A Halloween Birthday for Two Packer Hall of Famers

Although both members of the Packer Hall of Fame born on Halloween are deceased, Cal Hubbard and Ted Fritsch all sharing a birthday is a remarkable confluence of Green Bay talent. Robert Cal Hubbard was a big Missouri farm boy who was born at the turn of the last century and who had a celebrated, long and divergent career in professional sports.  After graduating high school, Cal spent a few years working on the farm before enrolling in 1922 at tiny Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana in order to play football for his boyhood hero, Bo McMillan.  When McMillan moved to Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania the next year, Hubbard continued to follow him and sat out of football a year.  He then played for McMillan at Geneva from 1924-1926 and made All-America in his senior year.  That final year was highlighted by Geneva’s 16-7 upset of mighty Harvard when Hubbard was practically a one-man team.

He joined the New York Giants in 1927 as they won their first NFL championship; in his second year, he made All-Pro for the first of six consecutive times.  On offense, he played tackle and occasionally end, while on defense he is sometimes credited with being the first linebacker because he would back up off the line to take his stance with the Giants.  After those two years, he had had enough of the big city and made known that he wanted to go to Green Bay and joined the Packers for 1929, the same year as fellow stars guard Mike Michalske and halfback Johnny Blood. It’s no coincidence that Green Bay won the next three championships with their help. That made four titles for Cal. Hubbard and Michalske shored up the defensive line to the extent that the Packers only surrendered 22 points for the entire 1929 season while Johnny Blood helped the offense score 198.  Curly Lambeau had Cal stay in the line on defense, ending his linebacker days.

Hubbard was sometimes listed as weighing as much as 270 pounds, but he asserted that he never weighed more than 250 in his playing days, which was still gigantic stature for those days of two-way football.  Opposing quarterback Harry Newman later told Richard Whittingham that, “Green Bay had the most brutal lineman in the game, Cal Hubbard.  He played tackle and was about 6’5″ and maybe 270 pounds.  He played with the same kind of intensity that Dick Butkus did later.  We used to say of Cal that even if he missed you, he still hurt you.  When he tackled you, you remembered it. I do to this day.”

Hubbard started baseball umpiring in the minor leagues in 1928 and worked his way up to the International League by 1931 as his football career was winding down.  He left the pros in 1934 to be a line coach at Texas A&M for one year, and then returned to Green Bay in 1935.  The following year, he saw action with both Pittsburgh and the Giants, but of more importance, he was promoted to American League umpire.  Over the next 16 seasons as a big league umpire, he worked four World Series and three All Star Games.  When a hunting accident marred his vision in 1952, he was promoted to assistant supervisor of umpires and then to American League Supervisor of Umpires in 1954.  He held that post until 1969 when he retired.

In that same year, Cal was voted the NFL’s greatest tackle for its first fifty years; Don Hutson, Jerry Kramer and Ray Nitschke also made that same team.  In addition, he was selected along with Hutson and Clarke Hinkle to the league’s 75th anniversary two-way team.  Cal is also a member of at least six Halls of Fame.  He is the only man to be a member of both the Baseball and Pro Football Halls, and he is also in the College Football Hall, the Packer Hall, the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame and the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.  He was inducted into Cooperstown in 1976, but was one of four Packers who were charter members of the Pro Football Hall in 1963 along with Curly Lambeau, Don Hutson, and Johnny Blood.

Ted Fritsch was a native Wisconsinite who attended Stevens Point, where the Packers would later hold training camp in the mid-1950s. His coach at Stevens Point, Eddie Kotal, was a former Packer player and assistant coach who talked Curly Lambeau into signing Fritsch as an undrafted free agent in 1942. Fritsch quickly established himself as a fullback/linebacker second only to Clarke Hinkle in team history. Ted was a two-time All-Pro, scored both Green Bay touchdowns in the 1944 NFL title game and the NFL’s top scorer with 100 points in 1946. He actually signed with the Browns of the All-America Football Conference, but Paul Brown let him out of that contract when the Browns brought in Marion Motley. Fritsch spent nine years in Green Bay from 1942-50 and usually served as the team’s field goal kicker as well, although he hit on only eight of 37 attempts in his final two seasons. A convivial and gregarious man who was popular wherever he went, he was elected to the Packer Hall of Fame in 1973.

