Packers Top Rookie: 1937

Rookies1937ejankowski

For the second consecutive year, the Packers’ rookie class in 1937 was pretty thin, with only one player lasting longer than two seasons in Green Bay. Four of the team’s eight rookies came via the draft and four others came from free agent signings.

All four free agents lasted just one year in the NFL. Iowa guard Zud Schammell appeared in eight games, North Dakota State tackle Lyle Sturgeon and Manchester back Herb Banet in seven, and San Francisco tailback Ray Peteson in just two.

TCU center Darrell Lester was drafted in the fifth round of the 1936 draft and played for the Packers in 1937 and 1938. Another rookie center, Minnesota’s Bud Svendsen, was drafted in the fourth round and joined his brother George (another former Minnesota center) on the Packers in 1937. Both brothers left the Packers to go into coaching in 1938. Bud returned in 1939 and George in 1940. Bud was traded to Brooklyn in 1940 for Beattie Feathers and Dick Cassiano but was later elected to the Packers Hall of Fame in an odd selection. The team was not able to sign its third round pick, although Minnesota signal caller Bud Wilkinson did lead the College All-Stars to a 6-0 victory over the Packers that August.

The Packers top two draft picks were Wisconsin fullback Ed Jankowski and Pittsburgh tackle Averell Daniell. Second round pick Daniell was traded to Brooklyn in midseason for tackle Bill Lee in a steal for the Packers. Lee would give the Packers seven steady seasons as a starting tackle, while Daniell’s NFL career ended after one year.

Jankowski finished second to Clarke Hinkle on the team in rushing in 1937 with 324 yards and scored four touchdowns. He would spend five seasons in Green Bay; Ed Jankowski was the Packers’ top rookie in 1937.

1937yejankowskidraft  1937yejankowski

1937ybsvendsen  1937yhbanet

1937ydlester  1937yzschammel

1937ybwilkinson

Custom cards all colorized.

Right Corner Celebration

Similar to the July 5th birth date shared by deep threats Billy Howton and James Lofton, May 9th is shared by two Packers who played the same position with excellence. In this case, right cornerbacks Jesse Whittenton and Bob Jeter, with Jeter essentially succeeding Whittenon at the position during the Lombardi Era.

Jesse Whittenton was drafted out of Texas Western (now Texas-El Paso) in the sixth round of the 1956 NFL draft by the defending Western Conference champion Rams. Whittenton moved into the Rams’ starting lineup at right cornerback as a rookie and spent two years in Los Angeles before being traded, along with end Bob Carey, to the Bears for tackle Kline Gilbert in July 1958. The Bears cut Jesse before the 1958 season, but three weeks later, Green Bay signed him to replace injured linebacker Carlton Massey on the roster.

That sorry Packers team was destined to finish 1-10-1, and Whittenton moved into the starting lineup before the season was done, still at right cornerback. With the arrival of Lombardi in 1959, the fortunes of the Packers and of Whittenton changed abruptly. Defensive backfield coach Norb Hecker told Len Wagner for the 1961 Packers Yearbook, “We saw some good potential in [Jesse] because of his speed and size, and we worked and worked and worked on him. And it has paid off.” Whittenton drew All-Pro notice from 1959-61 and made the Pro Bowl in 1961 and 1963.

The 6-foot 195-pound Whittenton was a complete cornerback, tough against the run and a sure tackler, as well as having the speed to cover receivers deep. He gave ground to no one.  Jesse augmented his natural gifts by keeping a thorough book on all the receivers in the league. Bears speedy deep threat Harlon Hill rated him highly as a defender. Whittenton even kept his roommate from the Rams, Del Shofner, in check when the Packers and Giants tangled for the championship in 1961 and 1962. Indeed, Lombardi wrote in Run to Daylight, “he is as close to being a perfect defensive back as anyone in the league.”

Whittenton’s most famous play came in a 1961 week 12 showdown with New York. On the third play of the fourth quarter with the Giants up 17-13, New York fullback Alex Webster broke free from his own eight-yard line. When Webster was hit by Henry Jordan at the 25, Whittenton swooped in and took the ball out of Alex’s hands as if it were a handoff. Four plays later, Jim Taylor scored the winning touchdown in the 20-17 decision.

Whittenton had a leg injury in 1964 that slowed him down. He joked that he spent the 1964 Playoff Bowl against the Cardinals chasing Billy Gambrell across the goal line. Offered the chance to become a partner in the purchase of a golf course in El Paso, Whittenton discussed it with Lombardi who told Jesse that he still had a few years left as a safety, but that he should take the business opportunity. So Whittenton retired. He qualified for the PGA tour in 1970, and then for the Champions (seniors) Tour in 1993, but his greatest golf success was sponsoring a young Lee Trevino in the late 1960s.

 

Bob Jeter was another college offensive star from the Big Ten that Lombardi tried at receiver before moving him to defense, where he thrived. As a junior, Jeter was the hero of the 1959 Rose Bowl by gaining 194 yards rushing on just nine carries for the Iowa Hawkeyes.

