In this political season that so closely resembles 1964, I was browsing some headlines from 52 years ago and came across this. In the weeks in-between the Republican and Democratic conventions, the search for the bodies of the three murdered/martyred civil rights was ongoing while LBJ and company were cooking up the Tonkin Gulf incident that would convince Congress to give the administration unlimited funding for a no-win war as the Chinese and Soviets threatened intervention in Vietnam. And Goldwater seemed every bit as whacked out as Trump, though I would come to admire him, to an extent, as a senator in later years for his willingness to buck the party line. The world and the country seemed to be teetering on chaos. But out of all of this, what did I come across? Look closely, scanning to page two, take a look, lost Packer tickets! All I can think of is, did they ever get them back?
Ah, Marlon Brando’s lament from On The Waterfront. It brings to mind those God awful Packer teams of the 70s and 80s. To hear people talk about them, you’d think that they never won a game. But in reality, several of them were contenders, though sometimes for only a few games into the season. In the 24 years 1968 to 1991, the years between Vince Lombardi and Mike Holmgren/Ron Wolf, the Green Bay Packers posted 5 winning seasons, 4 breakeven and 15 losers with 2 playoff appearances. Within that dismal record, how many of those 24 clubs actually contended? Here’s the breakdown:
Phil Bengtson 1968-70 W-L 20-21-1
1968 – 6-7-1 – Despite the losing record, Bengtson’s first team finished only a game and a half out of first place behind the 8-6 Minnesota Vikings and were in contention until the close of the next to last game of the season.
1969 – 8-6-0 – The Vikings had become a powerhouse by 69, but the Pack hung tough, battling until a week nine loss to Minnesota dropped them to 5-4 and three games out of first place. Even so, they held together and finished with a respectable winning record.
1970 – 6-8-0 – After an ugly 40-0 opening loss to the Lions, Bengtson’s last club battled back pushing their record to 4-2 including an upset win over the Vikings. But the air went out of the tires the second half of the season as the Pack stumbled to a 2-6 record the rest of the way, prompting Bengtston to resign before the executive committee could fire him.
Dan Devine W-L 25-28-4
1971 – 4-8-2 – Rookie college coach Devine fielded a mixed bag of vets and rookies who never gelled. A 2-1 start gave brief hope, but the team sputtered 2-7-2 from there, never really contending, though they weren’t mathematically eliminated until late in the season.
1972 – 10-4-0 Central Division Title Lost in first round of playoffs. This club was never out of first place all season long. The only things that kept them from a serious run at the Super Bowl were an experienced quarterback and a wide receiver. Well, that’s a lot I suppose.
1973 – 5-7-2 – After five weeks Devin’s club was 2-1-2 with a defense that had given up only 60 points, but the offense was sputtering. The wheels came off in week six when All Pro cornerback Willie Buchanon broke his leg and the offensive line collapsed, giving up a record two safeties to the Rams Fred Dryer, who would find fame as TV’s Hunter. During a midseason stretch, the Packer offense resembled something out of the 1920s, barely topping a hundred yards offense in three consecutive games. Somehow they pulled themselves together enough to go 3-3 over the last six weeks, but this debacle would prove Devine’s undoing.
1974 – 6-8-0 – A 3-2 start that included an upset win over the Rams had hopes high, but a pair of close losses to division rival Bears and Lions and a blowout loss to Washington dropped them to 3-5. This was the year of the legendary Lawrence Welk Ah one and a two and a one, two, three trade for John Hadl at the trading deadline. When Hadl finally took the field, Devine looked like a genius as the Packers reeled off three straight wins including one over the division leading Vikings put the Pack back at 6-5 and only one game out of first place. But as usual, things went wrong with an 8 fumble performance on a wet field in Philadelphia that sent the team into a nosedive that ended at 6-8 with some of the players threatening to boycott the season closer in an attempt to force Devine out. Not to worry. Devine had already accepted the head coaching position at Notre Dame before the last game. He would go on to win a National College Championship in 1977 with Joe Montana at quarterback. The Packers would just go on losing.
Bart Starr W-L 53-77-2
1975 – 4-10-0 – This pitiful club started out 1-8. Nuff said.
1976 – 5-9-0 – With new quarterback Lynn Dickey in the fold, the Packers started 4-5 and were looking to make a run at respectability, if not the playoffs, when Dickey separated his shoulder, sending the team into yet another tailspin.
1977 – 4-10-0 – This bunch was beyond bad. They averaged nine points a game offense. Really, I’m not kidding. Dickey broke his leg in game nine, putting him out of action for two years. Unbelievable.