Two other starting Packer linemen were also born on Halloween: Claude Perry and Ross Verba. While Claude “Cupid” Perry can’t measure up to Hubbard, he was a very good two-way tackle who came to Green Bay in 1927 after starring for Alabama’s first national championship team in 1926. On the Green Bay line, he played alongside two former Tide teammates—Bruce Jones and Jim Bowdoin. He and Jones also played together at Walker High School. Claude was generally a starter for the Packers from 1927-35, aside from four games in the middle of 1932 when he was loaned to the Brooklyn Dodgers. He surfaced in the second American Football League in 1936 before retiring from playing. During World War II, Perry enlisted in the Marines at the age of 41 and later returned to his native Alabama and worked in the coal mining business. Verba was Green Bay’s top draft pick in 1997 and was a solid starter with a nasty streak at tackle and guard from 1997-2000 until he left for Cleveland as a free agent.

(Adapted from Packers by the Numbers)

1931chubbard2  1931hubbardgrove

1945tfritsch  1932cperry

Custom cards all colorized.

Packers by the Numbers Update: #7

When I wrote Packers by the Numbers, 14 Packers had worn number seven: centers Jug Earp and Bud Svendsen, ends Joel Mason and Dick Gordon, punters Sean Landetta and Hanson, quarterbacks Don Majkowski and Danny Wuerffel as well as six other backs. Earp was the first to wear it and Majik Man wore it the longest, five years. Mason and fullbacks Eddie Jankowski and Walt Schlinkman all wore it for four years. Earp, Svendsen, Jankowski and Majkowski are all in the Packer Hall of Fame, but the number is still waiting its first great Packer.

In the ensuing years, four more Packers have donned 7: horrendous quarterback J.T O’Sullivan in 2004, backup QB Ingle Martin in 2006, punter Jeremy Kapinos for the last four games in 2008 and the full season of 2009 and current backup QB Brett Hundley. While Hundley has shown potential, he is just getting his chance to develop it now that Aaron Rodgers is hurt. The other three are entirely forgettable.

1938ejankowski  1942jmason2

1949lwschlinkman  1990tdmajkowski2

1976fbudwuerffel  1976fbujtosullivan

1976fbuimartin  1976rbubhundley

First three custom cards are colorized.

Outlasting the Eagles in 1958

On a rainy October 26 afternoon at City Stadium, the Packers won an explosive game against the visiting Philadelphia Eagles 38-34. Babe Parilli went all the way at quarterback and threw for four touchdown passes. The Packers began the scoring with a Paul Hornung 30-yard field goal in the first quarter and extended their lead to 10-0 in the second quarter on a 35-yard Parilli strike to Max McGee on a post pattern. The Eagles countered with a 70-yard dash from scrimmage by Bullet Billy Barnes, but Parilli answered that with a 52-yard scoring drive that culminated with a Howie Ferguson 2-yard TD plunge.

Eagle QB Norm Van Brocklin then drove the Eagles 69 yards in the final 2 ½ minutes of the half and hit Tommy McDonald for an 8-yard score with just 15 seconds remaining. Packers up 17-14 at the half.

Bobby Dillon’s first of two interceptions gave Green Bay the ball at the Philly 38, and Parilli hit Al Carmichael from the 14 six plays later. After the kickoff, Eagles fullback Dick Bielski fumbled at Eagle 33 and the ball was recovered by linebacker Tom Bettis. Eight plays later, Parilli hit Gary Knafelc from the 10 to make the score 31-14. Babe then closed out the third period by finding Max McGee for a 25-yard touchdown and a 38-14 lead.