A year later, Green Bay drafted Jeter in the second round with the 17th overall pick in the 1960 draft. Two days after the draft, though, Jeter signed with the B.C. Lions of the CFL because he felt he was too small for the NFL. He spent two years in B.C. as a running back and then was traded to Hamilton in 1963. Jeter maintained he was cut by the Tiger-Cats and returned to the States, but he was forced to spend the season on the Packers’ taxi squad because Hamilton held his playing rights that season.

The 6’1” 200-pound Jeter was a reserve receiver for two seasons, but was not very impressive, catching just two passes. Switched to defense in 1965, he won the starting right cornerback job in training camp, but got hurt in the final preseason game and lost his job to Doug Hart. When Hart went down in the 1965 title game against the Browns, Jeter stepped in and played so well against Paul Warfield that Hart was relegated to the bench the following season. Jeter recalled to Bud Lea that Lombardi told Bob in the locker room on opening day 1966 against the Colts, “Jeter, when you go out there today, I want those 50,000 people in the stands and millions watching the game on television to leave saying they saw the best defensive back in the NFL today.”

Jeter picked off five passes in 1966, including two pick-sixes, and then nabbed eight interceptions in 1967, when he made All-Pro and the Pro Bowl for the first time. For a few years, Adderley and Jeter were the top pair of cornerbacks in the league, but then Adderley was traded in 1970 and Jeter a year later. The 34-year old Jeter clashed in an April minicamp with new coach Dan Devine in 1971 and was sent to the Bears in July. He spent three years in Chicago and then retired.

(adapted from Green Bay Gold)

1959tjwhittenton2  1961fjwhittenton

1962tjwhittenton  1964pbjeter2

1965pbjeter  1967pbjeter2

1972tbjeter

Jeter Traded custom card is colorized.

Dave Hampton

The all-time leader in kick return average for the Packers is Dave Hampton, who played with Travis Williams for two years. Hampton turns 70 today.

Hampton played in the same Wyoming backfield as future NFL runners Jim Kiick and Vic Washington. When Kiick graduated in 1968, Dave led the Cowboys in rushing as a senior and was drafted in the ninth round of the 1969 draft by the Packers. In his rookie training camp, the speedy, shifty 6’ 210-pound Hampton was drawing comparisons to Gale Sayers by the local writers. Obviously, that was premature and hyperbolic, but Hampton was a skilled runner.

With the Packers, he could not break into the starting lineup, but took over as the team’s primary kick returner. In his three seasons in Green Bay, Hampton scored a kick return touchdown each year and led the league in kick returns and yardage in 1971. After his 1970 101-yard kick return touchdown, Dave collapsed in the end zone with a pelvic abscess and had to undergo major abdominal surgery, missing two months of the season.

Traded to Atlanta for lineman Malcolm Snider in 1972, he quickly moved into the Falcons’ starting lineup, but his quest for a 1,000-yard season became a nearly Sisyphean task. In 1972, he reached 1,000 in the season finale, but lost six yards on the next play and ended up five yards shy. In 1973, he was given the ball 16 times in the fourth quarter of the finale and still fell three yards short. He was limited by injuries in 1974, but at last in 1975, in a finale against the Packers, he gained 26 yards after the game’s two-minute warning to reach 1,002. The next year he was traded to the Eagles and then drifted out of the league.

(adapted from Green Bay Gold)

1969tdhampton3  1969treturnaces

1970tdhampton  1971tdhampton2

1972dhampton

Custom cards in the Topps Style.

Scouting Report: Jim Taylor

A scouting report on LSU senior Jim Taylor is posted in the Packer Hall of Fame exhibits. The scout assessed the future Hall of Famer as such:

I think Jimmy Taylor is a fine pro prospect. ..

Has very fine hands and is a good short pass receiver.

He is lazy in his blocking but could be a good one.

Very sound of body and legs and has never been hurt…

He is the type that will make a better pro than college player. Good extra point man…

He is the type that will play as long as he can.

Not too smart. Just what you are looking for in brains…

I have seen John Crow play this season. Both he and Jimmy Taylor are Louisiana boys. In high school Taylor was a better boy. I think Taylor will hold up better in pro ball for Crow has had knee trouble at times.

 

Taylor indeed became a very fine and willing blocker in Green Bay, and throughout his life proved himself to be much smarter and shrewder than anyone gave him credit for.

The comparison to John David Crow is particularly interesting. Crow won the Heisman Trophy that year for Bear Bryant at Texas A&M and was the second overall pick in the draft by the Cardinals. He had a very fine 11-year career, but continually battled injuries as the scout predicted. While Taylor was a workhorse for Lombardi, carrying the ball over 200 times for seven consecutive seasons and five times surpassing 1,000 yards, Crow never carried the ball more than 183 times in his third year…the only time he topped 1,000 yards rushing.

