With 63 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 63 days we focus on the number that represents the days remaining … today its number 63.
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, like it was with #66 a couple of days ago, and with #64 yesterday, is another milestone day.
We could look to a couple of players who have worn today’s number … Scott Wells, for one. He wore the number from 2004 to 2011 and helped the team to a Super Bowl in 2010. Seen by many as too small in this day and age of giant linemen, Wells brought consistency, toughness and technique to a new level for the Packers. He anchored a line that was criticized by many and praised by others for their efforts with both Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. Wells was a good player for several years and deserves to be part of this discussion.
How about Adam Timmerman? He was the right guard who was with the team in the mid-1990s for their Super Bowl run, but left in free agency after the 1998 season.
But of all the players who have worn the number, we once again have to reach back into the 1960s to find the player who was the most colorful and the most valuable to the team on which they played.
With Ron Skoronski to his left, and Jim Ringo, Jerry Kramer and Forrest Gregg to his right, Fuzzy Thurston was a member of a unit that for 10-plus years was the elite of the league and helped to usher in one of the most iconic plays of the past 50 years – the Green Bay Sweep.
If there’s a player who epitomized toughness, strength and blue collar ethics for the Packers during that era, it was Thurston.
John Maxymuk, the author of “Packers by the Numbers: Jersey Numbers and the Players Who Wore them,” had this to say about the man:
Fred Thurston had been called “Fuzzy” since he was a baby when a sister nicknamed him that because of his dark, fuzzy locks. His father died of a heart attack when Fuzzy was five, so he was one of seven children raised by a single mother in Altoona, Wisconsin.
Altoona High School did not have a football team then, but Fuzzy earned a basketball scholarship to Valparaiso University. As his body filled out in college, he joined the football team and was drafted in the fifth round by the Eagles in 1956. He bounced around the league a bit, not sticking with anyone until he joined Baltimore in 1958, and he was a backup guard on the Colts team that beat the Giants in the first sudden death overtime title game in NFL history – most often known as the greatest game ever played.
The offensive coach of the Giants was Vince Lombardi.
When Lombardi took over the Packers the next year one of his first moves was to trade a backup linebacker to the Colts for Thurston. Fuzzy was there for all nine of Vince’s years coaching Green Bay. Fuzzy was a star at guard for Lombardi. He was first-team All Pro twice and second team three times, although he never went to a Pro Bowl.
Coboys’ Hall of Fame defensive tackle Bob Lilly ranked him as one of the 10 toughest linemen he ever faced. Guards were featured performers in Lombardi’s offense, and Fuzzy frequently said, “There are two good reasons the Packers are world champions. Jerry Kramer is one of them, and you’re looking at the other one.”
Fuzzy also was one of the freest spirits on a very free-spirited team, often joking around and singing for the rest of the team. Lombardi said of him, “You need an intelligent clown on a pro ball club and Fuzzy is also that. He has a talent for rhyming and when he bellows out calypso accounts of his heroics, he doesn’t need a mic.”
In his first year with Green Bay, though, the coaches evaluated him as, “Third guard type. Not good pulling guard for our type of offense. I believe we can improve this spot.Not quite NFL caliber. We can’t win with Fred.”
Four years later, Lombardi himself was writing, “He’s not quite as good a pulling guard as Jerry Kramer, but he’s a good short-trap blocker and he’s got enough quickness, size, strength, and determination so that when he and Jerry come out swinging around that corner together like a pair of matched Percherons, you can see that defensive man’s eyeballs pop. Fuzzy’s pass-protection blocking, though, is his big card, and he is as good as anyone in the league.”
The Lombardi Power Sweep was the cornerstone of the offense, and it was led by two pulling guards. Lombardi later wrote that every team has a lead play that the opponent knows they must stop, and that for the Packers it was the sweep. “There is nothing spectacular about it, it’s just a yard-gainer. But on that sideline when the sweep starts to develop, you can hear those linebackers and defensive backs yelling, ‘sweep! sweep!’”
So many times on television or in newspaper photographs the day after the game, what everyone would see were Kramer and Thurston clearing a path for Taylor or Hornung to make good gains. The play made them as famous as any offensive lineman could hope for. Lombardi was a guard in his playing days and fittingly his offense made his guards stars.
Like the power sweep and like the Packers, Fuzzy fell on hard times in later years. He lost his larynx to cancer and his chain of 11 Left Guard restaurants across Wisconsin went bankrupt in the early 1980s, causing him to lose his house and many prized possessions.
Beyond that, there was the same realization that all former athletes must come to: That their fame departed with their youth.
As Fuzzy once put it to his old partner Jerry Kramer, “Nobody wants to be Fuzzy anymore.”
To his credit, Fuzzy moved on and started anew. He has run a local taproom in Green Bay for several years, and it is a shrine to the Packers past and present. He has kept himself active with the Packer alumni group and with Packer charities and of course rooting for the Packers every Sunday. Through it all, Fuzzy has kept a positive attitude and demonstrated that he learned at least one very valuable lesson from Lombardi – never quit.
Everyone may not want to be Fuzzy anymore, but for those of us who have watched the Packers for 50-plus years, we understand that his iconic image as part of the Power Sweep on those hardened and muddy fields will live forever in Packers and NFL lore.
The times were simpler then and game not as big, but if there was a bigger man with a bigger heart than Fuzzy who has played the game, I’m not too sure who it could be.
The following are all the players who have worn #63 for the Packers over the past 50 years: