Green Bay Packers: Who wore #80 best?

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James Lofton

When James Lofton caught the ball many times he had already run by defenders. His size and speed were extraordinary to go along with his leaping abilities and soft hands.

He’s a Hall-of-Famer for a reason.

But there are other reasons why Lofton was great. Let’s let John Maxymuk tell us why he likes Lofton so much:

At his Packers Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 1999, James Lofton said that he heard that ESPN commentator Sterling Sharpe was calling himself the greatest receiver in Packers history.

Lofton responded with this comment: Without a doubt, Don Hutson, who played here, was the greatest receiver. I hate to break the news to Sterling, but he was the third best.”

That line typified James Lofton – confident, intelligent, funny, and in this instance, probably correct.

At Stanford where he graduated with a degree in industrial engineering, Lofton was a world-class spriner and long jumper as well as a star at wide receiver under coach Bill Walsh.

He was the Packers first choice in the 1978 draft and was named NFC Rookie of the Year. In addition, he played in his first Pro Bowl tha year; he would appear in seven more during his career. He was the Rand Moss of his time, but one who applied himself to his craft.

An early devotee of weightlifting, he was not only fast, elusive and a great leaper, but had great strength for a wide receiver. He moved fluidly and always appeared at ease on the field. In short, he was the premier deep threat in the game – not only could he run past defensive backs, but he could out-jump them, too.

During his career, more and more teams went to variations of the short passing West Coast offense. Consequently, of those who played since 1978 and who have caught at least 5000 passes, only the Patriots’ Stanley Morgan had a great yards-per-catch average (19.2 on 557 receptions) than Lofton’s 18.3 on 764 catches.

He was a competitor and that got him in trouble twice in his second season. One time he threw his helmet into his locker to protest Coach Bart Starr‘s conservative approach at the end of one losing game.

The second time, the fans booed him for fumbling a pass and he responded in anger with the middle finger salute, followed by some choice post-game comments. In response, Packers public relations man Chuck Lane called him a “prima donna.”

Upon James’ marriage in the next year, he seemed to mature and become a team leader. Five times he went over 1,000 yards receiving and was the Packers’ all-time leading receiver with 9,656 yards until Donald Driver overtook him.

In both 1981 and 1983, the Packers finished at 8-8, and the defense gave up more points than the offense could score. Seven games were wiped out by the 1982 strike, but Green Bay made the playoffs for the firs time in 10 years with a 5-3-1 record, propelled by their three Pro Bowl receivers in Lofton, John Jefferson and Paul Coffman.

Lofton was on track for a 1,500-yard season in 1982 and achieved the third-longest run from scrimmage in Packers history with an 83-yard reverse for a touchdown that would foreshadow his playoff work later that season.

The playoffs were an expanded 16-team tournament that year because of the shortened season, and the Packers hosted the St. Louis Cardinals in the first playoff game at Lambeau in 15 years. Green Bay … was led by Lynn Dickey‘s four touchdown passes, including two to Jefferson and one to Lofton.

Here are Lofton’s career statistics provided by Pro Fooball Reference:

Next: Donald Driver

From To AV
Gary Barnes 1962 1962 0
Jack Clancy 1970 1970 2
Dick Deschaine 1955 1957 0
Clint Didier 1988 1989 1
Donald Driver 1999 2012 76
Carl Elliott 1952 1954 0
Jackie Harris 1990 1993 14
Charles Jordan 1994 1995 1
James Lofton 1978 1986 71
Bob Long 1964 1967 5
Derrick Mayes 1996 1998 7
Steve Meilinger 1958 1960 1
Frankie Neal 1987 1987 4
Bucky Pope 1968 1968 0
Breezy Reid 1950 1951 0
Barry Smith 1973 1975 7
Don Zimmerman 1976 1976 0