GREEN BAY – Two pillars of the Packers’ triumph in Super Bowl XLV are now ready to take their place among the franchise’s all-time greats.
Safety Nick Collins and left tackle Chad Clifton will be the first two alumni from the 2010 championship team to be inducted in the Packers Hall of Fame during a ceremony next Saturday at the Lambeau Field Atrium.
They’ll be joined by former broadcaster Russ Winnie, whose 18-year tenure as the radio voice of the Packers spanned their first six NFL championship seasons.
Collins and Clifton started a combined 275 games (including playoffs) over 19 NFL seasons – all spent with the Packers – with five Pro Bowl appearances between them.
Both former second-round picks, Collins and Clifton also were critical to the Packers’ 13th and most recent NFL title following a 31-25 win over Pittsburgh.
Collins produced one of the lasting moments from the game with his 37-yard interception return for a touchdown off Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the first quarter.
The image of Packers linebacker Clay Matthews draped on the back of a jubilant Collins not only epitomized the victory, but also the three-time Pro Bowl safety’s importance to the secondary.
“Nick was very instinctive,” Packers safeties coach Darren Perry said. “He had a gear that when he saw something, he could close on it about as well as anybody I’ve been around.
“The way he played the game, you really admired that.”
Unfortunately, there would be no encore. Collins suffered a significant neck injury only two games into the 2011 season that would end his playing career at only 28 years old.
Perry, a nine-year NFL starting safety in his own rite, says Collins ranks up there with former Steelers All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu as the best players he’s coached at the position.
As well as Collins could diagnose and break down plays at a moment’s notice, the three-time all-pro safety impressed Perry with his willingness to accept coaching and direction.
Collins was coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance when defensive coordinator Dom Capers was hired to install his 3-4 defense in 2009. When Perry was installed as safeties coach, Collins was opened-minded to the scheme changes and his new coach’s suggestions.
Collins again made the Pro Bowl in 2009 and 2010 under Perry’s watch, recording 135 tackles, 26 passes defensed and 10 interceptions in their two-plus seasons together.
Former teammate and close friend Charles Woodson will induct Collins into the Packers Hall of Fame on Saturday night.
“He was a rare athlete,” Capers said. “It’s just a shame what happened because really he was probably at the top of his game. He had the combination of what you look for in a safety in terms of the size, the speed, the athletic ability, the ball skills, all those things.”
Clifton, who started 160 of the 165 regular-season games he played in, was responsible of protecting the blind side for a pair of MVP quarterbacks in Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.
His job never was easy. It often was Clifton picking up the strongest and fastest pass-rushers that the opposing team had to offer. Yet, the challenge never defeated him.
After coming back from a serious pelvic injury resulting from a blind-side hit from Tampa Bay’s Warren Sapp in 2002, the 6-foot-5, 320-pound tackle made two Pro Bowls, the second following his 20 straight starts during the Packers’ run to the Super Bowl in 2010.
Mounting injuries limited him to only six games in 2011, which turned out to be his 12th and final season.
“Very professional approach,” Packers offensive line coach James Campen said. “He took care of himself. He spent the time extra here in the training room, doing the rehab, the extras, all the things to get ready to play. That’s what promotes longevity and stability at one position. He did it the right way.”
When it came to choosing someone to induct him, the decision was easy. Like Collins and Perry, Clifton arrived in Green Bay before Campen, but the two developed a deep bond in eight seasons working together.
Campen, overcome by emotion, said he got quiet when Clifton asked him to induct him into the Packers Hall of Fame before graciously accepting.
If you’re expecting Campen to give away any of his talking points, you’d be mistaken.
“I was very humbled by the opportunity to do that,” Campen said. “It should be a great night, but I’m not going to reveal any of my speech until I get my hands on him one last time. I get three minutes with him. It’ll be fun.”
Winnie, who died in 1956 at the age of 49, is credited for helping cultivate the Packers’ statewide following through his broadcasts.
A native of Racine, Wis., Winnie served as the Packers’ radio voice from 1929 through 1946. He also broadcast University of Wisconsin football for 16 of those years.
His grandson, Russ Winnie III, will present Winnie on behalf of his late father, Alon Winnie, whose dream it was to see the eldest Winnie inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame. Alon passed away in January 2015.