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Bill Lueck, Part I: Ray Nitschke was better than Butkus

Guard from initial post-Lombardi era was first-round pick in ‘68

Former Packers G Bill Lueck
Former Packers G Bill Lueck

Cliff Christl started gathering oral histories with former Packers and others associated with the team in 2000 and will continue to gather them as Packers historian. Excerpts from those interviews will be periodically posted at This is the first of two parts with Bill Lueck.

Guard Bill Lueck was the second of two first-round draft picks selected by the Packers in 1968, just days before Vince Lombardi stepped down as coach to concentrate on his general manager duties. Lueck, who played at the University of Arizona, was chosen No. 26 overall in what was the second common draft following the merger agreement between the NFL and AFL. With a choice acquired from New Orleans, the Packers drafted linebacker Fred Carr No. 5 overall. Lueck played in 90 games for the Packers over seven seasons. As a rookie, he backed up both left guard Gale Gillingham and right guard Jerry Kramer. Then from 1969 to 1973, he unofficially started 67 of 70 regular-season games at left guard based on official play-by-plays (he also might have started another, but wasn't listed in the lineup) and also the 1972 NFC Divisional playoff. In 1974, Lueck's final season with the Packers, he was bothered by an assortment of injuries and started eight of 14 games. A year later, he was traded to Philadelphia.

On being drafted by the Packers: "I was a No. 1 draft choice and in 1968, (personnel director) Pat Peppler called me. I said, 'I admit I'm a dumb farm kid who just got back from milking cows, how does this process work? Do I need to get an agent?' He said, 'Bill, you don't know the AFL and NFL have merged? You don't need an agent. We're going to pay you a $15,000 signing bonus and a $15,000 salary your rookie year. If you don't like it go to the Canadian Football League. I know your brother is with the Calgary Stampeders.' Well guess what? The Calgary Stampeders offered me the same amount of money. So I said (to Peppler), 'Well, do I need to come back there?' He said, 'No, we'll send you the paperwork and you can sign it.' I got the $15,000 signing bonus and they paid us every two weeks and I got seven paychecks."

On the reduction in salaries after the merger agreement: "You know what Donny Anderson got as a No. 1 draft choice? $750,000. Grabo (Jim Grabowski) got $450,000. I thought maybe I'll get $75,000, $100,000. Guess what I got my second year? $17,500. Then to $21,500. Then what year did the World Football League come in? (pre-1974). That was the first year I started making money. I was on one-year contracts and I was making like $25,500 and had started every game in Green Bay except my rookie year. So the World League offered me $45,000, $55,000, $75,000 on a three-year contract. When I told Green Bay what I was offered, they matched it. They said, 'Bill, we'll send you the paperwork and it will be done.' The Eagles paid me my last year. My parents kept telling me to come back and go in the dairy business because they were ready to retire and all three of my brothers were in it. They said, 'You'll make more in the dairy business.'"

On any special memories of farm life: "I used to rope steers."

On Lombardi's role as general manager and his dealings with him: "He was in the locker room. Sure. I was always scared to death of him. You know the first time I met Vince Lombardi, my wife met him at the College All-Star Game. I came out of the locker room and my wife is standing there, and this older gentleman has his arm around her. They had never met, but she recognized him and said, 'Hi, Coach Lombardi, I'm Bill Lueck's wife.' I was scared to death. Am I in trouble? Everybody loved (Lombardi). All the wives."

On Phil Bengtson as head coach: "I had no issues with him. (He had) no personality. None."

On Ray Wietecha, his first line coach: "I thought he was a very good coach. He taught us proper technique: pulling, how to come off the ball."

On whether the players knew Wietecha, who was in charge of the running game, and Bob Schnelker, in charge of the passing game, were at odds: "We knew there was something going, on. Yeah. I liked Schnelker."

On how his friendship with fellow guard Gale Gillingham got started: "Weightlifting. That's how we became connected. I was always trying to gain weight. That's how I got big. Gale and I could both bench over 400 pounds and squat 600-plus. They always listed me at 240. The heaviest I ever got there was a little over 260. But usually by the time we got done with the preseason, I'd be down to 250, 255. (Gillingham) was probably 275, 280."

On his relationship with fellow No. 1 pick Fred Carr: "We roomed together as rookies. The second year, no more offensive and defensive guys rooming together. Bengtson, after Lombardi left, said you and Freddie can't be roommates anymore. That was when I got Gale. Fred and I remained close until about three, four years ago. Fred died of dementia. CTE. Fred weighed about 118 pounds when he died. He didn't know who I was. (Carr) could play every position. He'd play cornerback. He could play quarterback if he had to. He could throw the ball. Fred could do anything. Fred was a great player. He didn't always follow the defense. But he had a sense about him. He had football smarts. Fred made very few mistakes. He had some of the best football instincts."

