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Recently, I saluted the passing of the great Green Bay fullback Jimmy Taylor. Although there were many games in which Taylor gained more yards or scored more touchdowns, his greatest day as a Packer came 56 years ago today–the 1962 title game against Sam Huff and the Giants in Yankee Stadium.  The Packers were 13-1, first in the league in points scored and fewest points allowed; they beat both the Bears and the Eagles 49-0 that year, but the Lions had displayed some chinks in their armor on Thanksgiving by beating Green Bay handily 26-14.  The Giants were no slouches either.  They finished 12-2, second in points scored and fourth in points allowed.  In addition, the Giants were fired up about being embarrassed 37-0 in previous year’s title game to Green Bay.

Although 64,892 people attended the game in Yankee Stadium, it was blacked out on television in New York, so Giant fans had to drive 75 miles to view it. It was bitter cold day with the temperature 20 degrees at game time and winds gusting to 40 mph.  Some players who also played in the Ice Bowl, like linebacker Ray Nitschke, considered the conditions in the 1962 game even tougher.  The ground was icy, hard, sharp and inflicted pain every time someone was tackled.  The wind negated the Giants vaunted passing offense, and this became a game fought in the trenches.  Taylor was the workhorse, carrying the ball 31 times for 85 yards, and the Giants led by Huff gang-tackled him each time often getting in some cheap shots after the play was dead.  Jimmy needed stitches on his elbow and bit his tongue so he was spitting blood the whole game.  After the game according to announcer Ray Scott, Taylor’s body was black and blue and yellow and purple, a complete mess.  In the second quarter, he scored a touchdown from the seven-yard line on the only play he wasn’t tackled all game.

At the half the Packers led 10-0, meaning they had played 6 championship quarters against the Giants in 1961-62 and had outscored them 47-0.  The Giants finally got on the board in the third quarter by blocking a Packer punt and falling on the ball in the end zone, but they never did score on the Green Bay defense. That defense was weakened when safety Willie Wood was ejected from the game for knocking down an official while protesting an interference call near the end of the third quarter.  However, with Jerry Kramer’s 3 of 5 field goal kicking, the final score was 16-7, and Lombardi’s Packers were two-time champs.  Kramer made field goals from 26, 29 and 30 yards but missed from the 37 in the first quarter and the 40 in the final period. In the aftermath of this brutal slugfest, boxing promoter Al Flora offered Sam Huff and Jim Taylor $2,000 for a four-round boxing match, but that never came to pass.

Despite Taylor’s hard-fought heroics, Ray Nitschke was named the game’s MVP for recovering two fumbles and deflecting a pass that was intercepted by teammate Dan Currie, and Ray appeared that night as the mystery guest on the “What’s My Line” TV show.  An ironic postscript to the title game coverage of Newsweek was a little note they included regarding the NFL employing a team of ex-FBI agents to ferret out gambling rumors involving four teams with only the Bears named.  Of course, Paul Hornung and the Lions Alex Karras would be suspended due to this investigation, and the Bears would win the 1963 title.

(Adapted from Packers by the Numbers.)

1962fjtaylor  1962fjkramer

1962frnitschke  1962fdcurrie

1962fwwood  1962fphornung3

Custom cards of Nitschke, Currie and Wood are colorized.

Packers by the Numbers Update: #59

59 is clearly one of the most unpopular numbers in Green Bay history. In the Lambeau era, it was first worn by center Frank Butler in 1936 and then by back Jimmy Lawrence in 1939. After that, there was a three decade gap in which no Packer donned 59.

Linebacker Rudy Kuechenberg ended the dormancy in 1970, and he has been followed by just seven linebackers and two long snappers in the ensuing 48 years.

LB: Rudy Kuechenberg (1970), Tom Toner (1973, 1975-77), John Anderson (1979-89), Kurt Larson (1991), Wayne Simmons (1993-97), Na’il Diggs (2000-05), Tracey White (2006-08) and Brad Jones (2009-14).

LS: Rick Lovato (2015) and Pepper Taylor (2017).

