Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Back to 1958

As we await the start of Training Camp 2018 at the end of the quietest time of the football calendar, we are sharing two photos related to the Green Bay Packers’ 1958-59 seasons. Students of the team’s history will recall that the 1958 campaign brought their worst won-loss record ever — one win, 10 losses, one tie. As described by New York Herald-Tribune scribe Red Smith (a Green Bay native): “They overwhelmed one, underwhelmed ten, and whelmed one.” In the photo above, according to a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel caption: “Packers coach Ray (Scooter) McLean (left), with Packers chief scout Jack Vainisi, raises his hand in making the first choice in the 1959 NFL draft in Philadelphia. The Packers chose Randy Duncan of Iowa (Photo: Journal Sentinel files).

The timing of this is a bit confusing when you first think about it. When you dig a bit, you find that the 1959 National Football League draft had its first four rounds held on December 1, 1958, and its final twenty-six rounds on January 21, 1959 (Vince Lombardi was hired one week later on January 28, 1959). Both sessions were held at the Warwick Hotel in Philadelphia. While McLean was head coach for the 1958 season, his contract expired on December 31, 1958 and he resigned days after the conclusion of the season (on December 14,  a 34-20 loss to the Los Angeles Rams at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum). So, McLean was present for the 1959 draft’s first four rounds, but not the final twenty-six. This means that Vince Lombardi inherited McLean’s top draft picks, right?

Well, fortunately for Vince Lombardi, the Packers “chief scout” Jack Vainisi was more than capable — he was arguably the best at his job in the entire NFL at the time. Of the team which Lombardi inherited in 1959, an unprecedented eight players went on to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 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. Almost 10 percent of the players in the Green Bay Packers’ Hall of Fame were drafted by VainisiWhat 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, before seeing the fruits of his hard work achieve the 1961, 1962, 1965, 1966, and 1967 championships.

The second part of this post depicts the Chicago Daily Tribune’s “TV Week” cover for August 9-15, 1958. This was back when the College All-Star Game was held each year, pitting the best of the nation’s colleges against the previous year’s NFL champions. The game that year would feature LB Ray Nitschke from the University of Illinois and his teammates against the Detroit Lions on August 15. The collegians came out on top, 35-19, in front of 70,000 fans at Chicago’s Soldier Field. After a rain-shortened event in 1976, Chicago Tribune Charities had every intention of staging a 1977 game. However, with coaches increasingly unwilling to let their high draft picks play and insurance costs on the rise due to higher player salaries, the Tribune announced on December 21, 1976, that the game would be discontinued.

Sources: Green Bay Packers Media Guide, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, History.com, Google, Wikipedia.

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