Two Cheers?

Today marks the birthday of two Packer snap takers, quarterbacks Jim Del Gaizo and Chuck Fusina.

Del Gaizo

  • Left Handed.
  • Best side burns in NFL history.
  • Best (and only) NFL quarterback from University of Tampa.
  • Acquired from Miami for two second round picks used for Fred Solomon (also from Tampa) and Andre Tillman.
  • Completed 43.5 of his passes for two touchdowns and six interceptions and average 5.1 yards per attempt in Green Bay in 1973.



  • Product of quarterback factory Penn State (wait, what?).
  • Carried a clipboard in Tampa 1979-81.
  • Led his team to three straight USFL title games 1983-84 and two championships.
  • Averaged 5.6 yards per pass on 32 throws in Green Bay in 1986.
  • Kept number 4 jersey very clean for future possessors.


1973tjdelgaizo  1986tcfusina

Del Gaizo custom card is colorized.

Packers by the Numbers Update: #35

35 has been a neglected number in Packer history, worn by just 22 players and featuring five gaps of five years or more without anyone wearing it. It was first worn by tackle Roger Ashmore in 1929. In the Lambeau era, he was followed by end Ken Radick (1930), end Tom Nash (1931-32), end Dom Vairo (1935), center Frank Butler (1938), back Frank Balazs (1939-41), center Bob Flowers (1942-49) and tackle Glen Johnson (1949).

In the two-way era, the number has been worn by nine running backs, two linebackers, two defensive backs and a kicker.

RBs: Bob Clemens (1955), Frank Mestnik (1963), Allan Jacobs (1965), Del Rodgers (1982, 1984), Kevin Wilhite (1987r), Michael Haddix (1989-90), Jay Graham (2002), Samkon Gado (2005-06) Korey Hall (2009-10).

LBs: Clayton Tonnemaker (1950) and Walt Michaels (1951).

DBs: Ray Wilson (1994) and Jermaine Whitehead (2016-17).

K: Dave Conway (1971)

No one who wore 35 is a member of the Packer Hall of Fame, but Tonnemaker did make All-Pro wearing the number.

1929rashmore  1935dvairo

1938fbutler2  1949lbflowers

1950bctonnemaker2  1951bwmichaels2

1971tdconway2  1984tdrodgers

1990tmhaddix  1994rwilson

All custom cards except for last two are colorized.

Another Shared Birthday

May 27 marks the birthday of one Hall of Famer and two Pro Bowl Packers. Beefy Walt Kiesling, who played guard for Green Bay in 1935 and ’36 and later had anineffectual coaching career, is the first of our troika. More recently, Antonio Freeman and Nick Barnett had substantial Packers careers.

Kiesling was a large and well-traveled guard and later coach for a series of teams.  He is listed as a Steeler in Canton since he both played and coached there.  He played longest for the Cardinals, five years, and made All-Pro there.  He also played two years for the Duluth Eskimos who then ceased operations, one for the Pottsville Maroons who then went out of business, one for the Chicago Bears, two for the Packers, and three for Pittsburgh.  Despite playing for a 13-0 Bear and the 1936 10-1-1 champion Packers, the record of the teams for whom Kiesling played was 66-82-11.

After retiring from playing, Walt coached Pittsburgh from 1940-42 and from 1954-56.  Most of the intervening years, he spent as a line coach either with the Steelers or the Packers.  The high point of his coaching career was the 1942 season when he led Pittsburgh to its first ever winning year with a second place 7-4 record.  It would be the only winning year he would ever have as a coach, and his lifetime coaching record in 30-55-6.

Antonio Freeman took the baton seamlessly as Brett Favre’s go-to guy from Robert Brooks when Brooks was injured during the 1996 championship season. Since Freeman was a third round draft choice out of Virginia Tech in his second year, the quickness with which he assumed the leading receiver role was a delightful surprise. His descent to ordinary receiver five or six years later after signing an enormous new contract was equally surprising, but not delightful to Freeman, the team or the fans.

