Green Bay's Greenest and Goldest: The Top 10 Packers of All-Time
So, now that “The Decision” has “Been Made,” sports fans can finally turn their attention to where it should be: Brett Favre.
I’m talking about training camp, which is now less than a mere two weeks away.
And you know what that means—projection, prediction, and hyperbole, oh my!
But there is plenty of time for all that. The first real action (if you are one of those people that can get excited for the preseason) is still a month away.
Packers’ Opening Day? Still 55 days away (and yes, I am counting).
So while Packers’ fans can rest assured that we will get around to the important discussions of what Johnny Jolly’s suspension means, if it is good or bad that many analysts are placing the green-and-gold atop the heap before they’ve a played a game, and just how much of a beast Morgan Burnett will be, I submit to you that all of that can wait for now.
Instead, as we bide the time waiting for what could very well be an historic year for the Packers, I think it’s an appropriate time to reflect on what historic means for this organization.
Which is what I will be doing in a series of articles considering debates that span the history of the NFL’s most storied franchise—starting with what you are reading here: the top 10 Green Bay Packers ever.
Let the debate begin!
10. Herb Adderley, Cornerback, 1961-1969
Accomplishments: Hall of Fame (1980); five-time Pro Bowler; four-time first-team All-Pro; NFL 1960s All-Decade Team; three NFL Championships; two Super Bowls
Key stats: 125 games; 39 INT; 795 yards; 7 TD; 14 FR
The case: Frankly, I was going back and forth here between Adderley and Willie Wood for the one spot in the top ten that will go to a defensive back.
It really could have gone either way.
Both were standout contributors throughout the Packers’ 1960s reign, and both registered at least 39 interceptions in their time in Green Bay.
In the end, I side with Adderley because he was a lockdown corner as well as a big-play threat, because he tallied seven career touchdowns on interception returns, and because cornerback was not even his natural position.
That’s right, Adderley, who would end his time with the Packers with records for most interceptions returned for a touchdown in a season and a career (Darren Sharper remains tied with him for the latter mark), was drafted out of Michigan State as a tailback.
Unfortunately, he arrived in Wisconsin to find a crowded backfield, forcing Vince Lombardi to put his athleticism to use on defense.
The rest is history.
But above all else in Adderley’s distinguished career, his 60-yard 4th-quarter interception return to seal Super Bowl II stands out as a play that defines just what Adderley meant to the great 1960s Packers teams.
9. Willie Davis, Defensive End, 1960-1969
Accomplishments: Hall of Fame (1981); five-time Pro Bowler; five-time first-team All-Pro; NFL 1960s All-Decade Team; three NFL championships; two Super Bowls
Key stats: 138 games; 1 INT; 22 FR; 1 TD
The case: As you may notice, a glaringly absent statistic for Davis is the number of sacks the imposing 6’3’’, 243-pound end may or may not have accumulated.
Unfortunately, like Josh Gibson’s home run total, we’ll never really know, because observers back then weren’t bright enough to grasp the infinite power of numbers in sports and start keeping track of that stuff.
Either way, the number that is frequently thrown around as a minimum is 100, and it is quite likely that is an unfair estimate to Davis.
John Turney of the Professional Football Researchers Association has said Davis could have racked up as many as 120, and Davis has personally said he posted 25 in one season.
However many quarterback takedowns the Grambling State standout notched, though, what we know is that while Ray Nitschke may have been the face of the Packers’ D in the ‘60s, Davis was its heart.
Davis was an absolutely unstoppable blend of smarts, quickness, strength, and instinct, providing the pressure up front that is the foundation of any great defense.
On a note of interest, Davis’ skills were not limited to the gridiron, as he collected an MBA from the University of Chicago while he was still playing, and went on to serve on a host of the most powerful boards of directors in the country.
8. Reggie White, Defensive End, 1993-1998
Accomplishments: Hall of Fame (2006); one-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year; six-time Pro Bowler; three-time first-team All-Pro; NFL 1980s and 1990s All-Decade Teams; one Super Bowl
Key stats: 95 games; 239 tackles, 58.5 sacks; 1 INT; 14 FF; 8 FR
The case: To be sure, Reggie’s most prolific and astonishing years occurred in the City of Brotherly Love, not Green Bay.
In fact, perusing The Minister of Defense’s numbers from his Eagles’ years is quite the eye-opener—from 1986 to 1988, White compiled 57 sacks (!), never falling below 18 in a season.
