As Packer Report marks its 40th year in publication, we decided to put a new spin on an old idea: Who is the best player in the long and storied history of the Green Bay Packers?
The new spin? Packer Report’s Bill Huber, Tom Andrews, Matt Tevsh and Keith Roerdink were joined by longtime Packers reporter and author Cliff Christl, Sports Illustrated writer and Hall of Fame voter Peter King, Pro Football Researchers Association executive director and author Ken Crippen and ColdHardFootballFacts.com founder and football historian Kerry Byrne in ranking the players from No. 1 to No. 16. In all, 24 players were nominated and a few Pro Football Hall of Fame players didn’t make the cut.
Now, it’s up to you. For the rest of the year, you’ll decide the best player in NCAA Tournament fashion. No. 1 will face No. 16, No. 2 vs. No. 15, and so on. Voting will be conducted at PackerReport.com. Go to our Frozen Tundra Forum and the matchups will be at the top of the list.
In previous matchups, No. 1 Don Hutson beat No. 16 Tony Canadeo by getting 96.5 percent of the vote, No. 2 Brett Favre beat No. 15 James Lofton by capturing 85.6 percent of the vote, No. 3 Bart Starr beat No. 14 Lavvie Dilweg with 87.5 percent of the vote and No. 4 Forrest Gregg handled No. 13 Cal Hubbard with 61.1 percent of the vote.
No. 5 Ray Nitschke vs. No. 12 Willie Wood
Ray Nitschke was the first of the Glory Years defensive players to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 1978.
Nitschke was selected to the NFL’s all-50-Year and 75th Anniversary teams — the only linebacker on both teams. His peers voted him the best linebacker of the era. He was voted to the all-NFL team seven times in a span of eight seasons and was selected MVP of the hard-hitting 1962 championship game, when he had a hand in three turnovers.
A tremendous athlete, Nitschke was a high school quarterback and standout baseball player who was offered a contract by the St. Louis Browns. At Illinois, he played fullback and linebacker. The Packers selected him in the third round and he wound up playing 190 games — fourth-most in franchise history.
“He’s the rowdy of this team and the whipping boy,” coach Vince Lombardi wrote in “Run to Daylight.” “He can take it. He is a big, rough, belligerent, fun-loving guy with a heart as big as all outdoors. You don’t improve him… he improves himself.”
He was a menacing hitter who intercepted 25 passes and recovered 20 fumbles.
“I grew up belting the other kids in the neighborhood,” Nitschke, who lost his father when he was 3 and mother when he was 13, once said. “I felt I was somebody who didn’t have anything and I took it out on everybody.”
Willie Wood would fit right in on a Ted Thompson team. An undrafted free agent quarterback out of USC, Wood wrote postcards to teams asking for a tryout. The Packers showed up and had one of the finest safeties and punt returners in NFL history.
The eight-time Pro Bowler led the team in interceptions five times, including 1961 through 1963. In 1961, he led the NFL in punt-return average, and he paced the league with nine interceptions in 1962. With 48 picks, he trails only Bobby Dillon’s 52 in Packers history. Wood was at his best against the best, with six interceptions of Fran Tarkenton and five apiece off John Brodie and Johnny Unitas. His interception and 50-yard return helped put the Packers in control against Kansas City in Super Bowl I. He added 16 fumble recoveries.
Wood, a member of the Class of 1989, is one of just 15 undrafted free agents in the Hall of Fame.
No. 6 Jim Taylor vs. No. 11 Clarke Hinkle
When Jim Taylor played, 1,000-yard seasons meant more because there were only 14 games. Taylor rumbled for six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and had five consecutive seasons of at least 10 touchdowns.
He was the NFL’s MVP in 1962. His 1,474 rushing yards that season led the league — the only time Jim Brown failed to win the rushing crown during his career — and stood as a Packers record until Ahman Green’s 1,883 yards in 16 games in 2003.
“Jim Brown will give you that leg and take it away from you,” Lombardi wrote in “Run to Daylight.” “Taylor will give it to you and ram it through your chest.”
Taylor, the fullback on the all-1960s team, left Green Bay with 8,207 rushing yards. That stood as the franchise record until Green returned to the team for a second tour of duty in 2009. He was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1976.
“He ran hard and he loved to kick you in the head with those knees,” Hall of Fame linebacker Sam Huff once said. “I loved playing against him because I never had far to go to find him. He’d try to find you, so he could run over you.”
Clarke Hinkle was a four-time All-Pro, inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1964 and a member of the NFL’s All-Time Two-Way Team in 1994.
Hinkle ran with the same violence that marked Taylor’s career. According to legend, during a 1933 game, he ran over the legendary Bronko Nagurski, who suffered a fractured hip, bruised ribs, injured shoulder and broken nose while being knocked out cold. Nagurski didn’t carry a grudge: He presented Hinkle for induction in Canton.
During his 10-year career, Hinkle rushed for a then-NFL record 3,860 yards — a figure that still ranks seventh in team history. He was voted all-NFL nine times while playing fullback, linebacker, kicker and punter. He scored 44 career touchdowns.
“He was the hardest runner I ever tried to tackle,” said fellow Hall of Famer Bulldog Turner, who played for the Bears. “When you hit him, it would just pop every joint all the way down to your toes.”