So the long-awaited week of training camp has arrived, and come Saturday, current Packer greats like Aaron Rodgers, Donald Driver, and Charles Woodson will strap on the pads and take to Ray Nitschke Field to prepare for what many of us are hoping could be one of those special years.
But to fully appreciate the potential of this year’s Green Bay squad, and to properly contextualize where today’s stars are situated in the mosaic of Packers’ history, we must consider the best this franchise has had to offer.
Last week, the debate got off to a raucous and constructive dialogue over who should make the cut on a Packers’ top 10 greatest players list.
Surprisingly, no definitive conclusions were reached.
So I thought the next logical step was to broaden the conversation and to formulate an all-time Packers’ team—divided by unit—and let the discussion fester.
My best definition of the parameters: the best career resume with respect to era limitations, with an edge to talent and intangibles where necessary.
I’d try to get more specific, but then I’d just be creating a prism through which the selections could be critiqued.
This is basic, folks, simply the best players in franchise history—you’re building the team and you have every Packer in history at your disposal.
Who do you choose?
First up: the offense.
Accomplishments: 10-time Pro Bowl selection; three-time first-team All-Pro; three-time NFL MVP; two-time NFC Champion; one-time Super Bowl Champion; 1990s NFL All-Decade team
Key stats: 253 consecutive starts; 160-93 record; 5,377 completions; 8, 754 attempts; 61.4 completion percentage; 61,655 yards; 442 TD; 286 INT
The argument: As someone put it in the list of top 10 Packers, the back-and-forth between Brett-defenders and Bart-defenders has been exhausted ad nauseum.
I agree, so I’ll try to keep my case simple.
Both were winners. Both were the best quarterback in the NFL for at least a few years. Both have names that start with B.
All of that is essentially a push. Where Brett gets the edge is dynamism—the strong arm, the unparalleled playmaking ability, and the pure talent to make those around him that much better.
How many players did Brett’s arm and skill earn contracts for?
That’s right, I’m looking at you Terry Mickens, Corey Bradford, and Javon Walker.
Bart Starr was a strong leader, a clutch performer, and an accurate passer. But his numbers are underwhelming and he did benefit from the talent of his supporting cast more than Favre.
Bottom line, if I’m assembling a team of Packers to take on the Monstars, I’m taking Brett.
Honorable mention: Bart Starr (1956-1971), Arnie Herber (1930-1940)
Accomplishments: Four-time Pro Bowl selection; Green Bay Packers’ all-time leading rusher
Key stats: 104 games; 1,851 attempts; 8,322 yards; 4.5 yards per carry; 54 TD; 350 receptions; 2,726 yards; 14 TD; 7.8 yards per catch
The argument: Okay, first and foremost let me say this was an exceedingly difficult choice—I literally substituted Ahman Green and Paul Hornung for one another multiple times.
What it comes to, however, is that in building this team, the body of work must be considered.
If I were talking about taking the player who had the best year at a particular position, I would have gone with the Golden Boy here.
But in these debates, the only objective measuring stick we have is numbers, and the numbers side with Green.
While Hornung’s 1960 campaign is certainly the stuff of legends, unfortunately, Hornung also had to share a backfield with Jim Taylor and battle both personal demons and injury.
Not to mention he had the privilege of running behind two Hall of Famers and two more who deserve that designation.
Green, on the other hand, put together five straight 1,000-yard seasons during which he never had less than seven rushing touchdowns and bottomed out at 4.3 yards per carry.
In addition, in two seasons Green equaled Hornung’s career reception total.
No, Ahman Green does not have the moxie of Paul Hornung, and no he didn’t kick extra points.
And yes, it’s true that Green’s propensity for coughing up the football was more egregious than Hornung’s (although his was not ideal either).
Yet in picking my team, I want the guy who best blended consistency and performance in his years in Green Bay—therefore, Green gets the nod.