1978 – 8-7-1 Tied for first in the Central Division, lost on tie breakers – After roaring out of the gate at 6-1 with rookie catching sensation James Lofton, the rest of the league caught on to how to stop second year quarterback David Whitehurst, turning him inside out. They went 2-6-1 the rest of the way, but still managed a first place tie, losing the division because of a 0-1-1 record versus the Vikings.
1979 – 5-11-0 – Ugly.
1980 – 5-10-1 – After 12 weeks, the Packers were 5-6-1 and contending for a wild card playoff berth. And, guess what? The wheels came off. The worst of it was a 61-7 loss to the Bears.
1981 – 8-8-0 – After a 2-6 start, everything began to click. Going into the season closer, the Packers were 8-7 needing only a win over the Jets to earn a wild card slot. Final score Jets 28 Packers 3.
1982 – 5-3-1 3rd best in NFC during strike shortened season, won first round playoff game, lost in second round – Starr’s best team was 2-0 when the players went out on strike. After they came back, they were 3-3-1, but good enough to earn a home game in the first round of the playoffs where they creamed the Cardinals 41-16. They gave the Cowboys a merry ride in Dallas the next week, battling to the end in a high scoring shootout before going under 37-26. Hopes were high for the next season.
1983 – 8-8-0 – Going into the season closer with an 8-7 mark, the Packers needed only a win over Chicago to earn a wild card berth. Sound familiar? You should be able to figure out what happened next. Bears 23 Packers 21. Starr was fired after the game.
Forrest Gregg W-L 25-37-1
1984 – 8-8-0 – Gregg brought his tough guy act home to Green Bay after coaching the Bengals to the Super Bowl only three years earlier. No one was buying it. A 1-7 start put the Pack in last place. Though they stormed to a 7-1 finish and second place in the Central Division, they never contended.
1985 – 8-8-0 – How did that old Herman’s Hermits song go – Second verse, same as the first? A 3-6 start coupled with a 5-2 finish, second place, never contended.
1986 – 4-12-0 – Gregg cleaned house in the off season. Things were bad. Three of his players had been accused of sexual misconduct, two were tried and one convicted in three separate incidents. On the field, defensive end Charles Martin used Bears quarterback Jim McMahon for a pile driver, attempting to plant him head first into the turf. Thuggery on and off the field. This team was an embarrassment in every way possible.
1987 – 5-9-1 – Another strike shortened season. Three games were played with replacement players. They went 2-1, the allegedly “real” Packers went 3-8-1. Gregg left town for his alma mater SMU, whose football program had been given the death penalty for NCAA violations. He never turned them around either.
Lindy Infante 24-40-0
1988 – 4-12-0 – Ugly
1989 – 10-6-0 Tied for first in the Central Division, lost on tie breakers – This was the year of the Majic Man and pass rushing linebacker Two Gun Tim Harris. It ranked right up there with the 72 squad for most fun during the desert years. The team finished in a first place tie with the Vikings, no, not a again, and, wait for it, lost the division on tie breakers. The following year the NFL expanded to a three team wild card playoff system, which if it had been in place in 89, would have let the Packers into the tournament. And these guys were giant killers. It’s hard telling how far they could have gone.
1990 – 6-10-0 – Majic held out for all of training camp and preseason and the team got off to a slow start. Just as he was playing himself back into form, he suffered a career crippling rotator cuff injury to his passing arm. The team eked out another win to push it to 6-5 before, guess what, the wheels came off, sorry, there are only so many clichéd metaphors we can use here, and the team stumbled out of the season with a five game losing streak. It should be noted that with the expanded wild card setup, an 8-8 mark would have been good enough to make the playoffs.
1991 – 4-12-0 – Yet another season that can only be described as butt ugly. Majkowski’s arm was shot and so was Infante’s career in Green Bay. A fellow named Ron Wolf was hired as general manager with a month left in the season. He was not impressed with what he saw and sent Infante packing.
Final Tally: W-L 147-203-8 winning, or rather losing percentage of 42%
So there you have it Packer fans, in 24 years, eleven teams never pretended to be a contender for even a month. Seven of this worst of the worst lost 10 or more games. Two teams, 70 and 73, contended till about midseason, four others, 69, 74, 80 and 90, made it about two thirds of the way through before they collapsed and seven actually got to the end of the season, or near it, still in the running in 68, 72, 78, 81, 82, 83 and 89.