Guard: 1936-42, 1946
Height: 6-0; Weight: 214
College: San Francisco, 1934-35
- NFL All-Decade Team: 1930s
- Official NFL All-Pro Team (11-man team, chosen 1931-42): 1938
- Pro All-Star Game Selection (game played 1938-42): 1938
As the No. 1 choice and seventh overall selection in the first NFL draft, conducted in February 1936, Letlow holds the distinction of being the Packers’ first-ever draft pick. Hard-nosed and unusually fast for a lineman, Letlow established himself over his first two seasons as a dependable replacement at left guard for future Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Michalske.
The Packers won the NFL championship in 1936, Letlow’s rookie year, and also in 1939. In addition to being named on the official NFL all-pro team in 1938, Letlow was a second-team selection on various honor squads in 1937, ’39 and ’40.
While Letlow’s play his first season might have been spotty, Curly Lambeau believed he might have been the most improved player in the league his second season.
“There were outstanding examples of courage on the Eastern trip. Russ Letlow, who has played a fine game at guard all season, was a standout,” Lambeau said following the 1937 season. “So sick he could hardly sit on the bench at Washington, he entered the contest and played a whirlwind game until completely exhausted.”
Letlow caught Lambeau’s eye during practices prior to the East-West Shrine Game, played Jan. 1, 1936. Lambeau was there scouting, and even sent a wire to the Green Bay Press-Gazette naming the players who had most impressed him. Letlow was one of the players he mentioned.
Letlow would later say he met Lambeau at a hotel in San Francisco the night of the game and was told he would be the Packers’ pick. “I told him I’d already signed up with the (Chicago) Cardinals, but he said that would never stand up,” Letlow said in a 1977 interview. “And, sure enough, later I got a telegram from Milan Creighton, the Cardinals’ coach, saying I had been released and one from Lambeau the next day saying I was signed up.”
But there was more to the story.
On Jan. 19, 1936, still almost three weeks before the draft, the Packers faced Letlow while on a West Coast barnstorming tour. The Pacific Coast All-Americans, with Letlow starting at right guard, played the Packers at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco. What’s more, the All-Americans’ coach was Creighton.
Once he joined the Packers, Letlow played seven seasons before missing three years while serving in the Navy during World War II. He played Armed Forces football for Great Lakes Naval Training Station in 1943 and Camp Peary Naval Training Station in 1944. Following the ’44 season, Letlow was named to the Associated Press Service All-American Team. Letlow returned to the Packers for a final season in 1946.
In all, he played in 75 games and started 29, all at guard at a time when players played both offense and defense. Letlow also filled in at tackle and handled kickoffs.
Born Oct. 5, 1913, in Dinuba, Calif. Given name Willard Russell Letlow. Died Oct. 12, 1987, at age 74.
-- By Cliff Christl