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John Brockington's hard-hitting style endeared him to Packers

Three-time Pro Bowl fullback died at 74 on Friday 

Former Packers Hall of Fame fullback John Brockington
Former Packers Hall of Fame fullback John Brockington

John Brockington, a seemingly indestructible fullback when he took the NFL by storm in his first three seasons with the Packers, died Friday, March 31, in San Diego. Brockington was 74.

Selected by the Packers with the ninth choice of the 1971 NFL Draft, Brockington rushed for 1,105 yards as a rookie, averaging 5.1 per carry, and was named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

In 1972, Brockington teamed with halfback MacArthur Lane to form a bruising backfield tandem that offensively carried the Packers to their only NFC Central Division championship between 1967, Vince Lombardi's last season as coach, and 1995, Mike Holmgren's fourth season as coach. Brockington and Lane combined for 1,848 rushing yards with Brockington gaining 1,027 of them. A year later, Brockington rushed for 1,144 yards, giving him the distinction of being the first back in NFL history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in his first three seasons.

"John Brockington was the toughest, hardest hitting running back that I knew," Bill Lueck, the Packers' starting left guard from 1969 to 1974, said in 2019. "We used to joke, 'Nobody wants to be the first guy to make contact with John Brockington.'

"He was a beast. Nobody wanted to tackle him. He'd run over the first guy. That was his game. But he was elusive also. That's what made him such a dangerous running back. He may run over you the first play, and the next play you're all tensed up and ready for this major collision, and he'd put a move on you. You never knew what was coming: A move or run over you."

The trademarks of Brockington's game those first three seasons were: Take the ball, hit the hole like a bulldozer in a drag race and annihilate would-be tacklers. He did it with a rare combination of power and speed mixed with a little wiggle.

In 1972, when the Packers won the division title, Lane and Brockington also were the Packers' two leading receivers with 26 and 19 catches, respectively. Carroll Dale led the wide receivers with 16 receptions.

Those stats alone tell you that there was nothing fancy about the offense. Brockington weighed 225 pounds; Lane weighed 220. And they were deployed like two battering rams play after play, series after series.

Pound, pound, pound. That's what they did.

"John ran with a high knee action and just punished people," Scott Hunter, the second-year quarterback who would hand the ball off and then have a bird's-eye view of the carnage, said in a 2007 interview. "And Mac was so powerful. He ran a little more straight-up than John, and he wouldn't punish people as much, but he was just hard to get a hold of and then it was hard to hold onto him when you got a hold of him because he was so strong."

Even practicing against the pair was no fun.

"I'm telling you for a couple years, I would have rather played anybody else than scrimmage with our own team," middle linebacker Jim Carter said in 2010. "With (guard Gale) Gillingham and those two guys coming right after, they were a bitch. Talk about hitting you. Mac and Brock would really pop you."

Mysteriously, after three seasons, Brockington's stats tailed off considerably. He rushed for 883 yards in 1974 and then for no more than 434 yards in the two years he played under coach Bart Starr. One game into the 1977 season, the Packers waived Brockington.

Red Cochran, Packers backfield coach under Lombardi and then under Dan Devine from 1971-74, thought Brockington was as good as Pro Football Hall of Fame fullback Jim Taylor, if not better, and believed the coaching change was the reason for Brockington's decline.

"Brockington was just faster (than Taylor)," Cochran said in a 2002 interview. "He'd turn a six-yard gain into a 30-yard touchdown. He could do everything Taylor could do and with more speed. I think Brockington took a bum rap when Bart took over. People started talking about Brockington dancing. I think what happened, the guy (Starr) brought in (Paul Roach as offensive coordinator) turned that (fullback) slant from a quick-hitting power play into a kind of read-the-block. I think they took (Brockington's) instincts away. When they made Brockington read that block instead of reading it full tilt, when he stopped and looked, (the hole) was gone."

Brockington was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1984. His 5,024 rushing yards also still rank fourth all-time in team's record book.