With 46 days left until the start of the NFL season, our countdown to the big day continues.
Over the course of the next 46 days we focus on the number that represents the days remaining … and for today that number is 46.
Today we focus in on #46
If you’re like John Maxymuk, the author of “Packers by the Numbers: Jersey Numbers and the Players Who Wore them,” you understand that Both Ellis were deserving of the Packers Hall of Fame, but when we take a look at #46, it’s difficult to think of single player who has worn that number. As a matter of fact, if you remember guys like Rodney Artmore, Gary Richard, or Anthony Harrison, you’ve got a better memory than me.
That’s why we defer once again to Maxymuk and his book for a look at one of those players from the powerhouse teams of the 1930s who played during an era that ushered in the modern era of football.
Today we focus in on a player who isn’t on our list below because he played before 1950 – Verne Lewellen.
Maxymuk’s chapter on #46 is called “Triple Threat.” Here is what he hd to say about Lewellen:
Were it not for an arm injury, Verne Lewellen might have become star pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates and never have come to Green Bay. How different Packers history would have been had that occurred. Lewellen was one of the most intelligent, talented, and versatile men ever to work for the Pack, and his influence was felt on the entire team for decades, both on and off the field.
At Lincoln High School in Nebraska, Lewellen played on two unbeaten football teams, including the 1918 state champions, starred on the 1920 state basketball champions, and led his school to two track championships. Verne graduated with a law degree from the University of Nebraska. While there, he displayed enough pitching talent to interest the Pittsburgh Pirates, and captained the football team that delivered the only two defeats Knute Rockne’s “Four Horsemen” would suffer in their three years together. One of the key elements of Nebraska’s victories over Notre Dame in 1922 and 1923 was Lewellen’s running, passing, punting, and defensive work. One of the Four Horsemen, Jim Crowley, recommended the skilled Lewellen to his old high school coach in Green Bay, Curly Lambeau. Curly signed Verne in 1924, and the Nebraskan would spend nine years as a Packer, pacing the team in scoring five times.
For his part, Lewellen, once said that he found Green Bay attractive because it was the “city with the college spirit.” He was not disappointed and Green Bay was not disappointed with him. Verne could do everything well on the football field. At the halfback position, the 6-1, 180-pound Lewellen was one of the best runners in the league and was also a skilled pass receiver in addition to being adept at throwing the fat football of the day. On defense he was a sure-tackling defensive back. Above all, he was known as the finest punter of his time.
In the community, he was so popular that he was elected District Attorney for Brown County as a Republican in 1928 and was re-elected in 1930. Teammate Lavvie Dilweg ran in the Democrat primary for the same office in 1928, but was defeated, so the team was spared potential locker room campaigning for a Verne v. LaVern match during the 1928 season.
There are virtually no official statistics for the period that Lewellen played, but unofficial press counts provide a good picture of Lewellen’s talents. In more than 100 games, Verne ran the ball 708 times for 2,410 yards and 37 touchdowns. He caught 84 passes for 1,265 yards and 12 touchdowns. He completed 122 of 335 passes for 2,080 yards and nine touchdowns, and punted the ball 681 times for a 39.5-yard average.
It should be noted that in the 1920s, punting was a more vital function than it is today. Teams played a ball-control game and would punt from anywhere and on any down. One reason his punting average stands at 39.5 is that teams would often punt from inside the opposing team’s 40-yard line and would aim the ball for the sidelines, the coffin corner kick that would bury the opponent near his own goal line. In defense of Lewellen, it should also be noted that his total of 681 punts is hundreds greater than his nearest contemporaries; he was the punting king of the 1920s.
The Packers have had a number of triple-threat backs over the years, but the last one was probably Donny Anderson, since that versatility is not greatly desired in today’s more specialized game.
Here are the players who have worn #46 since 1950: