70 days to football: Dick Wildung

With 7o days left until the start of the NFL season, our countdown to the big day continues. Thursday, Sept. 4, is the day when the Green Bay Packers travel to Seattle to take on the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks.  Over the  course of the next 70 days we focus on the number that represents the days remaining … today its number 70.

Yesterday, we took a look at Santana Dotson, the defensive lineman who was known as the missing piece of the puzzle that helped push the Packers over the top as a championship team in the mid-1990s. He wore Packers #71.

For an in-depth look at every number and the players who wore them, we highly recommend “Packers by the Numbers: Jersey Numbers and the Players Who Wore Them,” by John Maxymuk.

If there’s one number among all those worn in the past by Packers players, #70 might be the least well-known.

Think about it, we all know who wore numbers 4, 15, 66, and 92, but tell me quickly any player who has worn #70.

OK, we can point to T.J. Lang who is the current player wearing the number. Lang is headed into his sixth season with the Packers, helping to anchor the right side of an offensive line that has been both good and bad. Lang made the switch from the left side last season, so the jury is still out on him, though he has been a consistent warrior. Since becoming a starter in 2011, he’s missed only one game.

But can you name any others?

No, I didn’t think so. You might remember when Joe Andruzzi stopped by for a cup of coffee in 1998 and 99 and then went on to star with the New England Patriots during their successful run in the early 2000s.

But who else has worn the number?

Well, there was Bob BarberDon King (no, not THAT Don King)and Paul Rudzinskialong with Tyson Walter Charles Hope and Keith Ueckeramong others who wore #70.

But today, we take a look, via John Maxymuk’s book at Dick Wildung.

Wildung was one of many players who were eligible to play professional football, but were not only drafted by NFL teams, but also by Uncle Sam in the 1940s. The war effort was well under way when Wildung became eligible for the NFL and war drafts in 1943 … of course, we know which draft nabbed Wildung and so many others during that time.

Here’s how Maxymuk describes Wildung:

Dick Wildung was drafted number one by two entities in 1943: the Packers and Uncle Sam. Green Bay would have to wait. Wildung was a two-time All-American tackle at the University of Minnesota. The Golden Gophers were undefeated National Champions in 1940 and 1941 and lost only one game in 1942 – to their former coach Bernie Bierman’s Iowa Pre-Flight School team. Also on the Minnesota team was Bruce Smith, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1941, and would join the Packers in 1945, a year before Wildung. Dick finished seventh in the Heisman voting in 1942, the highest of any lineman that year, and then went into the Navy for the duration of World War II.

After the war, Wildung joined the Packers in 1946. In his seven-year career, Dick played mostly offensive and defensive tackle, but he also spent some time at guard. Two times he made All Pro, one was named a second team All Pro, and played in one Pro Bowl. He took off the 1952 season to take care of some personal business concerns, but returned for a final season in 1953. When Gene Ronzani was fired as coach that year, Wildung along with teammate Bob Forte could say the they had the unique distinction of being present for the demise of the only two coaches that the Packers had ever had.

Wildung had the bad luck to enlist with the Packers just as the team began to crumble under Lambeau. Curly did not weather the 1940s well. The Packers lost a lot of talent to the war effort and then had to compete with teams from a new league who were on steadier financial footing than Green Bay. Besides these difficulties, Lambeau had not stayed current: the Packers and Steelers were the only teams not running the T formation after the war. The Packers would convert before Pittsburgh, but even then Lambeau was no expert at it. The best teams that Wildung played for were the first two. The Packers finished 6-5 in 1946 and 6-5-1 in 1947. Through it all, however, Wildung was one bright light, and he would be elected to the Packers Hall of Fame in 1973.

Dick Wildung was one of several players drafted by the Packers during World War II who would fulfill their armed services commitments before continuing their football careers.

Of the players already under contract to Green Bay when the war started, 32 missed at least one year in the service of our country. Howard “Smiley” Johnson spent three years in the Marines and was killed in action at Iwo Jima, the only Packer to be killed in the war. Smiley was a very well liked backup guard who had gotten married just a month before enlisting in the Marines.

In the first game after 9/11, in 2001, the sight of Air Force Reservist Chris Gizzi leading the team on the field wearing his Packer gear and waving the Stars and Stripes was a stirring moment that makes one reflect back on so many players like Dick Wildung – and especially Smiley Johnson – who came through in the clutch for this nation.

 

Here is the complete list of all the players who have worn #70 since 1950, as presented by Pro Football Reference:

  From To AV
Joe Andruzzi 1998 1999 2
Bob Barber 1976 1979 15
Leon Crenshaw 1968 1968 3
Steve Dowden 1952 1952 0
Charles Hope 1994 1994 1
Art Hunter 1954 1954 0
Don King 1956 1956 0
Adrian Klemm 2005 2005 4
T.J. Lang 2009 2013 33
Bud Marshall 1965 1965 4
Ernie McMillan 1975 1975 2
Rich Moore 1969 1970 10
Lee Nystrom 1974 1974 2
Paul Rudzinski 1980 1980 1
Ron Sams 1983 1983 0
Keith Uecker 1984 1991 18
Tyson Walter 2006 2006 0
Dick Wildung 1953 1953 0

 

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