Howard “Cub” Buck
Height: 6-0; Weight: 259
College: Wisconsin, 1913-15
- Packers All-Time Team: 1946, ’57
One of the most momentous signings in team history was when Buck joined the Packers prior to their maiden season in what was then the American Professional Football Association. Having previously played with Jim Thorpe and the Canton Bulldogs, Buck lent instant credibility to Green Bay’s daring new venture. Thorpe was the greatest player of his time, and the Bulldogs were considered the best professional football team in the country.
Better yet, Buck was homegrown.
He was a native of Eau Claire, Wis., and had anchored the line at the University of Wisconsin, where he was chosen in 1915 as a second-team tackle on Walter Camp’s prestigious All-America team. “To be named All-America by Walter Camp was the seal and sign of universal excellence,” early pro football historian Dr. Harry March once wrote.
Buck had joined the Bulldogs in 1916. In 1920, his last year in Canton and the first year of the APFA, he played 11 games with them. The next year, Curly Lambeau signed Buck for “the sensational price of $100 per game,” Red Grange, a star halfback of the same era, wrote for the Chicago Tribune in 1937. Grange said Lambeau signed Buck because he was “a great football player” and also for his “box office value.”
A mammoth tackle who weighed upwards of 280 pounds, Buck was strong, agile and durable enough to play 60 minutes. More than 20 years after he retired, former teammate and longtime Packers board member Tubby Bero said, “We’ve never had a tackle that would measure up to Cub Buck.”
Buck also was one of the game’s better punters and the Packers’ placekicker. In fact, according to The Football Encyclopedia, Buck had the NFL’s 10th-best punting average pre-1934, when statistics were unofficial and incomplete. Again, based on the Green Bay Press-Gazette’s unofficial play-by-play during the league’s pre-stats era, Buck punted 19 times and kicked a game-winning 28-yard field goal when the Packers beat the St. Louis All-Stars, 3-0, in the mud at Sportsmen’s Park in 1923. According to Green Bay Packers: A Measure of Greatness,” a statistical history of the team authored by Eric Goska, Buck led the Packers in scoring in 1923 with 23 points and finished his career with 54 points.
Although Buck played both ways in accordance with the rules of the day, he probably was best known for his uncanny ability to smell out opponents’ plays while on defense. Prior to teams huddling between plays, Buck would listen to the call at the line of scrimmage, read the eyes and stances of those lining up across from him and call out the play just prior to the snap. “There has never been a signal-stealer like him,” the Press-Gazette noted in 1943, 18 years after he retired.
Buck played in the first Packers-Bears game in 1921 and was a victim of the storied rivalry’s first cheap shot: A punch thrown by the Bears’ John “Tarzan” Taylor.
“He knew every rule in the book,” former teammate and fellow Packers Hall of Famer Charlie Mathys said of Buck. “And in view of the fact that he had captained the team at Wisconsin and had played some pro football at Canton before he joined us, he was an awful lot of help to Curly with the coaching, particularly concerning line play. And in that line, he was a stone wall.”
Buck played his first game for the Packers on Nov. 28, 1920, against the Milwaukee Lapham Athletic Club. It was the Packers’ last game of the season and Buck started at right guard. He was still playing for Canton at the time, but the Bulldogs didn’t have a game scheduled that day, and the Packers were not yet members of the APFA. Besides, it was hardly an inconvenience for Buck. He was working for a paper company in Kaukauna, located roughly 20 miles south of Green Bay, and also coaching the city team there.
Buck joined the Packers full time the next year. The Appleton Post-Crescent announced the signing on Sept. 14, 1921, less than three weeks after the Packers were admitted to the upstart pro league. Buck also agreed to coach the team’s line, although he was serving as an assistant coach at Lawrence College at the same time. In 1922, Indiana University announced it had hired Buck as its head football coach at what was then a handsome $3,000 salary, but Buck changed his mind and remained with the Packers. By then, he also had a new full-time job as executive director of the Boy Scouts in Appleton, in addition to his part-time post as an assistant at Lawrence. In 1923, Buck served as Lawrence’s head coach.
He retired from the Packers in 1926 to become the first head football coach in the history of the University of Miami. Prior to joining the Packers, Buck served as athletic director and head coach at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., from 1917 to 1919. Buck was also playing pro ball at the time and revealed years later he used the alias, Moriarity, to conceal his true identity.
In all, Buck played in and started 49 league games for the Packers, all at tackle. That was more than any other player in the team’s first five seasons in the NFL.
Born August 7, 1892, in Eau Claire, Wis. Given name Howard Pierce Buck. Died June 13, 1966, at age 79.
- By Cliff Christl