But make no mistake, what White had lost in dynamism by the time he donned the green-and-gold, he made up for in leadership and wisdom.
Well that and he did manage 16 sacks at the age of 36 in his last year with the Packers, so he physically was hanging in there alright, too.
No, White did not spend his career in Green Bay, contributing just six years in his divinely inspired free agent destination.
In those six years, though, White sparked the transformation of the organization.
Recall that when Brett Favre was still just a whippersnapper with abominable decision-making, it was White who lent the franchise credibility with free agents and throughout the league.
And together—with Favre under center and White scaring quarterback’s into religiosity—they gave the city what it longed for since 1968.
Which is a feat that by itself earns White this spot on the list.
That, and the awesome memory of his one Green Bay interception—anyone else remember that oxygen mask on the sidelines?
7. Jerry Kramer, Guard, 1958-1968
Accomplishments: Three-time Pro Bowler; five-time All-Pro; NFL 1960s All-Decade Team; three NFL championships; two Super Bowls
Stats: 90/95 PATs
The case: Obviously, it is impossible to measure the greatness of an offensive lineman in stats.
Yet the one I could grab for Kramer is telling insofar as it speaks to the athleticism and versatility that he possessed.
Despite being a rough-and-tumble, 6’3’’, 250-pound monster of a guard, Kramer was tabbed by Vince Lombardi for a time to boot extra points.
Beyond that, however, Kramer was simply a tremendous lineman.
No, you can’t measure a guy like him in numbers, but ask Bart Starr or Paul Hornung how good Kramer was.
It was easy for Lombardi to put X’s and O’s on a chalkboard and deliver his timeless tutorial: “What we have is a seal here, and a seal here…and we run this thing in…the…alley!”
But it was Kramer, along with his guard counterpart Fuzzy Thurston, who brought life to the scheme, clearing highways, not alleys, for the Packers’ backfield—not to mention paving the path for Bart Starr’s Ice Bowl plunge.
He was the best offensive lineman in franchise history and an absurd Hall of Fame snub—which is good for No. 7 on this list
6. Paul Hornung, Running Back, 1957-1962, 1964-1966
Accomplishments: Hall of Fame (1986), one-time NFL MVP; two-time Pro Bowler; two-time first-team All-Pro; NFL 1960s All-Decade Team; three NFL championships; two Super Bowls
Key stats: 893 attempts; 3,711 yards; 4.2 yards per carry; 50 rushing TD; 130 receptions; 1,480 yards; 12 TD; 190/194 PATs)
The case: The most controversial member on this list (not for his inclusion, but for his off-the-field exploits), there are those among us who would insist that “The Golden Boy” was, at the very least, the most talented player to ever don the green-and-gold.
And that very well could be true.
Listed at 6’2’’, 215 pounds, Hornung had the size to be a bruising back even today, with comparable size to the Packers’ current tailback, Ryan Grant, who stands 6’1’’, 222 pounds.
Except Hornung was possibly a better all-around athlete then the backs with that size in the modern game.
A three-sport standout in high school, Hornung spent time at quarterback, tailback, fullback, safety, and placekicker in South Bend (not to mention his sophomore year playing basketball as well), leading the Fighting Irish in passing, rushing, scoring, kick returning, and kicking in 1956—an exquisite effort that earned him the Heisman, the only player from a losing team to garner the honor.
After being taken with the No. 1 overall selection by Green Bay in the 1957 NFL Draft, Hornung’s versatility remained his strongest asset, as he put together a season unimaginable in today’s context.
In 1960, Hornung ran for 13 touchdowns, tacked on two more receiving, booted 15 field goals (out of 28) and nailed 41 out of 41 extra points—altogether good for 176 points, an NFL record that would stand until LaDainian Tomlinson found paydirt 31 times in 2006.
However, there are two things that limited Hornung in his career, and cap his ascendance on this list.
The first is his penchant for gambling, drinking, and generally carousing—activities that would earn him, along with Detroit Lions’ defensive tackle Alex Karras, a one-year suspension from the league (well, specifically it was the gambling, but none of those things helped his career).
The second was a pinched nerve in his neck that prevented Hornung from participating in the first ever Super Bowl and ultimately ended his great but relatively brief career.
While the highs of Hornung’s career couldn’t have been much higher, the objective assessment of his playing days shows he never carried the ball more than 160 times or caught more than 28 passes in a season.
