Packers Best Guards And Tackles: Building Success Through The Line
Unlike the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where the majority of the offensive linemen inducted are tackles, the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame is weighted heavily towards guards (11 to 7). You could argue the team hasn’t had that many quality tackles and you might be right. You could also argue the Packers have had a wealth of talent at guard, at least through the 1960s.
In reality, the reason guards outnumber tackles in the Packers Hall of Fame is probably twofold. Most plays during the NFL’s early years were straight-ahead runs through the middle of the line. During the Lombardi years, guards were featured prominently in the Packers running game.
Not surprisingly, these two eras produced the most Packers Hall of Fame offensive linemen.
That’s not the entire story though.
Perhaps evident of the team’s failures in the 1970s and ’80s, there were only two tackles and guards (one each) who played in those decades inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame – Gale Gillingham and Greg Koch. Koch is the last tackle inducted and his last season with the team was in 1985. That probably won’t change until someone like Chad Clifton or Mark Tauscher gets the call. Marco Rivera is the last guard inducted and his career started more than 30 years after Gillingham’s ended.
That makes it fairly obvious – the theory that success starts with the offensive and defensive lines was one the Packers paid no attention to for two decades.
Whitey Woodin (1922-31)
We don’t know a lot about Woodin, but we do know this – he was durable and played a relatively long time. What makes that even more impressive is Woodin was also a two-way player and still hardly missed a play in his Packers career. The Wisconsin native helped lay the foundation for some great years ahead, as part of the Packers first three championship teams (1929-31).
Mike Michalske (1929-35, 1937)
Michalske was known as “Iron Mike” and for good reason. He wasn’t just a quick, tough guard, but also played linebacker for the Packers. He was durable and took pride in playing almost 60 minutes in nearly every game of his career. The Penn State product is often said to be the first great guard in NFL history and he became the first guard inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1964. With the Packers he was a three-time first-team All Pro (1929-31) and three-time NFL champion (1929-31). Michalske is also a member of the NFL’s 1920s All-Decade team.
Lon Evans (1933-37)
Evans was seemingly miscast at the beginning of his career. After starting his career on the left side, first at guard, then tackle, the Texan moved to right guard for his final three seasons. It was a good move. Evans earned first-team All Pro honors in both 1936 and 1937. In 1936 he also helped the Packers win the NFL championship.
Paul “Tiny” Engebretsen (1934-41)
Tiny, as most people knew him, played guard and tackle for eight seasons for the Packers, after bouncing between four teams his first two seasons in the league. Engebretsen wasn’t nearly as well known for being an offensive lineman as he was for being the Packers kicker, though. He finished his Packers career with 14 made field goals and in 1939 led the NFL with 18 made extra points. He also earned Pro Bowl honors that season. The Northwestern product kicked and played the line for the 1936 and 1939 NFL champions.
Russ Letlow (1936-42, 1946)
Letlow has the distinction of being the Packers first draft choice and he’d reward the team with several strong seasons. Chosen out of the University of San Francisco, Letlow earned Pro Bowl honors in 1938 and 1939. In his career, he was a member of two NFL championship teams (1936, 1939). Service in World War II cost him the 1943-45 seasons and his third NFL title.
Pete Tinsley (1938-39, 1940-45)
Tinsley came out of Georgia as a fullback, but was converted to a guard/linebacker with the Packers. Even though he lacked the size of most of his peers who played those positions, Tinsley made up for it with desire. He was known as a hard hitter on defense and actually used his short stature (5-8) to dig in and get underneath defenders on offense. Tinsley was a Pro Bowler in 1939 and helped the Packers to championships in 1939 and 1944. After his Pro Bowl season, he spent part of 1940 with the Chicago Cardinals before returning to the Packers.
Deral Teteak (1952-56)
Teteak was one of the last two-way players the Packers had and you’ll hear more about his defensive prowess than his blocking, although he was seemingly solid in both realms. Nicknamed “The Bulldog,” or “Little Bull” depending on what source you believe, both names speak to Teteak’s style of play. He was tough and didn’t give up anything, despite weighing only 200 pounds. The Wisconsin native was so versatile he not only played guard and middle linebacker, but he also returned two kicks in 1953 for a 31-yard average. Teteak was a Pro Bowler in 1952.
Fuzzy Thurston (1959-67)
Although he’s not as decorated as fellow guard Jerry Kramer, Thurston was just as integral to the Packers success in the 1960s. He was a stalwart on a Packers line that put Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Like Kramer, Thurston often led the way for the two Hall of Fame backs. He was a first-team All Pro in 1961 and second-team in 1962. The Wisconsin native was also a member of five NFL Championship teams (1961-62, 1965-67).
