Who among Vince Lombardi’s Packers could be standouts in today’s game at the same height and weight they played at in the 1960s?
Even though it was 49 years ago when the Packers won their last championship under Lombardi and the average height and weight of NFL players in the 1960s was just under 6-foot-2 and roughly 225 pounds, there are more candidates than you might think.
First, let’s eliminate those who wouldn’t qualify. And, basically, that would be all of the Packers’ starting offensive and defensive linemen. Their listed weights ranged from 230-pound centers Jim Ringo and Ken Bowman to 260-pound defensive tackles Dave Hanner and Ron Kostelnik. Moreover, actual playing weights might have been less. Ringo, for example, supposedly played at 220 to 225.
Guard Gale Gillingham and defensive tackle Bob Brown would be two possible exceptions. Gillingham played at 280 maybe even 290 pounds in the 1970s and Brown probably played at more than 285 pounds, not the 260 he was listed at.
But Gillingham got bigger and stronger in his post-Lombardi years and it would still be a projection to say he could easily play at 320. And Brown wasn’t a starter under Lombardi, which means he really doesn’t fit the criterion.
Otherwise, Lombardi liked big receivers, big backs, big linebackers and big cornerbacks. Accordingly, free safety Willie Wood was the only player on the 1967 Super Bowl champs who was shorter than six feet.
The first three choices here were easy. Herb Adderley, Ron Kramer and Dave Robinson were prototypes at their positions in the 1960s and would still be today. The final two choices were Boyd Dowler and Paul Hornung, but they weren’t as clear-cut.
Receivers Carroll Dale and Max McGee were 6-2 and 6-3, respectively, and just as fast and athletic – if not more so – as most of Brett Favre’s and Aaron Rodgers’ receivers.
Outside linebackers Dan Currie and Lee Roy Caffey were 6-3 and weighed between 240 and 250. And Caffey, a college running back, was as fast as Robinson and an effective blitzer. Bob Jeter was a 6-1, 205-pound cornerback with a dash-man’s speed and a good tackler. He was explosive enough that in the 1959 Rose Bowl, he rushed for 194 yards on nine carries.
Bart Starr was probably big enough at 6-1, 197, but he wouldn’t be allowed to do what he did best: Call his own plays.
The two toughest to leave off were Pro Football Hall of Famers Willie Wood and Ray Nitschke.
Wood was listed at 5-10, 190. Too small to withstand the rigors of today’s game, said some of the many former players, scouts and coaches interviewed. Others contend he was fearless coming up in run support, a deadly tackler, someone who could jump and touch his elbow on a crossbar to compensate for his lack of height, and one of the team’s two or three smartest defenders and orchestrators of Lombardi’s defense.
Nitschke was a big hitter and maybe the emotional leader of the defense, but the question is: Would he be more than a first-down middle or inside linebacker in today’s game? He was a college fullback and had decent speed, but he wasn’t as fast as Robinson and Caffey. Nitschke also could be easily fooled in the passing game if something wasn’t covered in practice. He played closer to 230, 235 and wasn’t as big and strong as Chicago’s Dick Butkus when it came to taking on bigger guards in the running game. That’s partly why Nitschke never made a Pro Bowl after Butkus came into the league in 1965. Then again, Nitschke was an effective inside blitzer on the rare occasions when his number was called, and what coach wouldn’t want the ferocity he brought to the game?
The Packers' Herb Adderley, in an undated photo.
Here’s the top five:
1. Herb Adderley (6-0, 205), CB – He was a shutdown corner before there was such a thing. In 1965, he didn’t allow a touchdown pass in the regular season. He was fast and physical, made big plays and had some linebacker in him against the run. Here’s what Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver Tommy McDonald once said: “Herb Adderley simply wouldn’t let me get to the outside. He’d just beat me up, force me to turn underneath routes all the time. That made it very difficult for me to do my job. Other guys tried the same tactic, but he was the only one tough enough and fast enough to get it done.”
