Seven Packers Hall of Famers Who Should be Immortalized in Canton
The Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee has done some good work over the years, but many deserving candidates fall by the wayside. That is to say, the committee, for various reasons, doesn’t always put everyone in the Hall of Fame who deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
There are several members of the Packers Hall of Fame who fall into this category. Here are the seven players who deserve to join the 26 Packers already enshrined in Canton, Ohio.
Lavvie Dilweg (1926-34)
Dilweg is probably one of the greatest players in the Packers history, but he played so long ago and went on to become a successful lawyer and U.S. Congressman after his playing career, his football days have largely been forgotten.
On the field, the two-way end was a solid blocker on offense and a reliable pass catcher in an era when the passing game was an afterthought.
Dilweg’s receiving statistics look laughable compared to players of the modern era, but he was widely considered one of the best offensive ends of his day. In fact, he ranks third among ends of the era who are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in touchdown catches, with 12, trailing only Don Hutson and Bill Hewitt.
Where Dilweg was a real terror was on defense, though.
“Even with his excellent offensive skills, it was his defensive prowess that made him dominant. He could tackle, block and hit. Offenses feared him. His defensive teammates knew they could always count on him. He consistently performed each and every game,” Ken Crippen, the executive director of the Pro Football Researchers Association and a champion of Dilweg’s Hall of Fame credentials, wrote to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s veterans committee earlier this year.
High praise came from Dilweg’s peers as well. Hall of Fame running back Red Grange once said, “I have always rated Dilweg as the greatest end who ever brought me down.”
Perhaps most indicative of Dilweg’s athletic prowess is this stat – he recorded 27 interceptions and returned two for touchdowns in his career as a defensive end, something almost unheard of today.
Dilweg’s credentials get more impressive the deeper you dig, though.
He was named to the NFL’s 1920s All-Decade Team and is one of only two players on the team who aren’t in the Hall of Fame.
Most impressively, Dilweg was named consensus All-Pro six times and made at least one All-Pro team in every season of his career except 1934, while winning three NFL Championships (1929-31) with the Packers. In fact, Dilweg achieved All-Pro status and won more championships than Red Badgro, Bill Hewitt, Wayne Millner, and George Halas had as players. All four ends played in the same era and all four are in the Hall of Fame.
“You could make the case that the stuff he did after football was a little more important in the whole scheme of things than playing end for the Green Bay Packers. And none of that changes the fact that at a particular time and place in the long history of football, nobody played end better than Dilweg,” Bob Carroll, co-founder of the Professional Football Researchers Association, said.
Bobby Dillon (1952-59)
Dillon anchored the Packers secondary for nine seasons and is still the franchise’s all-time interception leader with 52, despite having vision in only one eye.
During his playing days, Dillon was one of the finest safeties in the league. He was a four-time Pro Bowler and a five-time first-team All Pro according to “Total Football” (1954-56, 1957-58).
The Texas product recorded seven or more interceptions in five seasons, including three seasons where he had nine (‘53, ‘55, ‘57). Dillon was also a threat to score, leading the league in interception return yardage in 1956 and returning five career picks for touchdowns.
Dillon has more career interceptions than Hall of Fame defensive backs Herb Adderley, Jack Christiansen, Mike Haynes, Ken Houston, Jimmy Johnson, Yale Lary, Roger Wehrli and Willie Wood.
He’s one of several players to hold the single-game interception record of four, which he set against the Lions on Thanksgiving in 1953.
“When Dillon retired he was second on the all-time interception list behind [Emlen] Tunnell, a teammate of Dillon’s on the 1959 Packers. That alone should have been enough to get in long ago. Many seasons went by before he fell out of the top 20 all-time. It also took many more games by virtually everyone ahead of him to achieve what Dillon did in a shorter span of time. Dillon played in an era when the NFL had a 12-game schedule. He played in all but two games in eight seasons,” Tim Waits of Dillon’s hometown Temple (Texas) Daily Telegram wrote in 2010.
Billy Howton (1952-63)
Howton played for three NFL teams, but played most of his career in Green Bay (1952-58) before finishing with one season in Cleveland and four in Dallas.
During the ‘50s, the receiver was one of the finest deep threats in the NFL and put up some impressive receiving stats, especially when you consider the league only played 12 games a season until 1961, when the schedule expanded to 14 games.
Howton twice led the NFL in receiving yards – with 1,231 in 1952 and 1,188 in 1956. He also led the league in receiving touchdowns in 1956 with 12. He made the Pro Bowl four times, was first-team All-Pro twice (1956 and 1957) and made at least one All-Pro team in five years during his career.
