My friend and dedicated researcher Nick Webster has inspired me to write about another outstanding pass rushing team; the '52 Packers. Green Bay had fallen on hard times as they had won just eight of their past forty-three games entering the season. Since four teams fought down to the wire in 1951 no one viewed the Packers as contenders.
Quoting noted historian Eric Goska in his must-read book "A MEASURE OF GREATNESS"..."swept along by a four-game winning streak, the Packers of 1952 ascended to first place in the National Conference with three weeks remaining".
How did this happen?
Well, folks follow along for the saga of this very interesting team. Forty-one men suited up for the Packers in 1952 with six men in their last year, and fourteen in their only year. Many times have hammered away in my stories about sources having incorrect data concerning who started, and how many times? Twenty-two positions, and twelve games, thus should add up to 264 total starts among players—yet Pro Football Reference has 274, and Pro Football Archives has 260. Oops! So who did start for Green Bay on offense, and how well did they play?
Opening day at home against the rival Bears the Packers lose a hard-fought 24-14 decision. The starting left linebacker for the Bears misses two long field goals, a youngster that will go on to acclaim in league history; George Blanda. On the second attempt Ray Pelfrey in his only game with Green Bay in 1952 returns the ball 14 yards, and fumbles, recovered by a hustling Blanda. Bears take the lead on Whizzer White's 30-yard field goal. Green Bay takes the lead in the second quarter after left defensive end John Martinkovic blocks Curly Morrison's punt, and Bob Forte recovers on the Bear five. Three second-half touchdowns by the Bears pave the way for the Bear victory.
The inconsistent Green Bay offense has an offensive line that began the year with Dave Hanner at left offensive tackle (he will be discussed when we talk about defense), yet by the third week of the season, Dick Afflis is the starter and remains so for most of the campaign. He is powerful, combative, and sure can drive block, yet he struggles in pass protection.
Aligned next to the "Bruiser" is Steve Ruzich, and he takes most of the snaps, though Dave Stephenson also sees playing time there (he also plays right guard). Ruzich does a commendable job in all facets of offensive line play. The starting center is veteran Jay Rhodemyre, and he is quick, stays on his block, and has a fine campaign. Right guard is a revolving door with Dick Logan, Stephenson, and Wash Serini (he also plays some d-tackle) attempting to play the position. None of them stood out. Right tackle is rookie Steve Dowden in his only year.
Obviously, the Packer coaching staff believed they could find someone better for '53, yet the youngster sure gave effort and did not embarrass himself. His strongest attribute was his ability to drive block. The Packers finished ninth in the league luggin' the leather and were running back by committee. Tony Canadeo has reached the end of the line, and though once a dynamic back he struggles breaking loose as he averages just 2.9 a carry (usually he is the left halfback). Floyd "Breezy" Reid, and Billy Grimes get plenty of playing time at halfback, but this is a fullback-oriented offense with Fred Cone, Bobby Jack Floyd, and Bill Reichardt getting the bulk of the carries.
The team leader in rushing is quarterback Tobin Rote, though at times he is aligned at halfback with Parilli at quarterback. Rote has speed and evades tacklers in his attempts to spark the Packer offense. Both Parilli and Rote throw 13 touchdown passes during the season, and both men display the ability to throw deep and are accurate.
The downside is both men force passes into coverage due to their belief in their arm. Since Rote is more consistent, and the better runner, sure looks like he is the future quarterback for the Packers. Bob Mann still has his moments as the starting left end, yet Carlton Elliott, and Jim Keane (also played right end as did Elliott) receive playing time.
Film study shows Green Bay in max protection at times—but watching Bob Mann pass blocking is undeniably strange. Why would the Packers max protect? Simply because as the season wears on they have discovered a weapon who explodes on the scene with impressive game after impressive game.
