61 days to Packers football: Picking from winners' scrapheaps

With 61 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 61 days we focus on the number that represents the days remaining … today its number 61.

Yesterday, we took a look at none other than Russ Letlow, who at #62 was the first-ever draft pick by the Green Bay Packers. He was also Curly Lambeau‘s first selection in the draft – and one of his best picks.

packersbythe#sToday we look at #61.

When considering that there have been 18 players to wear the number, the only two that are somewhat familiar to me are Hank Bullough, who spent time as a coach for the Packers, and Brett Goode, the Packers current long snapper.

John Maxymuk, the author of “Packers by the Numbers: Jersey Numbers and the Players Who Wore them,” focuses his chapter on #61 on Bruce Van Dyke because he talks about dynasties and how the league’s basement-dwellers many times seek out players who have had success with teams from winning programs.

Here’s what he had to say about Van Dyke:

In the NFL, cellar-dwellers often try to get fat on the scraps left by the top teams. In the 1960s glory years of the Packers, this was one reason that Vince Lombardi was such a successful trader.

His merchandise was overvalued by virtue of the overall success of his team. Just because a player was not good enough to make the Packers didn’t mean he was a bad player, because the Packers were the best in the league.

Branch Ricky operated from the same advantage with the St. Louis Cardinals and Brooklyn Dodgers baseball teams for years.

The Steelers were a frequent customer of the Packers’ bargain bin in the 1960s. They would surrender high draft picks to acquire talent that was either on the downside, like Tom Bettis, or that never really had an upside, like Urban Henry, Gene Breen, Ed Holler, Dick Arndt, Ron Smith, Kent Nix, Dick Capp, Lloyd Voss, and Gary Jeter.

The last two nobodies were swapped for a number one pick in 1967. The Steelers even signed Lombardi’s line coach, Bill Austin, as their head coach in 1966, but it did them no good since they remained in the lower regions of the league.

One sign that the Packers dynasty was over was when this situation was reversed, and the Packers became the bottom-feeders in the 1970s. One sign of changing times was the Steelers’ obtaining young and talented defensive back John Rowser from Green Bay for a spent tight end, John Hilton, in 1970.

The final nail in the coffin, though, was Dan Devine’s giving up a third-round draft pick for Bruce Van Dyke in 1974. Van Dyke had played defensive tackle and was team captain for Devine at the University of Missouri, a decade before, and the coach even had advised him at that time not to try out for the pros. Now he was picking him up for one last go-round.

Van Dyke was originally drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1966 and spent a year there before he was packaged with former Packer fullback Earl Gros and sent to Pittsburgh for end Gary Ballman. Bruce was nicknamed “Moose” and had a very good seven years in Pittsburgh, twice becoming All Pro and going to the Pro Bowl. He said of himself, “I believe in the mental aspect of the game. I’m from the old school … I’m not extremely fast or extremely strong.”

Unfortunately for Moose, the Steelers won the first of their four Super Bowl titles in 1974, the year they traded him to the Packers for a third-round pick. Moose sat out the season with a knee injury before playing out the string in 1975 and 1976. The Packers’ dynasty was long past, and the Steelers had just begun their run.

Van Dyke wasn’t the only mistake made by Packers management through the years when trying to improve themselves through trades that brought in players past their prime.

You might remember John Hadl, the quarterback for whom the Packers mortgaged their future back in the early 1970s. That trade probably did more damage to the team than any in franchise history – all in the name of an attempt to win immediately.

The following are all the players since 1950 to wear #61 for the Green Bay Packers:

From To AV
Charlie Ane 1981 1981 1
Jerry Boyarsky 1986 1989 6
Dave Bradley 1969 1971 7
Gene Breen 1964 1964 3
Hank Bullough 1958 1958 0
Scott Curry 1999 1999 0
Dave Drechsler 1983 1984 10
Brett Goode 2008 2013 5
John McGarry 1987 1987 1
Herb McMath 1977 1977 2
Tom Neville 1992 1992 1
Steve Ruzich 1952 1954 0
Dave Simmons 1979 1979 3
Jerry Smith 1956 1956 0
Jack Spinks 1955 1956 0
Nelson Toburen 1961 1962 8
Bruce Van Dyke 1974 1976 9
Blake Wingle 1985 1985 0

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