Lynn from Lawrenceville, GA
I recently read your article "High Five-True Grit of Gory Years" from 2020. Ed West was the epitome of what the Packers stand for over the years. He had an amazing career and others with lesser stats have been inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame. How does one get elected to the Hall of Fame? Is there a way to petition to get someone in?
"Toolbox." That was West's fitting nickname. "That's what he is," Andy Reid, who was West's tight ends coach for his last three seasons, once said. "He just takes everything he has and just uses it." Actually, West was No. 1 on my "True Grit" list of receivers, linebackers, and offensive and defensive backs who played during the Packers' 24-year famine (1968-91) and exemplified toughness and durability without ever receiving Pro Bowl or all-pro recognition. No player inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame was eligible for the list, either.
Basically, that was the purpose of the post: to recognize those hard-nosed, all-out players who had not been inducted and in most cases appeared to have little to no chance of being selected.
But I'm glad you asked about West because he's someone who at least warrants consideration in my eyes. I know this, teammates and people grinding film at 1265 Lombardi Ave. back then revered him for his blocking and consistent effort.
Members of the selection committee are required to sign a confidentiality agreement promising not to disclose what's discussed in our meetings, so I'm going to stick to my own opinions here and simply explain what I've tried to contribute to the process as team historian.
During my 36-plus years of writing about the Packers as a sportswriter at different Wisconsin newspapers, I was well aware of the fact that inductees were sometimes selected as much for their standing with fans, their likely impact on ticket sales for the annual banquet and how active they were in the team's alumni association, as they were for their production on the field.
Thus, if you look back at old Green Bay Press-Gazettes, and copies of the Milwaukee Sentinel and Milwaukee Journal, coverage of the announcements when players were selected and also the banquet itself was often sparse. As I recall, there were years where those newspapers didn't even bother to cover the banquet because of questions about the credibility of the selection process. But that's not the case anymore.
I'm going to tiptoe the confidentiality line here and pass out some kudos to others who have been connected in different capacities to the Hall of Fame.
One was the late Mike Gage, former president of the Packers Hall of Fame. He asked me in 2009 to gather more information about the candidates prior to the selection meeting to improve the process. And in response to his request, I dug up old scouting reports and interviews gleaned from opposing coaches and personnel people during my years as a beat writer and dating to the 1970s.
Plus, I started requesting evaluations and recommendations from Packers coaches, scouts and players, including just about every general manager going back to Ron Wolf, just about every personnel director dating to Pat Peppler of the Lombardi era and just about every pro scout since Burt Gustafson, who was the first.
And I have shared that information.
Former Packers president Bob Harlan more than anybody deserves the credit for establishing the strict standards for induction that are now being upheld. He was the one who spoke up and emphasized that selection to the Packers Hall of Fame should be the ultimate honor, based almost exclusively on on-field performance and limited to the best of the best.
Admittedly I'm biased, but I think the Packers Hall of Fame selection committee has been hitting nothing but bullseyes for more than a decade now thanks in part to those two people and others.
It has made up for earlier oversights with the selections of tackle Greg Koch and cornerback Mark Lee from the lean years. Koch should have been inducted years earlier but was penalized for being too outspoken, and Lee might have been overlooked because he was too low-profile.
It was former Packers scout Alonzo Highsmith who initiated belated discussion about Lee and offered a ringing endorsement of one of his contemporaries when he played. In turn, I could offer Dick Corrick's evaluation of Lee to the discussion. "(Lee) was the same thing in college that he was for us," Corrick, who spent 17 years in the Packers' personnel department and headed it from 1978-86, told me in a 2005 interview. "He always made plays. You could always count on him. He was extremely consistent. Never spectacular, but he always played well."
Three of the recent contributor inductees had been overlooked for even longer.