Van Brocklin went to work in the fourth quarter. He drove the Eagles 68 yards with Billy Wells running it in from the three, 38-21. A second drive ended with a 15-yard TD toss to Gene Mitcham, 38-28 with 4:30 to play. Van Brocklin struck again with a 19-yard toss to Tommy McDonald with 54 second left, 38-34. Fortunately for the Packers, rookie Ray Nitschke recovered the ensuing onside kick to allow Green Bay to achieve its only victory of its sorriest season, a woeful year that would usher in a certain Fordham graduate from New York as the new coach two months later.

1958tbparilli  1958tmmcgee2

1958tacarmichael  1958tphornung2

1958ttbettis2  1958trnitschke3

All custom cards colorized except for McGee.

Chester Marcol Turns 68 Today

Chester Marcol was as unusual a character as one would expect to find on the gridiron. When he was 16, he emigrated from Poland with his family to Michigan.  A star soccer player in Poland, he had never played American football before picking up the game in high school.  He played end for Imlay City, but his extremely powerful leg brought him notice from the football coach at Hillsdale College, a small school in Michigan.  Marcol had great success at Hillsdale, even setting a field goal distance record by booting a 62 yarder.

Meanwhile in Green Bay, the field goal kicking had been an ongoing problem since Don Chandler retired. In 1968, Jerry Kramer, Chuck Mercein and Mike Mercer went 13 of 29.  In 1969, Mercer and Booth Lusteg went 6 of 22.  In 1970, Dale Livingston got slightly above water with 15 of 28 field goals, and Tim Webster and Lou Michaels followed that with a 14 of 26 performance in 1971.  Altogether the seven kickers made 48 of 105 field goal attempts, a paltry 45.7%, and missed six extra points over the four-year period.

Marcol was drafted in the second round of the 1972 draft. He was the first soccer-style kicker in team history and made an immediate impression by leading the league in scoring and being named All-Pro as a rookie. He again led the league in points and was named All-Pro in 1974, but after that his career went into a slow decline. He was injured and sat out most of 1975 and then started using cocaine.  He returned as the Packers kicker in 1976, but the last five years of his career was a steady downward spiral.

He shared the placekicking with Tom Birney in 1979 due to knee problems.  In 1980 he beat out Birney for the kicking job and improbably scored the winning touchdown on opening day against the Bears by returning a recovered blocked kick for a touchdown in overtime. However, he was released after five games because of his erratic performance and behavior, and Birney was brought back.  Despite having a big leg, Marcol’s 61.5%  overall field goal percentage is a little lower than the league average for the period. He only made 45% of kicks longer than 40 yards, and just three of 16 attempts of at least 50 yards.

Houston brought Marcol in for one game that year, but then his football career was over.  His personal life continued to deteriorate as well — drinking, drugs, divorce, depression all led to an eventual suicide attempt by drinking battery acid in 1986.  From that low point, Chester took a long slow road to recovery with the help of friends and family and eventually wrote an autobiography with Gary D’Amato called Alive and Kicking in 2011.

(adapted from Packers by the Numbers and Green Bay Gold)

1972tcmarcol  1975tcmarcol

1977tcmarcol  1980tcmarcol

1977 custom card is colorized.

Two Forgotten Linemen

Two long-deceased linemen who came to Green Bay via Los Angeles shared an October 22 birthday: Forrest McPherson and Dave Stephenson. McPherson had a strange, bifurcated NFL career. Born in Nebraska, he attended the University of Nebraska and then signed with the Bears in 1935. After one game, he was acquired by the Eagles and spent the next three seasons in Philadelphia at guard and tackle. Beginning in 1938, he played for the Los Angeles Bulldogs, an independent team that joined the Pacific Coast League in 1940, through 1942. With the roster depleted by the War, Curly Lambeau persuaded McPherson to return the NFL in 1943, and Forrest was a reserve tackle and center in Green Bay from 1943-45. His Bulldog teammate Roy Wehba signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943 and then joined McPherson in Green Bay for the 1944 championship season.

