Fred Carr, a three-time Pro Bowl linebacker and one of the most gifted athletes in the history of the Green Bay Packers, died Monday.
Carr, 71, had been suffering from dementia and prostate cancer, Karsetta Carr, his daughter, told azcentral.com, which is part of the USA Today Network.
Carr was a No. 1 draft pick of the Packers in 1968 and also a former defensive captain from 1975 to 1977. Vince Lombardi was coach and general manager of the Packers when they selected Carr on Jan. 30, 1968, with the fifth overall pick.
It was a top-heavy draft with two future Pro Football Hall of Famers taken before Carr: Tackle Ron Yary, the No. 1 choice by the Minnesota Vikings, and defensive end Claude Humphrey, the No. 3 pick by the Atlanta Falcons. Center Bob Johnson was drafted second by Cincinnati and tackle Russ Washington was picked fourth by San Diego. They played 12 and 15 years, respectively, and combined for six Pro Bowls.
Nevertheless, Lombardi gushed that Carr was the best prospect of the group.
“There is no question that he is the greatest college football player in the country,” Lombardi said on draft day. “Regardless of what our needs are, we had to take him. He was the No. 1 athlete on our books. We just felt we couldn’t pass him up.”
Two days later, Lombardi resigned as coach of the Packers and named Phil Bengtson as his successor. Drafted by a team that had just won three straight NFL championships, Carr would have the misfortune of playing on only two winning teams and one playoff team in his 10 years in Green Bay.
Individually, he fared much better. Carr never missed a game, was named to the Pro Bowl following the 1970, ’72 and ’75 seasons, and was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1983.
Carr stood 6-foot-5, weighed 238 pounds and could run a 4.7 40-yard dash in full gear, according to Lombardi.
Carr also had a bigger-than-life personality.
“(Carr) was one hell of a character,” former defensive end Alden Roche said in a 2001 interview. “He kept us laughing. This guy was always joking or harassing somebody or something. You remember the year Ted Hendricks was there. Two all-pro linebackers. They hit it off good.”
It was Hendricks’ only season with the Packers, and he and Carr couldn’t have complemented each other any better on the field. It’s also hard to imagine they could have pulled off any more pranks than they did off the field.
“They go buy a car during training camp,” Roche remembered. “I think they paid $150 and bought an old white Edsel or something. It’s summer time and I think it still had spikes on the tires for snow. After training camp, they go get an apartment together.
“So every morning going to practice, Fred would drive the car. It was a four-door car and he’d get the paper and open the back door of the car and let Mr. Hendricks in the back. When he dipped in, Fred would hand him the paper and close the door. Then Fred would drive off to practice. He did this three, four days in a row. One morning he drives off and he drives backwards. And he keeps driving backwards. Ted is back there trying to read the paper and he says, ‘Fred, what the hell are you doing?’ They’re driving down Lombardi Avenue backwards with Ted in the back screaming.
“There’s a cop on the corner and he saw them and took off after them. Fred made it to Lambeau Field and they jump out of the car and Ted Hendricks goes to the policeman and says, ‘Look officer, we’re late for practice, here are three tickets to the game.’ Those guys were characters. They were a riot.”
A native of Phoenix and one of the city’s all-time best athletes, Carr played football and basketball at Texas Western, now the University of Texas-El Paso. While he lettered three years in football, he lettered only as a junior in basketball.
The previous season, Texas Western had made history by becoming the first school to win the NCAA basketball championship with an all-African American starting five. Five of the top seven players on that team played again the next year with Carr, but the Miners were eliminated in the second game of the tournament.
During his first two seasons with the Packers, Carr was given a look at tight end and defensive end, but settled in as the backup to Lee Roy Caffey at right linebacker. Carr replaced Caffey in 1970 and started 112 consecutive games.
“He was something,” the late Pat Peppler, who ran the Packers’ personnel department from 1963 to 1972, once said of Carr. “We had a heck of a time talking Phil into playing him. Phil wasn’t real comfortable that Fred would make mistakes.
“But we said, ‘Phil, he runs down all his mistakes.’ In practice, he would go out and play corner and cover receivers all over. He was all over the field. Could jump. He’d play that weak-side linebacker and knock down passes to the corner. We knew he wasn’t a rocket scientist. But, boy, he was a good athlete. He could run like a deer.”
The Packers informed Carr on Aug. 14, 1978, that they were placing him on waivers following a bitter, weeklong dispute over the treatment of his injured knee. A year later, Carr and the Packers settled his grievance and he signed with San Diego as a free agent, but never played there.