With 42 days left until the start of the NFL season, our countdown to the big day continues.
Over the course of the next 42 days we focus on the number that represents the days remaining … and for today that number is 42.
Today we focus in on #42.
I’ve been waiting for this number because John Brockington is by far one of my favorite Packers players of all time. But there have been some others who have also worn the number who caught the attention of Packers fans.
Some of you may even remember that bright shining star, LeShon Johnson.
Don’t forget that we’ve also got Morgan Burnett currently wearing the number. While he’s shown promise, it’s unclear how his career will unfold.
And even though Sharper could have been headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, his most recent troubles has tainted his career in ways that we won’t even realize for years.
So, that’s why we focus in on Brockington, that bruising, bashing, high-stepping running back who came to Green Bay in the early 1970s to give Packers fans a lot to cheer about. Many have compared Eddie Lacy to Brockington, and with good reason. While we hope that Lacy’s career lasts longer than Brockington’s, we can’t be unhappy with what Brock brought to Green Bay. For what seems a brief shining moment he breathed new life into the “The Pack is Back” chant and gave Packers fans new life during a time when mediocrity was the norm in Titletown.
John Maxymuk, the author of “Packers by the Numbers: Jersey Numbers and the Players Who Wore them,” focuses in on Brockington in his chapter on #42.
Here is what Maxymuk has to say about Brockington:
John Brockington‘s decline was so swift and severe that Packers fans, almost 30 years later, are still wondering what happened to him. A first round draft choice out of Ohio State, he was Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1971, setting a record for first-year men by gaining 1,105 yards on the ground. He became the first man to rush for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first three years as a pro, was named All Pro once, and went to three Pro Bowls.
He was a dominant runner, a brawny blocker, and more-than-adequate receiver out of the backfield. He led a team that completed fewer than 43 percent of its passes while on the way to the playoffs in his second year. By 1974, he was finished, never to be the same power runner again.
A number of theories have been suggested for the collapse of his career. Most people seem to agree that he got away from his strength of running north/south and began going east/west without hitting the hole.
But what caused the change?
Trainer Dom Gentile cited an incident in a game against the Bengals in Brockington’s rookie year. John’s pumping knee hit Bengal safety Ken Dyer in the head, temporarily paralyzing him and ending his career. Gentile felt John was deeply affected by that, but that was only in his third game, and he would reach 1,000 yards three times after that.
Others note the trading of Brockington’s running mate and lead blocker, Macarther Lane, to the Chiefs in 1975, but Brockington’s play seriously deteriorated in 1974 with Lane still there.
Besides, John’s best year was his first one, before Lane arrived, with Donny Anderson as his running mate.
In that year, 1971, the team ran for more yards with a higher rushing average than any other season in John’s tenure in Green Bay.
Brockington himsel blames the coaching staff for moving away from his favorite off-tackle slant play and calling more sweeps. Quarterback Scott Hunter remembers yelling at Brockington for not cutting back on a sweep play and turning upfield where the hole was. At that point, Hunter says he came to the realization that John couldn’t turn his shoulders quickly enough to hit the hole and make that play.
Sadly, I think that is the key to understanding what happened to John Brockington. He was a great straight-ahead power runner who couldn’t run any other way. Add in the fact that the Packers did not have an effective quarterback throughout his career, and that highlight his limitations even more. Defense makes adjustments. Brockingon’s best year was his first, when he averaged over five yards per carry in rushing for more than 1,100 yards. In his second year, his rushing average dropped almost a yard-and-one-half per carry to 3.7 – that’s an enormous drop, especially for a player in his second year in the league.
To his credit, Brockington raised that average back to 4.2 in 1973, but that was the last year he would come close to 4 yards a carry again. Probably what happened is that when defenses began to stop his off-tackle rushes, the coaches put in more wide runs to try to counter the defense, but with Brockington that didn’t work. Plan B failed and there was no Plan C because there was no passing attack to loosen up defenses. He finished 1977 with the Chiefs, joining his old pal Mac Lane, and was out of the league the next year.
In his retirement, Brockington sold insurance and turned up in the news in 2001 for a distressing reason – he was undergoing regular dialysis treatments because of kidney problems and was awaiting a kidney transplant.
The good news was that scores of his former Ohio State teammates came forward to support their fallen comrade. He still has the second highest total of rushing yards in team history and was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1984. Above all, he will always be remembered fondly in Green Bay for leading the Packers to their one shining moment in the dark decade of the 1970s, winning the 1972 Central Division Championship.
Here are John Brockington’s career statistics: