Lambeau Field - where so many Packers teams have won - and lost. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports photograph

The Packers countdown continues: Bill Forester and Gale Gillingham


With 68 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.  

Because I’ve been so busy with work, I missed yesterday’s posting of #69, so today we focus on both #69 and #68 …

On Thursday, we took a look at Dick Wildung, one of the many players who have served their country while also playing football. He wore Packers #70.

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.

Today, we take a look at #69 Bill Forester and #68 Gale Gillingham.

 

Bill Forester #69

Forester wore #69 with the Packers from 1953 through 58 and then switched to #71 through the rest of his career, which continued until 1963. One of the linebackers who have thrived in Green Bay was a good player before defensive coordinator Phil Bengston arrived with Vince Lombardi, but got only better when the Packers started their dynasty run in the early 1960s.

Here’s what John Maxymuk says about Forester in his book “Packers by the Numbers: Jersey Numbers and the Players Who Wore Them:”

Captain of the defense, Bill “Bubba” Forester’s career came alive when Lombardi and his defensive coach Phil Bengston arrived in 1959. During that year the coaches evaluated Bubba as, “A big strong boy who has done very well this year. At times his tackling has been poor … Not as good on passes as we would like to have. Should improve next year.”

Forester was the left outside linebacker, normal, but with the Packers’ four-man linebacking rotation, Bubba would move into the middle when Ray Nitschke came in to spell Tom Bettis. Bubba had good size and was a quick, smart, and a leader.

He would make the Pro Bowl from 1959 through 1962 and be named All Pro 1960 through 1963. Lombardi would say this about him in 1963: “There is no one on this club who is more quiet and self contained … He is highly intelligent and steady on and off the file and his leadership is one of action rather than words. There is an aura of efficiency about him that the others respect and rise to.”

Was it coaching?

Bengston’s defense allowed Bill Forester to shine in the second half of his career, and Bubba got a great deal of recognition in the early 1960s. He is not much remembered these days because hi was replaced in 1964 by an even better linebacker, Dave Robinson, and Robinson’s Packers achieved the three-peat that Forester’s team fell just short of by sling the 1960 title game and by not beating the Bears in 1963.

Bill Quinlan, who played defensive end in front of Forester, called him, “the smartest linebacker I ever knew.”

Bubba never missed a game in 11 years in Green Bay and was inducted into the Packer Hall of Fame in 1974.

 

Here are Forester’s career statistics:


 

Here is a list of all players since 1950 to wear #69

  From To AV
Bill Bain 1975 1975 3
David Bakhtiari 2013 2013 9
Jeff Blackshear 2002 2002 0
Chris Campbell 2011 2011 0
Bill Cherry 1986 1987 2
Bill Forester 1953 1958 0
Bob Gruber 1987 1987 0
Leotis Harris 1978 1983 26
Phillip Merling 2012 2012 0
Dave Stephenson 1952 1952 0

 

 

Gale Gillingham #68

Gosh, there have been some really good players to wear #68 for the Packers … consider guys like Greg Koch – a Packers Hall-of-Famer – and Mike Wahle? Both of these guys wouldn’t be bad to start an offensive line around.

But it’s Gale Gillingham, another inductee into the Packers Hall of Fame, who is highlighted because, like Jerry Kramer, he epitomizes excellence at the position.

Here’s How Maxymuk describes Gillingham:

Cowboy Hall of Fame defensive tackle Bob Lilly called Gale Gillingham the second toughest offensive lineman he ever faced. All Pro linebacker Bill bergey said, “When you’re playing football and you’re concentrating and you get hit, it never hurts. When Gillingham hit me, it hurt,” Both Bart Starr and Hawg Hanner claimed he was the best lineman they ever had on the Packers in their time.

Those linemen inferior to Gillingham would include Hall of Famers Forest Gregg and Jim Ringo, All Pro pulling guards Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston, and Pro Bowler Bob Skoronski.

Gillingham was an immensely strong 6-2, 265-pound drive-blocker supreme.

He also had an amazing speed and agility for such a big man so that he would pull out on the Packer sweep just as well as Kramer and Thurston. He was a good teammate and a fierce competitor who fit right in as a rookie in 1966, and he was groomed to replace the aging Fuzzy Thurston by the ultimate team player, Fuzzy Thurston himself.

“Everybody was helpful in those days. It was kind of like family, Gillingham would comment years later.

Gilly would be selected as an All Pro five times and would make the Pro Bowl in each of those seasons, too. He was a second-team All Pro in still another year. He, of course, played in the first two Super Bowls before the team began to decline. Unfortunately, the only other year the Packers made the playoffs was in 1972, and Gilly was out all year with an injury.

In an imbecilic and incompetent move, Coach Dan Devine asked the best guard in the league to move to defensive tackle that year in training camp, because starter Mike McCoy was hurt. Learning a new position, team player Gillingham blew out his knees and was lost for the year. Maybe he would have gotten hurt, anyway, but Gilly always attributed the injury to the position shift.

He came back and had two more All Pro years in 1973 and 1974, but he was not happy under Devine. When Bart Starr became coach in 1975, Gale surveyed the scene and sat out the season. His assessment was that the inexperienced Starr did not know how to be a head coach at that time, and that the assistants he hired were terrible. Gillingham was a prescient and perceptive observer. When the Packers refused to trade him to another team, Gilly returned in 1976 for one final year, but then retired for good, still unhappy with the coaching staff. He was still able to play, but had no desire to go on losing.

Gillingham was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1982.

 

Here are Gillingham’s career stats:


Here is a list of all players since 1950 to wear #68

From To AV
Jaymes Brooks 2012 2012  
Gary Brown 1996 1996 3
John Dittrich 1959 1959 0
Breno Giacomini 2008 2008 0
Gale Gillingham 1966 1976 49
Greg Koch 1977 1985 36
Ed Konopasek 1987 1987 2
Alex Neutz 2012 2012  
Caleb Schlauderaff 2011 2011  
Joe Sims 1992 1995 14
Len Szafaryn 1953 1956 0
Mike Wahle 1998 2004 35
Chris White 2005 2005 0
Blaise Winter 1988 1990 9

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Tags: Bill Forester Gale Gillingham Green Bay Packers