Honorable mention: Paul Hornung (1957-1962, 1964-1966), Tony Canadeo (1941-1944, 1946-1952)
Accomplishments: Hall of Fame (1976); five-time Pro Bowl selection; one-time first-team All-Pro; three-time NFL Champion; one-time Super Bowl Champion; NFL 1960s All-Decade Team
Key stats: 118 games; 1,811 attempts; 8,207 yards; 4.5 yards per carry; 81 TD; 187 receptions; 1,505 yards; 12.8 yards per catch; 10 TD
The argument: Thankfully—since I can classify Taylor as a fullback—a three-horse race for the starting tailback spot could be averted.
Though many remember Hornung as the playmaker in the 1960s backfield of Green Bay, there is no question that it was in fact Taylor who made the machine churn.
Like Green, Taylor strung together five straight 1,000-yard seasons—only in Taylor’s five years he racked up double-digit TDs in four of them.
His 19 touchdowns in 1962 are still a franchise record, as are his 81 career rushing scores.
Moreover, he caught nearly 200 passes in his time with the Packers, more than 50 more than Hornung.
And what’s more is an intangible: Were this lineup to take the field, you can bet Taylor would suck it up and block for Ahman Green if that’s what he were told to do, and he’d probably knock some teeth out while he was at it.
This decision is a no-brainer—I love William Henderson as much as the next guy, but Jim Taylor is head and shoulders above at this position.
Honorable mention: William Henderson (1995-2006), Gerry Ellis (1980-1986)
Accomplishments: Hall of Fame (1963); four-time Pro Bowler; eight-time first-team All-Pro; two-time MVP; NFL 1930s All-Decade Team; NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team; three-time NFL Champion
Key stats: 116 games; 488 receptions; 7,991 yards; 16.4 yards per catch; 99 TD; 62 carries; 284 yards; 4.6 yards per carry; 3 TD
The argument: It is not often that a sport is revolutionized.
It is rarer still that the specific revolution can be tied quite specifically to one player’s exploits—and when it can, those players are the standard by which all others are measured.
Think about it. Babe Ruth. Michael Jordan. Tiger Woods.
And Don Hutson.
Like Taylor at fullback, this selection merits no debate.
Hutson caught an 83-yard touchdown on his first play and never looked back, totaling 488 receptions in his 11 seasons.
His 99 touchdowns—almost one per game at a time when the forward pass was a foreign concept—stood for four-and-a-half decades.
In basic terms, Hutson’s talent transcended the game by so much that he showed the rest of the world how it should be played.
So yeah, he makes it on the all-time Green Bay team.
Honorable mention: James Lofton (1978-1986), Boyd Dowler (1959-1969)
Accomplishments: Five-time Pro Bowl; three-time first-team All-Pro
Key stats: 112 games; 595 receptions; 8,134 yards; 13.7 yards per catch; 65 TD
The argument: While it is fun to entertain how Paul Hornung’s legacy would have changed had he managed a longer career, it is simply mind-boggling to imagine how Sterling Sharpe’s career would have turned out.
Even though Donald Driver has finally surpassed Sharpe’s Packers’ record for catches, and Sharpe himself never caught up to James Lofton, all of those number comparisons are pretty meaningless when you consider Sharpe played but seven seasons.
For seven years, Sharpe played in 112 consecutive games, averaging 5.3 catches a game.
Had he maintained that rate for just five more seasons—let alone eight to 10—he would currently rank sixth in all-time receptions, just ahead of Terrell Owens.
And the scary part is Sharpe was just scraping his potential, putting together back-to-back NFL record-setting seasons for catches in his third-to-last and second-to-last seasons.
Sure, he slacked off in his last year—1994—catching only 94 passes with 18 touchdowns.
James Lofton may have been a more lethal deep threat and Donald Driver may be a tougher nut to crack, but if you gave me a choice, give me Sterling.
