Their faces are obscured by their helmet’s facemask, but you can always identify the player by his number. It becomes his identity.
There are only 99 numbers available – 100 if you count zero, but no one in Packers history has ever worn that number – and with dozens of players on the roster at any given time over the 90-plus years the franchise has been in existence, some awfully good players have worn the same number. In each case, it’s interesting to ask, “Who’s the best?”
Packers.com is letting you, the fan, give us some answers in our “Best by numbers” series. Our website staff has compiled a list of eight numbers worn by notable players from different eras.
This is not a list of the best numbers or the best players in team history, mind you, it’s simply eight numbers we think generate the most interesting debate as to who’s the best player to have worn each of them.
So have at it and have some fun. We’ll give you an introduction to the candidates and you can cast your vote in the poll on the right side of the page. Beginning today, we will post two numbers per week over the next four weeks.
First up: No. 30.
Clarke Hinkle (1932-41)
Hinkle wore a few different numbers for the Packers, but he wore No. 30 for seven of his 10 seasons (1933, ’35, ’37-41) with the team. In the decade that was his career, he was one of the game’s best all-around players.
As a fullback, Hinkle ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in rushing yards and the top three in rushing touchdowns six times each, peaking in 1937 with 552 yards (second) and five rushing TDs (first). He led the team in rushing seven times, which ties his with Jim Taylor for the most seasons having led the Packers in rushing.
Hinkle also played linebacker, place-kicker and punter, earning selection to the NFL’s all-time, two-way team in 1994. He led the league in scoring once (1938 with 58 points) and in his final two seasons he led the league in field goals.
His 3,860 career rushing yards rank sixth in team annals, and the team’s practice field along Oneida Street on the west side of the Don Hutson Center bears his name. Hinkle was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1964.
Chuck Mercein (1967-69)
An All-America at Yale and a Milwaukee native, Mercein’s stay in Green Bay was brief, and there’s nothing statistically about his career that’s all that noteworthy. There is, however, one moment in Mercein’s career that makes his name legendary.
A third-round draft choice of the New York Giants, Mercein signed with the Packers in the middle of the 1967 season and made his biggest contribution on the game-winning drive in the “Ice Bowl.”
On the 12-play, 68-yard touchdown drive to beat the Dallas Cowboys in the 1967 NFL Championship, Mercein accounted for exactly half of the yardage in that drive.
On the second play, he carried the ball for 7 yards around right end for a first down. Five snaps later, he took a pass from Bart Starr down the left side of the field for 19 yards and a first down on the Dallas 11 with just over a minute to play. On the next play, he ran it 8 yards up the middle to the 3. Three touches, 34 yards.
After a 2-yard plunge for a first down by Donny Anderson, the Packers eventually faced third-and-goal on the 1. As many know, the play-call was Mercein on a fullback dive, but Starr and head coach Vince Lombardi knew Starr was keeping the ball instead.
That’s why Mercein is seen plowing over the goal line behind Starr with his arms raised over his head in John Biever’s famous photo of the winning sneak. Some thought Mercein was signaling touchdown to celebrate. Actually, when he charged ahead and realized he wasn’t getting the ball as expected, he pulled his arms up so as not to get called for pushing and, hence, assisting Starr, the ball-carrier, which would have been a penalty.
What if Mercein doesn’t pull his arms up and a flag is thrown and the Packers don’t win the “Ice Bowl” and go on to win Super Bowl II? No way; too cold.
Ahman Green (2000-06, ’09)
In one of the more lopsided trades in team history, the Packers acquired Green from Seattle in 2000 for cornerback Fred Vinson, plus a swap of late-round draft picks.
All Green did was go on to become the franchise’s all-time leading rusher with 8,322 yards (though it should be noted he broke Taylor’s 43-year-old record wearing a different number, 34, when he briefly returned to the team in 2009 after a two-year absence).
Green, who led the team in rushing six times, holds the franchise marks for most rushing yards in a season (1,883 in 2003) and in a game (218), most thousand-yard seasons (six), most hundred-yard games (33) and longest run from scrimmage (98 yards). A skilled receiver, too, Green helped the Packers develop one of the most feared screen games in the league. Green ranks seventh in franchise history with 350 career receptions and 15th with 2,726 yards.
He also authored one of the most impressive postseason performances in team history, with 25 carries for 156 yards in the 2003 playoffs at Philadelphia, an effort largely forgotten thanks to the game’s infamous fourth-and-26 play.
OK, folks, time to vote.