The Rice University product finished in the NFL’s top 10 in receptions eight times, receiving yards five times and touchdowns three times during his career. Howton finished his career with 503 receptions for 8,459 yards, both of which were all-time records at the time of his retirement.
You’d think those numbers would at least have landed Howton on the NFL’s 1950s All-Decade Team, but he couldn’t get any respect there, either. The receivers on the team are Baltimore’s Raymond Berry, the Rams Tom Fears and Philadelphia’s Bobby Walston. Howton has better career numbers than both Fears and Walston. Fears, who is a Hall of Famer, finished his career with 400 catches for 5,397 yards.
Howton’s career reception and yardage totals are also greater than several other Hall of Fame receivers of the era, including Dante Lavelli (386; 6,488), Tommy McDonald (495; 8,410), Pete Pihos (373; 5,619) and Elroy Hirsch (387; 7,029).
“I have never really figured out the deal with former Cowboys and Green Bay Packers receiver Billy Howton. When he retired after the 1963 season, his 503 receptions and 8,459 yards were each all-time career records. Even as of 1970, he was third behind only Lance “Bambi” Alworth and Raymond Berry. Also, Howton didn’t even have the benefit of a 14-game season until 1961 with the Cowboys when he was 31 years old,” DallasCowboys.com staff writer Jeff Sullivan wrote in 2010.
Howton’s legacy extends beyond the field, as well. In 1958, the Texan was elected the first president of the NFLPA.
Jerry Kramer (1958-68)
It’s debatable whether the Packers biggest Hall of Fame snub is Lavvie Dilweg or Jerry Kramer, but Vince Lombardi’s right guard probably has a lot more supporters.
Kramer was a three-time Pro Bowler and a five-time first-team All Pro (1960, ‘62, ‘63, ‘66, ‘67). He’s also a member of the NFL’s 1960s All-Decade team.
Individual honors don’t tell the full story, though. During Kramer’s tenure, the Packers made the playoffs six times, won three NFL Championships and two Super Bowls.
The guard helped Green Bay establish one of the most dominant running games in the NFL as the lead blocker on the Packers power sweep, which has its own place in history as one of the most iconic and devastating rushing plays in NFL annals.
Kramer helped halfback Jim Taylor rack up five straight 1,000-yard seasons. Overall, the Packers rushed for 21,637 yards during Kramer’s career, which is the second-highest total in the NFL during that span.
NFL Films’ Steve Sabol calls Kramer the best player not in the Hall of Fame. “He was the lead boulder in the avalanche that was the Packer Power Sweep. In the 1962 Championship game in Yankee Stadium, he kicked three field goals through the bitter wind to provide the winning margin over the Giants, 16-7. In the Ice Bowl, he became the most famous right guard in history with his goal-line block on Jethro Pugh; so celebrated that some people think the deodorant was named for him.
He endured 23 operations. He was All-Pro five times. And finally, when the NFL celebrated its 50th anniversary, the Hall of Fame selected its All-Time Team and Jerry Kramer was the guard. He was a striver, a man of straight ahead will and determination who epitomized the essence of Vince Lombardi’s Packers.”
Kramer is the only member of that 50th anniversary team not in the Hall of Fame.
Dave Robinson (1963-74)
Robinson was either extremely lucky or terribly unlucky, depending on how you look at it.
The linebacker was part of one of the most dominant linebacking corps of all time with Hall of Famer Ray Nitschke and All Pro Lee Roy Caffey. In fact, NFL Network ranked the trio sixth among their top-10 linebacking corps in NFL history, two years ago.
That talent led to a lot of victories, but it also meant Robinson usually got overshadowed.
“I think you can pretty safely say that was one of the greatest groups of linebackers in the history of the game,” former Packers guard Jerry Kramer, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2009. “Robinson. Nitschke. Caffey. The Packers had a lot of great players, and the light can’t shine on everyone. I think Robbie maybe didn’t get as much light as he deserved.”
The history books will tell you Robinson was a three-time Pro Bowler, first-team All Pro in 1967 and the 1967 Pro Bowl MVP. They’ll also tell you he made several other All-Pro teams from 1966-69 and the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1960s. The books will tell you Robinson intercepted 27 passes and recovered 12 fumbles in his career.
What isn’t entirely obvious is Dave Robinson was the consummate big-game player, playing some of his best football in some of the Packers’ biggest games.