Favre summarized Freeman, “From day 1, the first day he came here, he was never the tallest, he was never the fastest, he never caught the ball with his hands. But somehow he caught the ball and made plays.” Freeman and Favre made a good team, good enough to combine for 57 touchdowns, the most Favre threw to any target in his long career. Favre told Sports Illustrated, “We have the same approach to football: We prepare as hard as we can all week; then we go out on game day and just kind of let it go. When I take off, it’s like he knows where I want to go with the ball.”

From 1997-1999, Freeman caught at least 74 passes for over 1,000 yards each year. He also caught 12 touchdowns one year and 14 in another. In 14 playoff games with Green Bay, Antonio caught 47 passes for 10 touchdowns. He set a Super Bowl record by catching an 81-yard touchdown pass in the win over New England and the following year caught two in the Super Bowl loss to Denver. His most memorable catch came in the rain on Monday Night Football against Minnesota. In overtime that night, Favre threw one up to Freeman who was covered tightly by Chris Dishman. Freeman fell down while Dishman reached for the ball and batted it away…except it bounced onto the shoulder of the prone Freeman who snagged it, got up and ran the last 15 yards into the end zone for the winning score.

At his best, the 6’1” 190-pound Freeman displayed great moves and made big plays. At other times, though, he displayed bad hands and dropped too many catchable balls. And then after signing the big contract in 2000, he dropped a level. The Journal Sentinel speculated at the time that defenses were taking away the slant route over the middle and forcing the slow (and getting slower) Freeman to beat them down the field. It’s a plausible theory.

Freeman was released with some acrimony following the 2001 season, but he and Coach Mike Sherman ironed out their differences a year later after Freeman was cut loose by Philadelphia. Freeman had one last disappointing year in Green Bay and then retired in 2004.

Nick Barnett was an emotional, high energy player. However, the 6’2” 230-pound Barnett’s strength was his speed and range from the middle linebacker position in the 4-3 defense. Coach Mike McCarthy once assessed Nick as a player, “He’s a steady, hard worker, tough guy, very explosive.” Green Bay drafted Barnett out of Oregon State with the 29th overall pick in 2003. Nick was a strongside linebacker in college, but the Packers shifted him to the middle in his rookie year. He proved himself a natural in that role. Barnett was the first Packer rookie since Noble to record over 100 tackles, and he led the team in tackles in four of his first five years in the NFL. In his sixth year, 2008, Barnett injured his knee and missed almost half the season.

He returned to the starting lineup in 2009, but at a new position, left inside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme of new defensive coach Dom Capers. Barnett led the team in tackles again that season, but did not seem quite the same player. In the 2010 championship season, Barnett broke his wrist in week four and never played again for the Packers. They released him at the end of the year due to a combination of factors: his age, his $5.6 million contract, his injuries, his performance slippage and personality conflicts.

Barnett signed with Buffalo and led the Bills in tackles in 2011 and 2012 before finishing his career as a backup in Washington in 2013. That year, McCarthy told reporters, “Nick was an excellent linebacker for us, an impact player. Our old defense was pretty much built around Nick as the primary tackler and he had a number of great years for us.” At his best, Barnett ranged from sideline to sideline, making tackles in run defense, and dropped into pass coverage with ease.

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

1935wkiesling  1936wkiesling

1995afreeman  2010nbarnett

First two custom cards are colorized.

A Card for Everyone: Brown and Cannava

May 24 is the birthday of two slightly-built scat backs who had similar careers in Green Bay.

Al Cannava was a scholarship player at Notre Dame before joining the service during World War II. He served on the USS Halligan that was sunk on March 25, 1945, and Al spent several days floating in the Pacific near Okinawa before he was rescued. After the War, Cannava enrolled at Boston College, closer to home, and starred on the gridiron. A free agent signing by the Packers in 1950, Al played in the opener that year against the Lions and caught one pass for 28 yards, rushed once for two, returned two punts for nine and one kickoff for ten. Unfortunately, he fumbled on that kick return, and the Lions returned the fumble for a touchdown. Al was cut that week to make room for Breezy Reid and never played in the NFL again.