Taylor, the 15th overall pick, would outgain Crow by 3,500 yards rushing, but Crow did gain 2,000 yards more receiving than Jimmy. Taylor drew All-Pro notice six times and went to five Pro Bowls; Crow drew All-Pro notice three times and went to four Pro Bowls. Jimmy is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame; John David is in the College Football Hall of Fame.

1958tjtaylor4  1959bjtaylor

1960tjtaylor2  1962p0jtaylor

1964tjtaylor2  1966tjtaylor

1958 custom Taylor is colorized.

Packers Top Rookie: 1936

Rookies1936rletlow2

In the championship season of 1936, the Packers brought in six rookies. Two came via the brand new NFL draft with San Francisco guard Russ Letlow being the Packers’ first-ever draft pick, the seventh overall selection in draft history. Only one of the team’s other eight initial draft picks made the squad that year – Nebraska end Bernie Scherer, and he would only last with the Packers for two seasons as a reserve.

Four rookies were signed as free agents. Washington & Jefferson guard Tony Paulekas and USC back Cal Clemons played only one NFL season a piece. St. Mary’s halfback Harry Mattos appeared in just two games as a Packer and then played one more season for the Cleveland Rams. South Dakota State halfback Paul Miller spent two seasons in Green Bay and scored three touchdowns as a rookie.

Letlow appeared in eight games as a rookie and would spend eight seasons in Green Bay, wrapped around a three-year tour in the service during the War. Letlow would draw All-Pro notice in four seasons; Russ Letlow was the Packers’ top rookie in 1936.

1936rletlow2  1936bscherer

1936pmiller  1936cclemens

1936hmattos  1936tpaulekas

1936rletlowdraft

Custom cards all colorized.

In the Words of Sport Magazine: Larry Craig

In the same “Packers of Green Bay” article from the December 1946 issue of Sport Magazine from which I quoted last week about Moose Mulleneaux, there is a nice passage about one of the more unsung men in Packer history, Larry Craig. Craig played blocking back on offense, leading the way on almost every running play. On defense, the burly 6’1” 210 pounder known as “Superman” moved up to play defensive end so the slightly-built Don Hutson could slide back a play safety. Not only did Craig provide sturdy front line on defense, Hutson garnered 33 interceptions in the defensive backfield from 1939-45 after grabbing just five in his first four seasons while playing on the line. Craig twice earned All-Pro notice during his 11 years in Green Bay from 1939-49.

Author Jack Sher wrote:

There have only been a couple of blocking backs as great as Craig. One of them was the Michigan bowler-over, Forrest Evashevski, the other was Ernie Pinkert of Southern California. Larry is a fine-looking, beautifully-built, easy-going guy from South Carolina. He has paved the way for more Packer touchdowns from running plays than any man in the team’s history. A blocking back never gets the glory, and I asked Craig how he felt about this.

“I’ll tell you when I feel good,” he said, “It’s when I crack a guy solid and watch the guy behind me with the ball go sailing into the clear. It gives me a clean, swell feeling.”

Craig was the biggest man on his squad at South Carolina, but he felt like a midget when he came to the Packers. Hinkle and Isbell and Baby Ray, then the stars of the team, took him in hand and gave him the confidence that he needed to go on to greatness.

1939lcraigc  1941lcraig

1943lcraig  1946lcraig

Craig custom cards are colorized.

Packers Top Rookie: 1935

Rookies1935dhutson

Curly Lambeau brought in 10 rookies in 1935 and five would have a significant impact on the team in the coming years. The other five had careers that did not extend beyond one season. In fact, three – Notre Dame end Dom Vairo, Indiana guard Dustin McDonald and Kansas State tackle Buster Maddox all appeared in just one NFL game. Stanford guard Bob O’Connor and Minnesota end Bob Tenner played in seven and 11 games respectively for the Packers in their only NFL season.

Of the five players who would last in Green Bay at least three seasons, Iowa blocking back Herm Schneidman was the most anonymous, but he would serve the Packers through 1939 before finishing his career with the Cardinals in 1940.

Two rookie linemen would later win All-Pro notice in Green Bay, although not in their rookie season. Minnesota center George Svendsen appeared in nine games for the Packers in 1935 and USC tackle Ernie Smith in 12. Smith, a veteran of the Pacific Coast Football League, also scored 14 points placekicking.

Nebraska fullback George Sauer had an excellent rookie season, finishing second on the team to Bob Monnett with 334 yards rushing and scoring 24 points on four touchdowns.

The team’s leading scorer, though, was another rookie: Alabama receiver Don Hutson. Hutson is arguably the greatest receiver ever to play the game and the greatest Packer. While the 18 passes he caught as a first-year man would be a career low, he averaged 23.3 yards per catch and led the NFL with six touchdown receptions. From his first reception of 83 yards for a touchdown against the Bears in week two, Hutson was the team’s star; Don Hutson was the Packers’ top rookie in 1935.

1935dhutson  1935gsauer

1935gsvendsen  1935esmith

1935hschneidman  1935boconnor

All custom cards are colorized.