If this was a list of greatest Packers’ seasons or moments, Hornung might be higher, but unfortunately for him, this is top 10 careers.
5. Jim Taylor, Running Back, 1958-1966
Accomplishments: Hall of Fame (1976); one-time NFL MVP; five-time Pro Bowler; one-time first-team All-Pro; NFL 1960s All-Decade Team; three NFL championships; one Super Bowl
Key stats: 132 games; 1,941 attempts; 8,597 yards; 4.4 yards per carry; 83 TD; 225 receptions; 1,756 yards; 10 TD)
The case: If Hornung was the flash in the backfield of the 1960’s Green Bay Packers, his running mate Jim Taylor was unquestionably the substance.
A prototypical tough-nosed runner, Taylor was the man responsible for pounding dives in the Packers’ offense to set-up the legendary two-guard sweeps that Lombardi was famous for.
Though Ahman Green would surpass many of Taylor’s overall records—career yards, single season yards—Taylor remains the franchise’s all-time leader in carries, career touchdowns, and single-season scores.
At the time of his retirement, only the great Jim Brown topped this LSU-product in career touchdowns.
But it wasn’t just the productivity that made Taylor great, it was the single-mindedness he demonstrated in doing it.
Taylor was content with Hornung taking all the headlines, as long as he got to pound the ball into the heart of the defense 30 times a game.
The first man to ever put a rushing touchdown on a Super Bowl scoreboard, Taylor was Lombardi’s type of player, putting the ball on the ground just 34 times in his career, or roughly 1.56 percent of his career touches.
Would Taylor have been as great as he was without Hornung, or vice versa?
Probably not, and more important we don’t know.
What is certain, though, is that together, they formed arguably the most dynamic two-headed backfield in NFL history—with Taylor’s consistency, durability, and productivity meriting him the edge on this list.
4. Bart Starr, Quarterback, 1956-1971
Accomplishments: Hall of Fame (1977), one-time NFL MVP; four-time Pro Bowler; two-time first-team All-Pro; NFL 1960s All-Decade Team; three NFL championships; two Super Bowls; two-time Super Bowl MVP
Key stats: 158 games; 94-57-6; .600 winning percentage; 1,808 completions; 3,149 attempts; 57.4 completion percentage; 24,718 yards; 152 TD; 138 INT; 247 rushing attempts; 1,308 yards; 15 TD
The case: Although all modern Packers’ fans are acquainted with the story of how the wild party boy from Kiln, Miss., was stolen from the Falcons in a coup, and given the reins due to injury only to ride off on one of the greatest careers ever.
Yet, in many ways, the way in which Bart Starr’s career began makes his eventual success even more unlikely.
You see this Down South country boy, from Montgomery, Alabama, was not a second-round pick like Favre—he was a 17th-round selection.
And unlike Favre, who got his first opportunity just a year into his career, Starr was forced to bide his time for three whole seasons before providence intervened in the form of Vince Lombardi.
Similar to Lombardi’s effect on Paul Hornung’s career, the arrival of the no-nonsense head coach from the East Coast set a course for Starr that would make him a Hall of Famer and two-time Super Bowl MVP.
His rushing statistics—an over five-yard average on nearly 250 carries with 15 TD—remind us that Starr was no Byron Leftwich, and his iconic Ice Bowl plunge was not the only time he called his own number.
But, of course, statistics (and less than stellar coaching stints) aside, the testament to Starr’s greatness lies in his wins.
Six division titles. Three NFL Championships. The first two Super Bowls ever.
Sure, Starr was surrounded by an unusual cast of talent that makes those things easier. But Bart Starr was the leader of those teams, warranting him the spot as the No. 4 best Packer ever.
3. Don Hutson, Wide Receiver, 1935-1945
Accomplishments: Hall of Famer (1963); two-time NFL MVP; NFL 1930s All-Decade Team; three NFL championships
Key stats: 116 games; 488 receptions; 7,991 yards; 16.4 yards per reception; 99 TD; 30 INT
The case: Alright, I’ll give you Jerry Rice. That’s fair.
But in all honesty, Don Hutson deserves to play opposite the 49er great on the NFL’s all-time team.
No, maybe the numbers in a vacuum don’t wow you. Less than 500 catches? Meh.
Then, you consider the era, the revolutionary nature of Hutson’s career, and what the 99 touchdowns mean in that context.
