The 12 – well, sort of – greatest players in Packers history: Part Three « Ol' Bag of Donuts

The 12 – well, sort of – greatest players in Packers history: Part Three

Do you want me to write a brilliant introduction, one packed to the brim with humor, insight and more than just a bit of my all-too obvious sex appeal or would you rather I just gave you part three of our weekly series in which we rank the greatest players in team history?

Yeah, that’s what I thought. Enjoy.

7. Ray Nitschke (1958-1972), linebacker – Numbers and honors? Sure, Ray Nitschke had them.

He was named an All-Pro five times. He was named the Most Valuable Player in Green Bay’s 1962 NFL Championship Game win over the New York Giants. He was a member of both the 50th and 75th anniversary all-NFL teams. He picked off 25 passes. He recovered 20 fumbles, second best in team history. He was, in short, the best linebacker of his generation (cram it, Bears fans. Nitschke, not Butkus, was tops).

But if you were to look at all those lofty achievements – oh yeah, he was a 1978 inductee of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, too – and those alone, you would absolutely be missing the point on the demon from hell that was Raymond Ernest Nitschke.

Nitschke – whose picture should sit in the dictionary next to the words “mean” and “nasty” – supplied the grit and toughness to a Packers defense that held opponents to just over 15 points (regular season) and 12 points (postseason) a game during the Lombardi era.

His ferocious demeanor and appearance on the field terrified opponents and, perhaps, teammates alike.

His sheer physical toughness didn’t fade later in life, either. I had a chance to meet and have my photo taken with Nitschke in the winter of 1998 – just before his all-too-soon death at the age of 61 – and when he went to put his arm around my shoulder, it was readily apparant that tell this was a guy who could still kick some ass.

6. Jim Taylor (1958-1966)/Paul Hornung (1957-1962, 1964-1966), running backs – The Herb Adderly/Willie Wood tie at number eight was the first reason for there being more than 12 players on the list of, well, the 12 greatest players in team history.

This is the second.

Somewhat similar to the Adderly/Wood problem, I tried to separate Taylor and Hornung and rank one ahead of the other. But I couldn’t do it. I mean, how can you separate these two? Could you separate salt and pepper? Would you even want to?

Each was lethal in his own way and together they made for a near-perfect backfield. Taylor was a brute force of a human who preferred to run through opponents instead of around them. For God’s sake, the guy played the 1962 NFL Championship Game against the Giants with a cut up elbow and a lacerated tongue.

His toughness was backed up with numbers. Twice he led the league in rushing (1960 and 1962) while leading the team in that same category seven times, still a franchise record. To this day, he also holds franchise records in career rushing attempts (1,811), yards (8,207) and touchdowns (81).

Hornung, meanwhile, was the “Golden Boy,” a player known for his off-the-field exploits (women, booze, gambling – all staples of life, really) as much as his on-the-field work.

Still, that stuff shouldn’t overshadow the fact that Hornung could kill you in a variety of ways. His feet, his hands, his arm and even his foot were all responsible for taking down opponents at various times. The man had a nose for putting points on the board, too, as he led the league in scoring three straight years (1959-1961). His 760 career points is still good enough for fourth on Green Bay’s all-time list.

The pair were reunited later on in life – this time in Canton. Taylor was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1976. Hornung was inducted in 1986.

5. Bart Starr (1956-1971), quarterback – Nitschke. Davis. Gregg. Wood. Taylor. Hornung.

The Packers teams of coach Vince Lombardi were full of Hall-of-Famers. But those teams only had one unquestioned leader: Bart Starr.

Yes, Starr’s numbers were never overwhelming (career highs of 2,483 yards and 16 touchdowns). But Starr was an outstanding game manager who averaged just nine interceptions from 1960-1969 (he led the NFL in completion percentage four times during that same time span). In fact, when he retired, Starr’s completion percentage (57.4 percent) was the best the NFL had ever seen.

Those who were around the game at that time certainly understood Starr’s impact. He was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1966 and was sent to four Pro Bowls. In 1977, Starr was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

More than any of that, though, Starr will live on in eternity for getting behind Jerry Kramer and bowling his way into the endzone to give the Packers a win over the Dallas Cowboys in the 1967 NFL Championship Game at Lambeau Field (i.e., “The Ice Bowl”).

Who cares about numbers when your responsible for one of the greatest plays in the history of the NFL?

Alright, that’s all for part three (part four comes tomorrow). Nine spots down, four to go. There will be no more ties (I promise), just a ranking of the four greatest players in the history of the Green Bay Packers.

Now it gets interesting…

-Chris Lempesis

3 comments to The 12 – well, sort of – greatest players in Packers history: Part Three

  • Terry

    Chris, This is a very interesting topic and I look forward to the final part. A couple of thoughts: On Jim Taylor…he led the league in rushing twice but I find the fact that he is the only other man to lead the league in rushing during the “Jim Brown Era” (in 1962) says a lot about who he was and how he would compete. On Bart Starr…I think it was Jerry Kramer who said, ‘Bart Starr wasn’t ever considered the best quarterback in the league when he played, but on almost every Sunday, Bart was the best quarterback on the field.’ That speaks to Starr’s ability to compete, raising his level of play to not just match his opponent but to exceed his opponent, be it Johnny Unitas, John Brodie or Don Meridith, to name a few. Good Work!

  • Dr. Smart

    Chris,

    The Favre-masons find that it might not be in your best interest to complete this list…. Don’t forget about what happened to Smoot.

  • Brandon

    I’ve always been more impressed with Taylor than Hornung. As if Hornung was the flashy and explosive player, but really the guy who did all the dirty work (Taylor) was the better player. But this is based on nothing other than my gut feeling.

    I recently got into a Favre vs. Starr discussion and realized I had never tried to rank one above the other. They are (will be) Hall of Fame QBs, great players, won championships, etc. and are both just up at that level with no need to rank one above the other. So I’m looking forward to reading you’re opinion is on the matter.

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