Packers Top Rookie: 1946

Rookies1946dwildung

With the war finally over, the Packers greeted rookies drafted in the last five NFL drafts in 1946. From 1942, Minnesota tackle Urban Odson was the top pick; from 1943, Minnesota tackle Dick Wildung came in round one, Tulane center Les Gatewood in round eight, Arkansas halfback Bob Forte in round 11, Hardin-Simmons end Hal Prescott in round 19 and Hardin-Simmons guard Jug Bennett in round 23; from 1944, Michigan guard Merv Pregulman was the top pick; from 1945, Texas Tech fullback Walt Schlinkman came in round one and Georgia end Don Wells in round six; from 1946, only Michigan halfback Bob Nussbaumer in round three  and UCLA guard Al Sparlis in round 30 joined the team. The 1946 top pick, Marquette halfback Johnny Strzykalski, opted to sign with the fledgling All-America Conference’s San Francisco 49ers. Undrafted free agents Cliff Aberson (a halfback who did not attend college) and Al Zupek (a fullback from Lawrence) made the team as well.

Of these 13 rookies, Sparlis, Bennett, Aberson and Zupek all had one-year NFL careers, while Nussbaumer, Pregulman and Prescott were with other NFL teams in 1947, and Gatewood was gone after 1947. Odson, Schlinkman and Wells would last with the Packers for the rest of the 1940s. Odson was no longer a consensus All-America after four years in the Navy, and Wells was a defensive specialist. Schlinkman was third on the team in rushing as a rookie and drew some All-Pro notice in 1947.

Forte and Wildung were the two best members of the rookie class. Bob Forte was a versatile defender at both halfback and linebacker for seven years in Green Bay. WIldung also spent seven seasons with the Pack and three times was named to an All-Pro team. In his first year, he appeared in all 11 games and started seven; Dick Wildung was the Packers’ top rookie in 1946.

1946wschlinkman  1946bforte

1946caberson  1946azupek

1946dwells  1946uodson

1946mpregulman  1946asparlis

B.J. Raji

July  11 is B. J. Raji’s 31st birthday. Despite showing enormous promise, Raji was ultimately a big disappointment for Packer fans. Selected as the ninth overall pick out of Boston College in 2009, Raji reported late due to salary negotiations and then injured his ankle in his rookie year, but at least learned his place in the defense. In his second season, it looked like a star was being born in Green Bay. Raji anchored the middle of the Packers defense in that championship year as the team’s nose tackle. He played in all 16 games, had 6.5 sacks, 39 tackles and played some goal line offense as an enormous blocking back ala William “Refrigerator” Perry, except the 6’2” 335-pound Raji was called the “Freezer.” In the postseason, B.J. made 12 tackles, a sack and even intercepted a pass in the NFC Championship against the Bears. On that play, he dropped into short middle zone coverage and picked off backup quarterback Caleb Hanie in the fourth quarter before running the ball in for a touchdown that made the score 21-7 Packers.

In 2011, Raji’s performance began to slip, although he made the Pro Bowl (the first Packer defensive tackle to do so since Bob Brown in 1972) on the basis of his splashy play the previous season. In 2012, he seemed to slip more and was shifted to defensive end where he continued in 2013, but he struggled in his new position. Finding no strong interest in the free agent market in the offseason, Raji signed a one-year $4-million-dollar deal with Green Bay to give him the chance to raise his market value, but then he tore his bicep in the preseason and spent 2014 on IR. Returning in 2015, Raji played more inside and functioned as a fairly effective role player. In 2016 he decided he no longer wanted to play football.

(Adapted from Green Bay Gold)

2010bjraji

Custom card in the 1960 Topps style.

1948 Bowman Packers, Colorized

The first full set of pro football cards was the 1948 Bowman set that, unfortunately, was all in black and white. Measuring 2-1/16″ by 2-1/2″, the singles in the 108-card set included 10 Packers. Here is what those black and white photos look like colorized.

Bob_Skoglund  Bruce_Smith

Buford_Ray  Clyde_Goodnight

Jay_Rhodemyre  Larry_Olsonoski

Nolan_Luhn  Perry_Moss

Ted_Fritsch_Sr.Walt_Schlinkman

In order: Bob Skoglund, Bruce Smith, Baby Ray, Clyde Goodnight, Jay Rhodemyre, Larry Olsonoski, Nolan Luhn, Perry Moss, Ted Fritsch and Walt Schlinkman.

Packers Top Rookie: 1945

Rookies1945plipscomb

The defending champion Packers brought in 11 rookies in 1945, and more than half of them stuck with the team for four years or more. Unfortunately, as a group they weren’t that good, and Lambeau’s team began to decline.

