He still follows the Packers as a fan and his name has been etched in team history since his rookie season in 1974, when he returned a punt a club-record 95 yards against Chicago, but even Steve Odom admits his touchdown burst may be prettier on paper than it was when he raced through the Bears at Milwaukee County Stadium.
“It was actually a mistake,” Odom said this week of the lone punt return for a touchdown in his career. “I went to catch the ball and I fumbled, but sometimes when you drop it, everyone jets in on you and it gives you an opportunity to get outside.”
The ball even bounced backwards from his grasp on a chilly, damp afternoon in early November, helping make the return longer before he found his footing and shook free. The rest is history.
Odom played for the Packers from 1974-79, appearing in 75 games as a wide receiver and return specialist. He would only return punts in his first and final seasons in Green Bay, but his career average of 8.9 yards per return ranks fifth in team history.
“I always thought punt returns were the most exciting plays there are in football,” he said. “You actually learn where people are from the sounds of their cleats around you.”
Today, Odom lives in his hometown of Berkeley, Calif. He had a short stint with the New York Giants following his time with the Packers, and has traveled extensively since departing the NFL. He has returned for the alumni weekend at Lambeau Field; just walking into the stadium evokes golden memories.
“In Green Bay, the support is phenomenal; the tradition, the feeling in the community surrounding the team. It’s just something other organizations don’t have,” Odom said. “When I was a player, every time I stepped out onto Lambeau Field I felt a tingle in my toes and I felt good about the sport.”
Selected in the fifth round out of Utah in 1974, Odom was a capable receiver in Green Bay. He had 84 grabs for 1,613 yards and 11 TDs, averaged 19.2 yards per catch and caught 11 touchdown passes. Odom’s 95-yard touchdown reception in 1977 was the longest in the NFL that season. He also added 205 career yards rushing, averaging nearly 13 yards per attempt, and another touchdown.
His greatest skill, however, was as a kickoff-returner, and that’s where Odom’s name is checkered throughout the Packers’ record book. His 4,124 kick-return yards are the most in team history. In 1975, Odom was voted to the Pro Bowl as a return specialist.
In ’78, Odom led the NFL with a 27.1-yard kick-return average, including a 95-yard touchdown. He departed nine games into the ’79 season with 4,693 combined punt- and kick-return yards, which still ranks number one in Packers history.
A small package at 5-9, 173, and among the team’s fastest players, Odom was hard to collar. He credits the football he played as a youngster as helping him the most as a return specialist.
“Growing up in the streets of Berkeley, we would dodge cars on the side of the road, so there was basically a small place to work in,” he said. “So you would just go up the middle and try to make people miss, because the only way to run was straight ahead. It was also something I loved to do.”
He was thrilled with the recent Super Bowl victory, watching the game while on a cruise through Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta alongside so many Packers fans wearing jerseys that he said it felt like “Lambeau at sea.” Odom also still has some competitive fires burning.
“I loved to play so much that when I watch on TV now I still think to myself that I would love to be doing that,” he said. “I enjoyed kick-returning, I enjoyed being a wide receiver, I enjoyed the people.
“I loved playing for Bart Starr. He was a great man. Lynn Dickey was a real leader at quarterback and one of my favorite people. I loved my time there. We hovered around .500 but we could never get over the hump.”
Ricky Zeller is a contributing writer for packers.com. He has covered the NFL for several publications.
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