Timmy Brown had a similar experience for the Packers, but a happier NFL ending. Tim was picked in round 27 of the 1959 NFL Draft out of Ball State and made Vince Lombardi’s first roster despite having fumbling problems in the preseason. After the opening win over the Bears, though, Tim was cut to bring back defensive back Bill Butler. Picked up by the Eagles, Brown would have a fine career with Philadelphia in the 1960s as a runner/receiver/returner, setting records for all-purpose yards and making three Pro Bowls.

1950bacannava2  1959ttimbrown2

Custom cards are colorized.

Packers by the Numbers Update: #34

34 has been a disrespected number in Packer history with three gaps of six seasons or longer without it being worn: 1942-47, 1952-64 and 1968-76. Four members of the Packer Hall of Fame have worn 34–Tiny Engebretsen, Don Chandler, Edgar Bennett and Ahman Green. However, Green only wore the number for a half season when he returned to Green Bay to finish his career in 2009.

Back Cully Lidberg was the first Packer to wear 34 in 1929 and was followed by just five players in the Lambeau era: tackle Elmer Sleight (1930), guard Jim Bowdoin (1931), tackle Dick Stahlman (1932), guard Tiny Engebretsen (1935-41) and fullback Ken Roskie (1948).

In the modern era, the number has been worn by one tackle, one kicker, nine running backs and three defensive backs:

T: Joe Spencer (1950-51).

K: Don Chandler (1965-67)

RB: Terdell Middleton (1977-81), Allan Clark (1982), Larry Mason (1988), Edgar Bennett (1992-96), Verland Morency (2006-07), Ahman Green (2009), Johnny White (2012), Michael Hill (2013) and Don Jackson (2016).

DB: Lou Rash (1987r), Mike McKenzie (1999-2004) and Patrick Dendy (2005).

Engebretsen wore the number the longest, and he, Bennett and McKenzie represented it the best.

1929clidberg  1938tengebretsen3

1966pdchandler  1979ttmiddleton

1995ebennett 2000mmckenzie

First two custom cards are colorized.

A Card for Everyone: Al Sparlis

Born on May 20, 1920, Al Sparlis led a Dickensian life. When he was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983, he told the Associated Press:

My parents were divorced when I was four. I had two brothers, two and six. My mother took my little brother because he needed a mother’s companionship, and my father took my older brother because he could put him in school. I ended up in several homes and finally wound up in a Carson City orphanage at the age of eight.

My father, who was in the mining business, finally came and got me, but he took off for Europe when I was nine-and-a-half. We were living just outside Ely, Nevada, and I hung around with a gang that robbed the company store and other places. I never went inside, but stayed outside and made noise if anyone came along.

When I was ten, I was sent to a reformatory. My sentence was supposed to run until I was 21 or at the disposition of the court. Four years later, the warden told me that as far as the state was concerned I was free to go, but no one wanted me.

After his mother remarried, she retrieved Al and brought him to Phoenix.

But I didn’t get along with my stepfather. So I took off and bummed my way on a freight train to Los Angeles where I was born. I thought I might find some relatives there, but all I could find was a grandmother who was unable to take care of me. I slept in a dry cleaning store and worked in a creamery after school. On weekends I worked as a gardener.

Sparlis attended Los Angeles Polytechnic High where he attained the highest grade in his graduating class and played one year of football. He was accepted at UCLA and played in the 1942 Rose Bowl before joining the Air Force. He flew 70 missions in the China-Burma theater before returning to UCLA where he was named All-America at guard in 1945. That year Al also signed a contract with 20th Century Fox and later appeared as a bit player in Somewhere in the Night (1946) and The Foxes of Harrow (1947). He also played a bit role for the Packers as an undersized 185-pound guard in three games in 1946.