2. Ron Kramer (6-3, 234), TE – One of the greatest athletes in Packers history. He was as good as Pro Football Hall of Famers Mike Ditka and John Mackey but had a shorter shelf life, and that’s why he’s not in Canton. Kramer suffered a grisly injury as a rookie – a combination broken leg and ligament damage to his knee – and then missed a full season and also training camp in 1959 while in the Air Force. At the back end, he played out his option in 1964 and wasn’t the same player when he went to Detroit.'
But Kramer was a nine letter-winner at Michigan before freshmen were eligible for varsity sports. He was a 230-pound high jumper, as well as a weight man on the track team. In basketball, he was Michigan’s leading scorer as a sophomore and junior, and a fifth-round draft pick of the Detroit Pistons. He was a two-way end in the one-platoon era of college football, and also played some fullback, punted and placekicked. In one spring scrimmage, Kramer played in the backfield and scored touchdowns covering 90, 71, 52, 16, 14 and 10 yards.
While listed at 234 with the Packers, Kramer once said he usually played at 250 to 260 pounds and sometimes more. Besides being able to run and catch at that size, he also was a crushing blocker. Having Kramer, Lombardi wrote in “Run to Daylight,” was “almost like owning a permit to put 12 men on the field.”
I’d invite any NFL scout to watch Kramer’s performance when the Packers crushed the New York Giants, 37-0, in the 1961 NFL Championship and tell me Rob Gronkowski ever played a better game in the postseason. Kramer was like a runaway beer truck the way he obliterated middle linebacker Sam Huff as a blocker and ran over him after the catch.
3. Dave Robinson (6-3, 245), OLB –As the left linebacker in the Packers’ conservative, man-to-man rooted defense, Robinson’s first responsibility before dropping into coverage was to jam the tight end at the line, and there was nobody in the league better at it. In 14 games from 1965 to 1972, Mackey and Ditka averaged 2.3 catches and 21 yards per game against the Packers.
In today’s game, with all the multi-wide receiver sets and tight ends lining up like wide receivers, Robinson’s role would change. For example, the left linebacker almost never blitzed in Phil Bengtson’s defense. But with Lawrence Taylor-like size and similar speed, Robinson, no doubt, could adapt. After all, he played tight end at Penn State, as well as defensive end, and was projected as a possible standout at three positions when he was drafted.
4. Boyd Dowler (6-5, 224), WR –He might be best remembered for his size and great hands, but he also was a finalist in the NCAA Track & Field Championships as a hurdler. Robinson recently compared him to Calvin Johnson. Fellow receiver Bob Long called him “the Randy Moss of the 1960s.”
Dowler didn’t have that kind of speed, but it’s hard to imagine any team today not finding a prominent role for a 6-5 wide receiver who was a coach’s son, a track star and a college quarterback, safety and punter. As a pro receiver, Dowler was comparably dangerous and sure-handed running any route on the passing tree.
5. Paul Hornung (6-2, 215), RB – Although Lombardi built his offenses in Green Bay and New York around his left halfback, Hornung’s role and stats don’t translate to today’s game. Lombardi’s left halfback was the ball carrier on his signature power sweep and the threat who made the halfback option go, a play Lombardi called “the greatest in football.” At the same time, the left halfback wasn’t the featured ball carrier in Lombardi’s offense and so Hornung never posted big rushing totals.
Hornung’s greatest strengths were his blocking, receiving and ability to convert first downs and score in short-yardage situations. Again, the Packers’ bread-and-butter play in short yardage was a tight trap with Hornung carrying the ball.
In the 1970s and ‘80s when teams were still building their offenses around running backs who could carry 20-plus times a game and go the distance on any given play – backs like O.J. Simpson, Tony Dorsett and Eric Dickerson – Hornung might not have made this list.
Today, teams are looking for more versatile backs who can not only gain tough yards, but excel as blockers and receivers. The only question with Hornung would be his speed, so I asked Ron Wolf for his thoughts. His response: “If Arian Foster and Eddie Lacy can play, Hornung could play.”
Not only was Hornung a big back, but some tend to forget he was one of Lombardi’s best athletes, a letter-winner, for example, in basketball as a sophomore at Notre Dame. In fact, Lombardi once said, “Paul may have been the best all-around back ever to play football.”