Packers by the Numbers Update: #2

Number 2 is a step up from 1, which has been only worn by one Packer; 2 has been worn by two. Versatile back Charlie Mathys wore the number in 1925 and 1926. In those two seasons, eight of Charlie’s 13 completions went for touchdowns. The Green Bay native joined the team from the Hammond Pros in 1922 and led the Packers in receptions in 1923 and 1924 with 33 and 30 catches respectively.

81 years after Mathys retired, kicker Mason Crosby was drafted in the sixth round of the draft and has donned number 2 for the last decade, as he became the team’s all-time leading scorer. Only #1 has lain dormant for longer than 2 did.

1922cmathys  1923cmathys

1924cmathys  1925scmathys

1926cmathys  2010mcrosby

Mathys custom cards all colorized.

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Packers by the Numbers Update: #1

In 2003, I wrote a history of the team told through their jersey numbers called Packers by the Numbers. Now that this blog’s series on the Packers’ top rookie for each season has run its course, I thought it would fun to update the data sections of that earlier book, one number at a time. While I covered the number 60 last February in commemoration of turning 60 myself, let’s start at the beginning with number 1 since no Packer has ever worn 0 or 00.

1 is only slightly different than 0 for the Packers, having been worn by just one player in team history, founder Curly Lambeau. Lambeau wore the number in 1925 and 1926 and may have worn it earlier as well. Officially, the Packers started wearing numbers in 1925, but there is a 1923 photo in the Packer Hall of Fame of a Packer with a number on his back. It appears that 1 is unofficially retired for Lambeau since no one has worn it in 90 years, but it is not one of the six officially retired numbers (3, 4, 14, 15, 66, 92). Curly also wore 14 in 27, 42 in 1928 and 20 in 1929 before retiring as a player.

It would be fitting if the Packers officially retired this number in the name of their founder.

1925sclambeau  1926clambeau

Custom cards are colorized.

Against the Spread

Although Mike McCarthy has won just one Super Bowl in his 11-year tenure as Packers’ coach, he has achieved a remarkably stable run of success, winning more games than any coach in team history aside from Curly Lambeau and having the fourth highest winning percentage as Green Bay coach behind Vince Lombardi, Lambeau and Mike Holmgren. In one area, though he is the best. No coach in NFL history has a higher won-lost percentage than McCarthy’s .582 against the spread (although Bill Walsh matches it.) That’s a good indication that his teams have exceeded expectations on the field.

How do I know this? It’s in Mark Wald’s useful and entertaining Pro Football Almanac: Volume I – Pointspreads published through Amazon’s CreateSpace. In this immense work, Wald vividly conveys the tangled and dark history of the pointspread in pro football – how it started, who made the lines and how it has evolved in the past 80 years. The bulk of the 677-page volume consists of a nearly complete compilation of betting lines for all pro games since 1941.

This book allows the reader easily to check to see how any game was viewed at the time. The Packers biggest pointspreads came against expansion teams. They were favored by 27 points against the Falcons in 1966 and won 56-3. Five years before, they were favored by 26 over the Vikings but failed to cover in a 28-10 win. Five times Green Bay has been a 20-point underdog, all between 1948 and 1953. They covered the spread in two of those games and won a third game outright (35-21 over the Redskins on September 24, 1950).

It’s as impressive a research accomplishment as Wald’s previous project, recording weather data on all NFL games going back to 1937. That data is available on the Pro Football Archives site, but still might turn up in a subsequent volume of Wald’s Pro Football Almanac.

Here’s how McCarthy to other Packer coaches against the spread:

Vince Lombardi .517

Forrest Gregg .512

Mike Holmgren .502

Mike Sherman .500

Bart Starr .485

Curly Lambeau .470

Lombardi had the toughest road to hoe in this area because his teams were 7-point favorites, tied for highest in league history with John Madden. McCarthy’s team have been 3-point favorites, while Holmgren and Sherman’s teams were 2-point favorites. On the other side of the ledger, Lambeau’s 1940s teams averaged being a 1-point underdog, Gregg’s teams faced a 1.5 point deficit and Starr’s three points.

2010mmccarthy  1996mholmgrren

1960tvlombardi  1949lclambeau

Lambeau custom card is colorized.

The Rest of the Story

On June 25th, I ran an entry based on the Packer Bulletin for the upcoming Packers-Cardinals game scheduled for October 11, 1931, with comments from Cardinals’ Coach Leroy Andrew who was in town scouting the Packers. Since then, I interviewed Andrew’s surviving son Dal for a book I am currently researching (working title: Pioneer Coaches of Pro Football: Inventing the Profession in the Days of Leather Helmets and 60-Minute Men), and he relayed the following story that his father would tell about that scouting trip and the fervor of Packer fans.