Take, for example, the Packers’ 1966 game at Baltimore when Robinson stripped Johnny Unitas and recovered the fumble deep in Packers’ territory late in a 14-10 Green Bay win that would clinch the division title. Or take that season’s NFL Championship game, where Robinson stepped up again, famously blitzing Dallas quarterback Don Meredith when he wasn’t supposed to on a fourth-and-goal play with the Packers leading 34-27. Robinson forced a wobbly throw that was picked off by Tom Brown and sealed a Packers’ win.
In 2003, the book Riddell Presents: The Gridiron’s Greatest Linebackers ranked Robinson the No. 17 linebacker of all time, saying: “He was probably the first to play the Lawrence Taylor position, though there wasn’t nearly as much of a need to rush the passer back then. Robinson’s size, strength, speed and reach made him tough against the run and pass.”
Robinson, of course, was also a winner, as a member of three NFL Championship teams (1965-67) and the first two Super Bowl champions.
Sterling Sharpe (1988-94)
Sharpe is one of the toughest Hall-of-Fame calls there is. Many argue he didn’t play long enough to merit consideration. His career ended prematurely because of a neck injury he suffered during the 1994 season.
However, one of the best indicators for Hall of Fame worthiness is the question, “was the player the best at his position when he played?” The answer in Sharpe’s case is no, but that’s only because he played at the same time as the greatest receiver to ever play the game, Jerry Rice.
Take Rice out of the equation and the answer is, unequivocally, yes.
In his seven seasons, Sharpe was a five-time Pro Bowler and a three-time first-team All Pro (1989, ‘92, ‘93). Sharpe led the NFL in receptions three times, yards once and receiving touchdowns twice.
He’s the first player in league history with two consecutive 100-catch seasons. He set the since-broken record for catches in a season twice (108 in 1992, 112 in 1993). He’s one of only seven players in NFL history to lead the league in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in one season, a feat he accomplished in 1992. Sharpe is one of only three players who have caught four touchdowns in a game twice.
In his final season, Sharpe hauled in an astounding 18 touchdowns.
“Sharpe would have been considered as good as Jerry Rice if he had not gotten hurt,” Packers great and Hall of Famer James Lofton told NFL.com in January. “He was a fantastic receiver and his strength was just off the charts.”
What’s more impressive about Sharpe’s numbers, is he was the Packers only legitimate receiving threat for most of his career, which meant constant double teams.
While Rice played with two-time 1,000-yard receiver John Taylor and four-time Pro Bowl tight end Brent Jones for much of his career, Sharpe was never as lucky.
The Packers were never able to complement Sharpe with a No. 2 receiver who gained more than 700 yards in a season while he was on the team.
But perhaps the loudest ringing endorsement for Sterling’s enshrinement in Canton came from his brother, Shannon. When accepting his own induction at the 2011 Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremony, the legendary Denver Broncos tight end erupted in tears after delivering saying, “I am the only person in the Hall of Fame that can say I was the second best player in my own family.”
LeRoy Butler (1990-2001)
Butler has the stat line – 953 tackles, 38 interceptions, 553 return yards, 10 fumble recoveries, three defensive touchdowns and 20½ sacks, including four seasons with five or more interceptions and two seasons with 100 or more tackles.
He has the accolades – four Pro Bowls, four first-team All-Pro selections (1993, 1996-98) and he’s a member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1990s.
He has the championship – Super Bowl XXXI.
A lot of guys have those things, though.
What separates Butler from the pack is this. He revolutionized the way safeties were thought of and utilized in the NFL.
The Florida State product was as adept at playing the pass as he was supporting the run and blitzing the quarterback. Butler was used extensively around the line of scrimmage because of his skill set, which gave the Packers defense greater flexibility and forced opposing offenses to game plan for him.
He’s the first defensive back in NFL history to enter the 20/20 club, recording 20 sacks and 20 interceptions in a career, paving the way for the likes of Ronde Barber, Rodney Harrison, Adrian Wilson and Brian Dawkins.
Former Packers general manager Ron Wolf sums up Butler’s case nicely.
“As a strong safety, he and Darren Woodson were players who dominated. Could play the run, play the pass, really good tackler, effective blitzer, could set the defenses. Those Packer teams were really his teams,” Wolf told Sports Illustrated in 2008.
Monty McMahon is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles, a lifelong Packers fan and the owner of TotalPackers.com. His favorite Packers are Max McGee and James Lofton and your party will be more fun if he’s there.