GREEN BAY – Chad Clifton figured it was all a big joke when his phone rang this past January.
Allegedly, it was the Packers Hall of Fame calling to inform the two-time Pro Bowl left tackle that he’d been selected for induction, but Clifton had his doubts.
“Mark Tauscher put you guys up to this, didn’t he?” asked Clifton, suspecting that it was his old running mate on the Packers’ offensive line. “Who is this, really?”
No, it really was the Hall of Fame summoning the 12-year veteran to join the realm of the greatest players in franchise history.
Even when the ceremony arrived on Saturday, it still seemed partially surreal to Clifton, who quietly protected the blind side of two MVP quarterbacks in Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers for 180 games (including playoffs).
Clifton and Tauscher, the Packers’ bookends on the offensive line for a decade, set the blueprint for the consistency the offensive line has displayed for the better part of 15 years.
In learning from Marco Rivera, Mike Flanagan, Mike Wahle and Frank Winters, Clifton helped pass on the offensive line tradition to the position’s modern-day leaders, Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang.
“I was very fortunate over my 12 years to play with some really good offensive linemen,” Clifton said. “And have kind of a different group throughout my 12 years, too. Without a doubt, my first four, five years with those guys kind of set the foundation for my success.”
The future of Clifton’s future was uncertain after he sustained a significant hip injury on a hit from Tampa Bay nose tackle Warren Sapp in November 2002. He missed the rest of the season, but didn’t lose a step when he returned in 2003.
In fact, Clifton would miss only six games over his next eight seasons. While the injury forced him to spend more time in the training room, Clifton never shied away from doing whatever was needed to be ready on Sunday.
It wasn’t easy, though. Offensive line coach James Campen, who presented Clifton on Saturday night, recalled all the hours the left tackle invested in both the training room and watching film.
“It’s one of those things Coach (Mike) McCarthy would always say – until you don’t have a left tackle, you don’t know what you could have,” Campen said. “He had to block the best of the best for the better part of his career. He was against the great pass-rushers of our time.
“Certainly, a testament to him he was responsible for blocking for two MVPs, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, and it did it seamlessly. He was an outstanding player.”
Fittingly, Clifton’s last full season happened to be in 2010 when the Packers overcame a litany of injuries and adversity to win the franchise’s fourth Super Bowl title.
One of the lasting images from the 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers is Clifton, then 34 years old, proudly holding up the Lombardi Trophy during the celebration.
“By that point, that was my 11th year and you kind of know, ‘I’m not going to be doing this that much longer,’” Clifton said. “To get a Super Bowl, the way we got it that season with so many injuries we had and so many trials and tribulations that we had to battle through to get into the playoffs, and then kind of get on the hot streak and then get on to the Super Bowl and then win that, it’s icing on the cake.
“To be able to get that even though it was at the latter part of my career, I’m so appreciative of it.”
Along with Clifton, the franchise also inducted All-Pro safety Nick Collins and former broadcaster Russ Winnie into the Packers Hall of Fame on Saturday night.
Winnie, who was the voice of the Packers from 1929 through 1946, is credited for helping cultivate the Packers’ statewide following through his radio broadcasts.
Winnie died in 1956 at the age of 49, but his son, Alon, worked tirelessly to one day get his father into the Packers Hall of Fame. While Alon died in January 2015, his son, Russ Winnie III, was grateful to have the chance to present his grandfather on Saturday night.
As a kid, Winnie III recalled his father telling him stories about how he used to join his father in picking up players at the team hotels and ride to games on their laps.
While there are no known recordings of Winnie, he performed a re-enactment of his favorite football moment upon his retirement that his grandson said would be played for those at the Hall of Fame banquet.
“This was my dad’s dream to be here tonight,” Winnie III said. “(My dad and I) have been working with Tom Murphy of the Hall of Fame for the past seven years or so to get his father inducted, my grandfather. … It means a lot and I’m sure he is looking down on us tonight.”
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