He was a strapping 6-foot 5-inch, 240-pound tight end, an imposing physical force for his time. He played seven seasons (1963 though 1969) with Green Bay, appearing in 95 games – fifth most in Packers history among tight ends. He was a tremendous blocker and a key component on the vaunted Packers Sweep. He also caught 109 passes for 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns.
But if you ever have a chance to chat with Marv Fleming, don't bother talking about individual statistics.
Talk about team. Talk about playing a key role with a string of the greatest teams the NFL has ever seen. The Green Bay Packers of 1965, 1966 and 1967, the first and still the only team to win it all three years in a row. Of course, be sure to bring up the driving force behind all that blood, sweat, tears, teamwork and championship legend - a coach named Vincent Thomas Lombardi.
"It was an honor to be a Green Bay Packer player and being under the tutelage of Vince Lombardi," said Fleming as he recalled the salad days of his 12-year career. "I say today if Coach Lombardi was with any team other than the Green Bay Packers, they would have won also. He had a knack for pulling the best out of you. When I got there, I was 20 years old and I was still learning, still growing. He saw potential in me, pulled me aside and said, ‘Marvin, I'm going to be on your butt but I'm going to make you a good football player. I'm going to make you a star in this league.' I said to myself, ‘Make me a star and you can be on my butt all you want.'"
Lombardi was true to his word.
"He did get on me. He pushed me to the point where I became a good football player. If you look at my record, how many guys (were there) who played in all the championships and all the Super Bowls that I have? That was under Coach Lombardi's tutelage.
Fleming helped Lombardi's legions win three NFL championships and the first two Super Bowls. In 1970, Fleming joined Don Shula's Miami Dolphins. Under Shula, Fleming won two more championships and became the first player in NFL history to appear in five Super Bowls.
Two Hall of Fame coaches, Lombardi and Shula. Fleming is often asked to draw comparisons between the two.
"Everybody says ‘What's the difference between Shula and Lombardi?' smiles Fleming. With no hesitation, he adds, "Shula was a great football coach but Lombardi was a coach of life."
On July 17, Fleming joins tight end Mark Chmura and tackle Greg Koch for induction into the Packers Hall of Fame. His longtime teammate, linebacker Dave Robinson, will present him for induction. Robinson was quick to agree with Fleming that with Lombardi, winning championships was the only thing that mattered.
"It was first place or nothing," Robinson said. "You come in first or you lose. There's no such thing as second place, and every man felt that way. Either you win it or you lose it and that's it. Vince used to say, ‘The minute you accept second place, it's going to be easier to accept third. The nanosecond you accept third place, you can accept fourth."
To further illustrate the point, Fleming recalled a 1963 West Coast trip and a classic matchup with the always tough Los Angeles Rams.
"I remember we went out to Los Angeles. We left Green Bay and it was about 20 degrees below zero and now we're out in Los Angeles, 75 degrees. Now it's halftime and we're losing so Lombardi says, ‘I saw it the minute you guys stepped off that airplane. Your shades and your sandals and your alpaca sweaters. Well, alpaca this, Mister! If we don't win this game, some of you in here (and he pointed at me) won't be here on Tuesday!' We won."
For all of his championship rings and memories of his time in Green Bay, Fleming says he is both proud and humbled to take his place alongside teammates like Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke, Jim Taylor, Jerry Kramer, Fuzzy Thurston and Paul Hornung in the Packers Hall of Fame.
"It's a distinction that a lot of people don't have," Fleming said. "I was thinking about it. After all this time, I thought that they had forgotten about my play. I knew that my play was above par because each time I gave 110 percent."
110 percent – it was all Lombardi ever demanded.
E-mail Tom Andrews at firstname.lastname@example.org.