Gary Knafelc, who caught the game-winning touchdown pass in the first game ever played at what is now Lambeau Field and then served for more than 40 years as the stadium's public address announcer, died early Monday morning, Dec. 19, in Clermont, Fla., where he and his wife, Emily, had resided for about the last decade.
Knafelc was 90. He also was one of only two surviving starters from Vince Lombardi's first game; Jerry Kramer being the other.
Knafelc played for the Packers from 1954-62 and was inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 1976. He was the PA announcer for Packers' home games from 1964 to 2004, including those played at Milwaukee County Stadium. He also was one of the few Packers from his era to make Green Bay his home as a player and then for most of his life after his playing days ended.
Over a five-year span, from 1955-59, Knafelc caught three game-winning passes and two of them were among the most memorable receptions in Packers history. He also had the distinction of winning the starting job at the all-important tight end position in Lombardi's offense during the now legendary coach's test-of-wills first training camp.
When the Packers dedicated Green Bay City Stadium (now Lambeau Field) on Sept. 29, 1957, Knafelc scored the winning touchdown with 8:21 remaining. His 6-yard catch of a Babe Parilli pass allowed the Packers to upset the archrival and defending Western Conference champion Chicago Bears, 21-17.
"It was a broken play," Knafelc recalled in a 1996 interview. "Babe was forced out of the pocket and he ran to the left. I ran between the goal posts, and he just threw the ball between the goal posts."
Two years earlier, in another season opener against three-time defending Western Conference champion Detroit, Knafelc caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Tobin Rote with 20 seconds remaining that gave the Packers a stunning 20-17 victory and created a scene perhaps unlike any other not only in Packers history but NFL history.
Despite there being time left on the clock, hundreds if not thousands of joyous fans stormed out of the stands at old City Stadium, surrounded Knafelc in the end zone and carried him off the field to the Packers' bench, delaying the extra point and ensuing kickoff for several minutes.
In addition, Knafelc caught a game-winning, 21-yard touchdown pass from Lamar McHan with 11:44 remaining, lifting the Packers to a 21-20 victory over San Francisco and allowing Lombardi to start his first season as coach with a 3-0 record. In 1956, Knafelc also caught a 38-yard pass before being knocked out of bounds at the 1-yard line to set the stage for Rote to score on a quarterback sneak with 1:05 remaining as the Packers beat the Chicago Cardinals, 24-21, at Comiskey Park.
Knafelc's heroics in those four games were the subject of a feature story in the first Green Bay Packers Yearbook, when it was published in 1960, and included a quote from future Pro Football Hall of Famer and then Packers' part-time receivers coach Tom Fears, who said, "(Knafelc) makes the big catch like the easy one."
Knafelc originally signed with the Packers as a free agent two games into the 1954 season. Drafted in the second round that year by the Cardinals, he pulled a hamstring in the College All-Star Game, played in the season opener and was waived.
A year later, Knafelc became the Packers' starting left offensive end, usually lining up in a split position, and basically held the job for four years except for the time he missed with knee injuries.
In 1959, Lombardi moved him to right end, or tight end, where Knafelc was required to make the key block on the outside linebacker for the famed power sweep, Red Right 49, where the left halfback ran back to the right and looked for daylight based on the block of the tight end. Knafelc held the job for two years and then served as Ron Kramer's backup in 1961 and '62, his final two seasons in Green Bay.
Knafelc's move to tight end wasn't an easy transition, partly because of the constant scrutiny he was under playing a position critical to the success of not only Lombardi's signature play but also the power running game that was the essence of his football philosophy. "I learned to block by fear," Knafelc once said. "I feared (Lombardi) more than anybody I faced."
Following his retirement, Knafelc went into business in Green Bay and owned a company that did interior design work, mostly for office buildings. At the end of his career, he also played a part in the 1963 Hollywood movie, "Palm Springs Weekend," under the name Gary Kincaid.
The family plans to hold a small funeral service in Florida.