Skip to main content

Remmel: Draft Wasn't Lombardi's Best Domain


Over time, the late Vince Lombardi has come to be deified as a coach ... a nonpareil ... with more than a modicum of justice.

His accomplishments -- a record three consecutive National Football League championships and five in seven years, surmounted by back-to-back Super Bowl triumphs -- remain unchallenged nearly 40 years later.

And, admittedly, there has been ample opportunity to surpass them in the interim. Lombardi has been gone from the pro football scene since 1970, the year in which he died at the age of 57 (September 3).

But, as accomplished as he was in his profession, Lombardi was not without a flaw or two. One, somewhat surprisingly, would have been in the area of evaluating personnel coming into the annual NFL draft.

Or, more specifically, the preconceived notions he brought to the selection process, which is due to be conducted for the 69th time in NFL history this weekend (April 24-25).

A classic example occurred in 1964, a year in which Paul Krause, a defensive back from the University of Iowa, became available.

As Lombardi and his brain trust weighed Krause's credentials against those of the others at his position during their draft discussions, the Packers' then-head coach and general manager dismissed the rangy Hawkeye as a prospect with a somewhat surprising observation.

The late Tom Fears, a Pro Football Hall of Fame wideout who then was the Packers' receivers coach, later shook his head in disbelief while quoting Lombardi's rationale on that occasion.

Fears confided, "(Lombardi) said, 'Never draft a player with a long neck,'" referring to Krause.

With that observation, consideration of Krause in the draft room -- at what was then 1265 Military Avenue -- ended abruptly. But not around the league, it shortly turned out; the Washington Redskins selected Krause in the second round.

The Flint, Mich., native promptly intercepted 12 passes for the Redskins as a rookie to lead the entire National Football League, picking off two Frank Ryan throws on opening day to make an immediate impact.

That was only the beginning. Krause, who was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998, went on to play 15 more seasons and close out a larcenous career with 81 interceptions -- still an NFL record.

A largely unsung hero in Lombardi's domination of the '60s was the late Jack Vainisi, listed merely as the team's talent scout in the team media guide's staff directory during his 10-year tenure (1950-60) in Green Bay's front office.

But in the context of Packers history, Vainisi was much more than that, a reality acknowledged when he was posthumously enshrined in the Packers Hall of Fame in 1982.

Vainisi died an untimely death at the age of 33 in 1960, less than two years after Lombardi arrived upon the Packers scene. Even though they thus worked in association a relatively short time, it was Vainisi -- a former lineman at Notre Dame -- whose draft expertise was largely responsible for drafting most of the players who played key roles in forging what became the "Lombardi Era," a nine-year span (1959-67) punctuated by five NFL titles.

For the most part, the list reads like a Hall of Fame "Who's Who" -- quarterback Bart Starr, tackles Forrest Gregg and Bob Skoronski, guard Jerry Kramer, running backs Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor, end Max McGee, tight end Ron Kramer and center Jim Ringo on offense and tackle Dave Hanner, linebackers Ray Nitschke, Dan Currie and Bill Forester and safety Hank Gremminger on defense.

All of these stalwarts were on hand when Lombardi became the Packers' head coach and general manager in early February of 1959, and no fewer than six of them -- Starr, Gregg, Jerry Kramer, Skoronski, McGee and Nitschke -- were with him all nine years as he presided over the greatest dynasty in NFL history

Chief among these, 'The Bart Starr Story' reads like nothing so much as a fairy tale. A 17th-round draft selection in 1956 (the draft was an extensive, 30-round process at the time), the University of Alabama quarterback was the 200th player chosen during the league's '56 selection meeting and obviously not a household name, based on where he was taken in the draft.

Another slight awaited the youthful field general when he arrived in Stevens Point, Wis., where the Packers' training camp was then held, for the opening day of camp. G.E. "Dad" Braisher, the Packers' veteran equipment manager, was so convinced that Starr would not make the regular-season roster that he issued him what clearly was then a "non-quarterback" number: 42.

Starting quarterback Tobin Rote, by way of comparison, was wearing number 18 at the time.

The 'snub,' which was confined to training camp -- Starr was sporting '16' when the regular season opened -- had no perceptible effect upon the gentlemanly Alabamian. All he did was go on to the longest career in Packers history (16 seasons), play more regular-season games than any other player in team annals to date (196; Brett Favre stands at 191), lead Green Bay to a record five league championships in seven years, become a four-time Pro Bowl selection and be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as soon as he became eligible (1977).

Starr, incidentally, wore number 16 for only the first eight games of his '56 campaign. He was assigned '15' prior to the Packers' ninth game of the season against the San Francisco 49ers, November 18, 1956, and wore it with pride for the rest of his Hall of Fame career. Today, it is one of just four numbers in Packers history to be officially retired by the team.

Aside from the numbers change, that matchup with the 49ers was historic for another reason. It was the final game to be played in old City Stadium on Green Bay's east side, which had been the Green and Gold's home since 1925, when its construction was completed under the watchful eye of Marcel Lambeau, Curly's father, who was foreman on the project.

Unfortunately for the Packers and their faithful, the 49ers carried the day, 17-16, coming from behind by way of a late, 86-yard scoring run by the Prospectors' "Hurrying Hugh" McElhenny.

Continuing an association with the team that is more than 55 years old, Lee Remmel was named the first official Team Historian of the Green Bay Packers in February 2004. The former *Green Bay Press-Gazette reporter and Packers public relations director, Remmel will write regular columns for as part of his new assignment.

In addition to those articles, Remmel will answer fan questions in a monthly Q&A column. To submit a question to Remmel, click here. *

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content