Bob Skoronski, offensive captain of the Vince Lombardi teams that won a record-tying three straight NFL championships in the 1960s and one of only nine players to play on all nine of Lombardi’s teams in Green Bay, died Tuesday morning in a suburb outside Madison, Wis. Skoronski, 84, died of Alzheimer’s disease.
While Skoronski might not have received as much acclaim as some of the other mainstays of the Packers’ offensive line during the Lombardi era, he was as consistent as any of them.
“The most underrated football player on our team,” former teammate Gary Knafelc said in 2016. “Whenever it came to grades, (Forrest) Gregg and Skoronski were always the top two. Bob was probably the smartest guy on our ball club. He could do it all. Bob was so good, nobody even thought about him. He was so underrated. Jerry (Kramer) and Fuzzy (Thurston) were always talking. Bob never said a word, just out-blocked everybody.”
The Packers selected Skoronski in the fifth round of the 1956 NFL Draft and he started all 12 games as a rookie. In fact, Gregg was drafted in the second round the same year, but Skoronski earned more playing time.
No matter the pecking order, then head coach Lisle Blackbourn presciently pegged their future.
“They are the kind of rookies with which to build a championship club,” he said in early December before the final two games. “They have size, are learning fast and have class.”
However, within four months, Skoronski and Gregg were both summoned for military duty. Skoronski served in the Air Force and missed the 1957 and ’58 seasons. Gregg went into the Army and missed just one season.
The two were reunited in training camp in 1959, Lombardi’s first season as coach, and started the season opener: Skoronski at left tackle and Gregg at right tackle.
Over the next five seasons, Skoronski usually started at left tackle, but also shared playing time with Norm Masters. In 1964, Lombardi traded perennial all-pro center Jim Ringo and moved Skoronski to center. He started the first seven games there and then moved back to left tackle where he started the final seven.
More importantly, just before the 1964 opener, Lombardi also named Skoronski to replace Ringo as offensive captain, an exalted and permanent title in that era.
“It’s the greatest honor I’ve ever had,” Skoronski said at the time. “You’ve got to play on this team to understand what it’s like being a Packer.”
Skoronski held the post for five seasons or until his retirement.
He also started every game from 1965 to 1967 – regular season plus post-season – as the Packers became the first team to win three straight NFL championships under a playoff format and the second overall. The 1929-31 Packers won three straight when championships were determined by the standings.
No team has won three straight titles since.
Skoronski started the first two Super Bowls, the Ice Bowl and three straight NFL Championship Games.
He also represented the Packers at the pre-game coin toss for all 49 games between 1965 and 1967.
“For my dad, being captain was a really big deal,” said his son, Steve Skoronski. “Coach Lombardi picked that and the guys on that team knew that.”
Skoronski was selected for the Pro Bowl in 1966 and was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1976.
He was never a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but his quarterback, Bart Starr made a strong push on his behalf to the Hall of Fame voters.
“Bob Skoronski deserves to be in the Hall of Fame big-time,” Starr said in 2012.
In an interview eight years earlier, Starr spelled out his reasons why he was in Skoronski’s corner.
“If you checked his blocking grades each week, they were just a fraction under Forrest,” said Starr. “We were right-handed passers and he was on our blind side. So he’s sitting there with this huge responsibility and never getting enough credit because of Forrest’s domination. (Skoronski’s) a guy that I think has been overlooked even more. I think he’s the next guy that ought to be in the Hall of Fame.”
Besides Skoronski, the only other players to survive Lombardi’s nine seasons as coach were Boyd Dowler, Gregg, Henry Jordan, Kramer, Max McGee, Ray Nitschke, Starr and Thurston.
Skoronski played one season under Phil Bengtson and announced his retirement on June 10, 1969.
Skoronski, along with his wife Ruth Ann, moved to Wisconsin when he started his pro football career and stayed other than during his two years in service.
Skoronski is survived by his wife and four adult children: Bob, Steve, Ron and Patti. Visitation will be Sunday, Nov. 4, from 3 to 6 p.m. at Cress Funeral Home, 6021 University Ave., Middleton, Wis. A mass will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at St. Bernard Catholic Church in Middleton.