In 1946, McPherson tried out for the Los Angeles Dons of the new All-America Football Conference and then returned to the Bulldogs for two more years. He ended his career as a the player-coach of the Hollywood Bears in 1948. He died in 1989.

World War II veteran Dave “Trapper” Stephenson was drafted out of West Virginia by the Los Angeles Rams in the 13th round of the 1950 NFL draft and played one season at guard for the Western Division champs. Two days before the start of the 1951 season, Stephenson and end Dick Moje were obtained by the Packers for undisclosed terms. Trapper spent the next five seasons at guard and center in Green Bay. He was the team’s starting center in 1953 and then his starting slot to rookie Jim Ringo in 1954. He later coached in the Continental Football League and worked in sales. Stephenson died at the age of 49 in 1975.

1943fmcpherson2  1944fmcphersonc

1952bdstephenson2  1953bdstephenson2

Custom cards are colorized.

Lynn Dickey Turns 68

Lynn Dickey was a 6’3” 215-pound pocket passer with a rocket arm, but too many injuries wrecked his early years and diminished his later ones.  After being drafted in the third round by the Oilers in 1971, he dislocated and broke his hip in 1972 when he was ground into the Astrodome turf. Dickey returned in 1973 to back up Dan Pastorini, the Oilers first round choice in 1971, for three years.  In 1976, Packers coach Bart Starr obtained Dickey in a trade for the failed John Hadl and cornerback Ken Ellis.  Given the starting job, Dickey could work no magic without scoring weapons available.  The team averaged only 15.2 points a game in 1976, and Lynn went down with a shoulder separation in week ten.  The next year was even worse on both the offensive and injury fronts.  The Packers averaged a mere 9.2 points a game in the last season before the NFL rules were changed in the offense’s favor, and Dickey’s left leg was snapped on the last play of the ninth game of the year.  He would not return till late in the 1979 season, missing all of 1978. By the start of the 1980 season, Dickey had missed 30 of 60 games due to injury in his four years in Green Bay and 53 games altogether in his NFL career. Over that nine-year span, he had thrown 25 touchdowns and 60 interceptions.

Despite the injuries and pain, Dickey’s career finally launched in the 1980s because he had weapons at last: James Lofton as a deep threat, Paul Coffman at tight end, and Eddie Lee Ivery and Gerry Ellis as runners and receivers out of the backfield.  John Jefferson would arrive in 1981. From 1980-85, Lynn would fling 116 touchdowns and 119 interceptions.  He would throw for more than 3,000 yards in three seasons and set a team record of 4,458 passing yards in 1983 when he also led the league with 32 touchdown passes and an average of 9.21 yards per throw. The offense set a team record that year by scoring 429 points. In fact, the Packers averaged 23.4 points a game from 1981 through 1985; unfortunately, they would also give up 22.4 points a game so mediocrity was their fate.

The quiet, low-keyed Dickey deserved better. He recalled years later to Sports Illustrated, “Did I like throwing picks? No, I absolutely hated it. But if I didn’t take gambles and try squeezing the ball in there, we’d have to punt. And when we punted, we didn’t get the ball back for seven or eight minutes.” Offensive coach Bob Schnelker once described his quarterback in glowing terms, “Lynn is a fine leader, a tough competitor and a very accurate passer. He’s a very smart football player.” Historian Lee Remmel added that Dickey “may have been the greatest long passer in our history.”

(adapted from Green Bay Gold)

1976tldickey  1977tldickey

1980tldickey  1981tldickey


Custom cards in Topps style.

