The name is still said with reverence by those who saw him rumble through defenses for Green Bay from 1971-77, when he became the first rusher in NFL history to open his career with three-straight seasons with 1,000 yards. Back then, he was a weekly combination of low shoulder pads, high knees and fearlessness, too often in a losing effort.
Brockington. The ninth pick overall in 1971 out of Ohio State, rookie of the year, three-time Pro-Bowler and a runner who, as he put it, “never ran under control.”
Now at rest, where does such hammer go after all of those broken tackles? To sunny San Diego, pushing a pen as a financial adviser, where that old aggression takes a back seat. And Brockington is very happy.
It’s a profession that “doesn’t put calluses on my hands or make me bend over after my playing days and working construction.” He even remembers when he made the move to California – to the day.
“It was Dec. 18, 1974,” said Brockington, who grew up in Brooklyn. “It was prompted by the 1973 Pro Bowl. It was in Kansas City, it was terribly cold so we practiced in San Diego. Every day it was 75 degrees and beautiful and I was living in Columbus, Ohio, because all of my buddies from college were still there.
“San Diego felt like another country. I flew out here from Milwaukee when I moved and I think there was an ice storm when I left. When I got off the plane, it was like landing in paradise.”
Brockington set a club rookie record that still stands with 1,105 yards on 216 attempts on a team that finished 4-8-2. His first career touchdown was a 52-yard sprint at Milwaukee County Stadium in his second game. He posted his first 100-yard game the following week at Lambeau Field, but what he remembers most is the length of the season.
“The season was twice as long as what you were used to in college,” Brockington said. “Back then, we played six preseason games and 14 in the regular season. At Ohio State, we played 10 games including the Rose Bowl. I got off to a fast start, slowed down, got back on track, and a thousand yards started to become important to the offensive line.”
He was on his way. Brockington’s four-season stretch from 1971-74 included 4,159 rushing yards, 92 catches, 12 games with over 100 yards and three Pro Bowls. His production dropped sharply in 1975, however, and he never regained his form, recording only one more 100-yard game.
Some blame the punishment Brockington endured. All of his yards came the hard way; there were no style points. He often hit defenders right in the chest before bouncing outside.
There was also a change at head coach. In addition, backfield mate MacArthur Lane, who had rushed for 1,711 yards from 1972-74, was traded to Kansas City and Brockington missed the counterpunch.
“We didn’t really have anyone like him after trading Mac,” he said. “And we changed the offense. My big play was a slant off tackle; all you did was hit it. That’s how I played in college and that’s how I played in the NFL. We went to a stretch offense, where you pick your hole, and I wasn’t prepared for that. I couldn’t adjust. I think I sulked a little bit about that and about Mac.
“But there always comes a time when you can’t do it anymore. I didn’t think that was the case, but athletes are always the last to know. We think we can do it forever.”
Brockington is still remembered as one of the Packers’ ultimate power backs, and his ultimate foe was Chicago middle linebacker Dick Butkus. There are collisions he still remembers.
“He was the toughest competitor I ever went against,” said Brockington, who rushed for over 100 yards three times against the Bears. “Back then, we’d play Chicago three times a year, because we always played them in the preseason in Milwaukee and everyone played back then. He was an incredible athlete. There was no relief from Butkus.
“He was a scary person, intense, gave you no relief. I remember even he was injured and supposedly couldn’t run, he would limp back to the huddle and run on the next play.”
Brockington and his wife Diane have four daughters. In 2001, she was just a friend when she donated one of her kidneys as Brockington battled kidney failure. They are both in great health and committed to helping others with transplantation through the John Brockington Foundation http://www.johnbrockingtonfoundation.org.
They were married in 2003.
Ricky Zeller is a contributing writer for packers.com. He has covered the NFL for several publications.
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