It’s nothing short of incredible. Almost single-handedly (or, I suppose, double-handedly) did Hutson usher in what would become the modern era of football.
And it didn’t take long for him to put fans on notice of what would transpire in his time in Green Bay, as Arnie Herber hit a streaking Hutson for an 83-yard score on the Alabama alums first player ever.
The rest is history—at the time of his retirement, after just 11 seasons, Hutson held 18 NFL records, including the record for touchdowns caught, which would stand for four-and-a-half decades.
Twice Hutson took home the NFL MVP award, a feat unthinkable for a receiver today.
More importantly, Hutson’s arrival prolonged the first era of greatness (or brought on the second, depending on how you break it up) in Packers’ history.
And to think, the difference between Hutson revolutionizing the aerial dimension of the game for the Packers and the Brooklyn Dodgers was 17 minutes—the difference in the postmarks on the two contracts Hutson signed out of college.
Oh, and those 488 catches?
Not so bad when you consider it was 200 more than his closest competitor at the time.
2. Ray Nitschke, Middle Linebacker, 1958-1972
Accomplishments: Hall of Fame (1978); three-time first-team All-Pro; one-time Pro Bowler; NFL 1960s All-Decade Team; three NFL Championships; two Super Bowls
Key stats: 190 games; 25 INT; 23 FR; 2 TD
The case: Though the pre-modern era of football (the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s) was defined by toothless, unforgiving, tough SOBs like Chuck Bednarik, Dick Butkus, Jack Ham, and Sam Huff, nobody captured what defensive football was all about quite like Ray Nitschke.
Since stats for tackles weren’t kept in Nitschke’s time (and are notoriously misleading in many cases), there is nothing I can point to that will definitively quantify what Nitschke meant to the 1960s Packers.
The best way to put it is that if Vince Lombardi could have manually embodied his philosophy in any one player, he couldn’t have sculpted anything better than Nitschke.
Blessed with good size (6’3,’’ 235), Nitschke possessed the ideal speed, smarts, and cutthroat tenacity to thrive as a middle linebacker.
Too often, the defensive unit of the 1960s Packers is an afterthought.
Yet, behind the leadership of their fearless middle linebacker, the Packers’ D never surrendered more than 17.5 points per game in the decade, posting points allowed numbers from 1960 to 1969 of 209, 223, 148, 206, 245, 224, 163, 227, and 221.
From 1962 to 1969, Nitschke was first- or second-team All-Pro seven of the eight years, which isn’t bad knowing guys like Butkus were out there.
Essentially, though, there has never been a better defensive player in the history of the Green Bay Packers’ organization, which is good enough for No. 2 all-time.
1. Brett Favre, Quarterback, 1992-2007
Accomplishments: Hall of Fame (2016, 2017, or 2018—hopefully not any later!); three-time NFL MVP; nine-time Pro Bowler; three-time first-team All-Pro; NFL 1990s All-Decade Team; one Super Bowl
Key stats: 255 games; 253 consecutive starts; 160-93; .630 winning percentage; 5,377 completions; 8,754 attempts; 61.4 completion percentage; 61,655 yards; 442 TD; 286 INT; 555 rushing attempts; 1,786 yards; 3.2 yards per carry; 13 TD
The case: Come on, who’d you think it was going to be?
I know, it’s a bitter pill to swallow knowing how things have worked out, but if we’re honest, this is really the only sensible way to end this list.
Say what you want about his flippant throws into double-coverage, his flip-flopping in the offseason, his Vicodin issue, and the notable poor performances in the playoffs.
Despite all that, Brett still anchored the organization for 16 glorious years.
Without him, there’s no third Super Bowl. There’s no run of seven division titles in 16 seasons, or 12 playoff appearances in the same period.
And yes, I understand the counterarguments.
“Bart Starr was a winner.”
Except Favre’s winning percentage, with less talent around him, is better than Starr’s.
“He lost so many big games.”
And he won so many. Dan Marino never got a Super Bowl, that does not mean he wasn’t one of the top five quarterbacks ever.
“He’s a traitor.”
I don’t dare go there.
The bottom line is, Favre did more for the franchise than any single other player.
Let us not dwell on the ending when we can instead cherish the Wild Card romp against the Falcons, the jubilation in New Orleans after Super Bowl XXXI, and the crazy overtime bomb to Greg Jennings against the Broncos.
Taken altogether, there is simply no Green Bay Packer that has ever worn the green-and-gold more distinguishably.