Frank Jonet, an accountant and executive committee member from 1935-51, had steered the Packers through their 17 months of receivership in the 1930s and then oversaw their finances during some of the most perilous years in franchise history. Emil Fischer, former team president and executive committee member from 1935-58, co-signed a note for more than $100,000, according to a reliable source, when the Packers were on the verge of folding before the 1950 stock sale and also stayed in constant communication with NFL commissioner Bert Bell during that time when other owners wanted to revoke Green Bay's franchise. Russ Winnie, the team's radio announcer from 1929-46, was arguably as important as anyone in growing the team's statewide fan base during his 18 seasons at the mic. Arguably, Winnie had a bigger impact on the Packers' survival than any media member previously inducted with the exception of George Calhoun.
This year's selections, Clay Matthews and Aaron Kampman, and last year's, Josh Sitton and Jordy Nelson, were seemingly obvious and consensus candidates.
On the other hand, the 2022 choices, Greg Jennings and Tim Harris, were players who might not have been inducted 15, 20 years ago or more because of the bitter feelings created by their departures. However, they both received ringing endorsements in my interviews with personnel people and scouts.
Their highlight films, for example, might have had more of a wow factor on me than any I've seen at a Hall of Fame banquet. In fact, I'd argue it was one of the strongest classes of the two-inductee era, which basically started in 1999. More than one league personnel official told me that next to Sterling Sharpe, Jennings was the best receiver the Packers have had since their 1992 revival.
Charles Woodson was another obvious pick in 2020. But Al Harris was more of an unsung choice, who was highly recommended, again, by coaches and others inside the game.
Remember what Deion Sanders said about Harris in 2010?
"Al Harris, his first Pro Bowl year was last year. Doesn't talk much. He doesn't say much. Very underrated. … This guy over the last several years would be the best corner in the game. Only guy that took a man, the top receiver, top opposing receiver on the opposing team man-to-man each game. Flip side, the reason Charles Woodson had a rebirth from Oakland is because he went to Green Bay. He was taking a second receiver and got his confidence back. Then he was able to overtake Al and take the top receiver. That's why Charles is Charles now, but Al Harris has been the best corner over probably the last several years."
As for your questions about West, the people at the Hall of Fame accept letters of endorsement and share them with members of the selection committee.
From my viewpoint, I would favorably compare West to fullback William Henderson, a 2011 inductee. Both were exceptional blockers in their own way and among the best in the game at their positions. I would also compare West to Marv Fleming, one of four tight ends previously inducted into the Hall of Fame and more for his blocking than receiving. But West was not the all-around tight end that the other three inductees were: Ron Kramer, Paul Coffman and Mark Chmura.
"He used every trick and tool to get the job done," was how Jesse Kaye, who worked as a pro scout for both Tom Braatz and Ron Wolf, summarized West's career for me. "He was more technique and effort (as a blocker), but his production would be called dominant. He became a better receiver as time went on. His hands were good. He wasn't fast. He'd just try to run you over. His whole game was that way. Effort and finding a way to get it done. And he was a great guy. Everybody loved him."
Something else to keep in mind, there are other tight ends besides West who fall into the bubble category and deserve to at least be on a candidate list: Bubba Franks, a three-time Pro Bowl choice; Rich McGeorge, a solid all-around tight end from the 1970s; and Jermichael Finley, who could stretch the field and cause headaches for opposing defensive coordinators like no other tight end in Packers history but whose career was cut short by injury.
Let's take McGeorge, for example, because he's someone I've always wondered about: Was he regrettably overlooked as some have contended?
Thus, I asked two of his offensive coaches for scouting reports and here's what I was told.
Bob Schnelker: "He was a good tight end. He was a smart kid. He wasn't as tenacious as some of those other tight ends, but he could block pretty good. He could catch the ball. He probably could have played outside a little bit like they do now days with tight ends. He was sort of nifty."
Red Cochran: "Rich was slow. That was his downfall. But he was strong and could block. Good hands. He was just slow. He was never going to be a deep threat and if he caught a ball, he was never going to run more than the length of his body. He wasn't going to get away from any strong safety. He wasn't going to be a Chmura who would catch a pass and gain yards after the catch."
