The first two parts of our series covered the “skill players” on offense.
Enough about the pretty boys – let’s talk about the grunts, the hogs, the guys in the trenches. After all, they’re the real reason games are won and lost.
With that said, here’s part three of OBOD’s all-time 53-man roster: the offensive line.
(Note: I did not worry so much about whether the player played on the right or left side. I strictly focused on finding the best players at each position.)
Starter: Forrest Gregg (1956, 1958-1970) – Gregg was the anchor of Green Bay’s legendary rushing attack, playing in 187 consecutive games. That stood as the franchise record until Brett Favre broke it in 2003.
But did Brett Favre earn “finest player I ever coached” status from Vince Lombardi? No, he did not – Gregg did.
With good reason. Thought to be undersized at 6-feet, 4-inches and 249 pounds, Gregg used his otherwordly athleticism to key the Packers to an average of 151 yards per game on the ground during Lombardi’s time as head coach.
That was enough to earn him nine trips to the Pro Bowl and a 1977 induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Starter: Robert “Cal” Hubbard (1929-1933, 1935) – A tackle in college at Centenary and Geneva, Hubbard moved to d-line while playing for the New York Giants. After being traded to Green Bay in 1929, Hubbard moved back to his natural position.
It was there that he shined. Hubbard helped turn the Packers’ running game into a force as they won world championships in each of his first three seasons.
He was an All-Pro every year from 1931-1933, a member of the NFL’s All-50 Year Team (1970) and a 1963 inductee of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Perhaps the coolest thing about Hubbard, though, is this: After his career was over, in 1958, Hubbard became the American League’s umpire-in-chief. His work in that role was so good that, in 1976, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. And, yes, he is the only person ever to be in both hallowed halls.
Backup: Bob Skoronski (1956, 1959-1968) – Gregg was so good at right tackle, it’s often forgotten who manned the left side for the Lombardi Era Packers. That man was Skoronski.
While never a standout, per se, Skoronski was a tough, solid, durable tackle, playing in 146 games during his time in Green Bay. He played in both Super Bowl wins and five world championships (and earned one Pro Bowl spot). Clearly, Lombardi understood his value.
On an offense with so many stars, it was Skoronski who served as offensive captain from 1965-1968.
Backup: Chad Clifton (2000-Present) – Some will be surprised by this selection, no doubt. After all, we often look at the things Clifton struggles with (injuries, false starts, etc.)
That’s a major mistake, though.
While never dominant, Clifton has been a steady, solid presence at left tackle for over a decade. He played the key position on a line that was amongst the best in the league at both protecting the passer (think of how few times Favre was sacked in the 2000s) and running the ball (see: Ahman Green’s totals from 2001-2004). Obviously, Favre’s quick release and Green’s massive skill set had something to do with that, as well. But you can’t deny Clifton’s ability to excel.
And remember this: Clifton’s career should have been over after the devastating cheap shot he took from Warren Sapp back in 2002. Not only did that hit not end his career, it seemed to make Clifton a better player. To me, anyone who can bounce back from that has to be on this list.
Starters: Jerry Kramer (1958-1968) and Fred “Fuzzy” Thurston (1959-1967) – So far, I’ve been listing these players one-by-one. For this spot, I’m making an exception. Some things are just meant to be together.
Such is the case with Kramer and Thurston.
In short, they were the two crucial pieces in the famed “Packers sweep,” one of the most dominant offensive plays in the history of pro football. It’s true that Lombardi’s vision and dedication to running the play correctly were big reasons for its success. But those things would have meant nothing had he not been able to find two players with the total package, in terms of skills, to be able to execute it.
He found them in Kramer and Thurston. Both players complimented their solid size with outstanding athleticism and toughness. Both players earned two All-Pro spots apiece for their efforts and have retained their status as massive fan favorites 40-plus years after their respective retirements.
Neither is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But, really, you can’t always measure impact or importance by a bust in Canton.
Backup: Mike Michalske (1929-1935, 1937) – After playing fullback at Penn State, Michalske transitioned to guard upon entering the pro game (his first two years were spent with the New York Yankees football team. Yes, that was a football team, too, once upon a time.)
As it turned out, his fullback skills were perfect for his new position. Michalske used his quickness and athleticism to become, arguably, pro football’s first truly great guard (he was the first guard inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, in 1964).
And talk about toughness. Michalske, nicknamed “Iron Mike”, played 60 minutes of almost every game he was in as a Packer, playing on the defensive side, as well. And how many games did he miss attempting such a brutal feat? Nine out of a possible 104. Wow.
Backup: Gale Gillingham (1966-1974, 1976) – Okay, before we go any further, let’s just get this out of the way: I did not select Gillingham because he and I share an alma matter (the University of Minnesota). That’s not how I roll…although, it is cool. We haven’t produced too many great pros at the U lately.
Gillingham was drafted to follow the legendary footsteps of Kramer and Thurston and he did just that.
Gillingham had it all: durability (played in every game in all but one season), versatility (played both left and right guard) and, of course, outstanding success (five-time Pro Bowler).
That’s why he’s on this team.
Starter: Jim Ringo (1953-1963) – By now, we all know the infamous story of Ringo’s raise demands/near instant trade to the Philadelphia Eagles at the hands of Lombardi. Let’s not focus on that here, though.
Instead, let’s focus on who Ringo was, as a player, for the Packers.
Like Gregg, Ringo was considered undersized at 6-feet, 2-inches and 235 pounds. And, also like Gregg, Ringo used his supreme athleticism and technique to find success. Lombardi knew how to use those skills, too, as Ringo was a key figure in the famous “Packers sweep” until he was traded.
The league certainly took notice. Starting in 1957, Ringo was voted to seven straight Pro Bowls and, in 1981, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Backup: Frank Winters (1992-2002) – Ringo was an obvious selection. Finding his backup proved a bit more difficult as I had to choose between Winters and Larry McCarren. McCarren was “The Rock”, a tough-as-nails player who holds the franchise record for games played at the position.
But, I mean, come on – you didn’t really think we’d leave off our site’s namesake, did you?
And it’s not as though Winters couldn’t player, either. Far from it. A hard-working, hard-nosed player, Winters used his smarts and toughness to become an elite center for the great Packers teams of the mid-to-late 90s. He earned a Pro Bowl spot in 1996 and his fun-loving ways and sharp wit – he once joked that “pizza and beer” were the secrets to his longevity – earned him a spot in the hearts of Packers fans everywhere.
Frankly, I can’t think of a better way to close out the offensive portion of our roster.
That’s all for week one. Starting Monday, we’ll begin listing off the defensive players so make sure to head back here.
Have a great weekend, everyone.