Green Bay Packers Chester “Swede” Johnston

Chester “Swede” Johnston

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Chester “Swede” Johnston​

Inducted: 1981

Back: 1931, 1934-38

Height: 5-8; Weight: 196

College: Elmhurst, 1930

Johnston might have played sparingly over six seasons with the Packers, but when his opportunities came, he played with little fear. In fact, as a member of the St. Louis Gunners before and during their short stay in the NFL, Johnston played without a helmet.

A former standout at Appleton High School, Johnston possessed intriguing speed and power for a fullback and linebacker, but he spent his college and professional years constantly on the move. As a result, he played only two full seasons with the Packers, 1935 and ’36, and parts of four others.

As a native of the Fox River Valley area, Johnston was often and conveniently on call without being on the roster. “He’d hide me,” Johnston said of coach Curly Lambeau. “He wouldn’t turn my name in as a member of the squad. I practiced all the time, sure. And I’d suit up, but wouldn’t play. Curly had a way of juggling it around. I don’t know what he did. I never asked him.”

Johnston’s proudest achievement was playing on the Packers’ 1936 NFL championship team. His career rushing stats in Green Bay were 101 attempts for 309 yards, a 3.1 average, with two touchdowns. 

“Swede is one of the hardest and most conscientious workers on the squad,” Lambeau once said of Johnston. “There is no better team man on the Packer roster.”

Johnston graduated in 1928 from Appleton High School, where he was an all-conference fullback and set three records in the Fox River Valley Conference track meet as a senior. He won the 100-yard dash in 10.4 seconds, the shot put with a heave of 43 feet 8 inches and the broad jump (now long jump) with a leap of 22-1. His broad jump record stood for 36 years in what was then one of the strongest high school conferences in Wisconsin.

In the fall of 1929, Johnston played freshman football at Marquette University. The next year, he played at Elmhurst College outside Chicago. In 1930, Johnston played with the semipro Oshkosh All-Stars and faced the Packers in their only exhibition game that year.

The Packers first announced the signing of Johnston on Sept. 3, 1931. He played in the first two league games before being cut on September 29. He played one game with the Chicago Cardinals in 1933 and eventually wound up with the Gunners, an independent pro team that had a three-game fling in the NFL late in the 1934 season. Along the way, Johnston also squeezed in playing time with an unknown number of semipro teams in Wisconsin.

The Packers received a second signed contract from Johnston on July 13, 1934, and he started the season opener at fullback. However, he was released the next day when St. Louis claimed he was still its property. Although the Gunners weren’t yet members of the NFL, they would take Cincinnati’s place late in the season.

On March 27, 1935, the Packers again signed Johnston and he played 20 games for them over the next two seasons, including nine in 1936 when they won their fourth NFL championship. Johnston played four more games with the Packers in 1937 and ‘38 before spending the 1939 and ’40 seasons with Pittsburgh.

Over the course of six seasons, or at least partial seasons, Johnston played in 27 games for the Packers and started six, all at fullback. In his final two games in 1938, he played guard and middle guard on defense. 

Born March 7, 1909, in Appleton, Wis. Given name Chester Arthur Johnston. Died Sept. 19, 2002, at age 93.

- By Cliff Christl

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