When one talks about some cult heroes in the illustrious history of the Green Bay Packers, one has to sit back and ponder. First, what is the definition of cult hero? I found one that says it means: Not just an ordinary hero, but a 'cult hero' meaning one who has achieved his heroic status for perhaps unconventional reasons—perhaps because he is an unusual personality, or an unlikely hero.
Based on that definition, I'm going to list five players that fit that description.
When John McNally was still in college at St. John's University, he decided that he wanted to play pro football, while still keeping his college eligibility. As he and a friend passed a movie theater, he saw a film title, Blood and Sand. McNally became Johnny Blood, so he could become a pro. The legend was born.
McNally played for a number of NFL teams while he was a pro. He first started out with the Milwaukee Badgers and then later played for the Duluth Eskimos, Pottsville Maroons and Pittsburgh Pirates. But it was his time with the Green Bay Packers that made him a cult hero.
McNally was part of four NFL champion teams in Green Bay as he played halfback for Curly Lambeau and his Packers. McNally had very good speed as a runner, plus was a gifted receiver (led the team in receptions twice).
He is still ranked 26th on the all-time scoring list of the Packers with 230 points.
The movie Leatherheads, which starred George Clooney, is loosely based on the life and career of McNally.
QB Bart Starr of the Green Bay Packers ended up winning the MVP award in Super Bowl I (and in Super Bowl II as well), but in the first Super Bowl, who can forget the performance of Max McGee? McGee was a star receiver for the Packers in the Lombardi era, but through 1965-67, McGee didn't get a lot of playing time. However, when he did play, he was clutch.
Before Super Bowl I, McGee caught a 28-yard TD pass from Starr that was the difference in the 34-27 1966 NFL championship game win in Dallas against the Cowboys. But Super Bowl I was where he really made his legend.
McGee didn't expect to play so he snuck out after curfew the night before the game. McGee couldn't convince roommate Paul Hornung to go with him that night. McGee stayed out late that evening and didn't return until the team breakfast the next morning.
Little did he know what was going to happen that day as he got a one-hour cat nap after breakfast. Starting wide receiver Boyd Dowler injured his shoulder and McGee had to go into the game. McGee was startled as he heard Vince Lombardi yell, "McGee! McGee! Get your ass in there."
Max got his behind in there all right. Besides catching the first touchdown pass in Super Bowl history, McGee put up amazing stats as he ended up with seven receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns. That's only a 19.7 reception average folks
McGee didn't get the game's MVP award, it went to Starr, but McGee was the "star" that day. McGee was never All-Pro and only went to one Pro Bowl. All he did was produce. When the lights were the brightest.
At training camp in 1967, Travis Williams of the Green Bay Packers had trouble hanging on to the football. He was fumbling way too often, almost to the point of getting cut from the team. Head coach Vince Lombardi told Williams to take the football everywhere with him. "Take it to the showers, take it meals, take it to meetings," Lombardi shouted, as Jerry Kramer wrote in Instant Replay.
Eventually, Williams learned how to hold onto the football and he had a record-breaking year returning kickoffs, plus received valuable playing time at halfback, due to injuries at the position.
Overall, Williams returned 18 kickoffs for 739 yards (a 41.1 average) and had four TDs. Williams had two kickoff returns for TDs in one game (vs. Cleveland) as a matter of fact. Williams also rushed for 188 yards and one TD, plus had five receptions for 80 yards and another TD.
In the Western Conference Championship vs. the Los Angeles Rams in 1967, Williams scored two TDs, including a breathtaking 46 yard TD scamper. A week later the Packers won the NFL title (Ice Bowl) vs. the Dallas Cowboys and then Super Bowl II two weeks later in Miami vs. the Oakland Raiders.
Williams played with the Packers through 1970, but he was never able to match what he did in 1967, as he electrified the NFL and Packer nation as a whole in Lombardi's final season as head coach of the Packers.
Desmond Howard signed with the Packers as a free agent in 1996, after previously playing for the Washington Redskins and Jacksonville Jaguars. Howard was part of a free-agent signing class in 1996 that also included DT Santana Dotson, WR Don Beebe, LB Ron Cox and later in the 1996 season...WR Andre Rison.
Howard barely made the Green Bay squad in 1996, and it was a punt return for a TD in the preseason against the Pittsburgh Steelers that won him a spot on the team.
1996 was a year for the ages for Howard. The former Heisman Trophy Award winner returned 58 punts for a NFL record 875 yards (15.1 yards per return average) and three TDs. Howard also returned 22 kickoffs for an additional 460 yards.
Howard led the way in the playoffs in the first game against the San Francisco 49ers at rainy and muddy Lambeau Field. Howard returned a punt for 71 yards and a TD and almost returned one for another that led to another TD in a 35-14 thrashing of the Niners.
But it was in Super Bowl XXXI where Howard really made his mark.
Howard was almost unstoppable that day in New Orleans vs. the New England Patriots, as he had 244 yards in return yardage, both in punt returns and kickoff returns. Howard had six punt returns for 90 yards (a 15.0 average) and almost broke one for a TD.
In addition, Howard had 154 yards on kickoff returns (a 38.5 average), including the 99-yard TD. The Patriots had 257 total yards in the game, while the Packers had 323. Howard came close to those amounts just by himself.
Howard was named the MVP of Super Bowl XXXI as the Packers beat the Pats 35-21.
Howard left the Packers in 1997 as he signed a lucrative free-agent contract with the Oakland Raiders. Howard later returned to the Packers for the 1999 season, but he never again found the magic he created during the 1996 campaign with the Packers—a year in which he was named All-Pro.
The 2007 NFL season was about to begin, when Ted Thompson made a couple of acquisitions, one of which was picking up FB John Kuhn on waivers from the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Kuhn had been a standout player at Shippensburg in NCAA Division II football before he signed with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in 2005. Kuhn spent the 2005 season on the Pittsburgh (Super Bowl XL champions) practice squad and then was able to appear on the active roster for nine games in 2006.
As a Packer, Kuhn was mostly a special teams player when he first came to Green Bay. Kuhn's first year with the Packers (2007) saw him get zero carries and only two receptions.
In 2008 and 2009, Kuhn's role with the Packers started to expand. He had one rushing TD and two receiving TDs in each of those seasons.
However, in 2010 and 2011, Kuhn started getting more and more looks at crunch time. In both seasons, Kuhn had four rushing TDs, to go along with two TD receptions.
In 2011, Kuhn was named to the Pro Bowl and was also named second-team All-Pro. Recently, Kuhn was named by his peers as No. 92 on the NFL top 100 players of 2012.
To understand Kuhn's cult status among the fans, all one has to do is go to a game at Lambeau Field. Listen to the fans when Kuhn touches the football. You will hear the crowd yell out, "KUUUHN". For that matter, you will hear that at any game the Packers play...home or away.