Fuzzy Thurston a ‘guardian angel’ on famous power sweep

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Thanks to Vince Lombardi’s famous power sweep, Fred “Fuzzy” Thurston and sidekick Jerry Kramer raised the profile of offensive guard play in the 1960s. Their role in Lombardi’s signature play was to pull in lockstep and lead interference around the flanks. While they weren’t toting the ball, Thurston and Kramer were as front and center as the ball carrier, or left halfback, serving as his guardian angels.

While Thurston and Kramer brought different strengths to the lineup, they sometimes looked like mirror images when they were pulling around the corner. On Red Right 49, the power sweep to the right and the cornerstone of Lombardi’s offense, Kramer was the onside guard and read the block of the tight end before seeking out the first defender in his path. As the left guard, or offside guard, Thurston trailed Kramer down the line of scrimmage always looking for the first sign of daylight before turning up-field and sealing off the inside pursuit.

While the power sweep was what Lombardi called his “No. 1 or bread-and-butter” play and the one he emphasized the Packers “must make go,” it wasn’t his only play where the guards pulled. The Packers also ran the power sweep to the left with the tight end flip-flopping to that side, the halfback option and a weak-side sweep off similar action, as well as several plays where just one guard pulled.

They all put Thurston and Kramer in the spotlight, and they both excelled at it. “I really liked Fuzzy,” said Pat Peppler, the Packers’ player personnel director when Lombardi won his last three NFL titles. “He had great pulling technique. Fuzzy had a little jump step that got him going a lot faster than other guys.”

As pass blockers, Thurston might have been better than Kramer. In his book, “Run to Daylight,” Lombardi said Thurston was “as good as anyone in the league at it.”

A Wisconsin native, Thurston played on all five of Lombardi’s championship teams and was a starter on four of them. Although overshadowed to a degree by Kramer and a consensus all-pro only in the 1961 season, Thurston made the United Press International all-pro team again in 1962 and was a second-team selection on various all-pro teams in 1963, ’64 and ’66.

During Lombardi’s nine seasons, the Packers finished No. 1 in the NFL in yards gained rushing three times and second three other times.

“He’s not quite as good a pulling guard as Jerry Kramer,” Lombardi said of Thurston, “but he’s a good short-trap blocker and he’s got enough quickness, size, strength and determination so that, when he and Jerry come swinging around that corner together like a pair of matched Percherons, you can see the defensive man’s eyeballs pop.”
The Packers announced they had acquired Thurston from the Baltimore Colts for linebacker Marv Matuszak on July 22, 1959, a day before Lombardi’s first squad meeting kicking off his first training camp. The deal was officially recorded in the NFL office three days later.

Drafted in the fifth round by Philadelphia in 1956, Thurston was cut on Sept. 21, nine days before the season opener. He entered the Army and played service football at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. On Sept. 16, 1957, while Thurston was playing for the Brooke Army Medical Center team, the Chicago Bears signed him for the 1958 season and placed him on the Reserve/Military list. The Bears activated Thurston on Aug. 28, 1958, and waived him on Sept. 2, 1958. The Eagles re-signed him on Sept. 9, 1958, and waived him again on Sept. 26, 1958, three days before the opener.

Thurston considered playing for Winnipeg in the Canadian Football League, but wound up signing as a free agent with the Colts on Nov. 18, 1958. He appeared in four regular-season games as the Colts won the NFL championship that year.

Thurston took over as the starting left guard in his first season with the Packers and held the job through seven games in 1964 when shoulder problems forced him from the lineup. In 1965, Lombardi moved Forrest Gregg to left guard and put Steve Wright at right tackle to add more youth to the mix, but reinserted Thurston as the starter for the final three regular-season and two postseason games. The Packers went 4-0-1 in those games and captured the first of three straight NFL titles. In 1967, Thurston was replaced by Gale Gillingham and spent his final season as a sub.

Thurston announced his retirement on July 4, 1968.

A product of Altoona High School, outside Eau Claire, Thurston made his mark as a basketball player there because the school didn’t have a football team. He played junior varsity basketball as a 190-pound freshman at Valparaiso before gaining 40 pounds and playing football his last three years. He played tackle and guard on offense, and middle guard and linebacker on defense during the one-platoon era of college football. Thurston also was a track standout in the shot put and discus.

Born Dec. 29, 1933, in Altoona, Wis. Given name Frederick Charles Thurston. Died Dec. 14, 2014, at age 80.

Fred “Fuzzy” Thurston

  • Guard: 1959-67
  • Height: 6-1; Weight: 247
  • College: Valparaiso, 1953-55

HONORS:

  • Associated Press All-Pro Team (chosen since 1940): 1961
  • Other years selected to an all-pro first team: 1962
  • Packers 50th Anniversary Team: 1969
  • Packers All-Modern Era Team: 1976

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