Obviously, Anderson, who wore 59 for a record 11 seasons, is the class of this group. He’s a member of the team’s Hall of Fame and was named to the second team of the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 1980s. Simmons, Diggs and Jones all had their moments, but this is not an impressive roster.

1936fbutler  1975ttoner

1979tjanderson  1995wsimmons

2000ndiggs  2010bjones

Custom card of Butler is colorized.

Two Former College Quarterbacks

December 23 marks a birthday shared by two Hall of Fame Packers who were converted from their college position of quarterback in the NFL: Willie Wood turns 82 and Paul Hornung 83.

Willie Wood was 5’10” 180 pounds and not particularly fast. Washington D.C. Boys Club coach Bill Butler had to launch a letter writing campaign to get Willie noticed by USC where he became the first black quarterback in the Pacific Coast Conference. Butler then joined Wood is sending letters to pro teams in 1960 to give the undrafted quarterback a shot in the NFL.

Lombardi brought Wood in and switched him to defensive back, where he fell under the tutelage of 35-year old Emlen Tunnell, a future Hall of Famer. As a rookie, Wood’s primary function was as a punt returner, but when Jesse Whittenton hurt his leg at the outset of the November 6 contest with the Colts, Willie was sent in at right corner and was toasted by star Raymond Berry for two touchdowns that helped put Baltimore up 21-0 in the second quarter. At that point, Wood was relieved by another rookie, Dick Pesonen, but the Packers lost the game 38-24.

Wood replaced Tunnell in the starting lineup in 1961 and intercepted five passes while leading the league in punt returns. A year later, Willie led the league in interceptions with nine and was selected to his first Pro Bowl. The Packers won the championship in both seasons, although the fiery Wood was ejected from the 1962 game for bumping an official when protesting a pass interference call in the third quarter. Jerry Kramer maintained that Wood was the one man who intimidated Ray Nitschke with his baleful stare should the front seven fail to do their job properly.

Position coach Norb Hecker told the Milwaukee Sentinel, “Wood is the most daring defensive back we have. He has wonderful reactions and can jump like a kangaroo. He also is the best tackler on the ball club. He’s what I would call an ideal free safety.” Phil Bengtson, Wood’s defensive coach and presenter for the Hall of Fame, agreed, “He was probably as fine a tackler as the game has ever seen.”

His most famous play was his third quarter interception of Chiefs’ quarterback Lenny Dawson in the first Super Bowl; that pick set up Green Bay’s game-clinching touchdown. Under blitz pressure, Dawson did not see Wood lurking near intended target Fred Arbanas, and Willie swooped in for the kill. It was the second of his two postseason interceptions, augmenting his 48 regular season picks — second in team annals.

Wood later became the first black head coach in pro football since the 1920s when he took over the Philadelphia Bell of the WFL in 1975. Five years later, he replaced former teammate Forrest Gregg as head coach of the Toronto Argos of the CFL, but Wood had a losing record in both stops. Willie was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1989.

1964pwwood2  1967pwwood2

1969twwood2  1971kwwood

Paul Hornung was an all-around football player, but since he never gained more than 681yards rushing in a season, Paul has drawn a lot of criticism as being overrated and the weakest member of the Hall of Fame. Not everyone understands the importance in a team game of the classic triple threat back who could run, throw and kick.

Hornung, of course, starred at Notre Dame as a quarterback and won the Heisman Trophy in 1956 despite his team finishing 2-8. He was selected first overall in the 1957 NFL draft, but there was indecision over where to play him in the backfield. Coach Liz Blackbourn told the press, “Hornung is a good runner. Right now, however, he doesn’t throw the ball as well as our other two quarterbacks, Bart Starr and Babe Parilli. If he can improve his passing to a point where he is close to them, there’ll be no question who our quarterback will be.”

Blackbourn bounced Paul around in the backfield, but when Vince Lombardi took over in 1959, he saw the 6’2” 215-pound Hornung as similar to the versatile Frank Gifford, the left halfback in Lombardi’s offense with the Giants. Hornung fit Lombardi’s offense exactly, and he led the NFL in scoring the next three years. His 176 points in a 12-game season in 1960 set a league mark not toppled till 2006 by Ladainian Tomlinson in a 16-game season.

