Remembering the not-so-golden years of the Green Bay Packers
Children of the late 50's got quite used to the Green Bay Packers being champions in the 60's.
Football seasons ended with titles, including the first two Super Bowls. As kids, we expected nothing less, an era of entitlement that seemed as if it would never end.
It did, with a thud, in 1968.
Vince Lombardi had retired and Phil Bengtsen's first season left the Green and Gold as also-rans for the first time in our conscious lives. It hurt, and it was made worse by the sudden ascension of the Minnesota Vikings. The mediocrity continued until 1972 with the arrival of new head coach Dan Devine and MacArthur Lane. Seeing a Journal/Sentinel retrospective of Lane's life and times this week brought back lots of great memories from the early 70's and plenty of bad ones about the 20 years of bad Packers football that surrounded it.
He (#36) and John Brockington (#42) were the backfield combination that made life miserable for opposing defenses. Devine gave up one of the last remaining vestiges of Lombardi's title teams to land Lane, that being Donnie Anderson, but Lane was an undisputed upgrade. He could block, he could catch and Lord, he could pile up the yards, too. Green Bay went 10-4 in '72 and had to face the Redskins in the opening round of the NFC playoffs.
Washington beat the Pack during the regular season, and would throttle Green Bay in the rematch, putting plenty of defenders "in the box" and daring mediocre QB Scott Hunter to throw. Lane would later say that the Packers were out-coached that afternoon, that the offense should've done more passing to the tight end over the middle but failed to adjust.
Lane was one of Devine's great moves, but his quest to find something better at quarterback led to some poor decisions. Jerry Tagge, Jim Del Gaizo, Jack Concannon and others tried and failed in Hunter's stead before Devine did the deal that would seal his Green Bay fate: the trade for Rams QB John Hadl.
The price tag was way too high for a past-prime signal caller like Hadl (he WAS the conference player of the year in '73 but was showing signs of deterioration), and Devine did himself no favors by pulling the trigger without telling the team's board of directors. He was gone by '75 when Bart Starr became head coach despite limited prior experience. Starr traded Lane upon getting the job, and Lane would play four more years with the Chiefs. Starr would produce but one playoff worthy team before his run came to an end, and the team wouldn't become a post-season fixture until Ron Wolf and Mike Holmgren got to town in the early 90's.
Lane is 71 now (71!) and is living out west with his wife of 40+ years. He's working on antique cars and is also part of the players' lawsuit against the NFL over the after-effects of their years on the field (he tells the Journal/Sentinel he has a radio playing in his head 24/7 from the pounding he took).
It was tough being a Packers fan in those years between Lombardi and Holmgren, to be sure. Playoffs were something other fans got to hope for during that era, with the exception of Starr's 1982 Packers and their predecessors a decade before, led by Lane, Brockington and an erratic Devine who coached his way out of Titletown while hamstringing his successors for years thereafter.