Packers by the Numbers Update#6

When I wrote Packers by the Numbers, 6 had only been worn by three men, each for one year: George Vergara in 1925, Dick Flaherty in 1926 and Mal Bross in 1927. After a 78-year break, the number was reclaimed in 2005 by punter Ryan Flinn, but his 29.3 yard net punting average halted his NFL career after just two games. Three years later another punter, Derrick Frost, donned it for the first 12 games of the 2008 season. Frost, a five-year veteran, was cut after the 12th game of the year for inconsistency and never punted again in the NFL.

Most recently, the number was worn by backup quarterback Graham Harrell, Harrell, A record-setting passer at Texas Tech, signed with the Packers as a free agent in 2010 after one season with Saskatchewan in the CFL. He spent two seasons on the Packers’ practice squad before winning the job as Aaron Rodgers’ backup in 2012. In his first regular season appearance on September 12 against the Saints. In the third quarter, Rodgers led the Packers to the New Orleans one-yard line when he was poked in the eye and had to leave the game temporarily. Harrell took the next snap, tripped over center Jeff Saturday and fumbled while attempting to handoff to runner Cedric Benson. The Saints recovered the fumble and drove down the field to take the lead, Fortunately, Rodgers returned and led the Pack to the victory.

Harrell would complete two of four passes in the four games in which he appeared in 2012, the only year of his NFL career. Since he was activated for a couple of games in both 2010 and 2011, he had the longest Packer career wearing 6. He is now coaching in college.

1925sgvergara  1926dflaherty

1927mbross  1976rbugharrell

1920s custom cards are colorized.

A Shared Birthday

October 15 is shared by two consecutive Packer middle linebackers born in North Carolina, three years apart. George Koonce and Bernardo Harris. Koonce took a circuitous path to the Packers. Undrafted out of East Carolina in 1991, he signed as a free agent with the Atlanta Falcons, but was cut during training camp. He hooked on with the Ohio Glory of the new NFL development league the World League in the spring of 1992 and was scouted by new Packers’ scout Ted Thompson, who recommended his signing. The 6’1” 245-pound Koonce joined the Packers with another Falcons’ washout named Favre in 1992, but with much less ballyhoo. Nonetheless, he became a starter in his rookie year and remained one for the rest of his career.

Koonce bounced all over the linebacking corps. He began as an outside linebacker in 1992 and switched to inside in 1993. When the team switched to the 4-3 in 1994, George spent two years at weakside linebacker before moving to the middle for the championship season of 1996. Unfortunately, Koonce tore up his knee in the playoffs that year and did not return till the stretch run in 1997 when Harris had taken over in the middle. By 1998, Koonce was starting at strongside linebacker and stayed there until he was cut as a salary cap casualty in 2000. He followed Mike Holmgren to Seattle that year, but was cut after one season.

Koonce had difficulty transitioning to life as an ex-player, but eventually earned his PhD at Marquette and turned his dissertation into a book called Is There Life after Football? in 2014. As a player, Koonce was versatile with good size, but still having the speed and range to drop into coverage. Ron Wolf told the Milwaukee Journal in 1993, “He’s not the big, physical guy like Brian [Noble], but the difference is this guy can get there laterally.” A very solid linebacker who would be welcome on any Packer team, but does not quite make the cut here where there are too many big play makers.

Bernardo Harris, an undrafted alumnus of North Carolina, came to Green Bay in 1995 after having been cut by the Chiefs a year earlier. He made an impact on special teams and earned a shot in the starting lineup in 1997. For five seasons, he was a sturdy, hard-hitting middle linebacker who accumulated 7.5 sacks from occasional blitzes. His most significant moment came in the 1998 playoffs against the 49ers when he stripped Jerry Rice of the ball in the closing minutes. The play should have clinched the Packer victory, but the officials ruled Rice down, and San Francisco pulled the game out in the closing seconds on a touchdown pass from Steve Young to Terrell Owens. The next season, instant replay was reinstituted at least partially in response to that grievous miscall. Harris finished his career with the Ravens in 2002.

1996gkoonce  1996bharris

Custom cards in 1961 Fleer style.