More than his play on the field, Hornung was valued by his coaches and teammates as a leader. Ron Kramer told Sport Illustrated, “He was a great blocker, he could catch the ball and he was a better runner close to the goal line than anybody I’ve ever seen. But he did a lot of other things for the team, too. He kept Jimmy Taylor in line when all Jimmy cared about was how many yards he got. He took all the shit that Vinny dished out in practice, because he could.” Or as backfield coach Red Cochran told Cliff Christl, “He was the team leader. The guys loved him.” And off the field, he was the roguish forerunner of Joe Namath…ladies loved him and guys wanted to be him.

As a runner, Hornung had good size, but was neither a speedy or powerful back. The key to Hornung was blocking. With the ball he was expert at following his interference and making the right cuts at the right time to get the most out of every play. As a blocker himself, he was much more than solid. When Hornung was suspended for his gambling activities in 1963, Jim Taylor’s rush average dipped from 5.4 to 4.1 yards-per-carry; when a rusty Hornung returned in 1964, Taylor’s average rose back to 5.0. Hornung was just what Lombardi needed at left halfback to run his signature power sweep, with the added wrinkle of the halfback option pass play. As a receiver out of the backfield, Paul got down the field, averaging 11.4 yards per reception. As a kicker, Hornung was about average for his time converting about 53% of his field goals before the disastrous 1964 season when he missed 26 of 38 attempts and cost the team several close games and a shot at the Western Conference.

After that comeback season, Hornung had two great games left in the tank in 1965. He scored five touchdowns to lead the Packers over the Colts in week 13, and then attained just the second 100-yard rushing game of his career in the title game against Cleveland when he and Taylor combined for over 200 yards rushing in the mud to pace the team’s victory. After that game, Fuzzy Thurston extolled Hornung’s leadership to Sports Illustrated, “Paul’s got a little extra. He comes in the huddle, he tells Bart what defense they’re in, how they’re covering him, what he can do. And when you need someone to give you a lift, to make you a great ball club, not just a good one, he says something that picks you up that far. He did it today.”

(Adapted from Green Bay Gold.)

1961fphornungarmy  1961fphornungcas

1964pphornung  1965pphornung2

Colorized custom cards include 1967 and 1969 Wood and College All-Star and 1965 Hornung.

Packers by the Numbers Update: #58

58 is a number that most years at least one Packer has worn. The longest gap without a 58 in Green Bay is just three years, which has occurred twice (from 1965-67 and from 1995-97). The number was first worn by tackle Joe Kurth in 1934, and he was followed in the Lambeau era by tackle Champ Seibold (1936), tackle Warren Kilbourne (1939), tackle Baby Ray (1940), end Joe Carter (1942), tackle Ade Schwammel (1944) and tackle/center Ed Neal (1945-51).

In the modern era, 58 has been worn by 17 linebackers, six centers and one defensive end.

LB: Clayton Tonnemaker (1953-54), Tom Bettis (1955), Dan Currie (1958-64), Mark Cooney (1974), Bob Lally (1976), Don Hansen (1976-77), Danny Johnson (1978), Paul Rudzinski (1979), Sammy Stewart (1979), Bruce Beekley (1980), Mark D’Onofrio (1992), Ruffin Hamilton (1994), Ben Taylor (2006), Danny Lansanah (2008), Frank Zombo (2010-12), Sam Barrington (2013-15) and Tripp Jordan (2016).

C: Larry Lauer (1956-57), Cal Withrow (1971-73), Bob McCaffrey (1975), Larry Rubens (1982-83), Mark Cannon (1984-89) and Mike Flanagan (1998-2005).

DE: Francis Winkler (1968-69).

Dan Currie wore the number with the most distinction. He and Baby Ray are both members of the team’s Hall of Fame. Ed Neal, Clayton Tonnemaker and Mike Flanagan all were Pro Bowl selections.  Flanagan wore the number the longest at eight years, although both Currie and Neal wore 58 for seven years.

