John Martinkovic, a member of the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame and a three-time Pro Bowl pick in the 1950s, died Thursday afternoon in a dementia care facility in the Village of Allouez.
Martinkovic, who turned 91 on Super Bowl Sunday, played defensive end for the Packers from 1951 to 1956 and never missed a game, playing in 72 in all. He was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1974.
“He was a very good defensive end,” former teammate and four-time Pro Bowl safety Bobby Dillon said in 2015. “He probably was more of a run guy than a pass rusher. He was a big, strong guy. He didn’t miss assignments. He was just a good player.”
While Martinkovic never played on a winning team in Green Bay, he was one of only three Packers named to as many as three Pro Bowls during those six seasons. Offensive end Billy Howton and linebacker Roger Zatkoff were the others.
In a 2002 interview, Martinkovic said the Packers were still using mostly a five-man defensive line when he played. He said he played mostly left end, but also some defensive tackle and even some offense. At the time, there were still players filling in on both sides of the ball.
Martinkovic’s best season might have been 1952 when he scored defensive touchdowns in back-to-back games. On Nov. 2, he scooped up a blocked punt and scored the winning touchdown in a 12-10 victory over Philadelphia. The next week he returned a fumble for a touchdown in a 41-28 victory over the Chicago Bears.
Martinkovic never made more than $10,000 in a season, but that didn’t diminish his passion and toughness.
“Baltimore came here, I think in 1953,” Martinkovic said in 2002. “That’s when we still had one bar on the helmet. I think it was the middle of the second quarter, (John) Huzvar, the fullback for Baltimore; I was rushing the passer and he hit me with the end of his elbow right under the bar and busted my lip and knocked me half out.
“They sat me on the end of the bench. Doc Atkinson looked at me and said, ‘John, it looks like you’ll need nine or 10 stitches.’ He looks in his Dopp Kit and says, ‘I don’t have any anesthetic.’ So he sews five stitches on the inside and four on the outside. (Gene) Ronzani comes over and says. ‘How do you feel?’ I said, ‘I feel like (crap).’ We went in at halftime and they put an ice pack on it. He says, ‘You think you can play?’ I said, ‘I’ll try.’ So I played the rest of the ballgame.”
Drafted by Washington in the sixth round in 1951, Martinkovic was acquired by the Packers in a trade for offensive end Ted Cook only weeks before his rookie season.
“They had to get a map out because they didn’t know where Green Bay was,” Martinkovic’s oldest daughter, Amy, said of her parents’ reaction to the trade.
Less than two weeks before the 1957 season opener, the Packers traded Martinkovic to the defending NFL champion New York Giants in exchange for what turned out to be a third-round draft pick that the Packers used to select Ray Nitschke.
Martinkovic played one season for the Giants and retired. However, he was exposed to a little known assistant coach named Vince Lombardi that year and knew well what some of his former teammates were in for when the Packers hired Lombardi as head coach before the 1959 season.
By then, Martinkovic had returned to Green Bay and was selling cars for the local Buick dealership. Green Bay became his adopted home for the next 59 years, or until his death. He was born in Hamilton, Ohio, and played collegiately at Xavier University in Cincinnati.
Martinkovic is survived by his wife of more than 65 years, Clare, and four daughters – Amy Witte, Linda Dellsperger, Julie Hill and Ellen Maxey – as well as grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Funeral services will be held Friday, Feb. 16, at St. Agnes Catholic Church in Green Bay. Visitation will be from 9 to 11 a.m. A Mass will follow. Blaney Funeral Home is handling arrangements.
Daughter Amy said her father will be buried wearing his Packers tie.