At a time when the NFC Central Division was affectionately called the “Black & Blue Division” because of its low-scoring slugfests and grind-it-out offenses, the Green Bay Packers’ running backs might have inflicted more bruises than any other pair.
MacArthur Lane, one-half of that backfield tandem, died Saturday afternoon in Oakland, Calif., the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Sunday.
Lane, 77, played for the Packers from 1972 to 1974 and was the halfback next to fullback John Brockington. Lane was 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds; Brockington, 6-1, 225.
The two could have been interchangeable, but almost never flip-flopped positions. As a halfback, Lane did more blocking than running. Unlike today, the fullbacks back then were often the featured runners and that was Brockington’s role.
The ninth pick of the 1971 draft, Brockington became the first runner in NFL history to surpass 1,000 yards in his first three seasons. Lane led the way in Brockington’s second and third seasons and again in 1974 when Brockington had his last good season with 883 yards.
“Mac Lane had a lot to do with it,” Brockington said of his success during a 2001 interview. “Go back and look at the films. He was awesome. He was unbelievable the way he blocked. You don’t see many like that. The fullback now, the position I played, is mostly just a guard. All they do is collide all game. That’s how Mac was back then. But he didn’t weigh 250 pounds doing it. He could also run.”
The Packers acquired Lane from the St. Louis Cardinals in 1972 in a trade for Donny Anderson, who had been their starting halfback the previous five seasons, and turned to a power running game to finish 10-4 and win the Central Division.
Brockington rushed for 1,027 yards; Lane for 821.
While Brockington finished with the better numbers, Lane was one of the most underappreciated players in the league that year.
Beside his rushing stats, he also led the Packers in receiving with 26 catches for 285 yards, an 11-yard average.
As strong and as hard-nosed as Lane was, he also was nimble on his feet.
“He was the catalyst,” cornerback Willie Buchanon said in a 2005 interview. “He brought an attitude. His work ethic, team leadership, everything about MacArthur Lane took us to the playoffs. He was that important in ’72.”
The Packers finished under .500 in 1973 and ’74. Coach and general manager Dan Devine was on the verge of being fired and resigned when the season ended. Bart Starr, his replacement, traded Lane to Kansas City for a draft choice.
Originally a No. 1 pick by the Cardinals in 1968 when he was 26 years old, Lane played 11 years in the NFL and finished with 4,656 rushing yards.
Lane is survived by his wife Edna, a longtime employee of the Oakland Police Dept., and two daughters. No service is scheduled.