Six of the rookies were draft picks…just not necessarily from 1945. Top pick Walt Schlinkman would not join the team for another year, but second pick Clyde Goodnight, an end from Tulsa signed with the Packers. His Tulsa teammate and bookend end Nolan Luhn came in Round 25, and Baylor tackle Solon Barnett was a 14th round pick of the Chicago Cardinals who landed in Green Bay in October.

Two Packer picks from 1942 joined the team in 1945: Washington guard Ray Frankowski was taken in round three and Heisman Trophy-winning halfback Bruce Smith from Minnesota in round 13. UCLA fullback Ken Snelling was the team’s seventh round pick in 1943.

Undrafted free agents included Notre Dame guard Bernie Crimmins, two halfbacks – Russ Mosley from Alabama and Ken Keuper from Georgia – as well as two massive tackles: Ed Neal from Oachita Baptist and Paul Lipscomb from Tennessee. Crimmins and Mosley would both be gone within two years, as would draft picks Barnett, Frankowski and Snelling, although Frankowski would play for the Los Angeles Dons of the All-America Football Conference for three seasons.

Luhn and Goodnight would both start at end once Don Hutson retired a year later. As rookies, Luhn caught 15 passes for 151 yards and one touchdown, while Goodnight grabbed seven for an astounding 283 yards and three scores. That’s 40 yards per catch, but Clyde would never average even half of that ever again.

Keuper was just a role player, but Smith would average 5.2 yards per carry for his career. However, Lambeau gave him just 108 carries during Bruce’s four years in Green Bay.

The two linemen Neal and Lipscomb had the best Packer careers. Neal, 6’4” and 285 pounds officially, was probably the Packers’ first 300-pound player. Stout and strong, he played tackle, center and middle guard, but was better at filling space than moving laterally. Lipscomb, 6’5” and 250 pounds was a starter at tackle right from his first game. Never a great player, he was effective on defense and went to four straight Pro Bowls after being traded to the Redskins in 1950; Paul Lipscomb was the Packers’ top rookie in 1945.

1945cgoodnight  1945nluhn

1945sbarnett  1945eneal

1945bsmith  1945kkeuper

Custom cards are colorized.

Game Notes: Packers vs. Brooklyn Tigers 9/17/1944

In the 1944 season opener at the Milwaukee State Fair Grounds, the Packers began their title run against the rechristened Brooklyn Tigers (nee Dodgers). As the Dodgers, Brooklyn had struggled since Coach Jock Sutherland left for the military following the 1941 season, finishing 3-8 in 1942 and 2-8 in 1943. Ultimately, things would get worse in 1944, with the team recording an 0-10 mark. Following this sorry season, Brooklyn would be merged into the Boston Yanks for the 1945 season, and then owner Dan Topping would remove the franchise from the NFL to be reborn as the New York Yankees in the new All-America Football Conference in 1946.

On this day, however, they played the future NFL champs almost dead even. The temperature was described as “sweltering” in the Milwaukee Journal and as “mid-summer” in the Green Bay Press-Gazette and was likely in the mid-to upper 80s. Brooklyn outgained the Packers 138 to 116 on the ground, 120 to 102 in the air and with 21 penalties for 160 to nine for 84 for Green Bay. Three Tigers were ejected, as well as Ade Schwammel for the Packers.

While they were still fresh in the first quarter, the Packers marched to the Tiger 28 following the opening kickoff, but two sacks of Irv Comp lost 26 yards and forced a punt. The next time Green Bay got the ball, the offense moved to the Tiger 24, and then Don Hutson caught a Comp pass over the middle at the 16 and scampered into the end zone. 7-0.

The Brooklyn offense was imaginative, featuring a middle screen, bubble screens to the side and several jump passes at the line of scrimmage, but penalties and interceptions by Joe Laws and Hutson stopped them until the third quarter when a long drive culminated in the game-tying touchdown by Pug Manders on a one-yard plunge. Bruiser Kinard booted the extra point standing stock-still and swinging his leg like a pendulum.

Before the end of the quarter, the Packers regained the lead on two plays by the Brocks. Baby Ray blocked a Tiger punt and linebacker Charley Brock recovered it at the Brooklyn 17. On the next play, halfback Lou Brock swept around left end for the concluding score of the game. 14-7 Green Bay.

In the game, Don Hutson lined up for 50 offensive plays and was aligned wide or flexed for 32 of them. In the other 15 Packer offensive plays, both ends were in tight on every play.

1944dhutsonc  1944brayc

1944cbrockc  1944lbrockc

Custom cards are colorized.