Honorable mention: Donald Driver (1999-Present), Antonio Freeman (1995-2001, 2003)
Accomplishments: Three-time Pro Bowler; two-time NFC Champion; one-time Super Bowl Champion
Key stats: 89 games; 188 receptions; 2,253 yards; 12 yards per catch; 17 TD
The argument: I’ll be honest, I was a little surprised to discover Ed “Toolbox” West was slightly ahead of Chewy in both receptions and yards, but I was much more surprised to see Bubba Franks ahead of him.
Nevertheless, this is definitely a case where the stats are not telling the whole story.
And by that I’m not referring to Chmura’s hot tub time machine experiment (Spoiler Chewy: you don’t actually become 17 again by sitting in a hot tub with people that old).
But all old, dirty pervert jokes aside, I think we all remember just how good Chmura was for that four-year stretch.
Along with Keith Jackson, the Packers showed defenses the best two tight end set in all of football—and then they threw Jeff Thomason at you!
Don’t get me wrong, Ed West was a reliable, solid-as-a-rock tight end that could run-block with the best of them—but the “Toolbox” posted career-highs of 31 catches and five touchdowns.
Franks, on the other hand, had some relatively comparable stats as Brett’s safety valve, but let’s not forget that Chmura, like Sharpe, was cut down in his prime due to a spinal cord injury.
Had that not happened, the Favre to Chmura combination would have yielded positive results for years to come.
The point is, on the field, Chmura stretched the field best and had the surest hands—I can’t think of anything better to plug in on my all-time team.
Honorable mention: Ed West (1984-1994), Bubba Franks (2000-2007)
Accomplishments (Gregg): Hall of Fame (1977); nine-time Pro Bowl selection; seven-time first-team All-Pro; three-time NFL Champion; two-time Super Bowl winner; 1960s NFL All-Decade Team
Accomplishments (Clifton): One-time Pro Bowler
The argument: Well, looking at the long list of accomplishments after Gregg’s name, that choice is pretty straightforward.
Gregg is in a class that only a few guys can relate to—Anthony Munoz, Art Shell, Bruce Matthews, and that’s about it.
After Gregg, however, the pickings get substantially slimmer.
Ultimately, Clifton gets the nod here for his durability and consistency—plus, he’s not done yet.
Clifton commandeered the left tackle spot part of the way through his rookie season and has rarely missed a game since, except when getting blind-sided by Warren Sapp.
With Clifton protecting the blind side and Gregg driving left ends off the ball, I think the edges of this group are pretty well solidified.
Honorable mention: Cal Hubbard (1929-1933, 1935), Ken Ruettgers (1985-1996)
Accomplishments (Thurston): One-time first-team All-Pro; three-time NFL champion; two-time Super Bowl champion
Accomplishments (Kramer): Three-time Pro Bowl selection; five-time first-team All-Pro; five-time NFL Champion; two-time Super Bowl champion; NFL 50th Anniversary Team; 1960s NFL All-Decade Team
The argument: Is there any?
Come on, if you want a seal and a seal and an alley created for your all-time Packer running backs, all you need is to summon Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston.
Obviously, like Gregg to Clifton, Kramer is the more distinguished player in this pairing (and inexplicably remains on the outside of the Hall of Fame).
But these two come as a tandem—and I won’t be leaving them.
Who do you prefer? Mike Wahle
Honorable mention: Marco Rivera (1996-2004), Gale Gillingham (1966-1976)
Accomplishments: Hall of Fame (1981); seven-time Pro Bowl selection; five-time first-team All-Pro; two-time NFL champion; 1960s NFL All-Decade Team
The argument: And the reunion is complete!
But though I may be simply reinstating the Packers’ offensive line from 1960, I think that lineup and an all-time Packers’ O-line are essentially one and the same.
Sure, Ringo may have oddly been traded in the prime of his career to the rival Eagles, but the majority of his career was still spent in a green-and-gold outfit—not a green-and-white.
Because outside of Mike Webster, Dwight Stephenson, and Jim Otto, there isn’t a better center in the history of the league.
Which is a good enough distinction for this team.
Honorable mention: Frank Winters (1992-2002), Larry McCarren (1973-1984)
Next time around, let’s take a look at the other side of the ball.