With Jerry Kramer’s 2018 induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the greatest perceived injustice in the Hall’s 55 year existence came to an end. There remains, however, a number of Green Bay Packers who at the very least deserve to have their case for induction heard (and voted upon) by the Hall of Fame voters. Here is my list of the Top 10 such Packers….it should be noted that the order is simply my view of the most deserving – it isn’t an indication of who is most likely to be inducted.
1. Gale Gillingham, OG, 1966-76
1st Round draft pick (13th overall) 1966. 128 games played (116 starts). 5 time 1st Team All-Pro (1969-70, 71, 73-74). 2nd Team All-Pro 1968. 4 time All-Conference (1970-71, 73-74). 5 time Pro Bowler (1969-71, 73-74). 2 Super Bowl Champion (I, II). Packers Hall of Fame Inductee (1982). Winner of Forrest Gregg Award for NFL Offensive Lineman of the Year 1970.
Wisconsin native who was the last playing member of Lombardi’s Packers. Outstanding career after taking over full time from Fuzzy Thurston at LG in 1967 – Gillingham switched to RG following Kramer’s retirement after the 1968 season. Fixture at that spot for the remainder of his career except when coach Dan Devine inexplicably switched him to DT in 1972 (where he played only 2 games before suffering a season-ending injury) and when he had a contract dispute in 1975. Gillingham was one of the first to carry out extensive off-season workouts, being able to bulk up whilst retaining his outstanding foot speed. There are long time Packers observers who consider him the greatest of all Packers guards…and perhaps the most forgotten name amongst potential Hall of Famers.
2. Bobby Dillon, S, 1952-59
3rd Round draft pick (28th overall) 1952. 94 games played (92 starts). Packers all-time Interception Leader (52). Tied for NFL record with 4 Interceptions in a single game. 5 time 1st Team All-Pro (1954-58). 2 time 2nd Team All-Pro (1953, 59). 4 time Pro Bowler (1955-58). Packers Hall of Fame Inductee (1974).
Lost an eye in a childhood accident but was able to attain a level of performance way above anything that could reasonably have been expected. Was the defensive stand-out on some poor Packers teams – because of the great Lombardi era teams that followed, Dillon’s achievements tend to be overlooked. His ratio of interceptions/game is the best in NFL history (amongst those with 50+ interceptions) and three times he had 9 interceptions in a season. In 2015, Packers historian Cliff Christl reported that Ron Wolf had called Dillon “The most deserving former Packer not yet inducted into Canton”.
3. LeRoy Butler, S, 1990-2001
2nd Round draft pick (48th overall) 1990. 181 games played (161 starts). 4 time All-Pro (1993, 96-98). 4 time 1st Team All-Conference (1993, 96-98). 4 time Pro Bowler (1993, 96-98). PFHoF 1990s 1st Team All-Decade Team. Super Bowl XXXI Champion. Packers Hall of Fame Inductee (2007).
Butler started his career as a Cornerback before switching to Strong Safety. Excellent both in coverage, playing the run and timing the blitz – he became the first defensive back in NFL history to record 20 career sacks as well as 20 career interceptions. Alongside Reggie White, Butler was the defensive mainstay of the 1990s Packers, ending his career with 38 interceptions, 10 fumble recoveries, 13 forced fumbles and 20.5 sacks. He will of course always be remembered for the first “Lambeau Leap” – his 25 yard fumble recovery return for a touchdown (via a lateral from White) in 1993 helped secure the Packers their first play-off berth since 1982. Butler was a semi-finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018.
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4. LaVern “Lavvie” Dilweg, End, 1927-34 (also 1926, Milwaukee Badgers)
98 games played (63 starts), also 9 games (9 starts) for Milwaukee. 6 times 1st Team All-Pro (1926-31). 2 times 2nd Team All-Pro (1932-33). PFHoF 1920s All-Decade Team. 3 time NFL Champion (1929-31). Packers Hall of Fame Inductee (1970).
One of the great players of the iron man era – playing equally as well on offense and defense. Was one of the league’s premier pass catchers in the fledgling days of the passing game and was known as being a devastating blocker when lined up tight (in the forerunner to today’s tight end position). Was also a high class defender against the pass (and the run) who excelled on 3 consecutive NFL Championship winning teams. Legacy seems to suffer from lack of recorded statistics and perhaps because the player who took over from him was one Don Hutson. Was voted to Hall of Fame’s All-Decade team for the 1920s but is one of only 2 players on that team who have not (yet) been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Hunk Anderson being the other). Grandfather of Packers quarterback Anthony Dilweg.
5. Cecil Isbell, QB, 1938-42
1st Round draft pick (7th overall) 1938. 54 games played. 2 time 1st Team All-Pro (1941-42). 3 time 2nd Team All-Pro (1938-40). 4 time Pro Bowler (1939-39, 41-42). PFHoF 1930s All-Decade Team. 2 times NFL Passing Yards Leader (1941-42). 2 times NFL Passing Touchdowns Leader (1941-42). NFL Champion 1939. Packers Hall of Fame Inductee (1972).
The brevity of Isbell’s career (5 seasons) is seemingly all that excludes him from Pro Football Hall of Fame discussion. But there is no doubting the quality of his play – including being selected 1st or 2nd Team All-Pro in every one of his NFL seasons, despite competing with all-time great Sammy Baugh. Isbell’s was the arm that led Don Hutson to his incredible 1942 season…but Isbell’s 1942 season was equally as amazing – becoming the league’s first 2,000 yard passer as well as throwing for a record 24 touchdowns. The previous season, Isbell had also broken the NFL mark for passing yards in a season with 1,479.