That trip I heard about many times as a youngster. Dad would be talking to someone, getting acquainted, and pro football [would be brought up.] The question would come up: How can the Packers survive in such a small town? Dad would respond that it’s the degree of support, and he related it to that October of 1931. The Cardinals did not have a game that weekend, so Dad, consistent with being the scout as well as recruiter and so on, bought a round trip train ticket Chicago to Green Bay, went up, walked across the bridge. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the layout of Green Bay, but at that time [the train station] was just less than a half mile apart [from City Stadium].

He was scouting the team and he felt he had a good set of notes. He was really looking forward to getting back and cashing in on the notes as the crowd was walking out. He said, “Like a fool, instead of putting them in my pocket, I was sorting them out, getting them in sequence and so on when all of a sudden, somebody bumped me from the left side a little bit harder than he needed to. I turned around to look at him. With that, a hand went between my hands and grabbed all the notes.”

Dad turned back to go after him and instantly six of Green Bay’s biggest locals were right between him and this 13- or 14-year-old kid who was going under the fence that was conveniently held up by two more locals, and the kid with Dad’s notes was up and over the hill. Dad took one step in his direction, recognized how many people were between them, and he stopped and looked at the people. An elderly gentleman around him said, “It’s just as well they’re gone, mister. We weren’t about to let you out of town with them.” Packer fans had picked up on him and had been watching him apparently for some time and with a coordinated effort did not let the scouting notes get out of town.

When asked what happened at that point, Leroy responded: ”What could I do? I stopped at the cigar store on the way back to the train station, picked up a pad of paper, went and took a seat in the back row of the train car and started regenerating the notes as best I could from memory” Thanks to Dal “Andy” Andrew for filling me in on the rest of the story.

1931team

Custom card of 1931 Packers’ team.

Opening Day and More

Today’s opening day game against Seattle recalls another highly anticipated opener 51 years ago on this date. Between 1958 and 1968, either the Packers or the Colts topped the Western Conference of the NFL every year but 1963 when the Bears snuck in. The Colts went to the NFL title game in 1958, 1959, 1964 and 1968, with the Packers taking the other six campaigns. The 1965 season was a particularly bitter pill for the Colts. The two teams tied for the West Crown at 10-3-1. Even though Green Bay had beaten Baltimore twice in the regular season that year, a playoff game was scheduled to determine the winner. The determined Colts had ended the season playing halfback Tom Matte at quarterback because both John Unitas and his backup Gary Cuozzo were lost to season-ending injuries.

In that playoff game held in Green Bay on December 26, the Colts knocked out Bart Starr on the first play and, behind option quarterback Tom Matte, held a 10-7 lead into the fourth quarter when a Don Chandler 22-yard field goal tied the game with 1:58 to play and forced overtime. The Colts vigorously protested the ruling that the field goal was good, but the game went into sudden death when an undisputed Chandler boot of 25 yards decided the Western title 13:39 into the extra period.

The NFL scheduled a rare Saturday night game in Milwaukee between the two Western titans to open the 1966 season, with the Colts desperate to get even. Again, it was largely a defensive struggle, but two big plays by the Packer defense blew the game open. Leading 3-0 late in the second quarter, the Colts were beginning to move the ball when Unitas was picked off by linebacker Lee Roy Caffey, and the former Texas A&M fullback bolted 52 yards for the touchdown. Just four plays later cornerback Bob Jeter jumped an out route to nab a second Unitas pass and raced 46 yards for 14-3 lead that the Packers would not relinquish.

Bart Starr lead a 79-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter that culminated with Bart’s eight-yard touchdown run, and Chandler added a 15-yard field goal later in the quarter to finish the scoring at 24-3. The Packer defense limited Unitas to 105 yards passing and picked off three of his passes. The stout Colt defense played well, too, holding the Packers to 292 total yards. There was just one five-yard penalty assessed in the game.

12 weeks later, the two teams would meet again in Baltimore for another defensive slog, with the Colts trailing the Packers by two games with two to play. When Willie Davis stripped Johnny Unitas of the ball inside the Packers’ red zone in the closing minutes, Dave Robinson recovered the fumble to clinch the Western title again with a 14-10 victory. Sports Illustrated dubbed play the “Million Dollar Fumble” since it gave the Packers a clear path to the first Super Bowl.

On a personal note, September 10 is a special day for me as a dad since it was the day my beautiful first daughter was born. Happy Birthday, Juliane. You share it with former Packers Sleepy Jim Crowley, Larry Olosonoski, Tim Harris and Roosevelt Blackmon.

 

1966tlcaffey  1966pbjeter

1966tbstarr  1966playoftheyear

Custom cards in 1966 Topps and Philadelphia styles.

Brockington’s Birthday

John Brockington turns 69 today. He was a simple, straight-ahead batterer and, for a short time, the best in the game at that. Drafted with the ninth overall pick out of Ohio State in 1971, Brockington was a sensation as a rookie and set a league record by rushing for over 1,000 yards in each of his first three years in the league. But then he was done. His yards per carry dropped to 3.3 in 1974 and never exceeded 3.5 again.

Brockington’s best season was his rookie year when he averaged 5.1 yards per carry and teamed in the backfield with Donny Anderson. In 1972, Anderson was traded for MacArthur Lane, who was essentially a second fullback, and the Packer offense became a simple power running attack with a very effective line and a superior lead blocker in Lane. Brockington’s average actually dropped to 3.7 that year, but the team won the division. In the playoffs, though, George Allen aligned his Redskin defense in a five-man front and shut down the Green Bay offense. Brockington’s rushing average improved to 4.3 in his third year, but that was the final hurrah.

Cowboys’ assistant coach Ermal Allen, who admired the 6’1” 230-pound Brockington as a “vicious runner” ascribed his decline to the normal wear and tear of a power back. Brockington himself, usually asserts that his best play was an off-tackle slant, and when the team’s offense was changed to more of a “stretch offense where you pick your hole,” he was disadvantaged. That and the decline of the offensive line.

It’s true that there were injuries on the offensive line that caused problems. It is also true that the team did not have a reliable quarterback to balance the attack. And it’s true that Brockington could not effectively turn his shoulders to make quick cuts. Considering all these factors, defenses could simply clump at the line and shut down Brockington. If the Packers had a quarterback who could pass, receivers who could get open, a line that could stay healthy and a complementary back who could go wide, Brockington may have had a lengthier career. As it was, he was a pile-driving blaster, a North-South runner who was not especially fast or elusive and was middling as both a receiver and a blocker.

(Adapted from Green Bay Gold)

1973tjbrockington  1973tcombo

Custom cards in 1974 style.

Kicking Team Aces

September 5 is a birthday shared by two Packers who made names for themselves on the kicking teams: Don Chandler and Steve Odom. Chandler was drafted by the Giants as a halfback out of Florida State in 1956 and was one of the first punting specialists in the NFL.  The first was Pat Brady of the Steelers in 1954 followed by Dick Deschaine of the Packers in 1955.  Chandler and Sam Baker joined the league in 1956, the 49ers Tommy Davis came in 1959, and Bobby Joe Green arrived in 1960.  This trend toward kicking specialists became the norm in the 1960s.  Chandler was originally supposed to be the Giants place kicker as well, but due to an injury he was replaced by Ben Agajanian.  The next year the Giants acquired Pat Summerall, so Chandler did not assume both kicking jobs until his seventh year in the league, 1962.

Chandler was one of the best in the league at both duties.  And with his background as a running back, he was very effective at the fake punt which he tried about once a year when the opposition was lax.  In his 12-year career, Don rushed the ball 13 times for 146 yards and threw and completed three passes for 67 yards.  Since he rarely played in the backfield after the first year, most if not all of these attempts were fake punts.  In Green Bay, he ran once for 27 yards in 1965 and once for 33 yards in 1966 before Donny Anderson took over the punting in 1967.  In an October 1965 game against the 49ers in Lambeau, Chandler got off a 90-yard punt that traveled 75 yards in the air and over 110 yards out of the end zone with the roll. The Packers had a fourth down at their own ten, and Don booted the ball from his goal line.  It landed at the San Francisco 25 and bounded on through their end zone for a touchback.

Chandler had nine good seasons with the Giants, even leading the league in scoring in 1963, but when he had an off year in 1964, Coach Allie Sherman was happy to deal him to the Packers for a draft pick.  Don straightened out the Packers kicking mess, although he gained everlasting fame for a game-tying field goal in a 1965 playoff game that the Colts still claim was wide right. The goal posts were raised in response the next season. Chandler played 12 seasons in the NFL and appeared in nine championship games, winning four. He retired in 1968.

Steve Odom was drafted in the fifth round out of Utah in 1974. He is the team’s all-time leader in kick return yards; he also leads in kick returns so that his return average is 15th among Packers with at least 40 returns. The 5’8” 185 pound Odom returned two kickoffs for touchdowns – one in 1975 when he was named to the Pro Bowl and one in 1978 when he led the NFL in kick return average at 27.1. He also averaged 8.9 yards per punt return and ran one back for a touchdown in his rookie year. Although undersized, he was a speedy deep threat as a slot receiver, averaging 19.2 yards per 84 catches with 11 more touchdowns. The Packers released him on October 30, 1979 to allow linebacker John Anderson to return from IR. Picked up by the Giants, Odom finished his career in New York that season.

(Adapted from Packers by the Numbers and Green Bay Gold.)

1965pdchandler2  1974tsodom

Custom cards in 1965 Philadelphia and 1974 Topps styles.