If the Green Bay Packers are going to fulfill their goal of winning Super Bowl LII, they’ll need some unsung heroes to come through for them.
When the Packers ended a 29-year drought in 1996 and won Super Bowl XXXI, they had only five players selected for the Pro Bowl and only two Associated Press All-Pros, Brett Favre and LeRoy Butler.
But they had a lineup full of steady, reliable, under-the-radar players. After eliminating the Pro Bowl picks, anyone who received all-pro recognition even if it was second-team, offensive skill players who were in the spotlight by the nature of their positions, and fan favorite Gilbert Brown, whose notoriety exceeded the norm for a nose tackle, here’s my list of the five most unsung.
I arrived at the list after consulting with the team’s architect, former general manager Ron Wolf.
1. Santana Dotson, DT – Inside pass rushers don’t draw the same attention as edge rushers, but they might make life more uncomfortable for quarterbacks and they might be harder to find. Reggie White turned 35 and Sean Jones, 34, during the 1996 season. White, especially, could still turn it on and make plays in big moments, as he did in the Super Bowl. But Dotson, at 27 and in the prime of his career, was consistent pushing the pocket inside, had an uncanny knack for splitting double-team blocks and played the run better than expected.
2. Craig Hentrich, P – When the Packers beat San Francisco in the muck and rain in the NFC Divisional playoff, I was sitting in the 45th row in the middle of the south end zone. I remember walking out of Lambeau that day thinking Hentrich might have been the game’s MVP. He punted six times for a 43.2 average in miserable conditions, whereas the 49ers’ Tommy Thompson averaged 35.6 on his six punts. That’s almost an extra first down every time there was an exchange of punts. Plus, I have this recollection of Hentrich stretching, leaping and using his athletic ability to catch a wet ball on some not-so perfect snaps that could have led to disaster. He is clearly the best punting specialist the Packers have had since Dick Deschaine was the first in the 1950s. Hentrich also helped the special teams with his kickoffs in 1996.
3. Wayne Simmons, OLB – The 1996 Packers were snot-bubble tough on defense and nobody on that unit was more physical than Simmons. He didn’t simply hold the fort against tight ends, he bludgeoned them. Yet he could run, too. Defenses might not have been as specialized as they are today, but Simmons played in both nickel and dime. Although he was a No. 1 draft pick, Simmons didn’t contribute much his first two years and he was traded to Kansas City just before the trade deadline in 1997. So he’s probably not even a borderline Packers Hall of Fame candidate, but he was a stud for two years. In 1996, Sean Jones called him, “the single most important player on our defense.”
4. Brian Williams, OLB – Williams wasn’t even counted on to start before the season, but when he won the right outside linebacker job in camp the Packers’ defense immediately became faster and more athletic. He could make plays sideline-to-sideline and he was one of the defense’s surest tacklers.
5. Doug Evans, CB – He was long at 6-foot-1, physical and made more plays in 1996 than in his other three seasons as a starter in Green Bay. He intercepted five passes, plus another in the Super Bowl, and registered three sacks.