowns.

Brock and Craig are also members of the Packer Hall of Fame. Both made an immediate impact in their first seasons. Brock would play outstanding center and linebacker for Green Bay from 1939-47, drawing All-Pro notice four times. Craig appeared in 121 games for the Packers from 1939-49, playing blocking back on offense and defensive end on defense, and twice drew All-Pro notice. Craig’s versatility allowed slightly-built Don Hutson to move from end to safety on defense and strengthened the whole team in the championship season; Larry Craig was the Packers’ top rookie in 1939.

1939lcraigc  1939cbrockc

1939hjacunskic  1939lbuhlerdraft

1939jbioloc  1939tgreenfieldc

All custom cards are colorized.

Birthday Pairing

May 21 is another shared birthday for the Packers with defensive end Robert Brown who played from 1982-92 and runner Dorsey Levens who played from 1994-2001. Brown was an intense competitor on the field who played in more games than any other Packer defensive lineman in history. He was drafted out of Virginia Tech in the fourth round of the 1982 NFL draft as a 6’2” 240-pound outside linebacker. In 1983, he bulked up to 270-pounds and was moved to defensive end to replace Mike Butler in the Packers’ 3-4 defense.

Brown was not a strong pass rusher, accumulating just 25.5 sacks in his career, but that was also a function of his position in the 3-4. Explaining his responsibilities on the team’s website, Brown noted, “The defensive end did a lot of the dirty work. We were taking on a lot of double teams and giving up our bodies, so we weren’t going to see a lot of sacks.” Generally, he played on the right side and often came out in passing situations when the team would shift to a four-man front. Despite his small size, he even played some nose tackle in 1992, his final year, because of his ability to hold the point and plug holes. Defensive coach Dick Modzelewski told the Milwaukee Journal in 1987 that Brown was a “steady performer” who “comes to practice every day, works on his techniques and plays hard all the time.” Brown should be remembered fondly for his efforts on some lackluster Packer teams.

Levens transferred out of Notre Dame to Georgia Tech where he finally got a chance as a senior in 1993 and was named All-ACC. Drafted in the fifth round by Green Bay in 1994, Levens played on special teams as a rookie before winning the starting fullback position in 1995. He caught 48 passes that season, but fullbacks rarely carry the ball in Coach Mike Holmgren’s offense.

In 1996, William Henderson took over at fullback, and Levens was used as a change-of-pace back to supplement starter Edgar Bennett during the championship season. Levens showed his full potential in the NFC championship game when he amassed over 200 yards in offense highlighted by three key plays: a 35-yard run on third and one, followed immediately by a leaping 29-yard touchdown catch over the defender and then later a 66-yard gain on a screen pass that led to another touchdown.

Levens had good speed for a big man and was a hard runner who bounced off of tacklers. He had outstanding hands and used his blocks very well. When healthy, he could carry the load for the team, but his time in the spotlight was short.

When Bennett ruptured his Achilles the next preseason, Levens stepped in and had one of the three greatest years a Packer runner has ever had, rushing for 1,435 yards and catching 53 passes for 370 more yards – 1,805 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns. A lengthy contract holdout followed by a leg fracture and ankle sprain caused Levens to miss most of 1998, and, in truth, he was never the same player again; he had lost a step. In 1999, he gained over 1,000 yards again, but averaged just 3.7 yards per carry; he did catch 71 passes that year, though. He was supplanted as the starting running back by Ahman Green in 2000 and left as a free agent in 2002.

(Adapted from Green Bay Gold)

1984trbrown  1996dlevens

Brown custom card is colorized.

Packers Top Rookie: 1938


After a couple of thin rookie classes, Curly Lambeau hit the jackpot in 1938. Five of the 10 Green Bay rookies that year are members of the Packers Hall of Fame. From the draft came Purdue tailback Cecil Isbell in round one, Minnesota halfback Andy Uram in round four, Nebraska back John Howell in round seven and Georgia guard Pete Tinsley in round nine. Howell’s career consisted of just six games in 1938, but the other three each spent at least five years with the club and are in the team’s Hall.

Among undrafted free agents, Catholic University tackle Leo Katalinas had an eight-game career, Marquette center Roy Schoemann a mere three games and Creighton end Fred Borak just a single game. Willamette halfback Dick Weisgerber, a New Jersey native, stuck with the team for four seasons and then settled in Wisconsin for the rest of his life.