Sparlis was recalled to the Air Force during the Korean conflict and flew an additional 65 missions there. He also served during the Vietnam War before rising to become an associate vice president at Coldwell Banker. He died in 2005 at the age of 85.


Packers by the Numbers Update: #33

33 has been worn by three Hall of Fame players in Green Bay (Clarke Hinkle, Mike Michalske and Ray Nitschke), but in each case, just in one season. The player who wore it the longest is a member of the team’s Hall of Fame, fullback William Henderson who switched from 30 to 33 in 1998 and wore it proudly for nine years.

The number was first worn by tackle Bill Kern in 1929. He was followed by seven linemen, five backs and an end in the Lambeau era.

Centers: Art Bultman (1933), Les Gatewood (1946-47) and Lloyd Baxter.

Guards: Mike Michalske (1935), Mike Buchianeri (1941), Glen Sorenson (1943-45 and Buddy Burris (1949-51).

Backs: Wuert Engelmann (1930), Clarke Hinkle (1932), Cal Clemens (1936), Ray Peterson (1937) and Dick Weisgerber (1938-40, 1942).

End: Ken Radick (1931).

In the modern era, 13 running backs, three defensive backs and one linebacker have donned 33.

RBs: Bobby Joe Floyd (1952), Bob Clemens (1955), Frank Purnell (1957), Lew Carpenter (1959-63), Jim Grabowski (1966-70), Barty Smith (1974-80), Jim Jensen (1981-82), Jesse Clark (1983-87), John Sterling (1987r), Keith Woodside (1988-91) William Henderson (1998-06), Brandon Saine (2011-12) and Aaron Jones (2017).

DBs: Doug Evans (1993-97), Brandon Underwood (2009) and Micah Hyde (2013-16).

LB: Ray Nitschke (1958).

The longest gap of no one wearing 33 is just three years from 1971-73.

1929bkern  1936cclemens

1937yrpeterson  1942dweisgerber2

1948blbaxter  1960tlcarpenter

1967pjgrabo4  1974tbtsmith3

1996devans  2000whenderson

First six custom cards are colorized.

Desmond Howard

Desmond Howard is 48 today. The former Heisman Trophy winner from Michigan and fourth overall pick in the 1992 draft had already flopped in Washington and Jacksonville before signing with the Packers as a free agent in 1996. In essence, it was the 1996 championship season that brings him to mind, but he almost didn’t make the team at all that year.

In training camp, the 5’10” 185-pound Howard had some nagging injuries and was so unimpressive as a receiver that he was close to being cut before he returned a punt 77 yards for a score against Pittsburgh in the second exhibition game. That season, Desmond led the NFL in punt returns, punt return yardage and punt return touchdowns; he was bested in return average by another former Michigan Wolverine, Amani Toomer, but Toomer had just 18 returns, as opposed to Howard’s 58. Howard’s yardage mark of 875 is still the all-time seasonal record in the league. He received some All-Pro notice, but did not make the Pro Bowl.

And then, of course, came the playoffs when Howard set another record by returning both a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns in the same postseason. The kickoff return was the clinching score in the Super Bowl that year and earned Desmond the MVP award for the game, the first kicking team player ever so honored. Years later, Ron Wolf would comment to the Journal Sentinel, “He’s the best return guy I’ve ever seen.”

Howard left for Oakland as a free agent in 1997, but returned to Green Bay in 1999. He only lasted half the season before being cut and signed by Detroit where he spent the last three-and-a-half years of his career. He made his only Pro Bowl appearance in 2000 and retired following the 2002 season. His eight overall punt return touchdowns were split between all of his teams except Jacksonville, but his three with Green Bay were the most he had for any one team.

(Adapted from Green Bay Gold)

1996dhoward  1999dhoward2

Custom cards in Fleer styles.