Rookie Bill Howton at right end is not only the team offensive MVP, he is already one of the best in the league. Though he has excellent speed and long strides, it is his ability to run razor-sharp routes, and adjust to the ball in flight that sets him apart. He is the go-to guy and a year after Elroy Hirsch's great season...Howton gains 1,231 yards and scores 13 touchdowns. He may not be Hirsch, but boy oh boy can this redhead latch onto the pigskin when it is thrown his way. Talk about a bright future. Bill will sometimes align in tight, yet he is flanked or split many times to give him room to maneuver.
Green Bay takes on the Redskins in Milwaukee and look strong in the 35-20 win before just 9,657 fans. The defending world champion Rams travel to Milwaukee to take on the Packers in what must be viewed as game of the week? Yes sir, the game is an all-time classic and since both teams are 1-1 the winner would be viewed as a title contender. The Rams have won seven straight against Green Bay and outscored them 273 to 66.
Quoting Steve Bisheff in the Great Teams, Great Years series on the Rams "trying to pick the best game Bob Waterfield ever played is like trying to decide what Bob Waterfield did best on a football field". After three quarters the Packers lead 28 to 6. Norm Van Brocklin started for Los Angeles and is sacked by Martinkovic and Forte on the first series of the game. Third down and thirty-five and rookie Bobby Dan Dillon pilfers a Dutchman pass. Green Bay overcomes two sacks and a clipping penalty to dirve sixty-eight yards and score. Second quarter Van Brocklin is sacked again by Martinkovic, and left linebacker Bob Forte intercepts Norm. Howton scored on a pass from Rote, and all is well in Packer land 14-6 at the half. Green Bay takes the second-half kick-off and drives 69 yards on a twelve-play drive. Waterfield comes in to play quarterback yet he is sacked also, and Rams punt. The Packers drive 85 yards on nine plays to take what is believed to be a commanding 28-6 lead with 1:27 left in the third quarter.
From that point on Waterfield completes just 5 of 10 for only 66 yards, yet each Los Angeles drive results in points, and an epic come-from-behind win. Quoting Waterfield "a rally like that can never happen of course, without the cooperation of the other team". "The biggest single reason for what happened was that Green Bay crawled into its shell and tried to protect its lead with safe football". Ok, Bob that is true, but with the Packers down 30-28 late in the game Rote broke loose for 30 yards but fumbled away the ball. If, and turnovers are always paramount...Rote does not fumble or a Packer grabs the loose ball; could Tobin have gotten the ball to Howton for a winning field goal attempt? Green Bay wins five of their next six and the key element was the defense.
The '51 Packers finished dead last in the key defensive passer rating with a mark of 75.0. 1952 is a different story as they improved to eighth with a mark of 58.5 (league average was 57.7). So who aligned in the secondary during the year? Clarence Self was the nominal starter at left corner. He was more than adequate on pass defense, and was a willing run defender. Since Green Bay was aligned in a 5-2-4 the safety position was vitally important. Most of the year we see veteran Dan Sandifer at left safety, yet he also played right safety.
Rookie wunderkind Bobby Dan Dillon was the right safety, yet he also played on the left side, and corner in the red zone on goal line defense. His speed sure helped him as an open field tackler, yet he is most important attribute was his ability to play the deep pass, and always be around the ball. Ace Loomis played some safety but became the starter at right corner the second half of the year. A strong pass defender, he helped solidify the secondary. A bright future for this youngster.
Dom Moselle began the year as the starting right corner, but late in the year, Marvin Johnson got some playing time there, and also at left corner. Rookie Deral Teteak was selected for the Pro Bowl for his performance in 1952. Though there were probably a couple linebackers that truly earned the honor of a pro bowl berth instead of Teteak he did display big play capability against both the run and the pass. Teteak was also utilized on the red dog.
The starting left linebacker was veteran Bob Forte. He should have taken Teteak's place in Los Angeles for the Pro Bowl. Though historical data/stats is incomplete; it is very possible that Bob was the first left linebacker in league history to record three opponent fumble recoveries, four interceptions, and at least four sacks in a season. He always was a solid run defender on strong side sweeps, and film study shows him on the red dog rushing the passer many times, and he was effective.
