GREEN BAY, Wis. – Herb Adderley, who played a role in five Green Bay Packers championships, died on Friday at age 81, the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced.
Adderley, the team’s first-round pick in 1961, was a five-time Pro Bowler, four-time All-Pro and a member of the all-1960s team. Part of the Hall of Fame’s Class of 1980, he led the team in interceptions four times and ranks third in franchise history with 39 interceptions.
“The Green Bay Packers family was saddened today to hear of Herb Adderley’s passing,” Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy said. “Herb was one of the greatest defensive backs to ever play the game. He was a tremendous all-around athlete, as evidenced by the fact that he was All-City in Philadelphia in football, basketball and baseball, played halfback and defensive back at Michigan State, and was an outstanding kick returner in the NFL. He was instrumental in the great success of the Lombardi teams.
“We extend our deepest condolences to Herb’s family and friends.”
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With lockdown, big-play ability, Adderley was a key cog on Vince Lombardi’s Glory Years defenses.
“He said I was the best cornerback he’d ever seen,” Adderley recalled. “In front of the whole team, he said I was the best athlete. I’ll always remember that.”
Adderley played in four of the first six Super Bowls – two with Green Bay and two with Dallas – and was on the winning side three times. Amazingly, he played in seven NFL championship games in his 11-year career and was victorious six times.
Perhaps his signature play came in Super Bowl II, when he returned an interception 60 yards for a touchdown to clinch the Packers’ victory over the Oakland Raiders. That big-play ability was a hallmark of Adderley’s career.
Adderley was a star running back at Michigan State but moved to defense under Lombardi.
“It was difficult with Paul Hornung and Jimmy Taylor. It was difficult to break in there as a rookie,” Adderley said during his Hall of Fame speech. “As a matter of fact, I broke my collarbone trying to break in there against the Chicago Bears. I will never forget that, and I decided right then and there, I said the best thing for me is to go defense and I started thinking defense.
“I think back to 1961 by rookie year in Detroit, Milt Blum was the quarterback. Hank Gremminger was injured and I had to go in. I was lucky enough, thank God, to come up with a big-play interception that turned the game around and, from then on, I was the defensive cornerback of the Green Bay Packers.”
That game, played on Thanksgiving, changed everything. In 1962, his first full season on defense, he was voted All-Pro and to the Pro Bowl.
Said Lombardi: “I was too stubborn to switch him to defense until I had to. Now when I think of what Adderley means to our defense, it scares me to think of how I almost mishandled him.”
When he got the ball, not surprisingly given his background on offense, he knew what to do with it. He had seven career pick-sixes in regular-season games, twice led the NFL in interception-return yardage and averaged 21.8 yards per runback in his career. While he ranks 42nd all-time with 48 interceptions, he’s ninth with 1,046 return yards. He also averaged 25.7 yards per kickoff return.
“The entire Pro Football Hall of Fame family mourns the passing of Herb Adderley. He was a great player and an even greater man. Herb left an indelible mark on the game and was respected tremendously by players and personnel across the league,” Hall of Fame President and CEO David Baker said.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Herb’s wife, Brenda, and their entire family. We will forever keep his legacy alive to serve as inspiration for future generations. The Hall of Fame flag will be flown at half-staff in Herb’s memory.”
Adderley closed his career with Dallas from 1970 through 1972.
“I am saddened to hear that Herb Adderley has passed,” wrote Hall of Famer Gil Brandt, who was vice president of player personnel for the Cowboys from 1960 through 1989. “He was such a great, great player. When we got him at the end of his career, he became the glue in our defensive backfield, the final piece to our first Super Bowl win. Rest easy. Condolences to the entire Adderley family.”