Okay, so we’ve covered the guys up front for the all-time defense.
Now, it’s time to head to the second level and look at the linebackers.
I have to say that the linebacking corps was one of the toughest positions to narrow down. This team has had more than its share of great ‘backers throughout its history. That, of course, meant I had some tough decisions to make. In all honesty, that was the biggest reason this list was delayed by a day. I wanted to make sure I made the best choices possible.
Will you agree with all my decisions? I doubt it, but let’s find out, shall we?
Starter: Dave Robinson (1963-1972) – Playing alongside a guy you’ll be hearing more about a little later, Robinson was one-half of the greatest inside-outside linebacker tandem in team history.
Robinson, who also played tight end at Penn State, brought that athleticism – along with his 6-feet, 3-inch, 245 pound frame – to the position. He was a do-it-all type of OLB; he could cover (21 interceptions), stuff the run and get to the quarterback (they didn’t keep stats for sacks, obviously, but he was known for it, trust me).
He earned three Pro Bowl berths and a spot on the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1960s.
Starter: Mike Douglass (1978-1985) - If you’re a little unclear on Douglass’ skills, just know this – his nickname was “Mad Dog.” That should give you some indication of what type of player he was.
In short, Douglass was a lunatic, known for his non-stop motor and knack for making big plays, oftentimes by himself (he led the team in unassisted tackles three times). He still ranks third on the team’s all time tackles list and was named All-Pro three times during his career.
He now owns a “Health Concept Restaurant” in Alpine, California. Surprising for a guy nicknamed, “Mad Dog.” You wouldn’t think those two things go together, but apparently they do.
Backup: Bill Forester (1953-1963) – That Forester made this list at this position is somewhat of a surprise, considering he began his green and gold career as interior lineman (guard/d-line).
He was moved to outside linebacker early in his career and quickly found a home there. Much like Robinson, Forester brought size (6-feet, 3-inches, 240 pounds) and a diversified set of skills to the table. He recovered 21 fumbles, picked off 15 passes and was selected to four Pro Bowls.
Backup: John Anderson (1978-1989) – The Packers clearly had an outstanding draft in 1978. That year, they took Douglass in the fifth round and James Lofton with one of their two first round picks. The other first round selection? You guessed it – Anderson.
Despite numerous injuries throughout his career, Anderson teamed with Douglass to give the Pack a nice OLB tandem during a largely forgettable time. Anderson was a solid, well-rounded player who became one of the team’s leaders.
He got it done on the stat sheet, as well. Anderson is still the team’s all-time leader in total (1,020) and unassisted (783) tackles.
Starter: Ray Nitschke (1958-1972) – Last summer, I listed Nitschke as the No. 7 greatest player in team history. At that time, I wrote this about him:
“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.”
I tried to think of something else to add to that, but I just couldn’t. And I don’t feel bad about that. Frankly, I kind of think that says it all.
Backup: Bernardo Harris (1995-2001) – On the great Packers’ defenses of the mid-to-late 90s, much of the attention went to players like Reggie White, LeRoy Butler and Gilbert Brown.
Those players were certainly deserving of such praise, but the rock in the middle of all that was Harris. He was a solid, steady presence for those teams. He was very good against the run and had underrated pass-rushing skills (when he was allowed to do so, anyways). He led the team in total tackles four times.
That’s all for our look at the linebackers. Check back Friday as we list off the cornerbacks for the all-time defense.