Zeroing in on the Packers with research and faux cards
By Jeff Ash
It was a game we played in bars on Green Bay’s east side back in the ‘80s. My buddies Hose and Tone and I played 301, the dart game in which you count down to zero to win.
Once we got below 100, though, it became a lightning round, and it had everything to do with the Green Bay Packers.
Once that dart landed and you saw the next number, quick as you could, you had to name a Packers player who wore that number. Everyone else did, too. You compared the guys you named, had many laughs and declared someone the winner, often on questionable criteria.
It went something like this. “83!” “John Jefferson!” “Clarie Williams!” “Phil Vandersea!”
Whoever chose Jefferson got no credit. Too easy. Whoever chose Vandersea got credit for remembering an obscure player from the Lombardi Glory Years. Whoever chose Williams won because Clarence Williams was a guy you’d see around town during the offseason, someone just slightly cooler because, well, you saw him around. Told you it was questionable criteria.
John Maxymuk might have enjoyed a numbers game like that. Thirteen years ago, Maxymuk turned his childhood love of the Packers into the first of his 11 football books.
“Packers By the Numbers: Jersey Numbers and the Players Who Wore Them” is a quirky, endearing history of the Packers organized not chronologically, but by uniform numbers. For each number, there’s an essay that uses that number – and the player who wore it – as a jumping-off point to explore something else.
The essay accompanying No. 19, worn by quarterback Carlos Brown in the mid-‘70s, is “Going Hollywood.” Brown, of course, became the actor Alan Autry. That gives Maxymuk the opportunity to review other Packers turned actors, or those who had TV or film cameos.
The essay accompanying No. 53, worn by Fred Carr from 1968 to 1977, is “End of the Dynasty.” It recounts how the Packers’ glory years faded despite the fine linebacker’s presence.
The essay accompanying No. 62, worn long ago by lineman Russ Letlow, is “The Draft.” In 1936, Letlow was the Packers’ first No. 1 draft pick. Maxymuk breaks down the Packers’ draft history and adds the “First-Round Second Guessing Chart,” in which he identifies other players the Packers could have drafted.
Maxymuk is a reference librarian at the Paul Robeson Library at Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey, just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. Last summer, he launched Packers Past Perfect, a wonderful Packers history blog.
So how does a guy from New Jersey get to be such a big Packers fan?
“I was six in 1963 and bought my first football cards. I loved the uniforms and the exotic name. Most of all, quarterback Bart Starr. Has a quarterback ever had a better name?” he asks.
But Maxymuk has visited Green Bay only once, in 2002, while researching “Packers By the Numbers.”
“I had a great time. I loved seeing the original City Stadium and the Packer Hall of Fame. I was just struck by just driving along in a normal residential neighborhood and then turning the corner and seeing football heaven – Lambeau Field – rising out of nowhere,” he said.
He’ll return this summer for the Professional Football Researchers Association biennial meeting, which will be at Lambeau Field in July. The meeting’s theme will be the 50th anniversary of the Packers’ 1966 NFL champions.
“I will be giving a presentation based on one of the 10 chapters I wrote for the book PFRA is publishing next month called, The 1966 Packers. My talk will be on building the 1966 team, but will also touch on some sidebar topics like Lombardi’s taxi squad players,” he noted.
Research on taxi squad players is the kind of thing Maxymuk loves to share on his blog – Packers Past Perfect – in ways that are as quirky and endearing as his book of numbers.
In March, for example, Maxymuk explored the Packers’ draft classes of the mid-to-late 1970s, players who had March birthdays, players from obscure colleges, backup quarterbacks who never played, odd Packers’ books, a play charted on a 1965 football card, and another in a series of posts in which he compiles a Packers all-star team of players from the same college.
What makes Packers Past Perfect so wonderful are Maxymuk’s illustrations. The blog provides “an outlet for another hobby of mine, creating custom football cards that never were,” he says.
Maxymuk does so by combining old Packers publicity photos, colorizing them when necessary, with designs once used by Topps, Fleer, Philadelphia and Bowman cards.
“The best responses I’ve had are from the families of former players or guys who were cut. They are generally very pleased to see their dad or brother or cousin on a football card,” he says. “Two examples were Bob Joyner, who was a training camp quarterback in 1962, and Wally Mahle, who was on the team’s taxi squad in 1965.”
Indeed, it’s fun to see custom cards of rookie end Dan Eckstein and taxi squad player Larry Agajanian done in the style of 1969 Topps cards, which I collected as a 12-year-old kid in Sheboygan.
Eckstein wrote one of those odd books, “The 41st Packer: A Rookie’s Diary,” the story of his brief time in Green Bay’s training camp in 1969.
“It’s worth reading,” says Maxymuk, a reference librarian for more than 30 years.
“My favorite post so far was on all the player-years lost to military service by Packers in the 1950s. My research indicated that Green Bay lost more players and more player-years to military service than any other team that decade, and they could not afford that drain. Just one more reason for that lost decade,” he says.
Last summer, Maxymuk self-published his second Packers book, “Green Bay Gold.” In it, he builds a 53-man roster made up of the best Packers players at each position since 1950. He does so as the Packers do each year, assessing players and making rounds of cuts to get down to the roster limit of 53.
He shares excerpts from the book on his blog, including profiles of tight end Marv Fleming, lineman Norm Masters, defensive back Hank Gremminger and defensive end Bill Quinlan, defensive tackle Ron Kostelnik and defensive lineman Ed Neal. They, too, have custom cards because none ever had a Topps, Fleer or Philadelphia football card issued.
Other cards that never were, existing only in the confines of Packers Past Perfect, include faux Topps cards of eight replacement players from the 1987 strike season and colorized cards of USC quarterback Mike Holmgren done as a 1951 Topps card and Charlie Brackins, a black quarterback from 1955, done in the style of that year’s Bowman cards.
In January, Maxymuk counted down the 10 most memorable Packers touchdowns, adding a colorized Don Hutson card in the style of National Chicle cards from 1935.
In January, Maxymuk counted down the 10 most memorable Packers touchdowns. He also counted down the 10 worst Packers starting quarterbacks and backup quarterbacks.
Just as that dart game launched spirited debate 30 years ago, Maxymuk’s blog does so now. You know you can’t resist. Seneca Wallace? Randy Wright? Discuss.
John Maxymuk’s books
“Green Bay Gold: Assembling the Packers’ All-Time Two-Platoon 53-Man Roster,” 2015
“NFL Head Coaches: A Biographical Dictionary,” 2012
“Game Changers: The Greatest Plays in New York Giants History,” 2010
“The Quarterback Abstract,” 2009
“Steelers Facts and Trivia: Milled and Molded Hardhat Stumpers,” 2009
“The 50 Greatest Plays in New York Giants Football History,” 2008
“Strong Arm Tactics: A History and Statistical Analysis of the Professional Quarterback,” 2007
“Eagles Facts and Trivia: Puzzlers for the Bird-Brained,” 2006
“Eagles By the Numbers: Jersey Numbers and the Players Who Wore Them,” 2005
“Uniform Numbers of the NFL: All-Time Rosters, Facts and Figures,” 2005
“Packers By the Numbers: Jersey Numbers and the Players Who Wore Them,” 2003
“Green Bay Gold” and “Packers By the Numbers” are available on Amazon. “Green Bay Gold” also is available as an ebook.
John Maxymuk’s website: http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~maxymuk/home/home.html
John Maxymuk’s blog: https://packerspastperfect.wordpress.com/