Packers By the Numbers: Jersey Numbers and the Players Who Wore Them
In 1963 when I was six I started collecting football cards and picked the Packers as my favorite team. Green was my favorite color, and the Packers not only wore green jerseys, but came from an exotic distant place called Green Bay. The name Packers itself was appealing in its oddness just what was a "Packer" anyway? While the Cowboys' star was alluring to a small boy, the Packers' quarterback had the most apt name a cool signal caller could ever have, Bart Starr. Furthermore, Lombardi's lessons (work hard, do every job the right way every time, never quit and so on) were the same ones my father taught me. The team also did its part on the field to clinch the deal, winning three straight titles soon after. Beyond their talent, though, the Packers of that time were colorful characters and were written up in newspapers, magazines, and books frequently. As an avid reader, I soaked it all up and then started absorbing the history of the team. I found that Green Bay had a long tradition of quirky characters like Curly Lambeau and Johnny Blood, of exciting performers like Don Hutson and Arnie Herber, and of winning championships. I was hooked and have remained so for forty years even though I didn't make it to Wisconsin until this past year when researching this book. When my older daughter began to be interested in football, I read her Jerry Kramer's Instant Replay as a bedtime story.
The idea of the book came about from the desire to share the knowledge I've accumulated from four decades of reading everything I can find on the Packers. Many books and articles have been written about the team, its coaches, and its players -- particularly from the Lombardi Era. My basis in this book is uniform numbers. Uniform numbers conjure vivid memories in sports. If you say "3" most sports fans would think of Babe Ruth; Green Bay Packer fans would remember Tony Canadeo. If you say "75" most football fans would think of Mean Joe Greene, but Packer fans would recall Forest Gregg. However, not all players are that memorable, so where to find the number data? Some NFL teams have compiled comprehensive lists of what number each of their players ever wore and posted that on the team's web site. The Packers' web site is rich in information and very nicely designed, but did not include uniform numbers until I had finished two drafts of the manuscript for this book. Much of the data could be found in Eric Goska's wonderful Packer encyclopedia, Packer Legends in Facts. More obscure cases were solved through press accounts, team press releases, and actual game programs. Out of the over 1,300 players who have played for Green Bay in its 80+ years in the NFL, I was unable to track down the numbers of only a handful of players. Once the team came out with its authoritative list in the Packers Media Guide, I was able to compare notes and ensure the accuracy of the raw data.
Just a list of numbers would make a pretty short and rather dull book, though. The numbers provide the foundation, but I have tried to build an interesting structure on that base. For each number from 1 to 99 I have written a short chapter. Each chapter features one player especially identifiable with that number and often uses him and his career as a launching point into an essay on a broader Packer or football topic. Eight of the chapters are decade chapters that present a snapshot of a particular Packer decade through a range of categories: some are statistical like won-lost records, some are factual like what Hall of Famers played for the team in that period, and many are opinion-based like best and worst trade or best and worst draft of the decade. Each chapter lists all players who have worn the number and provides cross references to other numbers worn by these players. The first player to wear the number and the player to wear it for the longest period are both noted as well. Other notable players are briefly described as is "one to forget," a player who best would be forgotten for any number of reasons. Finally, a concise bibliography on the player and/or special topic of the chapter is provided for further investigation.
The criteria used to select who represents each number varied from chapter to chapter. I did not always choose the most famous or best player to wear the number. I also have tried to maintain a mix of players from different eras, and that led to quite a bit of shifting around enabled by the fact that players in the leather helmet era especially switched numbers quite a bit. For example, Paul "Tiny" Engebretsen wore number 34 for most of his career, but is featured here as 52 which he only wore briefly. I wanted to relate Engebretsen's story, but I also needed to tell about Don Chandler and his role in the 1965 championship. Chandler only wore 34 so he had to stay. Therefore, Engebretsen pushed Frank Winters out from 52, because Tiny's story was more vital to the aims of the book than my fellow New Jeseyan, Frankie Bag of Donuts.
Mike Michalske wore the most numbers as a Packer, 9, but fellow Hall of Famers Arnie Herber and Clarke Hinkle wore eight and seven respectively. In the post-WWII era, Dick Afflis wore a different number in each of his four years in Green Bay from 1951-54, while Steve Collier wore four numbers in his only season as a Packer. Collier tried three different numbers in three replacement games in 1987 and a fourth as a member of the regular roster. However, in time players would become almost interchangeable with their numbers, so much so that the best players even have their numbers retired.
The history of each number represents a different slice of Packer history, and this book attempts to serve as a thematic rather than a chronological approach to Green Bay's rich heritage. Among those themes are accounts of each year the team has played in the post-season, key rivalries, and a host of idiosyncratic topics. Ultimately, the selection criteria was to choose the players who best fit into the stories that I felt most needed to be examined and told.
As a librarian, I am trained to organize information to make it more accessible for users, and I am cognizant of almost everything that has been published on this team. No existing book provides such a team history through its uniform numbers not to mention a short literature review as well. I have tried to pinpoint the stories we know about the Packers and their players and from what sources we know them. I think my extensive study has permitted me to make a number of interesting connections and observations. My emphasis in this book has been on thoroughness and accuracy, while I have tried to flavor the narrative with irreverent, intelligent opinions and a sense of humor. I hope that readers find this book fun to read or dip into and a unique resource for research.
The text is designed to be approached by uniform numbers; however, if you want to see all the numbers a Packer wore, Appendix A provides an access point by players' names. If you would like to hopscotch from one chapter to another according to a rough chronological order, Appendix B provides an alternative reading order.
In the text see references to chapters are provided when appropriate. For those Packers who are described only in the brief data section at the top of chapters, see top references are given.
Regarding the number listings both in the chapters and in Appendix A, I used the following conventions: 1) (Henry Burris 2001) Listings within parentheses are players who were eligible to play but never appeared in a game. These players include a handful of from the early years who were listed in game programs, but are not on the team's official all-time roster because they never got on the field. Of more significance are the team's third quarterbacks. In 1993 the NFL instituted a policy that a team could have a third quarterback suit up and be available for an emergency, but that quarterback would not count as being on the active roster for the game. For example, Henry Burris is not on the team's official roster, but he did suit up in #10 for most of the 2001 season. Danny Wuerffel, the team's third quarterback in 2000 actually appeared in a game and thus does appear on the official roster. Therefore, Burris' listing in this book is in parentheses while Wuerffel's is not. 2) <Curly Lambeau 1925-6> Listings within angle brackets are players who were assigned numbers in a program or dope sheet (the tabloid-sized precursor to game programs) in the years before players wore numbers on their jerseys. Photographic evidence shows that players did not have numbers on their jerseys in 1924, but did in 1927; 1925 and 1926 are questionable. A decade after the Packers started wearing actual uniform numbers, the NFL drafted a rule specifying the size of numbers required as of 1937 on both the front and back of the jersey. 3) Collier 1987r Listings with an "r" after the year are for replacement players who took part in the three non-union league games during the 1987 mid-season players' strike.
Finally, the entries for numbers 1, 2, 6, and 10 are "cheats." The subject of those chapters never actually wore that number on the field in a game. For Curly Lambeau (1), Charley Mathys (2) and Cub Buck (10), these were the numbers assigned them in game programs. The case for Vince Lombardi (6) is more complicated and is explained in the entry itself.