In Green Bay, Wisconsin, that romantic city lying quaintly by the banks of Holzer's Drug Store, the questions seem as poignant as those on daytime television. Can two young, handsome, adventurous millionaires find true happiness in a town where living it up means buying a new mackinaw? Will the happy people in their colorful regional costumes take them to their bosoms? Can Boom Boom beat out Locks on the field and in the gossip columns? Is Grabbo the Pole to end the ethnic jokes? And what of the old man, Coach Lombardi—Sir? Can he handle it all? Can they? Can U Thant? Last week all of pro football was awaiting the answers as breathlessly as Donny Anderson and Jim Grabowski were awaiting the Wall Street closings.
There are always a lot of suspenseful questions during the teasing exhibition season as the pros shove their blocking sleds around from moldy Peekskill to steamy Thousand Oaks. Since training began in early July, however, most of the important ones have been resolved. Jim Brown stayed in London and quit the game. John Brodie came back from Hawaii and signed. Otto Graham claimed he was misquoted again. Ernie Ladd moved his 315-pound appetite from San Diego to Houston, a place with more groceries. And Al Davis finally got another job. Thus the interest now centers on Green Bay and one of the more fascinating situations of any year. Green Bay is where that million-dollar pair of rookies, $711,000 Donny (Boom Boom) Anderson of Texas Tech and $355,000 Jim (Grabbo) Grabowski of Illinois, are merely trying to unemploy two of the game's best players, Paul Hornung (also known as Locks, as in Goldi) and Jim Taylor (see cover), who just happen to have led the Packers to three NFL championships in five years.
It seems preposterous on the surface—like Holzer's trying to beat out the Eiffel Tower as a postcard subject—but if so, why did Vince Lombardi spend all that money? Why are Hornung and Taylor in the best shape of their lives? The real question is not whether the rookies will take over, but when.
That day, barring injuries to Hornung and Taylor, will not come tomorrow, next week or next month. In fact, it may not have come even by the end of the 1966 season—after the Packers have beaten Baltimore in sudden death for the Western Division title, Cleveland in sudden death for the NFL championship, Buffalo in sudden death for the world championship and after Commissioner Pete Rozelle has ignored challenges from the Continental, North American and Canadian leagues.
August 21, 1966
But the battle is on, a complex entanglement of abilities and personalities. There is the Golden Palomino, Anderson, from the dusty, flat plains of Texas, against the Golden Boy, Hornung—both of them flashy, swinging types noted for their indulgence in women, clothes and rich, rare steak. Then there is the Polish workhorse from Illinois, Grabowski, who had erased Red Grange's records, against the Bayou workhorse from Louisiana, Taylor. Hovering over them is Lombardi. And none of the five will soon find himself out of the spotlight that a fascinated country has turned on Green Bay.
Since the Packers' primary concern is winning another title, everyone naturally would like to pretend that there is nothing unusual in town except the presence of a few new exercising machines. Sure, a couple of new guys are around. What are their names—Granderson and Dabrowski? Good kids. Hope they make the cut. And the early statements went like this:
Lombardi: They're not the highest-paid ballplayers in history, and they won't cause any discussion.
Hornung: Taylor and I have always had good backs behind us.
Taylor: I don't need another man to push me. Whatever drive I have comes from my own pride.
That's swell, except for one thing. Hornung and Taylor, who are now 30 years old, are in the best shape ever. All of the veteran Packers appear to be. They are tanned and feisty and eager, as they demonstrated on Aug. 5 when they demolished the College All Stars 38-0. Taylor, the butchering inside runner, looked quicker than in the past as he took pitchouts and went wide, then cut downfield. Once, on a 13-yard touchdown run, Taylor squirted through a hole and was across the goal before the All-Star deep backs could turn their heads. Hornung, at the same time, ran his sweeps and off-tackle plays as if he'd shed five years. Close as ever behind his guards, Fuzzy Thurston and Jerry Kramer, he practically hurdled them once or twice, and jerked and bulled for extra yardage like a...uh...rookie. So far, it has been the best training camp the Packers have ever had, and clearly the knowledge that the high-priced rookies were coming in has been partly responsible.
Meanwhile, nearly all the Packers have been struggling hard to be realistic and philosophical about Anderson and Grabowski.
Before the College All-Star Game in Chicago, before Donny and Grabbo had even reported, Hornung relaxed in his room at the Drake Hotel, along with Thurston and End Max McGee, his roommate for nine years, and talked about it.
"I've met 'em," he said. "They seem like good kids, shy like all rookies at first. Anderson's got some color. He throws you some lines, at least I've read some. He's a hell of an athlete. He can do a lot of things. But you can't make anything out of this money deal. I'm for anyone getting all he can. I've got mine. So these kids came along at a time when the really big money was being thrown around."
Hornung, his golden hair gleaming, his cuff links shining, said, "They're not gonna step right in. They've got to learn the plays and fit in with the guys. Hell, they'll play. Elijah Pitts and Tom Moore played a lot. I think all of us just want them to help us be a better team."
Fuzzy Thurston squirmed on one of the twin beds and said, "Take Anderson. From what I've heard, he's a completely different type of runner than Paul. He does things his own way. He slams in there and goes outside, too, but Paul follows his blockers 100%—the best ever at that kind of thing. Anderson will have to learn a lot of variations on every play, the tips and mannerisms of his blockers, how to take the hand-offs. And he'll have to block himself. Our backs work on every play in our offense."
McGee, stretched out on a bed in his undershorts, said, "He's gonna have to be a mover to take over as social leader." Max raised up. "You know how I got to be Hornung's roommate? The first time I ever saw him in a hotel room in Winston-Salem, where the team was when I got out of the service. I walked into a poker game...."
