With 53 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 53 days we focus on the number that represents the days remaining … today it’s number 53.
But there have been some decent players who have donned the number for the green and gold. Consider that the number has been worn by Mike Douglass and George Koonce. Both of those guys were considered undersized, but spent the good part of their careers as productive players who tended to consistently make big plays.
But with today’s number we pay tribute to a player who wore the number the longest, from 1968 to 1977 – Fred Carr.
John Maxymuk, the author of “Packers by the Numbers: Jersey Numbers and the Players Who Wore them,” focuses on Carr in the chapter of his book that he appropriately titled “End of the dynasty.”
Let’s take a look at what he has to say about Fred Carr:
Although Vince Lombardi was still the general manager, 1968 began the short Phil Bengston era in Green Bay as Lombardi’s longtime loyal assistant became head coach of the team. Fred Carr was his first draft choice and Phil felt, “Carr had the potential to play defensive end, linebacker, tight end, or safety. Getting him was like drawing the wild card in poker.”
And he was right: Carr had an amazing amount of talent and was a very good player for 10 years in Green Bay. The sad thing was he could have been even better and played even longer if the team had not deteriorated around him.
At the University of Texas-El Paso, he was an All-American linebacker and a member of the UTEP basketball team. He came to the Packers just as they were coming off their third consecutive world championship year; some players just have miserable timing. Ten years earlier, linebacker Wayne Walker joined the World Champion Lions in 1958 and he would make All Pro and Pro Bowl teams during his career, but would never play in a Super Bowl. Likewise, future All Pro Carr was coming in just as the 1960s dynasty was ending. If the team had had a few more replacements like Fred, perhaps things would have been different for Phil Bengston and the Packers in the 1970s.
As the core of the Packers aged each year, more stars needed replacing. Too often, lesser players took their place. In 1967, former number-one draft choices Donny Anderson and Jim Grabowski took their expected places at halfback and fullback. Anderson was a good, solid ballplayer, but did not have the touchdown-making flair that Hornung did; Grabowski showed promise but kept getting injured so he would never approach the level of Jim Taylor. In a rare positive development, another former number-one pick, Gale Gillingham, took over for the beloved Fuzzy Thurston in 1967 and was better than the original. In 1968 the defense was still fourth in points allowed, but the declining offense started to slip further, scoring 50 fewer points. It didn’t help that Bart Starr missed half the year due to injuries. Making it even tougher to score was the lack of a reliable kicker. Don Chandler left and was replaced by Jerry Kramer, Chuck Mercein and Mike Mercer. Better field goal kicking than the 13 of 29 that trio managed could have put the Packers in the playoffs.
The 1970 season truly spelled the end of the dynasty. The year was bookended by shutout losses to the Lions – 40-0 at home and 20-0 on the road. Willie Davis and Henry Jordan retired and were replaced by Clarence Williams and number-one pick Mike McCoy.
Lee Roy Caffey and Herb Adderley were traded and effectively replaced by Carr and rookie Ken Ellis. Dave Robinson suffered an injury and was replaced by rookie Jim Carter. The defense dropped to 19th of 26 teams in points allowed. Offensively, things continued to deteriorate as the team fell to 24th in points scored. Marv Fleming left for Miami and was replaced by has-been John Hilton and never-was Rich McGeorge. Likewise, Boyd Dowler retired to be replaced by has-been Jack Clancy and never-was John Spilis. The effects of age severely hampered the play of Bart Starr, Forrest Gregg, Ray Nitschke, Willie Wood, and Bob Jeter. It was all too much change at once; time had caught up to the Packers.
The 6-5, 235-pound Carr didn’t break into the starting lineup immediately because linebacker was one position that was well-stocked. The Packers experimented with him at defensive end and tight end, but found him best suited to play linebacker with skills similar to All Pro Dave Robinson. Fred was big, strong, and fast, and had a penchant for making big plays. He was All Pro in 1975 and made second team All Pro in four other seasons. He played in three Pro Bowls and was Most Valuable Lineman for the game played in 1971.
Carr’s career endd as suddenly and as badly as the team’s glory years. Carr hurt his knee and told trainer Dom Gentile that he thought he was finished. Gentile claimed that it was only a cyst that needed draining and perhaps minor surgery. Much acrimony between Carr and the team followed. Eventually he was cut and then hired an attorney to file a grievance, saying that he was injured and was owed money. Ultuimtely there was a settlement for an undisclosed amount that Gentile later reported as being $10,000, and Fred never played again in the NFL.
He was inducted into the Packer Hall of Fame in 1983.
Here is the list of all Packers players who have worn #53 over the past 50 years: