Packers by the Numbers Update: #3

This new series updating my book Packers by the Numbers continues to get off to a slow start since number three is a retired number. It was retired on November 23, 1952 at City Stadium on Tony Canadeo Day. While the number has not been worn since the publication of the book, it was worn by two players after Canadeo claimed it in 1941. Halfback Roy McKay wore it in 1944 and 1945 while Tony was in the service, and 42-year-old kicker Ben Agajanian wore it for three games at the end of the 1961 season when Paul Hornung was serving in the reserves.

Canadeo and McKay shared the number in 1944. Tony went into the military in 1944. McKay, a 1943 draft pick from Texas, was injured in the preseason and missed the first seven games of his rookie year. Meanwhile, Canadeo was furloughed for the birth of his first son and played for Green Bay on October 22 against the Rams, October 29 against the Lions and November 5 against the Bears. When Canadeo returned to active duty, McKay joined the roster for the last three games of the season wearing number three. Roy played against the Rams on November 12, Giants on November 19 and the Card-Pitt amalgamation on November 26. He also played in the title game against the Giants two weeks later and continued wearing three in 1945 while Canadeo was in the service. When Tony returned in 1946, McKay switched to 22 for the remaining two seasons of his career.

In 1944, Canadeo completed nine of 20 passes for 89 yards, ran 31 times for 149 yards and punted 13 times for a 36.8 yard average’ McKay completed six of 19 passes for 72 yards and a touchdown, ran five times for 12 yards and punted eight times for a37.1 yard average.

1936bmonnett  1944tcanedeoc

1944rmckayc2  1961fbagajanian2

Monnett, Canadeo and McKay custom cards are colorized.

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Liz Blackbourn Opens with a Loss

New Packer Head Coach Lisle “Liz” Blackbourn began his first NFL season on this date in 1954 when the Packers went up against the Steelers at City Stadium in Green Bay. It was not an auspicious start, as the Packers turned the ball over four times and were outgained by Pittsburgh 465-261 in yards in a 21-20 loss. Steeler quarterback Jim Finks completed 27 of 40 passes for 327 yards, while the Packers’ Tobin Rote struggled through a five for 18 day for 101 yards.

Big plays kept Green Bay in the game. Breezy Reid ripped off a 69-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and Billy Howton caught a 44-yard touchdown pass from Rote in the second. However, Finks’ third TD pass of the day, 37 yards to Ray Mathews in the final period, proved to be the winning points.

One odd note for Blackbourn’s first game is that both of Green Bay’s previous two coaches were in attendance that day. Gene Ronzani was on the Steelers’ bench as part of Coach Walt Kiesling’s staff (and Kiesling was a former Packer player and assistant coach), while Curly Lambeau, recently fired by the Redskins, was in the press box. And future Packer Coach Scooter McLean was on the Packer sidelines as part of Blackbourn’s staff.

Green Bay would finish the year 4-8, a slight improvement over 1953, and Pittsburgh would go 5-7 for the season a slight decline for them. Green Bay started four rookies: end Max McGee, tackle Art Hunter, guard Al Barry and defensive back Don Miller. McGee caught his first NFL pass, good for eight yards. That was the only game Miller would ever play for the Packers. A week later, he was replaced by newly-acquired Jim Psaltis and subsequently released. He appeared in two games for the Eagles later in the year, including one against the Packers on October 30.

1954blblackbourn  1954bmmcgee2

1954bbhowton  1954bbreid

1954bdmiller  1954bjpsaltis2

All custom cards are colorized.

Happy 40th Birthday, KGB

Reggie White is the all-time leader in sacks for pro football if you include his USFL totals, and Willie Davis and Ezra Johnson are the two top sackers in Packer history according to Webster and Turney’s research. However, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila still is the official career team leader in sacks with 74.5, two more than Clay Matthews, at the outset of the 2017 season. Undersized at 6’4” and 245 pounds in the modern game, KGB had great burst as a speed rusher off the edge and four consecutive years recorded double-digit sacks in Green Bay. He led the team in sacks five straight seasons.

KGB was a fifth round pick out of San Diego State in 2000 who moved up from the practice squad as a rookie to play in the second half of the 2000 season. The next year, he recorded 13.5 sacks playing the Elephant end position on just 36% of the defense’s snaps. Years later, Ron Wolf told the Milwaukee Journal, “If we knew he’d be that good, we wouldn’t have drafted Jamal Reynolds that year. We had the pass rusher we’d been looking for.” Wolf wasted the 10th overall pick on Reynolds who was a bust.

Rival coach Tony Dungy assessed KGB in 2001, “He comes off the ball well. He’s got a great first step. He’s got a good motor. I think he’d fit in well on anybody’s defense because he’s bringing some heat.” What he didn’t have was the bulk to be an every-down player, but beginning in 2003, the team began playing KGB on most downs after they signed him to a seven-year $37-million contract. As Bob McGinn pointed out in the Journal Sentinel in 2007, it was pennywise but pound-foolish for the team to play KGB so extensively in order to get their money’s worth out of him.

KGB got worn down playing so much and, at his size, he was a liability against the run. In the 2006 season, KGB returned to the role of pass rush specialist and had one last good year in that role in 2007 before being released during the 2008 season.

(adapted from Green Bay Gold.)

phof2013kgb

Custom card in Packer hall of fame set style.

Greg Jennings

In 2006, Greg Jennings, who turns 34 today, became the first Packer receiver to start as a rookie since Sterling Sharpe nearly 20 years before. A second round pick, Jennings was the fourth receiver taken in the 2006 draft (behind Chad Jackson, Santonio Holmes and Sinorice Moss) and had starred at Western Michigan in his hometown of Kalamazoo.

Jennings had good, but not great speed, but excelled as a deep threat right from the start. He had good moves and dependable hands and became a favorite of Brett Favre for two seasons and then of Aaron Rodgers. He caught Favre’s 400th touchdown and his 421st, the one that broke Dan Marino’s all-time career record. His most exciting catch was a walk-off 82-yard touchdown from Favre in overtime against the Broncos in 2007

Despite being just 5’11 and 195 pounds, Jennings was tough and not afraid to go over the middle or throw a block. He attained his first 1,000-yard season in 2008 and then went over that mark for the next two years. Greg’s pinnacle came in the Super Bowl following the 2010 season when he caught four passes for 64 yards and two touchdowns in the triumph over the Steelers. He also caught Aaron Rodgers’ 31-yard screaming seam route for a crucial first down on third-and-ten late in the fourth quarter to help ice the game. In ten postseason games with Green Bay, Greg caught 50 passes for six touchdowns.

Jennings was always a personable, talkative player, but that worked against him when he signed with the Vikings as a free agent in 2013. His production had begun to slip in 2011 and then he missed half of 2012 with a groin injury, and Ted Thompson did not make an effort to re-sign him. Jennings let his bitterness show, claiming the Packers “brainwashed” their players against the rest of the division and making a series of disparaging remarks about Aaron Rodgers. After playing with Christian Ponder, Jennings later recanted those comments about Rodgers. In his two years in Minnesota, he descended to mediocrity. He finished his career in Miami in 2015.

(adapted from Green Bay Gold.)

2010gjennings2

Custom card in 1961 Fleer style.

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.

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.