While he might be one of the most underappreciated pillars of Vince Lombardi’s defenses, Gremminger was a team leader and versatile enough to start at both cornerback and safety on NFL championship teams.
He started at left cornerback in 1961 when the Packers captured their first NFL title under Lombardi and started at left safety when they repeated as champs in 1962. Gremminger also served as permanent defensive captain of the Packers in 1964 and shared the duties with Willie Davis in 1965.
Gremminger was sound and steady as a cornerback and sufficiently hardnosed as a safety. At both positions, he was well served by his surprising straightaway speed. One difference was Gremminger took more chances at safety, whereas he played more conservatively on the corner, defensive coach Phil Bengtson said in 1963.
Playing on the left side as a safety meant Gremminger usually lined up to the strong side of the offense and drew coverage on the first wave of emerging stars playing the newly named position of tight end. His task was to cover and tackle the likes of future Pro Football Hall of Famers Mike Ditka and John Mackey, both of whom broke into the league in the early 1960s.
While Gremminger might not have been a flashy player, he made his share of big plays. His biggest might have been his second-quarter interception when the Packers crushed the New York Giants, 37-0, in the 1961 championship. Another memorable play was his 80-yard return of a blocked field goal in the closing minutes to seal a 37-28 victory over Minnesota on Oct. 13, 1963.
Overall, Gremminger intercepted 28 passes and recovered seven fumbles with the Packers.
“In coach Lombardi’s defense, you had to come up hard on the outside to make tackles,” said tight end and fellow Packers Hall of Famer Gary Knafelc. “So you had to be versatile to play for coach Lombardi and Hank was as good as any of them. He could run. He was a very aggressive guy. All his teammates liked him. He was very much a team player.”
The Packers chose Gremminger in the seventh round of the 1956 NFL Draft. He had played both offensive end and defensive back during the one-platoon era of college football when the rules forced players to play both offense and defense.
Gremminger took over as the Packers’ starting left cornerback as a rookie and basically remained there until he broke his leg against Detroit late in 1958 and missed the final two games. In 1959, Lombardi’s first season as coach, Gremminger lost the job to Bob Freeman, only to reclaim it for the final five games. In 1962, when second-year man Herb Adderley took over at left cornerback, Gremminger moved to safety and started there until Tom Brown beat him out in 1965.
In all, Gremminger played in 121 games in his 10 seasons with the Packers. When he asked to be traded following the 1965 season, Lombardi complied and announced on June 25, 1966, that he had shipped him to Dallas for a future draft choice.
Less than two months later, Gremminger left Dallas’ training camp over a salary dispute and was traded again, this time to Atlanta, a first-year expansion team coached by Norb Hecker, his position coach in Green Bay. Gremminger retired before the start of the season, but subsequently accepted an offer to join the Los Angeles Rams’ taxi squad and wound up playing in eight games for them in 1966, his final NFL season.
Born Sept. 1, 1933, in Windthorst, Texas. Given name Charles Henry Gremminger. Died Nov. 2, 2001, at age 68.
- Defensive Back: 1956-65
- Height: 6-1; Weight: 201
- College: Baylor, 1954-55
*(“Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League,” credited Gremminger with playing in 123 games with the Packers, including 12 in 1958. The “National Football League: 1959 Record and Rules Manual” also credited Gremminger with playing in 12 games in 1958. Based on the NFL’s Official Score Sheets from that season, Gremminger played in only 10. He missed the final two games on Dec. 7 and Dec. 14 after breaking his left leg against Detroit on Thanksgiving. Thus, he played in only 121 games with the Packers.)