1934jkurth  1947eneal2

1953bctonnemaker  1956tllauer2

1961tdcurrie4  1969tfwinkler

1971tcwithrow2  1978tdjohnson


2000mflanagan   2010fzombo

Custom cards of Kurth, Neal, Tonnemaker, Lauer and Cannon are all colorized.

Tim Lewis Turns 57 Today

Tim Lewis is one of a long sad line of Packers whose promising careers were cut short by neck injuries. The 5’11” 195-pound Lewis was particularly promising. Drafted from the University of Pittsburgh as the 11th overall pick in 1983, Tim moved in as the starter on the right side by midseason and picked off five passes. He followed that with seven interceptions in 1984 and four in 1985. Included was a 99-yard pick six against the Rams in his second season. In 1985, he scored again on a fumble recovery. A quick and fluid player, he helped solidify the Packers’ secondary. Safety Tom Flynn said of his teammate, “Not every corner is perfect, but I thought he was as close to perfect as there was.”

His career ended in the third game of the 1986 season. On Monday Night Football against the Bears, Lewis and Willie Gault collided helmet-to-helmet, leaving Lewis motionless on the field. A year earlier, a similar incident in an intra-squad game had caused Lewis to miss two preseason games. This time, a thorough examination determined that Lewis had too narrow a spinal canal to risk playing any more football, so Tim retired. Since 1987, he has worked as an assistant coach either in college or the pros, including stints as the defensive coordinator of the Steelers and Giants.

(Adapted from Green Bay Gold.)

1983ttlewis2  1986ttlewis

Custom cards in Topps styles.

Lombardi’s First QB

Lamar McHan was born on this date in 1932 and was Vince Lombardi’s first starting quarterback in Green Bay, although it was not a good match. The Cardinals drafted the running quarterback out of Arkansas in the first round in 1954 and put him right into the starting lineup as a rookie. McHan threw 22 interceptions to just six touchdowns in that first year and didn’t improve a whole lot over the next decade. In his first few years, the Cardinals ran a Split-T offense in which the mobile McHan often ran with the ball on the option play to try to take advantage of his skills. In 1956, the Cardinals got off to a 4-0 start before losing two of the next three when McHan began to unravel. Before a game in Pittsburgh, McHan told his teammates he didn’t feel like playing, ignored plays that the coaches sent in and refused to go back in the game once he was taken out. Two days later, McHan was suspended and fined $3,000, the largest fine in NFL history to that point. The suspension was lifted a week later, but Jim Root started the next two games before McHan got his job back at the end of the year.

In May 1959, the Cardinals traded McHan to the Packers, and Coach Lombardi commented to Art Daley in the Press Gazette:

We have nothing to lose. If McHan makes it, we will gain a veteran quarterback and if he doesn’t we will retain our draft selection. It amounts to a free look at a good quarterback prospect. I feel very fortunate in being able to get him. The Cards thought enough of him that they wouldn’t trade him to any team in the division. He’s the best athlete in the National League. He’s 6’1” 205, and he can run.

As the Giants offensive coach, Lombardi had coached against McHan for five seasons. In Lamar’s first year as a Packer, fans were split into McHan and Starr camps regarding who should start. Lombardi vacillated between McHan and Starr, but when Lamar reportedly cursed Vince as a “Dago” after being yanked from a game early in 1960, he fell out of favor in Green Bay. Lombardi would not tolerate bigotry or disrespect. The Packers traded him to the Colts to back up Johnny Unitas in 1961, and he finished his NFL career as John Brodie’s injury replacement in San Francisco in 1963. He then spent one season in Canada before retiring.

McHan had a very strong but very inaccurate arm and completed just 42% of his passes over his career. As a player, he was moody, opinionated and unpredictable. He later summed up his career to a local newspaper reporter by saying, “Playing in the NFL required you to think. Playing tailback in college, all you had to do was fake to one side, run to the other and prepare for shock. I was better at absorbing shocks than thinking.” Shockingly, the Saints employed McHan as quarterbacks and receivers coach from 1974-84. He died of a heart attack on November 23, 1998.

(Adapted from Quarterback Abstract)

1959tlmchan2  1960tlmchan2

qb60lmchan  1961tlmchan2


Non-head shot custom cards are colorized.

