By John Turney
Today, in a statement the Green Bay Packers announced the death of John Brockington who played seven seasons for the Packers—
"The Packers family was saddened to hear about the passing of John. One of the great runners of his era, John was an exciting player to watch with his powerful running style. Fans enthusiastically welcomed John back to Lambeau Field over the years, fondly remembering the 1972 division championship as well as the bright spots he provided in the less-successful seasons."
He was 74 and passed away in San Diego, California.
Brockington was the Packers' first-round pick (ninth overall) in the 1971 NFL Draft. His impressive speed (4.39 in the forty) matched with good size, 6-1, 225 pounds made him the target of the Packers.
He promptly won a starting position, gained an NFC-leading 1,105 yards - averaging 5.1 yards a carry - won all the Rookie of the Year Awards and was a consensus first-team All-Pro and was voted to the Pro Bowl.
His rushing yards set an NFL record for rookies and he was, at the time, only one of four players to even gain 1,000 or more yards in their initial season, the others being Cookie Gilchrist, Paul Robinson, and Beattie Feathers.
"He's as fine a back as I've seen", said Vikings coach Bud Grant in 1971, "He makes a lot of yards on his own, bouncing off people."
Bears tough guy defensive end Ed O'Bradovich added, "One man is not going to bring him down. You've got to gang tackle him."
The following season the Brockington-led Packers won the NFC Central Division, going 10-4 and making the playoffs for the first time since 1967 (they would not go again until ten years later). Brockington went to his second Pro Bowl and was a second-team on the Players' All-Pro team (NEA), after gaining over 1,000 yards for the second consecutive season.
Only NFL MVP O.J. Simpson outgained Brockington in rushing yards in 1973 and the NEA named him first-team All-Pro and for the third straight season he was voted to the Pro Bowl.
His 1,144 yards rushing not only led the NFC it also made him the first player in NFL history to rush for over 1,000 yards in each of his first three seasons.
To prevent Brockington from jumping to the rival World Football League the Packers gave Brockington a lucrative contract before the 1974 season, reportedly one that included a $450,000 signing bonus and a $150,000 salary.
Brocking gained 883 yards that season and caught a career-high 43 passes and totaled 1,197 yards from scrimmage - just under the 1,200-yard mark he had in his first three seasons.
However, his coach Dan Devine was fired, and in came Bart Starr and a new coaching staff and things changed for the big back.
His blocking back MacArthur Lane was traded as well and that affected Brockington. That was compounded by stud guard Gale Gillingham sitting out 1975 and other key losses in the offensive line.
The worst change, according to Brocking was the change in offensive philosophy.
He told author Jerry Poling that the offense ran far fewer off-tackle plays, his bread and butter, and was asked to run outside and chose a hole . . . running "38-39" rather than "36-37". He was asked to be an East-West runner rather than a North-South runner, which he was. "I'm a slasher. I go inside and rely on my weight to break tackles," he said earlier in his career.
"Paul Roach", said Big John "was in love with that play (38-39)."
In his last two years and changed he gained just 865 yards, less than in his least productive season prior to 1975. He was cut early in 1977 and finished his NFL career with the Chiefs, actually taking and injured MacArthur Lane's roster spot.
The following August the Chiefs traded him to the Lions for Eddie Payton but Brockington didn't make the team. He was cut two weeks later.
Brockington finished his career as the second-leading ground gainer his the franchise's long history and had 13 100-yard rushing games, though just one after 1974. Even so, he still ranks fourth on the Green Bay Packers’ career rushing list.
He was inducted into the Packer Hall of Fame in 1984. Additionally, he was a two-time winner of the NEA Third Down Trophy given to NFL team MVPs - 1971 and 1973.
He'd been part of a successful run at Ohio State, setting then team records for rushing attempts (261), rushing yards (1,142) and rushing touchdowns (17) and one consensus national championship (1968) are part of two more (1969-Matthews Grid Ratings, 1970 co-champions-National Football Foundation). He also ran the ball 42 times in one game versus Northwestern also a team record (since broken).
Brockington made the Ohio State’s All-Century team for the 20th century and was inducted into the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame.
He was part of a Rose Bowl-winning team in 1968, beating USC on New Year's Day, 1969, and played in another in January 1971, losing to Stanford.
He was born in Brooklyn, New York, in the Canarsie neighborhood and played football and Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn's East New York neighborhood. As a senior he led his school to the city championship, ran for over 1,000 yards and was All-City in 1965 and made Scholastic Magazine's High School 95-man All-American team.
Collegiate scouts took notice. His coach Moe Finkelstein convinced Woody Hayes to take a look and Brockington chose Ohio State because they had a tremendous running game and he slashed his way into the history books.
Rest in peace.