Jack Vainisi: Not the NFL Hall of Fame, Part 3

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Jack Vainisi: Not the NFL Hall of Fame, Part 3
David Maxwell/Getty Images
Bart Starr - without Jack Vainisi, would we ever have heard of him?

The Not the NFL Hall of Fame exists to honor those who will never be enshrined in the main Hall in Canton, be it through selectorial blinkeredness, an excess of competition or simply the passage of time dimming memories. This alternative Hall seeks to right those wrongs.

Unless you are a diehard Packers fan or have been following football for the last 55 years, your immediate reaction upon hearing Vainisi's name is going to be, "who?" No one is going to blame you for that reaction, because the game has come a long way since Vainisi's day. His career was short, too short to be considered for the "other" Hall of Fame, yet his impact on the game was a significant one—so much so that he is in the Packers' own Hall, and rightly so.

And yet you won't find Jack Vainisi listed among the great players of the 1950s. You won't even find him listed among the great coaches of that era. And yet without him, Vince Lombardi could easily have been just another NFL coach, the Packers just another side who were once great but who would thereafter always underachieve.

Indeed, to the extent that you can argue that, without Lombardi, the Packers—under-capitalized and hamstrung by an antiquated management system—might have gone out of business, so you can make the same case for Vainisi.

Vainisi's claim to fame is that he may have been the NFL's first scouting genius. There are plenty of others nowadays with the eye for picking raw footballing talent which will turn into something great, but nowadays the sheer volume of statistics and tape available on any given college prospect is so huge that any chief scout can evaluate a player's entire oeuvre in an afternoon.

Back in the 1950s, scouting was different. It involved a lot of travel and a lot of networking, just like today, but importantly it involved a scout seeing far less of a player before they were drafted. And importantly, a head coach such as Lombardi often wouldn't see a top prospect at all before the draft took place—they depended entirely upon the word of a man like Vainisi.

When you take this into consideration, there is an argument that Vainisi is the greatest scout of all time. Of the team which Lombardi inherited in 1959, an unprecedented eight players went on to be inducted into the Hall of Fame (even the all-conquering 1972 Dolphins only produced five).

Of those eight, no fewer than six had been drafted by Vainisi before Lombardi even arrived—Forrest Gregg, Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, Paul Hornung, Jim Ringo and Ray Nitschke. The Packers' Hall of Fame includes 116 players and almost 10 percent of them were drafted by Vainisi.

What makes this all the more remarkable is that Vainisi's career lasted only nine seasons. He died of a heart attack in 1960, aged just 33. His strike rate of a Hall of Famer drafted every 1.5 seasons makes you wonder just what kind of team Green Bay could have been had he lived to retirement age.

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