Hal Faverty had a strong rookie campaign at defensive end and linebacker. He hustled, hit, and had a nose for the ball. Faverty is listed as a starter for eleven games, and this is pure folly, but he earned plenty of playing time, and sure helped the improved defense. Ray Bray was born during World War I, and the 35-year-old veteran was a rock at middle guard. Strong, and resilient, he played the run very well, and could put pressure on the passer.
Line coaches Tarzan Taylor and Chuck Drulis rotated a handful of men at the two defensive tackle positions. Afflis began the year at left d-tackle, yet we know he play much more on offense. Rookie Dave Hanner played both d-tackle positions and had an excellent rookie year. His size, and ability to defend the run were a boon to the improved Packer defense. He also could put pressure on the passer. Tom Johnson is the first African-American d-tackle in Green Bay history and he played stalwart football the last eight games of '52. He played much more left d-tackle than right.
Big Bob Dees received playing time at d-tackle after massive Howie Ruetz was injured. John Martinkovic was agile, mobile, and hostile at left defensive end. Excellent against the run, and very effective, and productive as a pass rusher, he also contributed on special teams.
Blocking punts became a Martinkovic specialty. John was involved in one of those scoring plays during the campaign that had to be seen to be believed. Fourth quarter at Wrigley in November Reichardt has his field goal partially blocked...he pigskin bounces down the field to Whizzer White, and ricochet's off his arm towards the Bear end zone. A hustling Martinkovic outfights a couple of Bears to recover the ball for a Packer touchdown in a key victory.
Not sure where Martinkovic would have ranked in the individual sack category, yet no doubt he would have been in the top ten. Lean, combative Abner Wimberly starts at right defensive end, and he is by far the Packers defensive MVP. He shed blocks well, and as such defended the weakside sweep with purpose. Having the play-by-plays of most of the Packer games for the season tells us the following tale; opening day against the Bears, and in the Packers first series on defense Ab takes down Bobby Williams of the Bears to record the first Green Bay "sack" of the season. This would not be the only time that Wimberly recorded a sack early in a game, and he was consistently putting the heat on opposing passers.
Where did he rank in the league in the sack category you ask? Would venture that he finished in the top three right behind Ford, and Norm Willey. He would be the first Packer in history to record double-digit sacks for the season. This is not conjecture but based upon probability since the Packers set a new league standard with 443 yards in sacks.
Take a moment and research how many teams after 1952 through 1969 had more than 443 yards in sacks. You will be impressed!
Whoever was in charge of the Packer defensive scheme could have received the nomination for co-ordinator or line coach of the year. Wimberly truly earned his one and only trip to Los Angeles and the Pro Bowl. Returning to the season—after the blowout loss to Detroit, the Packers put together the four game win streak—their first since 1944.
Green Bay outfought a tough Eagle team 12-10 even with Vic Sears tying the league record of three opponent fumble recoveries in a game. Then the impressive victory over the Bears at Wrigley, and continuing a strong road trip with a win over the contending Giants at the Polo Grounds.
The Green Bay offensive line did not allow a sack in this game, while the Packer pass rush punished Conerly and the Giants to the tune of 52 yards lost while attempting to pass. Standing 6-3 and with destiny, in their fateful hands, the Packers fell apart. The powerful Lions and Rams dismantled them, and San Francisco at Kezar is always a challenge.
Since Billy Grimes continued to be a fine punt return man, and consistent on kickoff returns, you would venture special teams was a Packer strength? Christiansen of Detroit continued to victimize Packers when they punted to him, and Green Bay allowed 25.7 yards on opponent kick-off returns.
Babe Parilli was barely adequate as a punter, while Reichardt struggled with field goal accuracy making just 5 of 20. A breakeven season that gave hope for the future. So many youngsters contributed, thus coach Ronzani had be savoring the start of '53.
Finally, the title of this saga comes from a classic Allman Brothers song "Seven Turns".