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Best by numbers: No. 36

Posted Jun 7, 2011

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, and it’s up to you to vote for the best player to wear each number.

The ballot is on the right side of the page, and on the home page.

In the vote on the previous installment, No. 31, history trumped recent familiarity, as Hall of Famer Jim Taylor captured roughly 75 percent of the vote to easily outdistance Al Harris. The first vote, on No. 30, went the other way, as Ahman Green topped Hall of Famer Clarke Hinkle.

Which way will you lean next? Here’s No. 36.

Mike Michalske (1929-35, 1937)

Michalske wore at least nine different numbers during his eight years with the Packers, but he wore No. 36 for three of those years so we’ll discuss him here.

Known as “Iron Mike” because he never came out of the game, Michalske played fullback, guard, end and tackle as an All-America at Penn State in 1925. A pro for three years before signing with the Packers in 1929, Michalske was named All-NFL five times with Green Bay, including all three years the Packers won their first three championships (1929-31).

Back then, guard was considered the toughest position in football, because on offense he had to block the opponent’s biggest defender, and on defense he was key to stopping the run. Michalske took it a step further and also chased down quarterbacks in the backfield, helping to convince coach Curly Lambeau to use fullbacks as guards for their quickness and explosiveness.

If you’re still wondering what made Michalske so special, consider this: In 1964, he became the first guard ever inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That says it all.

LeRoy Butler (1990-2001)

Drafted in the second round out of Florida State in 1990, Butler quickly became a fan favorite as well as a Pro Bowl safety after converting from cornerback. He’s perhaps best remembered for inventing the “Lambeau Leap,” when he jumped into the south end zone stands after taking a lateral from Reggie White, who had recovered an Oakland fumble, and running for a touchdown in 1993.

A blitzer, run-stopper, cover man and signal-caller all rolled into one, Butler likely would have become the first player in NFL history to record 40 interceptions and 20 sacks had a broken shoulder blade not ended his career midway through the 2001 season. He finished his career with 38 interceptions and 20.5 sacks, emerging as a defensive leader on the 1996 Super Bowl championship team with five interceptions and 6.5 sacks, second on the team in both categories.

Named to the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 1990s, Butler was a four-time first-team All-Pro and has been on the preliminary list of candidates for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in recent years, but he hasn’t advanced to the latter stages of the selection process. Former GM Ron Wolf has gone on record stating he’d put Butler in the Hall in a heartbeat for the way he pioneered a new breed of the all-everything defensive back.

Nick Collins (2005-present)

Donning No. 36 just three years after Butler’s retirement, Collins was potentially destined to live in his predecessor’s shadow. They were both second-round draft picks, selected three spots apart (Butler 48th, Collins 51st).

A starter from day one, however, Collins has forged his own identity as a playmaker and relatively soft-spoken defensive leader. He has missed just three games in his six-year career, and after intercepting just four passes in his first 47 professional games (including playoffs), he has picked off 18 in his last 53 contests.

His best season statistically came in 2008, when he intercepted seven passes and ran back three for touchdowns, tying a team record and breaking the team mark for interception return yards in one season, with 295. He had six more interceptions in 2009 and then capped off 2010 with an interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLV.

There they are. Don’t forget to vote at the top of the page.

 
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