Jerry Kramer (1958-68)
We’ve made the argument before and we’ll make it again. Jerry Kramer should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. As it stands, he’s simply one of the greatest linemen in Green Bay Packers history. Kramer made three Pro Bowls (1962-63, 1967), but more impressively, was named first-team All Pro five times (1960, 1962-63, 1966-67). He was, of course, also a five-time NFL champion and the lead blocker on the vaunted Packers’ power sweep. The Idaho product is a member of the NFL’s 1960s All-Decade team and is the only member of the league’s 50th anniversary team not in the Hall of Fame.
Gale Gillingham (1966-74, 1976)
Gillingham is probably one of the most interesting stories among this group. Certainly, he was good, earning two first-team All Pro (1969, 1970) and five Pro Bowl selections (1969-71, 1973-74). He tasted his share of winning as a member of the Packers first two Super Bowl championship teams. Gillingham actually took over for Fuzzy Thurston during his rookie campaign and would go on to anchor the offensive line after Thurston, Jerry Kramer and Vince Lombardi left the Packers. Of course, that means he also played in some lean years. Even though he made the Pro Bowl at right guard in 1971, coach Dan Devine decided to move Gillingham to the defensive line in 1972. It turned out to be a lost season when Gillingham suffered a season-ending knee injury two games in. Fortunately, that experiment was shelved and the Wisconsin-born born Gillingham returned to play three more seasons at right guard.
Marco Rivera (1997-04)
Rivera was a slow starter, but became a key contributor to the Packers playoff teams of the early 2000s. A sixth-round draft choice out of Penn State, Rivera was inactive his entire rookie campaign. He made the team in 1997, but only saw action on special teams. It wasn’t until 1998 Rivera started his first game at left guard. After starting 15 contests that season, he never looked back. He started 96 of 96 games and developed into one of the best guards in the league over the next six seasons. Rivera would earn Pro Bowl honors three times (2002-04) before finishing his career with the Dallas Cowboys.
Cub Buck (1921-25)
By the day’s standards, Buck was a monster. He measured 6-3, 250, which would have made him a pretty solid offensive line prospect as recently as the 1980s. So, you can imagine how he mauled defenders. That wasn’t all he did, though. In 1922, Buck also served as the Packers kicker, punter and return man.
Cal Hubbard (1929-33, 1935)
Like Buck, Hubbard was a massive presence on the field, measuring 6-5, 250. He was tenacious both as a blocker and on defense, where he often commanded double teams. Hubbard was a three-time first-team All Pro with the Packers (1931-33) and a three-time champion (1929-31). Perhaps most telling, though, is Hubbard was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the inaugural class in 1963. He was voted the NFL’s best tackle in the league’s first 50 years.
Buford “Baby” Ray (1938-48)
If nothing else, Ray has one of the coolest names ever. Fortunately for the Packers, he was much more than a moniker. The Vanderbilt product was a dominating blocker and a beast at defensive tackle. In 1939 he made the Pro Bowl and he was a member of two Packers championship teams in 1939 and 1944.
Dick Wildung (1946-51, 1953)
Wildung lost three years at the beginning of his career to World War II and the 1952 season to the Korean War. During his time in Green Bay he played four seasons at left tackle, two seasons at left guard and three seasons at defensive tackle. In 1950 and 1951 he played both left tackle and defensive tackle. In 1951 he made the Pro Bowl.
Bob Skoronski (1956, 1959-68)
Although military service cost him two seasons of his NFL career, Skoronski managed to play 11 seasons with the Packers. After starting his career as a left tackle, the Indiana product because a fixture at right tackle. He made the Pro Bowl in 1966 and was a member of all five of the Lombardi-era championship teams. Although we wasn’t as highly decorated as linemates Jerry Kramer or Forrest Gregg, Skoronski was just as important to the team – he was the Packers offensive team captain from 1965-68.
Forrest Gregg (1956, 1958-70)
Gregg is simply the greatest lineman the Green Bay Packers have ever had. He’s a member of the NFL’s 75th anniversary team and the 1960s All-Decade team. He played in a then-league record 188 consecutive games during his career, which included nine Pro Bowls (1959-64, 1966-68), seven first-team All Pro selections (1960, 1962-67) and five championships. The Texan was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977 and coach Vince Lombardi called him the best player he’s ever coached.
Greg Koch (1977-85)
Koch didn’t pile up a lot of honors during his Packers career, but he was a rock at right tackle. Starting his second season, he started all 16 games for four straight seasons. He appeared in 133 games total. Koch was second-team All NFL in 1982.