9.10.18

FIFTY YEARS AGO.

Reality began to dawn on Green Bay Packer fans.
As spring became summer and the team reported to St. Norbert for camp, fans saw nothing but familiar faces, grizzled veterans laden with championship jewelry, with a few empty fingers waiting for fresh bling.

Fact is, we didn't realize just how "grizzled" they truly were, and how they'd miss Lombardi's verbal whip. The coach went upstairs that previous winter, shedding his sideline duties to become a full-time general manager. The legend handed the reigns over to his defensive coordinator Phil Bengtson, quiet in demeanor but with fire in his face--literally, because it seemed there was always a cigarette smoldering in his head.
In part, the team was full of grizzled veterans returning (for one season too many?) because the Packers never found a successor to Jack Vainisi.
It was Vainisi, a scout from 1950 until his untimely death at 33 in 1960, who assembled the talent Lombardi would coach to five NFL titles. Vainisi also played an influential role in convincing the team’s executive committee to hire Lombardi in 1959.

In other words, without Vainisi there are no Glory Years. There is no Titletown, no Bart Starr to score the winning touchdown in the Ice Bowl, no Ron Wolf to resurrect the franchise in the 1990s – and get his name up on the fa├žade – and no Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers to set records and win Super Bowls.
He had a pretty good run, in part because he was drafting toward the top of the board.
Consider the players Vainisi drafted: Jim Ringo in 1953, Forrest Gregg and Bart Starr in ‘56, Paul Hornung in ’57 and Jim Taylor and Ray Nitschke in ’58. He also signed Willie Wood as an undrafted free agent and facilitated trades for Willie Davis and Henry Jordan. All are in the Hall of Fame.

In addition, Vainisi drafted Max McGee, Bob Skoronski, Hank Gremminger, Ron Kramer, Dan Currie, Jerry Kramer, Boyd Dowler, Tom Brown and Bob Jeter, all of whom would start on championship teams.
Indeed, and Jerry Kramer recently donned the gold jacket.

It might be that Mr Vainisi also began the professionalization of college sports.
Jack Vainisi was just 22 and fresh out of Notre Dame when then-coach Gene Ronzani hired him in 1950 and put him in charge of player personnel.

In an era in which most teams drafted players based on what they read in media guides and magazines, Vainisi paid college coaches to fill out reports on their own players and opposing players. He then cross-referenced the reports and organized them in three-ring binders.

“Jack was a boy wonder,” Sam Vainisi said. “He was way ahead of his time.”

When the Packers were looking for a coach in 1959, Vainisi recommended Lombardi, the New York Giants’ offensive coordinator. Lombardi was wary of the team’s board, which he knew constantly meddled in football affairs. He told the board he would deal with only one man: Jack Vainisi.
He did not live to see the Packers play in the 1960 title game.

His successors in the scouting office never quite handled the problems of the succession.

Back to the reality article.
All of the familiar faces were in the usual places that September Sunday when the defending champs throttled lowly Philadelphia 30-13 at Lambeau in front of the usual packed house, Lombardi watching from his press box perch. One missing piece would haunt the club through the campaign and for several years to come as the rot set in: kicker Don Chandler retired in the off-season,and four replacements would try/fail to fill his square-toed shoes including the legendary lineman Jerry Kramer who started the season in that slot.

Bart Starr tossed two picks in a 26-13 loss to Minnesota in game two and three more in a 23-17 setback against Detroit as the Pack fell to an unheard of 1-2. Only the Bears stood between Green Bay and the cellar. They'd wax Atlanta the following week before going 1-3-1, leaving the Packers at 3-5-1 with five games to play. They'd [finish] up 6-7-1 with the eventual champion Colts (they were still in Baltimore then) applying the kill shot December 7, 1968 in front of a flag-waving sellout at Lambeau. When the reality set in that the game was lost and the era had ended, they rose as one to cheer long and loud for championships won, memories made, history secured.
No, history rhymes.
Sports Illustrated's legendary Tex Maule wrote that the Baltimore loss "was a microcosm of the whole unfortunate year for Green Bay", featuring four fumbles lost plus an interception and a four-yard punt by Anderson. The post-game Packers, wrote Maule, saw '68 as an interruption, not an end. "All the bad luck Green Bay escaped during the nine years under Vince Lombardi descended upon the team in Phil Bengtson's first season as coach," he opined, blaming what he deemed "the avalanche of injuries, bad bounces, missed field goals, and untimely penalties" for the team's first losing season since Lombardi's first year in the Fox Valley in 1959. Maule was wise enough to foresee what would doom the club as the 60's became the 70's. "Starr, when healthy, is still one of the most capable quarterbacks in the game," he noted, "but at 35 he has reached the age when injuries linger, and it would be foolhardy to expect him to grow sturdier in the seasons to come...The Packers will have to develop a good young quarterback and do so quickly if Bengtson is to duplicate the accomplishments of Lombardi."
Didn't happen.

Where are we now?
The Packers offense has struggled for most of the season — the 24 points scored in the second half of Week 1 remains a season high for a game — and Sunday was no different. They had some success running the ball but a 14-0 first-quarter deficit limited that. Aaron Rodgers lost multiple fumbles and the receivers didn’t consistently present themselves well. Mason Crosby missed three first-half field goals (five kicks total) and the special teams unit as a whole was undisciplined. The defense gave up big plays through the air and resumed making poorly timed penalties. No phase of the team had a good day.
Perhaps Mason Crosby has the yips, or perhaps he's getting old. Aaron Rodgers is at that age when injuries linger.
At 2-2-1 the Packers are the definition of mediocre entering the second quarter of the season, and they get an extra day to prepare for the San Francisco 49ers to come into Lambeau Field on Monday, Oct. 15. They’ll need a victory, and the following off week to continue to improve as the schedule is not favorable beginning Oct. 28 with back-to-back trips to Los Angeles to take on the high-flying Rams and then to New England to face the Patriots. They then get a short-week turnaround out to Seattle for a Thursday night game in Week 11.
It's not easy, but then, contemplating decline never is. Back to the history lesson.
1968 was an awful year, in the headlines and on the Green Bay sidelines. None of us foresaw what a cold year it would be and not even Green Bay Packers football could bring us out of that year's funk. It would take a while for the world to get a grip on what passed for normalcy. It took the Packers a whole lot longer, at least for a fan base that thought "normal" meant "championships."
Yes, and there's not going to be a redemptive Apollo 8 mission to show the Earth in perspective come Christmas.

Some things don't change.  Northern Illinois receiver Kenny Golladay is now playing on Sunday, for the Detroit Lions.
Lions coach Matt Patricia likes what he sees so far.

"There's a lot of different coverages that are coming his way, there's a lot of different fronts, doubles, bracket-type situations that he's running into. ... The great part about it is just his competitiveness overall," Patricia said.

"Doing the details, doing the little things – the blocking. Maybe some of the plays where he may draw a little bit more attention and free somebody else up. Those are big responsibilities in the offense and kind of help everything fit together for all the guys on the field."
The Lions and Bears are into their first seasons with new coaches and new systems, and they appear to be improving. The Vikings, on paper, still look formidable, although they, too, are having troubles on the field. The Packers: defensive letdowns, again, and troubling failures scoring touchdowns.

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