Marv Fleming had big shoes to fill when he took over for Ron Kramer as the Packers’ starting tight end in his third NFL season, but Fleming filled them well enough to start on three straight NFL championship teams in Green Bay. What’s more, he later started on three consecutive American Conference champions in Miami and was the first player in NFL history to play in five Super Bowls and win four Super Bowl rings.
Fleming played seven seasons in Green Bay and five with the Dolphins, giving him the rare opportunity of playing for two of the greatest coaches in NFL history, Vince Lombardi and Don Shula. In fact, there’s probably no better testament to Fleming’s ability than him being a starter for those two coaches on six championship teams.
Given that Kramer was a rare athlete and a dominant tight end, the transition to Fleming wasn’t exactly seamless. Yet, over time, Fleming improved as a blocker to the point where it became the strength of his game. When Shula signed Fleming in 1970 after facing him 12 times as coach of the Baltimore Colts, he described him as “one of the league’s best blockers.”
As a receiver, Fleming had deceptive speed and surprising quickness, which allowed him to make an occasional big play for a big man.
In the 1965 season opener, Fleming caught a 31-yard touchdown pass against Pittsburgh where he had to outwrestle safety Clendon Thomas for the ball. “The big ox took it right away from me,” Thomas conceded after the game. A year later against Detroit, Fleming caught a 53-yard touchdown pass with 45 of it coming after he shook off a would-be tackler.
“Marvin wasn’t brilliant, but he was a big, strong guy and he could catch the ball when he had to,” said Bob Schnelker, the Packers’ receiver coach from 1966 to 1971. “He was a real good blocker. He wasn’t real fast. He was what I call a ground-pounder.”
The Packers selected Fleming in the 11th round of the 1963 NFL Draft. A two-way end in the one-platoon era of college football, he also was chosen by Denver in the ninth round of the American Football League draft. Fleming signed with the Packers on Dec. 16, 1962, 13 days after they drafted him.
After filling in for an injured Kramer in two games as a rookie, Fleming spelled him at times in 1964 and then became the starter a year later after Kramer played out his option and signed with Detroit. Fleming’s first two seasons as a starter weren’t exactly free of conflict. At times, Lombardi drove him unmercifully and even benched him in 1965 and 1966. Lombardi was unhappy with Fleming’s mental mistakes, dropped passes and lapses where he didn’t maintain leverage as a blocker, especially on the power sweep.
As a backup plan, Lombardi lured Bill Anderson out of retirement in August 1965 and traded a draft choice for him. Anderson had spent six years with Washington before sitting out the 1964 season. In his first year with the Packers, he started two games for Fleming at midseason and also the Western Conference playoff and NFL Championship Game. When camp started in 1966, Anderson still had the inside track on the starting job, but injured his ribs in the final preseason game. Fleming returned to the lineup and while the two alternated for much of that season, Fleming started 13 of 14 regular-season games, the NFL championship and Super Bowl I. Starting in 1967, Fleming entrenched himself at the position and started all 17 games, including the Ice Bowl and Super Bowl II.
During his seven years with the Packers, Fleming played in 95 games and started 67. He caught 109 passes for 1,300 yards, an 11.9 average. In his final season, Fleming played out his option and then signed with Miami as a free agent on May 18, 1970. As compensation, the Packers received wide receiver Jack Clancy from the Dolphins.
Born Jan. 2, 1942, in Longview, Tex. Given name Marvin Xavier Fleming.
- Tight End: 1963-69
- Height: 6-4; Weight: 232
- College: Utah, 1960-62