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.

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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.

1946asparlis2

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.

Multi-Player Combination Cards

Old school Topps baseball cards often included multi-player cards with some corny title–a 1964 card with Casey Stengel and young Ed Kranepool was called “Casey Teaches,” a 1959 card with Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio was called “Keystone Combo” and so forth. I found them fun, and have made several Packer ones. Here are a few:

1954bigotit  1959tsignalcallers

1960twelcome3  1961tprotection

1971trunstuffers  1973tcombo

Custom cards I Got It, Giant Winners and Protection Racket are colorized.