The two key free agents were Utah State Carl “Moose” Mulleneaux and Vanderbilt tackle Buford “Baby” Ray. Mulleneaux spent six seasons with the Packers, interrupted by his war service, while Ray played 11 years. Both were inducted to the team Hall of Fame.

Linemen Tinsley and Ray offered quite a physical contrast. The 5’8” 205-pound Tinsley appeared in nine games as a rookie and received All-Pro notice in 1941, while the 6’6” 250-pound Ray played 11 games in 1938 and four times drew All-Pro notice. Mulleneaux caught just four passes as a rookie, but for 97 yards and two touchdowns; Uram gained 145 yards rushing and also scored twice.

Isbell was a star from the start, throwing for eight touchdowns (including two to Arnie Herber) and leading the team with 445 yards rushing with two touchdowns as a freshman; Cecil Isbell was the Packers’ top rookie in 1938.

1938cisbelldraft  1938cisbell2

1938bray  1938ptinsley3

1938cmulleneaux2  1938auram

All custom cards are colorized.

The Golden Palomino

May 16 marks Donny Anderson’s 74th birthday. Few players have come into the league with more fanfare than Donny Anderson, one of the “Gold Dust Twins” with fellow first round pick Jim Grabowski, in 1966. In the last year of separate NFL and AFL drafts, the two “twins” signed three-year rookie contracts that were valued at $1-million combined, and they were seen as the soon-to-be-heirs of Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor in the Green Bay backfield. Anderson, the “Golden Palomino” out of Texas Tech was slated to replace Packer “Golden Boy” Hornung, and Donny’s $600,000 contract emphasized his predicament. No one was going to replace the celebrated Hornung, and Anderson’s huge contract just made the differences between the two blonde playboys more obvious.

What was missed and caused Anderson to be an underrated Packer is that, like Hornung, Anderson was an outstanding all-around football player. Neither he nor Hornung ever came close to a 1,000-yard season, but Donny did gain over 750 yards on three occasions, while Paul never did. Anderson also was a decent blocker, but Hornung was a fearsome one. Both were excellent receivers whose average yards-per-catch was in double figures. In fact, the Packers often considered shifting Anderson to receiver. Both halfbacks added to their team value with their feet, but Hornung’s placekicking put points on the scoreboard, while Anderson’s booming, high hang-time punts were less noticeable to a game’s outcome. The point is that, even though Anderson did not quite have Hornung’s Hall of Fame career, he was a damn fine winning ballplayer.

The 6’2” 215 pound Anderson played little as a rookie except as a return man, but saw more action from the middle of 1967 on after Elijah Pitts got hurt. Anderson, of course, was outstanding in the final drive in the Ice Bowl, catching three passes and running four times in that historic drive. Furthermore, anyone looking at the film will conclude that Donny actually scored the winning touchdown on a second down run from the three with about a minute to play, but the referee inexplicably marked the ball at the one, despite taking the ball from Anderson as he lay in the end zone. Not quite as dramatic as Starr’s sneak with 16 seconds to play, but a heroic moment nonetheless. Lombardi famously told him after the game, “Today, you became a man.” He followed that by scoring a touchdown in the Super Bowl II victory over Oakland.

Anderson was named to the Pro Bowl for the 1968 season when he led the team with 761 yards rushing and caught 25 passes for 333 more yards. Coach Phil Bengtson tried to get more playing time for halfbacks Travis Williams and Dave Hampton in 1969, and Anderson’s numbers dwindled, but he again led the team in rushing in 1970 with 853 yards. Under new coach Dan Devine in 1971, Anderson teamed with rookie John Brockington for close to 2,000 rushing yards, but was traded to St. Louis for MacArthur Lane in the offseason. Lane was similar in size and style to Brockington, and the pair led a pounding two-fullback attack in 1972, but Lane tailed off appreciably after that.

Anderson played three years in St. Louis and then went to training camp with the Dolphins in 1975, but retired when he realized he no longer had the speed to get outside. Donny deserves his due as a very good football player on championship teams.

(Adapted from Green Bay Gold)

1966pdandersoncas  1966pdanderson

1967pdanderson2  1968tdanderson

College All-Star custom card is colorized.