Packers by the Numbers Update: #5

5 is another quasi-retired number like 1. Originated by Dick O’Donnell in 1925 and then worn by Pid Purdy, Roy Baker, Bob Monnett, Hank Bruder and Ray Riddick for short stints over the next 15 years. It then laid dormant until the arrival of Paul Hornung in 1957, and he made it his own. No one wore it for 20 years after the Hall of Famer retired. Then, it was revived during the Forrest Gregg coaching tenure: quarterback Vince Ferragamo wearing it for three games to close out his career in 1986, quarterback Don Majikowski to start his career in 1987, quarterback Willie Gillus as a replacement player also in 1987 and kicker Curtis Burrow for one game in 1988. Since then it has remained unused for the last 29 years. It should be retired for the unquestioned leader of the Lombardi era, and it should be done while he is still with us.

1925sdodonnell  1937ybmonnett

1957tphornung2  1966pphornung2

1986tvferragamo2  1987tdmajkowski2

1987xtwgillus2  1988trookiekickers

O’Donnell, Monnett, 1957 Hornung and Burrow custom cards are colorized.

Brett Lorenzo Favre

The most important player in Packer history turns 48 today, i.e., the player most responsible for the team’s revitalization in the 1990s. Brett Favre was a gunslinger, more akin to Johnny U. than to Starr and has been considered the main rival to Don Hutson as the Packers’ greatest player. He’s the only NFL player be named the league MVP three consecutive seasons (1995-97). In his long career, Favre started an astonishing 297 consecutive games at quarterback – 321 including the postseason. Favre also set NFL quarterback career marks for wins (186), yards (71,838), touchdowns (508) and interceptions (336), although Peyton Manning is gobbling up all of these except for the interception standard.

Favre’s prodigiousness as a player was Bunyanesque, but that takes in both positive and negative qualities. Acquired from Atlanta by Ron Wolf for a number one draft choice, the 6’2” 230-pound Favre had as strong an arm and was as tough a player as anyone in the game. Under Mike Holmgren’s tutoring, Favre gained a semblance of self-control on the field and led the Packers to the playoffs in his second season, as he would do ten more times in his 16 years at the helm of the team. In all 16 years, he exceeded 3,000 yards passing and five times threw for more than 4,000. Eight times he threw more than 30 touchdown passes and four times led the league; he also threw more than 20 interceptions five times in Green Bay and twice led the NFL in that negative category.

Brett was mobile and had a quick release for his rocket-powered passes. However, it was when things broke down that Favre really became Favre. That might mean the two-handed chest pass to Dorsey Levens while being brought down by Kevin Greene in the NFC championship against the Panthers. Or his stumbling escape from Seahawk Brandon Mebane and subsequent underhand pitch to Donald Lee in the snow game against Seattle in the 2007 postseason. As John Madden liked to say, “That’s just Brett Favre being Brett Favre.”

The goal of each Packer coach, though, was to keep the headstrong Favre under control. In this aim, Mike Sherman went heavy with the power run game, even using three tackles at times, to reduce the opportunities for Favre’s negative tendencies. At times, it seemed that Favre suffered from Attention Deficit Disorder. There would be plays that from the stands I could see receivers wide open short, but Favre insisted on throwing into traffic deep. That worked out well in the famous Monday Night Game against Oakland after Brett’s father died, but against better teams, it led to interceptions.

The last five playoff runs all ended with Favre failures. Six interceptions against the Rams in 2002; an overall meltdown against the Falcons in 2003; the overtime pop fly interception to Brian Dawkins in 2004; four interceptions against the Vikings in 2005; and the overtime Corey Webster pick that would be his last pass as a Packer in 2007. Brett Favre had a Hall of Fame career, but he could have been the greatest ever to play the position and was not.

(adapted from Green Bay Gold)

1993bfavre  1994bfavre

1997bfavre  2000bfavre

Custom cards based on older card designs.