When I was a fledgling pro football beat reporter in my late 20s, no two players tested me more than Gale Gillingham and Dick Himes.
Gillingham's shouts across the locker room, "You poison-pen (blankety blank)," still fondly ring in my ears. I can still see Himes, with a surly look on his face, occasionally snarling and scoffing at my questions.
But as I plug away on a book that hopefully will serve as the definitive history of the most storied franchise in the NFL and recently relived my years covering the team through old newspaper clippings from the 1970s and '80s, I've been reminded how history has shortchanged Gillingham and Himes because they played on bad teams and for bad coaches.
Gillingham should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Himes should be in the Packers Hall of Fame.
Dave Hanner, who spent 44 years with the Packers as a player, coach and scout, the longest tenure of anyone ever in the team's football operation, and also a period that spanned from pre-Lombardi into the Ron Wolf era, told me Gillingham was the best offensive lineman the Packers had during his time with the team. Both Bart Starr, a player for 16 years, an assistant coach for one and head coach for nine, and Forrest Gregg, a player for 14 years and head coach for four, told me Gillingham was the team's best guard during their years in Green Bay.
I can't remember if former Packers historian Lee Remmel actually told me this or if based on what he wrote in a 1976 game program, I just automatically assumed that those three Packers greats had told him the same thing. Whichever the case, Remmel wrote that some team insiders considered Gillingham to be "the finest guard ever to play the game" and that behind the walls of 1265 Lombardi Ave., Gillingham had been dubbed, "Super Guard."
Pro Football Hall of Fame and NFL All-Centennial defensive tackle Bob Lilly was among others who either played against or coached against Gillingham and said much the same thing. Lilly, who played for the Dallas Cowboys from 1961-74 and in two NFL championship games against the Packers in 1966 and '67, told me in a 2004 interview that he considered Gillingham the best of the Packers' offensive linemen during his 14 years in the league.
What's more, I value Larry McCarren's opinion of offensive linemen over the past 45 years as much as anyone. He played for the Packers for 12 years and essentially has been a broadcast reporter or analyst ever since. He studied hard when he was a player from 1973-84 and it's obvious from his work still today as a game and website analyst that he watches as much film and does as much homework as any announcer on any broadcast at any level. He's also a source who is as objective about Packers players as he is about opponents.
McCarren says Gillingham is the best guard he has ever seen, including New England's John Hannah, one of seven guards on the NFL's All-Centennial Team. McCarren says Gillingham was just as dominant a run blocker as Hannah and a better pass blocker because he had better feet to go with his comparable size and strength.
A third-round draft pick in 1968 out of Ohio State, where he played for legendary coach Woody Hayes, Himes replaced Gregg as the Packers' starting right tackle in 1970, although he missed five starts that year with a knee injury. Himes became a fixture at the position in 1971 and started 97 of the next 101 games at right tackle and one other at right guard. Rookie Greg Koch started two games for him in 1977 and then supplanted Himes the next year.
Like Koch, Earl Dotson, Mark Tauscher and Bryan Bulaga who followed him and basically have manned the right tackle position in Green Bay for 32 of the past 42 years, Himes was rock solid without ever making first-team All-Pro. Again, like those four mainstays who followed him, Himes had the versatility to be comparably efficient as a drive blocker and a pass protector.
Think about it, counting Himes' eight years as a starter, the right tackle position, where it is so important to have someone who can both drive a defensive end off the ball in the strong-side running game and also hold up on an island in pass protection, has been more than capably filled for 42 of the Packers' previous 50 seasons. (And before that, they had Gregg for more than a decade.)
Although all five were cut from a different cloth, they all had what scouts call "good feet." In other words, they were good athletes. In Himes' case, his background alone illustrates it.
He started three years at Ohio State: as a defensive end as a sophomore, as a defensive tackle as a junior and as an offensive tackle as a senior. What's more, he was All-Big Ten as a junior and senior at two different positions. It would be interesting to know how many linemen in a program like Ohio State have ever done something like that since the start of the two-platoon era of college football in the 1960s.
In high school, Himes played in Canton, Ohio, one of the country's biggest hotbeds of prep football, and was a two-time, all-state selection as an offensive end and was named Associated Press lineman of the year as a senior.
Although playing for a loser is probably the overriding reason Gillingham and Himes have been overlooked, their lack of tact with the media and others probably didn't help them, either.
That's too bad.
As a beat reporter, I never thought my job was to judge people's personalities, or like or dislike them, it was strictly to extract as much information out of them as I possibly could through ethical means. And as off-putting as Gillingham and Himes might have been at times, they were two of the best interviews I encountered in my 36-plus years as a sportswriter.
And part of what made them such good interviews was how disagreeable they could be. All that did was open my eyes to things I didn't know.
Better yet, they were truthful and didn't pull punches.
When Gillingham walked away from the game, he said it was because he could no longer stomach the losing and playing for lousy coaches. He called Dan Devine a joke and said Starr was a great teammate, bad coach. Himes once said he had better coaching in high school than he got during the Starr years.
Yet, in the locker room, Gillingham and Himes were both highly respected by teammates for their tough, tenacious, high-effort approach to the game.
It's more than a long shot, but maybe some day voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Packers Hall of Fame will open their eyes to their oversights.