Doug Evans Is 48

The 6’1” 190-pound Doug Evans played linebacker at Louisiana Tech. GM Ron Wolf liked his size, speed, quickness and competitiveness and envisioned Doug as an NFL cornerback. Wolf drafted Evans in the sixth round of the 1993 draft, and Doug earned the starting right cornerback job in his second season. Although he did not have the greatest hands and only picked off 12 balls in his time in Green Bay, two of his picks were crucial. Wolf considers Evans’ pick-six against the Rams in week 12 of 1996 as the turning point in the Packers championship season in that it helped the team break a mid-season losing streak and get back on track. Doug also picked off a pass in the Super Bowl that year against the Patriots that led to a Green Bay field goal.

Wolf told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, “He was one of those guys with tremendous strength in his upper body and he had very good quickness. He was really a tough, durable guy who didn’t miss many games – an exceptional [red] dog man. He had a knack and a feel for rushing the quarterback from his linebacker days. He could stare a receiver right in the eye and then stick with ’em, but those were the days when you could put your hands on a receiver.”

Teammate Eugene Robinson added, “We put Doug on their best receiver and he shut down everyone, from Jerry Rice to Cris Carter to Herman Moore. Doug was one of the premier corners in the league – he had the strength, speed and quickness to stay with the big guys and the little guys.” Evans was a very physical corner and drew some penalties due to that, but was also very good in recovery; he led the team with 54 passes defensed in his years as a starter. Following the 1997 season, Evans drew some All-Pro notice and departed as a free agent to Carolina where he would spend four seasons as a starter before moving on to Seattle and Detroit for the last two years of his career.

(Adapted from Green Bay Gold)

1993devans  1994devans

1995devans  1997devans

Custom cards in Fleer and Topps styles.

Milt Gantenbein

Born on May 10, 1910, end Milt Gantenbein was a star throughout the 1930s for Green Bay and was elected to the Team’s Hall of Fame in 1972. He was the “other end” to Lavvie Dilweg and then Don Hutson, but Milt earned All-Pro notice himself from 1936-38.

A native Iowan, he lived on a house boat on the Mississippi River when very young because his father was a commercial fisherman. He later went to high school in La Crosse, Wisconsin and then starred for UW in college. The Packers signed him in 1931, and he spent 10 seasons in Green Bay. On offense, he took advantage of the attention given to Hutson to catch a touchdown pass in both the 1936 and 1939 championship games, both from Arnie Herber.

He recalled the 1939 scoring grab to the La Crosse Tribune in 1966, “While leaving the huddle, I asked Herber to throw at the goal post and said I’d be there. Mel Hein and [John] Del Isola of the Giants avoided the post. Herber hit the bullseye, and I scored the first touchdown. We won 27-0.”

He also explained a controversial fourth quarter Packers’ play of the 1938 title game, also against the Giants, “Our halfback split to the right and moved up to the line. The left end split about 20 yards and moved back a yard. I shifted to the left side as tight end, caught a pass and ran to the Giant 40-yard line. The head linesman called me an ineligible receiver. The penalty was loss of the ball and it returned to our 40-yard line. The ball went over to the Giants.”

Gantenbein was known to teammates as “Goose” and was chiefly renowned for his defensive prowess. Milt served as team captain for his last four years in Green Bay. He retired in 1941 and was named end coach for Manhattan College. In May 1942 he went into the Navy and spent four years in the service, mostly in the South Pacific. After the war, Milt and his family moved to California where he worked in real estate, although he did coach the Sacramento Nuggets for part of the 1947 Pacific Coast League season. He was named Sergeant at Arms for the California state Assembly in 1965 and held that post until retiring in 1978. He died in 1988 and was survived by two sons and four grandchildren.

1931mgantenbein  1933mgantenbein

1936mgantenbein  1937ymgantenbein2

1938mgantenbein  2waygantenbein2

All custom cards are colorized.