The Green Bay Packers franchise has existed since 1919 and has seen its share of success in terms of championships (an NFL record 13) and legendary players.
This list focuses on the latter. Though nearly impossible with a franchise as successful as this one, I’ve endeavored here to document the five greatest.
In terms of criteria, I considered all on-field accomplishments with the Packers and gave less consideration to those accomplishments a player achieved in service to another franchise. I looked at statistics on a career and per-game basis as well as statistical performance relative to contemporaries. Additionally, I gave great weight to playoff and prime-time performance.
One factor I’m not taking into account is off-the-field scandal. Role models matter when it comes to teaching my children how to be sports fans, but not to an inventory of the franchise’s top performers. I want to be clear that I personally care about off-field issues a player may have – I just didn’t consider them relevant to this list, which is based on football success only.
With that in mind, here’s the final, absolute, completely indisputable list.
5. Forrest Gregg
This might be the most arguable entry, given the number of Hall of Famers the Packers have produced over the years, but lineman have always been undervalued and it’s time one of the best ever was recognized.
At least Vince Lombardi recognized him: he called Gregg “the finest player I ever coached” in his 1969 autobiography.
Gregg played tackle and guard for the Packers during the heyday of the Lombardi era, when a man could play offensive line at 249 pounds. He set the standard for durability by playing 188 consecutive games, an NFL record at the time.
Gregg was selected to the NFL’s 75th anniversary team in 1994. He was also an 8-time all pro (4 times by consensus) and was selected to the Pro Bowl nine times. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.
Forrest Gregg’s greatest contribution to Packer lore is the key block he threw on the quarterback sneak that won the 1967 NFL Championship (the Ice Bowl).
Gregg later served as coach of the Packers for four unspectacular seasons, but his contribution to the Packers dynasty of the 1960’s – and team history as a whole – gets him into the top five.
(Pro Football Reference page)
4. Aaron Rodgers
I know he’s only been a starting quarterback for five years, but I don’t care. He’s been so good during that period that he belongs here.
He’s already been named NFL and Super Bowl MVP once each, but voting processes can be capricious. Rodgers’ numbers, however, corroborate the growing sentiment that he is the NFL’s best active quarterback and is rapidly climbing the list of all-time greats.
Aaron Rodgers is, on a statistical per-pass basis, the best quarterback to ever play football. Here are the statistical categories where Rodgers is the best of all time:
Passer rating (104.9)
Adjusted yards per pass attempt (8.63)
Adjusted net yards per pass attempt (7.54)
Interception percentage (1.7%)
The quarterback rating and interception percentage are particularly dispositive. Quarterback rating is an excellent measurement of a quarterback’s efficiency as a passer, and in that respect Rodgers trumps everyone who’s ever been measured. He has also thrown the fewest interceptions per pass attempt of any quarterback who has ever lived, which means he almost never hurts his own team.
If there’s any playoff drop-off, it’s not much. His career QB rating in playoff games is 103.6, a 1% drop-off from his regular season performance and good for 3rd all-time.
It’s also worth mentioning that Rodgers while has lost three playoff games, his defense has given up an average of 44.3 points in those three games. In a first round playoff game against Arizona in January 2010, he led his offense to 48 points and the Packers still lost!
Finally, Rodgers has accomplished everything on this list while having to follow one of the franchise’s legendary players. Brett Favre’s melodramatic exit from Green Bay put Rodgers in the difficult position of having to fill in for one of the game’s statistical giants and the most popular player in recent franchise history. The mental toughness required to perform at the level he has under the circumstances he was presented prove beyond doubt that Aaron Rodgers belongs on this list.
(Pro Football Reference page)
3. Don Hutson
Educated football fans know Don Hutson. Allow me to educate you.
Don Hutson was professional football’s first true wide receiver. At a time when NFL passing offenses were far from the well-oiled machines they’ve become in the 21st century, Hutson stood out as an innovator. He is actually credited with having invented pass patterns.
Don Hutson held 18 NFL records at retirement, some of which still stand (including most seasons leading the league in receptions, yards, and touchdowns). He finished as Green Bay’s all-time scoring leader with 823 points, which stood until 2003.
Hutson was a member of three Packer championship teams (1936, 1939, 1944) and was an 8-time all pro selection. Along with Gregg, he’s a member of the NFL’s 75th anniversary team and he also made the All Time Two-Way Team. That’s right, Hutson played defense as well, not to mention kicker. Is there anything Don Hutson didn’t do?
Well, he didn’t play quarterback. That’s why he’s at #3.
(Pro Football Reference page)
2. Brett Favre
Brett Favre is in many ways a living legend. I’ve seen people in Green Bay wear his Vikings and Jets jerseys in public, the very idea of which should make any self-respecting Packers fan choke on bile, because they love him so much. He’s become a polarizing figure but there’s no doubting his resumé.