Packers by the Numbers Update: #57

57 was first worn in Green Bay by guard Clyde Van Sickle in 1932. He was followed in the Lambeau era by tackle Champ Seibold (1934, 1939-40), tackle Ade Schwammel (1936), guard Dick Zoll (1939) and end Ray Wehba (1944).

Following a 19-year gap, the number was next worn by rookie center Ken Bowman in 1964, and Kenny wore it for a full decade of fine service. He is both the Packer who wore the number longest and the only 57 to be a member of the Packer Hall of Fame.

Bowman’s successors included 13 linebackers, two guards and one defensive end.

LB: Ron Acks (1974-76), Mike Curcio (1983), Chet Parlavecchio (1983), Putt Choate (1987r), Joe Kelly (1995), Antonio London (1998), Jim Nelson (1999), Chris Gizzi (2000-01), T.J. Slaughter (2003), John Leake (2005), Cyril Obiozer (2009), Matt Wilhelm (2010) and Jamari Lattimore (2011-14).

G: Derrell Gofourth (1977-82) and Rich Moran (1985-93).

DE: Jason Hunter (2006-08).

1932new linemen  1964pkbowman2

1976tracks2  1982tdgofourth

1990trmoran  1995jkelly

2000cgizzi  2010mwilhelm

Custom cards of Van Sickle, Gofourth and Moran are colorized.

Vonnie Holiday Turns 43

Vonnie Holliday was the 19th overall pick out of North Carolina in the 1998 as Reggie White’s heir apparent. Vonnie had his career high of eight sacks as a rookie playing across from White, but never developed into the game-changing pass rusher that White was. That being said, the 6’5” 290-pound did have a 15-year career in the NFL as a heavy-bodied defensive end who was solid against the run, and the Packers did get his best years. In five years in Green Bay, Holliday accumulated 32 of his 62.5 total sacks, not to mention 32.5 of his 60 total stuffs (running plays tackled behind the line of scrimmage) and 26 of his 42 total passes defensed. (stuff and pass defense numbers courtesy of Webster and Turney).

Holliday was actually a pretty consistent performer for the Packers. The one year his sack numbers dipped was 2000 when he was hampered by hamstring and ankle problems. In his last year as a Packer, Vonnie had six sacks in 10 games before a torn pectoral muscle and knee injury sidelined him. He went on to play for the Chiefs, Dolphins, Broncos, Redskins and Cardinals through the 2012 season. He was a solid pro and a good role player in a defense, but never really lived up to his billing as a number one pick.

(Adapted from Green Bay Gold)

1998vholiday  1999vholliday


Custom cards in a variety of designs.

Ryan Grant Turns 36 Today

Ryan Grant’s rise in the NFL was meteoric, but so was his decline. He gained over 2,000 yards in four years at Notre Dame, but the 6’1” 220 pounder was not drafted. The Giants signed him as a free agent in 2005, and he spent that season on their practice squad. An off-field injury in 2006 placed him on the injured list for another season. The Packers traded a sixth round pick for him during the 2007 training camp, and Grant made the team.

Green Bay’s rushing attack was struggling before Grant was inserted into the lineup. Over the last ten games of the season, though, Ryan posted five 100-yard games and fell just short of reaching 1,000 yards for the season. Grant topped 1,200 yard in both of the next two seasons, but then disaster struck in the second quarter of the 2010 season opener when he suffered a season-ending ankle injury and missed the team’s championship run. In 2011, he wasn’t quite the same player and left for Washington the next year, although he finished 2012 back in Green Bay and then was released.

Coach Mike McCarthy once described Grant to reporters, “His body type where he’s taller, he has a longer leverage than the other running backs. He runs with a natural forward lean.” He had decent speed and was skilled at making cutbacks to find a hole. His most memorable game was the 2007 playoff game when he gashed the Seahawks in the snow. That day he recovered from losing fumbles on two of his first three touches to gain 201 yards rushing and score three touchdowns in leading the Packers to victory. He was a nice player, but for too brief a period.

(Adapted from Green Bay Gold)


Custom card in 1960 Topps style.