Jim Ringo was the starting center in the Pro Bowl for the NFL’s Western Conference his final seven seasons in Green Bay and also the Packers’ offensive captain during that span.
Ringo was chosen to his first two Pro Bowls when the Packers were doormats under Lisle Blackbourn and Scooter McLean, but then became the centerpiece of the most celebrated offensive line in pro football when the Packers won back-to-back NFL championships in 1961 and ’62 under Vince Lombardi.
Through it all, Ringo benefited as defenses transitioned from five- to four-man lines. Although listed at 232 pounds, Ringo actually weighed closer to 220 during his years in Green Bay. Although undersized, he compensated with his quickness and excelled at executing cut blocks on defensive tackles, which made him a perfect fit for Lombardi’s offense.
With defenses usually lining up in a standard 4-3 alignment with both tackles head-up on the offensive guards, Ringo could still reach or cut-block the left defensive tackle. That was a key block in creating the inside alley for Lombardi’s famed power sweep to the strong or right side. While the center didn’t always block the onside tackle on the play, it was Ringo’s call whether he’d block him or the middle linebacker.
It made little difference. When Ringo was blocking the middle linebacker, he was taking on someone more his size and was just as effective. “The four-man line kept me in pro football,” he once said. However, toward the end of Ringo’s time in Green Bay, he started to struggle against bigger defensive tackles playing directly over him and fell out of favor with Lombardi.
By then, Ringo’s legacy was forged. He had played through injuries and illness and wound up starting 126 straight games for the Packers. He kept the streak alive despite playing with a back injury down the stretch in 1955 and with a painful case of boils for almost half of the 1961 season.
Moreover, Ringo played before teams employed deep snappers. That meant, even as the starting center, he was the snapper for punts and place kicks.
In 1981, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“He was a great player,” said Nick Skorich, the Packers’ offensive line coach in 1958 and later a head coach with Philadelphia and Cleveland. “He was so quick off the ball. He could make the holes, pass block and a great snapper.”
The Packers selected Ringo in the seventh round of the 1953 NFL Draft, but he walked out on the team 12 days into his first training camp, held in Grand Rapids, Minn. Homesick and struggling at 208 pounds to block much bigger middle guards, Ringo, along with fellow rookie Bob Kennedy, bolted following a weekend intra-squad game in Duluth, Minn.
After being AWOL for five days, Ringo returned to camp on Aug. 13, 1953, and remained a Packer for 11 years. In fact, he broke into the starting lineup not long after he reported back to camp, but then missed the last seven games of his rookie season with a leg injury. Ringo regained the job the next year and didn’t miss an offensive play. He also didn’t miss another game with the Packers, playing in 131 in all. He replaced guard Buddy Brown as offensive captain days before the 1957 opener.
On May 5, 1964, the Packers traded Ringo and fullback Earl Gros to Philadelphia for linebacker Lee Roy Caffey and a first-round draft pick.
Contrary to an often-repeated story, Lombardi didn’t trade Ringo because he showed up at the Packers’ offices with an agent back when players typically negotiated their own contracts. “I didn’t have an agent,” Ringo said years later. “I really don’t know how that story got going.” In fact, Ringo broke the news of the trade on a radio station in his hometown of Easton, Pa.
While it was true Ringo was dissatisfied with his salary, Lombardi believed he was nearing the end of the line and wanted to bolster his defense.
As it turned out, Ringo played four years with the Eagles, appeared in three more Pro Bowls, and extended his consecutive-game streak to a then NFL record 183. He later coached in the NFL for 19 seasons, including a 23-game stint as head coach in Buffalo over the course of the 1976 and ’77 seasons.
Born Nov. 21, 1931, in Orange, N.J. Given name James Stephen Ringo. Died Nov. 19, 2007, at age 75.
- Center: 1953-63
- Height: 6-1; Weight: 232
- College: Syracuse, 1950-52
- Inducted Pro Football Hall of Fame: 1981
- NFL All-Decade Team: 1960s
- Associated Press All-Pro Team (chosen since 1940): 1957, ’59, ’60, ’61, ’62, ’63
- Other years selected to an all-pro first team: 1958
- Pro Bowl selection (game played since 1950): 1957, ’58, ’59, ’60, ’61, ’62, ’63
- Packers 50th Anniversary Team: 1969
- Packers All-Modern Era Team: 1976
- Press-Gazette All-Century Team: 1999