6. Mike Holmgren, Head Coach, 1992-98 (also 1999-2008, Seattle Seahawks)
Super Bowl XXXI Champion (also XXIII & XIV as assistant with San Francisco). NFC Champion 1996 & 1997 (also 2005 with Seattle and 1988 & 89 as assistant with San Francisco). Green Bay Career Record 75-37 (.670) regular season (161-111, .592, including seasons with Seattle). Packers Hall of Fame Inductee (2012).
Holmgren was a quarterback guru who worked with the likes of Steve Young and Robbie Bosco in college, then with Joe Montana and Young again at the San Francisco 49ers and of course with Brett Favre in Green Bay. He was the winner of 3 Super Bowl rings, including coaching the Packers to their first in 29 years in the 1996 season – he later coached the Seahawks to the NFC Championship, becoming one of the very coaches that had led two different franchises to the NFL title game. In his 7 year coaching tenure in Green Bay, Holmgren coached the Packers to a winning season every year, to the play-offs in 6 consecutive seasons (1993-98) and to the NFC Championship game in 3 consecutive seasons (1995-97). A number of Holmgren’s assistant coaches have gone on to be head coaches themselves including Jon Gruden, Andy Reid, Steve Mariucci and Mike Sherman – whilst one of his former quarterbacks, Doug Pederson, went on to coach Philadelphia to Super Bowl success.
7. Verne Lewellen, QB/HB/P, 1924-32 (also 1927, NY Yankees) & GM, 1954-58
102 games played (68 starts), also 3 games (3 starts) for New York. 4 time All-Pro 1st Team (1926-29). 2nd Team All-Pro 1925. 3 time NFL Champion (1929-31). Packers Hall of Fame Inductee (1970). Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame Inductee (1967).
Outstanding all-round athlete – multi-position football player who was also an outstanding college baseball player. Indeed, were it not for a neck injury, his career may have been spent on the diamond for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Unfortunately, few official statistics were recorded during his career, but Lewellen was renowned as a multi-faceted backfield star who was a runner, receiver and passer of equal ability. Also regarded by many as the best punter of his day and perhaps one the best in NFL history.
8. Sterling Sharpe, WR, 1988-94
1st Round draft pick (7th overall) 1988. 112 games played (112 starts). 3 time 1st Team All-Pro (1989, 92-93). 2nd Team All-Pro 1990. 3 time 1st Team All-Conference (1989, 92-93). 2 time 2nd Team All-Conference (1990, 94). 5 time Pro Bowler (1989-90, 92-94). 3 time NFL Receiving Leader (1989, 92-93). 2 time NFL Receiving Touchdowns Leader (1992, 94). NFL Receiving Yards Leader 1992. Packers Hall of Fame Inductee (2002).
One of the all-time great receivers whose career was cruelly cut short by injury after just 7 sevens. During those 7 seasons, Sharpe was one of the leagues dominant players (all positions) matched probably only by Jerry Rice. Whilst not blessed with outstanding speed, his burst was deceptive and his ability to get open was second to none. Great hands, toughness and physicality made him a nightmare to defend. Sharpe broke the (then) NFL record with 108 receptions in 1992 and then surpassed the mark again with 112 catches in 1993. In that 1992 season he became the first Packers receiver to lead the league in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in the same season since the great Don Hutson. Sharpe’s induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame would be a shoo-in if it weren’t for the brevity of his career.
9. Fred Carr, LB, 1968-77
1st Round draft pick (5th overall) 1968. 140 games played (112 starts). 2nd Team All-Pro 1975. 1st Team All-Conference 1975. 5 time 2nd Team All-Conference (1970, 72, 74-76). 3 time Pro Bowler (1970, 72, 75). Packers Hall of Fame Inductee (1983).
Like a number of potential players for the list, Carr’s career is somewhat overshadowed by the Lombardi era that preceded him (Carr’s first season was the year after Lombardi stepped down as head coach, although he was Vince’s first draft choice as solely General Manager). Took over as starter at RLB from Lee Roy Caffey in 1970 and never missed a start from that point to the end of his career – and never missed a game in his entire career. All-round linebacker who was equally adept in covering receivers as he was playing the run. Also blocked 5 kicks in his Packers career. Known for his larger than life personality and sense of humour off the field as well as his dominant performances on it.
10. Boyd Dowler, WR/P, 1959-69 (also 1971, Washington Redskins)
3rd Round draft pick (25th overall) 1959. 150 games played (143 starts), also 12 games (7 starts) for Washington. 2 time 1st Team All-Conference (1962, 67). 2 time Pro Bowler (1965, 67). PFHoF 1960s All-Decade Team. 5 time NFL Champion (1961-62, 65-67, including Super Bowls I & II). NFL Rookie of the Year 1959. Packers Hall of Fame Inductee (1978).
Accomplished multi-position college player who became the Packers leading receiver during Lombardi era but didn’t get all of the accolades he deserved because of the Packers famous running game. Oversized wide receiver for his day (6-5, 220) who led Green Bay in receiving in 7 seasons. Ironically it was Dowler’s injury in Super Bowl I that forced Max McGee into action and to become the star of that game. Bounced back with huge 62 yard touchdown reception in Super Bowl II.
Those just outside my top 10 included: Bob Skoronski, Bill Forrester, Dan Currie, Billy Howton, Willie Buchanon, Fuzzy Thurston, Donald Driver, Bob Harlan, Ron Kramer, Red Dunn and John Anderson.
Note: The above list includes only those players, coaches and contributors who are currently eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame – therefore Charles Woodson (not eligible until 2021) for example and any active players (e.g. Aaron Rodgers) were not considered. I took the view that to qualify for this list, a player, coach or contributor had to have spent at least 4 years as a Packer.
Further, for non-football reasons, I did not consider Darren Sharper or Ahman Green (even though Pro Football Hall of Fame Voters are instructed not to take into account non-football related issues).
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