In Lombardi’s ‘perfect 4-3,’ Henry Jordan was ‘key to it all’

Packers Hall of Famer Henry Jordan
Packers Hall of Famer Henry Jordan

Runner-up in the heavyweight class of the 1957 NCAA Wrestling Tournament, Henry Jordan relied on many of the same tools and techniques he used in his other sport to become one of the most dominating defensive tackles of his era. Blessed with the gifts it takes to be an elite college wrestler, he had lightning quickness, rare balance, and an uncanny knack for being able to pounce on an opponent and gain instant leverage.

Jordan provided consistent and relentless pressure as an inside pass rusher as the Packers won five NFL championships under Vince Lombardi. Although he played before sacks were recorded as an official statistic, there were games where Jordan was so dominant observers couldn’t help but keep their own tallies.

In the 1967 NFL Western Conference championship against the 11-1-2 Los Angeles Rams, arguably the most talented team in the league that year, Jordan was unofficially credited with 3½ sacks against future Pro Football Hall of Fame guard Tom Mack as the Packers pulled a 28-7 upset. The previous season, in Super Bowl I, Jordan was unofficially credited with 1½ sacks and also delivered the hit on Kansas City quarterback Len Dawson that resulted in Willie Wood’s game-turning interception.

In 1961 and ’62, the Packers held the New York Giants to a total of seven points in winning back-to-back NFL championship games as Jordan had his way with left guard Darrell Dess, a two-time Pro Bowl choice. In fact, in the 1961 game, defensive coach Phil Bengtson said Jordan beat three blockers on one play – Dess, center Ray Wietecha and fullback Alex Webster – to hit the quarterback.

Following that season, Jordan also was named the outstanding lineman in the Pro Bowl.

The Packers’ defense under Bengtson was designed for one of the defensive tackles to explode off the ball and penetrate, and Jordan was a perfect fit for the role. “He had the capacity to run around the block, which is a no-no,” said Bart Starr, Jordan’s former roommate. “Yet he was so quick he could run around the blocker and still make the tackle.” In turn, Jordan’s sidekick in the line was commonly referred to as the “stay-at-home” tackle, the one who played a more conservative, read-and-react game.

Jordan was posthumously elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a senior candidate in 1995, 18 years after his death.

“(The Packers) have put together what seems to be man-for-man the perfect 4-3,” future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Y.A. Tittle told renowned photographer and author Robert Riger after his Giants lost the 1962 title game to the Packers. “And the key to it all is one man, Henry Jordan. Where in all of football can you find a pass rusher at tackle like this man? You usually find them at ends. Henry Jordan is the best tackle in football – perhaps the best in the history of the NFL.”

The Packers announced on Sept. 15, 1959, they had acquired Jordan from the Cleveland Browns for what turned out to be a fourth-round draft pick. It was one of the most one-sided trades in NFL history. Jordan had played sparingly for the Browns from 1957 to 1958 because legendary coach Paul Brown preferred bigger defensive linemen.

In 11 seasons with the Packers, Jordan played in 139 games.

He also brought levity to a locker room that often needed it. When the tension built under Lombardi’s harsh rule, Jordan was one of the players who could find just the right words to put his teammates at ease. His most memorable line about Lombardi: “He treats us all alike – like dogs.”

Jordan announced his retirement from the Packers on Feb. 2, 1970, to become executive sales director of Milwaukee’s Summerfest.

Born Jan. 26, 1935, in Emporia, Va. Given name Henry Wendell Jordan. Died Feb. 21, 1977, at age 42.

Henry Jordan

  • Defensive Tackle: 1959-69
  • Height: 6-2; Weight: 248
  • College: Virginia, 1954-56

HONORS:

  • Inducted Pro Football Hall of Fame: 1995
  • Associated Press All-Pro Team (chosen since 1940): 1960, ’61, ’62, ’63, ’64
  • Pro Bowl Selection (game played since 1950): 1960, ’61, ’63, ’66
  • Packers 50th Anniversary Team: 1969
  • Packers All-Modern Era Team: 1976
  • Press-Gazette All-Century Team: 1999

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