Obviously, Finley would be a controversial choice, and I think of him as strictly a longshot because his career was basically limited to three outstanding seasons. But how many of you would be surprised to know that he had zero penalties in his first two, only seven drops in 117 targets his first three, seven of the Packers' 12 receptions of 20 yards or more playing only five games in their 2010 Super Bowl season and was downgraded for only one bad run as a blocker in 16 games in their 15-1, 2011 season?
Bottom line: There's a lot of gray area involved here as you can tell from those quotes and statistics, and I believe that the selection committee members are taking their job seriously by weighing such critical information in making their selections. And I think that's all anyone can ask of such a subjective task.
Tom from Green Bay
Would Billy Howton be the oldest living former Packer? If not Howton who would be?
According to pro football historian David Neft, Howton is the oldest living ex-Packer at age 93. I was under the impression that Howton and Sam Palumbo were living and older than 90, but Neft keeps much better tabs on this stuff than I do and not just for the Packers but the entire league. That's why I consulted with him.
Howton was an offensive end for the Packers from 1952-58. Palumbo, a linebacker in 1957, is 91. Neft tells me there also are three others over 90. Norm Amundsen, a guard in 1957, and Don Miller, a halfback who played in one game in 1954, are both 91, as well. Bob Clemens, a fullback who played in two games in 1955, is 90.
Kelly from Savannah, GA
My dad, deceased 2000, was a sports fan and player. He played some semipro football with the Manitowoc Chiefs and played some local baseball in Oshkosh. He told me he once played against Satchel Paige with some kind of exhibition team and struck out three times and "never saw the ball." I wonder if you know about that team with Satchel. Sadly, I never asked. Dad also told me that the only player he ever saw talk back to Vince Lombardi was Donny Anderson. And that he also saw Lombardi kick Marv Fleming in the butt for eating a hot dog on the sideline during a game.
It was likely a rare occurrence for anyone to talk back to Lombardi, but if I had to pick players who might have been likely candidates to do so, Anderson wouldn't have been on my list. He played for Lombardi for only two years. But I can't confirm or repudiate the story. As for Fleming and the hot dog, I think your dad had that story mixed up. As far as I know, the only time a Packers player ever ate a hot dog on the sideline was on Aug. 30, 1980, during a preseason game at Lambeau Field that the Packers lost, 38-0. But Ezra Johnson was the player and Bart Starr was the coach.
As for your dad's Satchell Paige story, I find that one more plausible. Paige pitched in at least three games in Wisconsin while on a barnstorming tour in the summer of 1963. I know because I attended one of the games. I saw Paige pitch against a local team in Seymour, a city located about 20 miles west of Green Bay, on Sunday afternoon, May 19, 1963. I was 16 years old and still have his autograph as proof of meeting him (see above).
But based on your question, my guess would be that your dad might have played against Paige in Menasha, which is less than 20 miles from Oshkosh, on June 15, 1963. The Satchel Paige All-Stars played the Menasha Macs, and you can find a box score of that game with the Macs players listed in the June 17, 1963, edition of the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern.
Paige also pitched in Birnamwood, Wis., on June 18. He was scheduled to pitch in Kenosha that summer, but the game was rained out; and also in Rio, Wis., but I can't determine if the game was actually played.
According to baseball-reference.com, Paige turned 57 years old less than a month after facing the Macs. Two years later, he pitched three scoreless innings in a major league game.
Mark from La Crosse, WI
There were numbers on the backs of jerseys in 1921.
You are correct. That was my mistake in last week's post.
Paul from Milwaukee had asked about Adolph Kliebhan's number. Kliebhan was the starting quarterback in the Packers' first APFA (now NFL) game. I have Dope Sheet numbers for three games in 1921 – two non-league and the first league game against Minneapolis – and Kliebhan, was listed as No. 15 in all three programs.
My hunch is if Paul special ordered a Packers jersey with the name Kliebhan and No. 15 on it, he'd get some quizzical looks and have a quarterback story to tell.