Fred “Fuzzy” Thurston, one of the pulling guards for the Lombardi Sweep in the 1960s, died today. Thurston, 80, died after several years of dealing with health issues.
Back in the 1960s, in better times, Thurston was the Green Bay Packers’ starting left guard for most of eight seasons under legendary Coach Vince Lombardi and became a household name, despite playing a typically unheralded position, because he was one of the key blockers in Lombardi’s signature play, the power sweep.
One of several snapshots of the Lombardi Era that remains indelibly frozen in time was Thurston and fellow guard Jerry Kramer ushering halfback Paul Hornung around right end on a sweep play.
Thurston played on five of the Packers’ record 13 National Football League championship teams from 1959 through 1967. During that nine-year period, the Packers ranked No. 1 in the NFL in yards gained rushing three times and placed second three other times.
Thurston, who was listed at a squatty 6-foot-1 and 247 pounds during his playing career, was part of an offensive line that played a huge role in that success.
Tackle Forrest Gregg and center Jim Ringo were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Kramer and Thurston, as well as tackle Bob Skoronski and center Ken Bowman, Ringo’s replacement, were inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame.
Thurston was inducted in 1975. In 1961, when the Packers won their first league title under Lombardi, Thurston was a consensus first-team all-pro. In fact, he was selected on all three of the major all-pro teams of the time: Associated Press, United Press International and Newspaper Enterprise Association. In 1962, he was chosen first-team again by UPI and second-team by AP and NEA.
“Fuzzy’s pass protection blocking, though, is his big card, and he is as good as anyone in the league,” Lombardi said of Thurston in his book, “Run to Daylight.”
Lombardi also wrote about his guards’ role in his vaunted power sweep.
“… when he and Jerry come swinging around that corner together like a pair of matched Percherons, you can see that defensive man’s eyeballs pop,” said Lombardi.
A Wisconsin native, Thurston attended Altoona High School, outside Eau Claire, but the school didn’t have a football team at the time so he made his mark as a basketball player. He didn’t play organized football until his junior year at Valparaiso University.
Thurston was drafted in the fifth round by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1956, spent time in the service, drifted between the Eagles and Chicago Bears without making it, and then finally earned a spot on the roster of the 1958 NFL-champion Baltimore Colts for the final four regular-season games.
He was acquired by the Packers days before the start of training camp in 1959, Lombardi’s first season, in a straight-up trade for linebacker Marv Matuszak.
Thurston started at guard for most of the next eight seasons before being supplanted by Gale Gillingham in 1967, Lombardi’s last season as coach. Thurston retired following that season and stayed in Wisconsin, at one time owning a chain of popular restaurants named “The Left Guard.”
Thurston was warmly welcomed by Packers fans when he and Kramer served as honorary captains for this year’s home game against Carolina, but his health had continued to deteriorate over the last several weeks.