Favre’s arrival in 1992 heralded the return of the Green Bay Packers to the ranks of the NFL’s elite franchises. GM Ron Wolf traded for Favre prior to that season, Don Majkowski was injured on September 20 against the Bengals, and Favre led the Packers to a comeback victory. The rest is history.
Favre’s statistical resume is impressive, to say the least. He is the NFL’s all-time leader in passes attempted and completed, passing yards and passing touchdowns – some of the most hallowed records in football history. In terms of pure volume, Favre is probably the most successful quarterback of all time.
There’s also the matter of Favre’s toughness. Painkiller addiction notwithstanding, Favre’s streak of 297 games started is an incredible accomplishment that will probably never be matched. The closest active player is London Fletcher with 195.
Favre was also recognized as Most Valuable Player three consecutive times from 1995-1997. And man, was he fun to watch. No matter how any Packers fan feels about Favre today, it’s undeniable that he was a blast to have as the starting quarterback (even if he drove us crazy sometimes).
Favre also had a bit of a personnel disadvantage despite Holmgren’s brilliance as a play-caller. How many offensive players who donned the Green Bay Packers uniform from 1992 – 2007 are or will be Hall of Famers? Remove Favre, and you’ve got a big fat zero.
Some of the most memorable games in recent Packers history featured spectacular Favre performances. His game-winning pass to Sterling Sharpe gave the Packers their first playoff win since the day I was born. He threw a 99-yard touchdown pass to Robert Brooks on Monday Night Football a year later against the archrival Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Then there’s the Monday Night Football game he played after the death of his father, a vintage performance against which the hosting Raiders stood no chance.
It would also behoove us to remember Favre’s showing in Super Bowl XXXI. I consider Brett Favre to have been the rightful Super Bowl XXXI MVP. The award was given to Desmond Howard instead. I will write a full column about this, but for now take my word for it: Brett Favre was the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XXXI and his three-touchdown performance belongs among the best in Packers playoff lore.
He was also the second-best player in Packers history. Many younger fans may disagree, but Favre threw too many interceptions and had too many playoff duds to beat #1. No one has ever thrown more interceptions than Brett Favre, and no one else is even close. Additionally, Packer playoff runs have ended with Favre throwing six interceptions against St. Louis in 2002, Favre throwing a crippling interception against Philadelphia in 2003, and Favre throwing the worst pass any Packer quarterback has ever thrown.
(Pro Football Reference page)
1. Bart Starr
If there’s one player who represents what Green Bay and the Packers are (and should be) all about, it’s Bart Starr.
Bart was the 200th pick in the 1956 NFL draft, a spot that would put him in the late 6th round today…although at the time it was the 17th round, meaning every team had already passed on him many times over. Surely his apparent dearth of physical skill contributed to this dose of humility, but Starr’s physical and mental toughness would prove Green Bay wise in finally selecting him. (Though it should be noted that no one realized this until a man named Vince Lombardi figured it out upon his arrival in 1959.)
Under Lombardi, Starr led the Packers to five NFL championships. No other quarterback has five championship rings. He also has two Super Bowl MVP awards on his resumé from Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II. If you’re scoring at home, note that this is one more than Aaron Rodgers and two more than every other quarterback in team history combined (though Super Bowl XXXI’s injustice has already been noted). He was also voted Most Valuable Player for the 1966 season.
Did I mention his playoff record as a starter was 9-1? (This includes the Super Bowls and the aforementioned Ice Bowl, among others.)
Then there’s Starr’s individual playoff performance. He’s the all-time leader in playoff passer rating at 104.8. No other quarterback whose career started before 2001 is within nine points of him. More famous contemporaries Len Dawson (77.4), Roger Staubach (76.0), Joe Namath (54.6) and Johnny Unitas (68.9) aren’t even in the same ballpark. Bart Starr was better when it mattered most than Joe Montana, John Elway, Tom Brady…and everyone else. Ever.
Starr was a quiet leader. He did not seek attention or glory, and was often overshadowed by the flashier (though less successful) contemporaries mentioned above. He rarely is mentioned among the game’s greats, but you will never hear him make headlines about it any more than he did during his career. Bart Starr quietly went about his business – the business of winning.
Then there’s the Lombardi factor. When the greatest football coach of all time sees something in you that no one else did, that’s a pretty powerful reference. Lombardi took over as coach before the 1959 season and made him his starting quarterback, knowing that Starr had what it took to get the job done. Again, the rest is history.
A surprising dearth of Packers fans have forgotten – or never knew – just how good Bart Starr was in his day. (Which is to say, the best.) Many fans make the knee-jerk assumption that Brett Favre must have been the best because of his pure volume of his statistics and the fact that he’s all we heard about for twenty years. (The rise of fantasy football probably doesn’t help either.) Favre was good, no doubt – but even he must take a back seat to the immortal Bart Starr.
(Pro Football Reference page)
I had to omit a lot of names from this list, because the Green Bay Packers have produced so many great players. I’ll write a follow-up column in the future with some of the near-misses and interesting tidbits about them.