'The Rock' epitomized the toughness of linemen

McCarren anchored Packers up front for a decade

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Former Packers C Larry McCarren

Larry McCarren

  • Inducted: 1992
  • Center: 1973-84
  • Height: 6-3; Weight: 246
  • College: Illinois, 1970-72

Honors:

  • Pro Bowl Selection (played since 1950): 1982, '83

Nicknamed "The Rock," Larry McCarren, once he established himself as the starting center, served as the rock of Packers teams that made the playoffs only once during his 12-year career but never lost their fighting spirit.

Thanks to his unflagging work ethic, famously consistent play and down-home leadership, McCarren was the iron-willed anchor of the Packers when resiliency in the face of adversity never stopped calling. "You don't get the nickname Rock for nothing," said former teammate Greg Koch. "It was all because of the fight in the man."

McCarren played in 162 consecutive games, which was the second-longest streak in Packers history at the time. Along the way, he finished a 66-minute overtime game 24 days after undergoing a hernia operation and played the final 11 games of that same season with a broken hand.

"Without question, he is the hardest worker I've ever been around on a football field," Packers offensive line coach Bill Curry said in 1978 following his 10-year playing career when he was a member of two Super Bowl champions and two other NFL championship teams. Koch, who played on the same offensive line as McCarren for eight years, said after their last season together, "He's the toughest guy I ever met in football." Lynn Dickey, McCarren's quarterback for most of his career, said: "Larry McCarren was what I'd call a snapping turtle. You just got to shoot him. He won't quit."

McCarren was drafted by the Packers in the 12th round, with the 308th overall pick, in 1973 after catching the eye of Packers player personnel director Lloyd Eaton during a 55-20 loss to Southern Cal in a game played at the University of Illinois' Memorial Stadium in the fall of 1972. "I was the one who said No. 54 (McCarren) was a hell of a scrapper who wouldn't quit," Eaton once said. "I saw him play USC one afternoon and USC was beating Illinois about 60-odd to 20-something. It was the tail end of the fourth quarter and (McCarren) was still working his butt off 90 miles an hour."

As a rookie, McCarren reported to camp at 235 pounds and impressed line coach Rollie Dotsch with his steely resolve and sound techniques but was waived on the second-to-last cutdown. After clearing waivers, McCarren was signed to the taxi squad, the equivalent to today's practice squad, and spent the first nine weeks of the season practicing at both center and guard. Activated before the 10th game, McCarren appeared in the final five games that season, but 10-year veteran Ken Bowman remained the starting center.

When Bowman was placed on injured reserve before the 1974 season, McCarren replaced him and started 13 of 14 games. A year later, he started 12 of 14, but he had yet to solidify his hold on the job. In 1974, McCarren had been benched for one game and pulled from at least two others and replaced by veteran John Schmitt to lend more experience and size at the position. In 1975, rookie Bob McCaffrey, a 16th-round draft choice, started two games at center, although he and McCarren ended up alternating by quarters.

Finally, in his fourth year, McCarren settled in at the position and then didn't miss a start for the next eight-plus seasons. In 1977, after diligently hitting the weights during the offseason and beefing up to 255 pounds, McCarren had a new line coach in Curry and the full confidence of the coaching staff. "He has worked his butt off during the offseason," Curry said days before camp opened that year. "He looks like a different guy from when I was here (as a player) in '75. His legs are bigger. His chest is bigger. His arms are bigger. He runs faster."

The next year, McCarren became the line's senior citizen and by 1979, Curry was convinced he had as good a center as anyone in the NFC and also one of the best in the league. "He's come farther than any other lineman I've ever seen," Curry said as training camp approached.

Postseason recognition soon followed. McCarren was named to the Pro Bowl in 1982 and '83. He also was named all-NFC on the United Press International team in 1982 and second-team all-NFL by the Newspaper Enterprise Association in 1983 behind future Pro Football Hall of Fame center Dwight Stephenson of the AFC Miami Dolphins.

McCarren also was a reliable long snapper – on punts early in his career, and for field goals and extra points for most of his career.

Labeled an over-achiever and self-made player from the start due to where he was drafted, McCarren's natural talent was often overlooked – understandably, to a degree. Certainly, his dedication in the weight room and his never-say-die mentality on the field were off the charts. Furthermore, he studied his playbook and polished his techniques to the point where his execution was nearly flawless. Curry, who served as Packers line coach from 1977-79, once said of McCarren, "He never makes a mental mistake."

But there was more to McCarren's game than just his spit and vinegar. "One of the misconceptions about Larry because of where he was drafted was that he wasn't an athlete," said Koch. "He was a hell of an athlete. He was just undersized." Along with his intangibles, McCarren could bend his knees and play with leverage well enough to handle oversized nose tackles, while at the same time being quick enough to counter lighter, active 4-3 middle linebackers in the run game. As a pass blocker, he utilized his upper leg strength, maybe his best physical asset, to hold his ground even against the most powerful inside rushers. In the early 1980s, McCarren squatted 525 pounds.

In 1979, coach Bart Starr recognized McCarren's stature within the team by naming him offensive captain. McCarren served in that position through 1983, then became one of four rotating offensive captains under first-year coach Forrest Gregg in 1984.

McCarren played his last game for the Packers on Nov. 18, 1984. He injured a nerve in his neck and finished the game but missed the final four games of the season. He spent the offseason trying to rehab in order to play again in 1985 but was forced to face the seriousness of his injury and announced his retirement on Aug. 13, 1985. His 12 seasons were then tied for sixth most in club history.

Since his retirement as a player, McCarren has served as an analyst on the Packers' radio broadcasts since 1995 and was officially hired by the team in a more expanded analysis role in 2015. He also was named to the organization's board of directors in 2015.

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