Game Notes: Green Bay vs. Detroit 10/10/43

The 2-1 Lions under new Coach Gus Dorais came to Green Bay to face the 1-0-1 Packers on this October 1943 Sunday, but they were never in the ball game. Tony Canadeo, who would be married the next day, had a great game with tough runs, big punt returns and three touchdown passes thrown in a Packer rout.

Green Bay kicked off and quickly forced the Lions to punt. Canadeo returned the punt 25 yards to the Lion 42 and on the first play from scrimmage hit end Harry Jacunski for 38 yards to the Detroit. The ball bounced when Jacunski hit the ground and would be ruled an incompletion today, but counted then. On the second play from scrimmage, Ted Fritsch punched it in. 7-0 Packers.

The Packers were very lively on defense. Jacunski made a nice stuff behind the line of scrimmage. Buckets Goldenberg dropped out of the line to play middle linebacker on third down and Larry Craig put on a heavy rush to force another punt by Detroit. Craig has been impressive in every game I’ve watched, maintaining the edge on defense and leading the blocking for every running play on offense.

Lou Brock returned the Lions punt 15 yards. Three hard runs by Canadeo and another catch by Jacunski took the ball to the seven, where Canadeo tossed a TD pass to Brock to make it 14-0. Green Bay continued driving the football the next two times they had possession, but both times Ted Fritsch missed field goal attempts.

Detroit finally scored on their own two-play drive in the second quarter when Chuck Fenenbock hit Ned Mathews for 30 yards, and Mathews lateraled to trailing guard Riley Matheson who traveled another 24 yards to the Packer 21. Mathews then threw to Fenenbock for the score. 14-7.

However, before the end of the half, Canadeo, while in the grasp of a pass rusher, slipped a pass underneath to Andy Uram who zigged and zagged for a 20-yard score behind a nice downfield block by Don Hutson. 21-7 Packers. An interception by Uram then led to the Packers driving down to the Lion two, but they turned the ball over on downs right before the half.

Following the kickoff to open the second half, Green Bay drove down the field on a furious ground attack that culminated in a two-yard touchdown run by rookie Irv Comp. Later in the quarter, Fritsch missed another field goal, but in the fourth quarter, an interception by Hutson led to a 39-yard touchdown pass from Canadeo to Uram to bring the score to 35-7. With just 20 seconds to play another Detroit hook-and-lateral play completed the scoring: Frankie Sinkwich hit Bill Fisk for 30 yards, and Fisk lateralled to Harry Hopp who ran the remaining 75 yards to make the final score 35-14.

1943 was the first year the free substitution was instated for the duration of the War. Don Hutson lined up for 51 plays on offense and was spread wide or flexed on 27 of them. On the other 26 Packer plays, only six times was a Green Bay end spread out, although halfback Joe Laws was used as a flanker a few times. Hutson also lined up as a defensive end on one play in the fourth quarter and forced a lateral in the backfield before Larry Craig returned to the field on the next play.

1943tcanadeo  1943hjacunski

1943tfritsch  1943auram

1943dhutson  1943lcraig

All custom cards are colorized.

Packers Top Rookie: 1944

Rookies1944pduhart

For his final championship run of 1944, Curly Lambeau took on six rookies. The only one drafted was Texas tailback Roy McKay who was a fifth round pick the year before in the 1943 draft. McKay was known mostly for his punting during his three seasons in Green Bay. Of the 30 Packer draft picks in 1944, only the top pick, Michigan lineman Merv Pregulman, ever played in Green Bay.

The five free agents were Georgetown end Bob Kercher who appeared in just two games, Marquette halfback Dick Bilda who appeared in just three, Iowa guard Chuck Tollefson who appeared in 18 games over three seasons, Wisconsin-Platteville fullback Don Perkins and Florida halfback Paul Duhart.

Perkins finished second on the team in rushing with 207 yards and intercepted two passes on defense. He was released after seven games in 1945 and picked up by the Bears. A year later, he pulled off the rare feat of winning a championship with each of the NFL’s oldest rivals.

Duhart, a Canadian, left Florida in 1942 to join the military but was discharged in 1943. The NFL allowed him to sign with the Packers because Florida had disbanded for the War. As a rookie Packer, he gained 183 yards rushing and caught nine passes good for 176 more yards, scoring two touchdowns rushing and two receiving, as well as intercepting four passes on defense; Paul Duhart was the Packers’ top rookie in 1944.

The postscript is that the NFL then made Duhart eligible for the draft since his class had graduated. He was selected by the Steelers with the second overall pick and then sold to the Boston Yanks after just two games. He appeared in just three games for Boston before injuries ended his career.

1944pduhart2  1944dperkins2

1944rmckayc  1944ctollefson2

All custom cards are colorized.