Former Packers dynamo Donny Anderson spoke of playing golf after morning practices, the art of punting left-footed, asking Vince Lombardi about the chances of dabbling as an offseason pro baseball player and other subjects while relaxing after 18 holes in the Senior Masters Invitational at Indian Wells Golf Resort in Palm Desert, Calif.
The Texas Tech product who recorded nearly 5,000 yards from scrimmage over six seasons in Green Bay still stokes the competitive fires as a top-notch amateur golfer, traveling the country for tournaments.
Anderson has been honing his skills on the course since his days with the Packers, but really sharpened them over the last three decades since retiring from the NFL in 1974. A one handicap, he played on the celebrity golf tour for 18 years, then regained his amateur status last year and has since won a couple of tournaments in his native Texas.
“It’s a competitive thing; it’s fun to get out there and still compete,” said Anderson, who is 67. “I get a charge out of it, and I’m lucky. It’s something I got good at and it’s something you get to keep playing later in life.”
So he gets in about 150 rounds a year, playing on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. He lives in Dallas and some days, when he isn’t playing, he practices. Anderson even found a way to the course when he was with the Packers with quarterback Zeke Bratkowski and defensive back Doug Hart, getting nine holes in periodically between morning workouts and 3 p.m. meetings. Lombardi actually didn’t mind.
“Vince loved that because he knew we weren’t getting into any trouble,” he said.
Anderson was selected with the seventh overall pick of the 1965 draft, after finishing fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting. His three-year contract made him the highest-paid player in pro football history. It was at a time when the bidding war for talent between the NFL and AFL was at its height.
“The phone call was a surprise and he said, ‘This is Vince Lombardi, would you like to play for the Green Bay Packers?’” Anderson said. “I told him that would be like playing for the New York Yankees in baseball, and he said I was right and that we just drafted you in the first round. As it turned out, I waited until the next year to play, because that was the last year of the double draft. It was different then, but good timing.”
Anderson was a do-it-all back for the Packers from 1966-71, with the kind of versatility that is found in today’s runners more often than in the past. He had 3,165 yards rushing, leading the team in 1968 and again in ’70 with a career-best 853 yards. He had 1,725 yards receiving, averaging nearly 14 yards per catch. Anderson only returned 15 punts in his career, but averaged 14.8 yards and scored on a 77-yard TD. Early in his career, he was a kick-returner.
“I always thought maybe I could have been a wide receiver,” said Anderson, who was voted to the Pro Bowl in 1968. “Vince thought that maybe that was what I was supposed to be, but I could run pretty well.”
Anderson was also the club’s punter, a skill he had worked on for an entire summer at Texas Tech. As a rookie he only punted twice, but he took over the duties for good for the rest of his time in Green Bay, averaging 39.6 yards on 315 punts. For Lombardi, hang time was the key, not distance.
“I never gave up a punt return for a touchdown, and in 1967 we gave up an average of less than two yards per return (1.7),” Anderson said. “Being left-footed, I had this high, hanging, backwards spiral going. Most guys weren’t used to it. I was a punt-returner, too, so I knew it was a backwards ball. That was just the system back then. Coach Lombardi said, ‘You’re punting.’ So I punted.”
By running, receiving, returning and punting, maybe Anderson earned the historical contract. He even threw a pair of TDs while with the Packers. He could have played professional baseball, as the lefty was offered a handsome sum by the New York Mets after playing centerfield for the Red Raiders.
“In a very humble way, maybe by playing running back, catching the ball, returning punts and kicks and punting, I would represent five players,” Anderson said. “Really that was just the time, though, in the NFL, and the way you used players. I even asked Vince if I could play baseball in the offseason. Baseball was my first love. He asked me if I was out of my mind.”
One of the most memorable moments of Super Bowl I came when Anderson knocked out Kansas City defensive back Fred “The Hammer” Williamson with a thigh to the helmet. The defender had vowed during the pre-game hype that he would be the one dishing out the hard hits.
“He was talking a lot of trash before the game and we happened to run a sweep in his direction,” Anderson said. “I think he said he wasn’t knocked out, but I saw him on the ground, then they put him on a stretcher and took him off. I still see him every now and then.
“Willie Wood, our safety, said on the sidelines, ‘The Hammer is out.’ It was one of the funniest things. NFL Films was on the sidelines and you can still see it all. Max McGee said I hit him with my wallet.”
Ricky Zeller is a contributing writer for packers.com. He has covered the NFL for several publications.
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