On practicing against future Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive tackle Henry Jordan upon arrival in training camp as a rookie following the College All-Star Game: "He could move and he had a good head slap."

On other members of a defensive unit coming off a third straight NFL championship: "I'll tell you the guy who did the most damage to the head was Ray Nitschke. He always tried to intimidate offensive guys. He almost always went after Bob Hyland. (Ken) Bowman would put up with no crap from Ray. On Fridays, we'd go out stocking hats and no pads. The linebackers wore helmets. We'd run through the plays and Ray would always tee-off on Hyland. (Nitschke) would test guys. I think he tried to see how tough you were and if you were going to fight back. My second year, Gale Gillingham said, 'Bill, you're going to be the next guy who gets tested.' They called me a mezzanine rookie the second year – until you played in a certain number of games. Gillie took me under his wing and said Ray is going to mess with you."

On what happened next:  "(I'm a) mezzanine rookie, and I had seen (Nitschke) take his frustration out every Friday on Hyland. Knocking him in the head, blooding his nose, just because he was (bleeped) off every Friday. Gale said, 'Bill, it's coming up on your turn. You're a starter now.' So we ran the slip block where Bowman would block the defensive tackle and I'd slip and block the middle linebacker. It's supposed to be like a walk-through. We leave the huddle and Gale says, 'Watch out.' I'm thinking I'm not going to get what we called, 'punked,' like Hyland did every Friday. And Gale told me if you let him know he can't just get away with abusing you like he does with Hyland, you'll get his respect. So I go through and sure enough, Ray goes bam across my forehead. He's got a helmet on and I've got a stocking cap, but I learned at the University of Arizona, the first thing you do is get the helmet off if you're going to have a fight or you're going to just bust your hands. As soon as he forearmed me, I got my hand under his helmet and pulled it up, and yanked his chinstrap off and I've got it in my hand. I was scared to death, but I took his helmet and, 'bang!' Hit him on the head. I used to be a bouncer in a bar and so I knew you can't let a guy up. So I started beating him down and they didn't pull me off of him until I had him on the ground. Ray Wietecha was still the line coach and he had seen (Nitschke) do that to Hyland so he didn't pull me off. I hit him about three times. Finally, the coaches pulled me off of him and everybody was laughing."

On whether that was the end of it: "We go into the locker room and (Nitschke) lockered about four, five lockers away and I didn't want to get in a fight in the shower so I went into the training room. He went in and took his shower, and I'm still kind of looking around the door from the training room. So then I went in and showered and never turned my back on him. I'm drying off and he's four, five lockers away and he's drying off. He gets dressed. I get dressed. But he's still standing around, so I go in the training room again. I look out and see he's gone. So I go out and guess who's leaning against the driver's seat door to my car? I'm like, 'I guess I better get ready.' I walk up to the car and he says, 'Bill, I want to apologize. I've just had a rough day. My wife and I got in an argument this morning before I left home. She's bossing me around.' I said, 'I get it. I just want to get along.' Guess what? We became best friends after that. We shook hands. We played basketball together. The guy (Nitschke) was a talented basketball player."

On playing against Dick Butkus vs. practicing against Nitschke: "Butkus was tough. He liked to forearm your head. But I didn't think he was as good as Nitschke. I thought (Nitschke) was more versatile, the way he could cover and everything. Coming up the middle or filling a hole on a running play, I thought Nitschke was better than Butkus."

On whether Nitschke ever messed with Gillingham on the practice field: "Never."

On playing with Bart Starr for at least parts of four seasons: "Nobody is tougher than Bart Starr. Zeke Bratkowski same thing. Those guys would take some of the worst hits. I remember when they'd grab Bart by the belt of his jersey and pile-drive him into the ground. He'd get up and his helmet was over here to the side of his face. He'd get in the huddle and he doesn't know where he is. A lot of times we had to guide him into the huddle."

Comparing Bratkowski to Starr: "Zeke had the arm. When he came into the game, he was in charge. Among all of us offensive linemen, we supported Zeke 100 percent. We always wondered why Zeke wasn't with another team starting. Zeke was really good and he's sitting on the bench."

On who was better at eluding the pass rush: "Probably Zeke. Zeke had great feet."

Lueck, 74, lives in suburban Phoenix. The excerpt above was from a 2019 interview.