"We don't do that anymore," Fuzzy interrupted wistfully.
Max continued, "I walked in and looked around the table and there was Paul, just a rookie, sitting there with all the cheese in front of him. I said, 'You, baby, you belong to me from now on!"
Hornung enjoys his reputation as one of the first-class swingers in pro ball, a man who would almost rather fumble than be seen in the company of an unattractive young lady; he is a check-grabber, a stylish dresser. Golden Boy. But getting that label was accidental, he said. "You come from Notre Dame and you get seen in a few good restaurants and you've got the image."
It is widely believed that Donny Anderson, honest and likeable one moment, an amusing con man the next, desires the same kind of reputation. While a tremendous athlete (6 feet 2, 215 pounds) who can run, catch and kick, he keeps getting himself involved in situations that might well make him another Hornung—off the field, at least.
For example, the Oilers flew him into Houston last winter, hoping to sign him. They had a lavish suite for him at the Warwick Hotel, a date with a pretty coed, and an expensive evening planned. The Oilers' publicity man. Jim McLemore, greeted him at the airport and was halfway through the line of festivities when Donny said, "Hey, wait a minute. No college broads."
"Huh?" said McLemore.
"No college broads," said Donny.
"Sure, Donny," said Jim. "Whatever you want to do is fine."
Donny was no less direct another time last winter when Rea Schuessler, the director of the Senior Bowl, called him long distance in the hope of getting him to play in the Mobile game.
"Hi, Donny," said Rea in his high-pitched, friendly southern voice. "This is Rea Schuessler of the Senior Bowl down here in Mobile. Say, old buddy, can you use a thousand dollars?"
"Naw," said Donny, after a brief pause (click).
"He's just honest," explained Bill Holmes, the publicist at Texas Tech. "I hear these stories and they don't surprise me, but he's a real good kid. I think he says the things he does because he's honest. Sometimes he's joking. Like when he says he doesn't admire Hornung, that you don't admire anyone. He means he wants to make it with his own style. And like in the dressing room after the Gator Bowl. He lit up a cigar, and when a writer asked him when was the last time he had smoked a cigar, Donny said, 'Last night.' He makes good copy."
Hornung is amused by all of Anderson's quotes, even the words he spoke to a writer who had expressed some disappointment in his speed: "All I got to be, Stud, is one step faster than Hornung." But Paul insists that this is not the Donny he has known up to now.
"He still seems shy to me," said Hornung. "He's been going around calling everybody mister. Look, he's gonna be fine because he's a football player. I'm not gonna play forever. A couple of more years, maybe. I've been playing football since I was 6. I'd like to be on one more winner, go out on a high tide and get into television. Just looking at the situation, I've got to say that Anderson has a better chance of beating me out than Grabowski does at beating out Taylor."
Jim Grabowski, who even as a sophomore was a Rose Bowl star, is not the spectacular runner that Anderson is. Where Anderson combines quickness and change of pace, moves and power, Grabbo's main attributes are hard hitting and durability. He frequently carried the ball 30 and 40 times in a single game against Big Ten lines and gained 2,878 yards in three years of doing it. Polite, talkative and mature, he is a far different personality.
"I could have got more money from Miami," Jim says. "Just as Donny probably could have got more from Houston. But the Packers are sort of the Yankees, or what the Yankees were. I think we both feel we want to make it with the best. It's not the most exciting town in the world, but you can be a winner in Green Bay right away. We've got a lot to learn. Heck, I think if we averaged 10 minutes a game we'd be happy. I was flattered when the Packers drafted me. After all, when the impression is given you're being groomed to replace one of the finest fullbacks in the game it does a lot for your confidence.
"I don't think I'll get discouraged," Jim tells you. "Coach Lombardi has already told us to relax—we're going to make the team. If it worked out that I split time with Taylor, that would be great. More than I expect, in fact. The discipline should help both Donny and me. We won't be sitting around on any blocking dummies, I don't imagine."
He went on, "We're already used to all the razzing about the money. We got that in All-Star camp. We kid about it, too. I tell Donny I'll trade checks with him. We may room together, although my girl friend—I'm getting married in November—isn't too happy about it. She's heard the rumor that Donny likes girls."
When Anderson and Grabowski arrived from Chicago last week, the people of Titletown, USA, turned out in hundreds to line the workout field and take a peek at the precious rookies. They were not there to cheer but to be shown. A few small voices said, "Good luck," as Anderson, in an absurd helmet several sizes too small minus chin strap and face guard, and Grabowski, wearing a frazzled jersey, trotted around, took their exercises and then began fumbling hand-offs from Quarterback Bart Starr. At one point Donny said, "Jim and I don't know anything. We're way behind. In college the holes were numbered, but here they've got names—fan and fly and that stuff". It makes me feel stupid. My foot bothers me, too. I can't do the things I want to do on it."
"Don't worry about your foot," said Grabowski, referring to the ankle injury Anderson received in the All-Star game. "When Coach Lombardi yells, 'No gimps on the field,' it'll get better."
Later Grabowski said, "Boy, I never had to run my plays 40 yards downfield in a skeleton drill before. I feel like I'm starting all over."
Gradually, by the end of the week, everyone became more relaxed. Anderson and Grabowski had been through the agonizing procedure of singing in front of the team in the dining room. They had slowly begun to know the Packers individually and had found them prideful, practical men. Pros, in other words.
Jim Taylor had even stopped some plays in the workouts to show the rookies where to hit the holes. Hornung had given tips about hand-offs. In all, the rookies had mastered only four running plays. It would be a long process. But Lombardi had said, "I feel twice blessed. We didn't figure we'd get both of them. They'll be O.K. They'll help us. As for our older players, they know the facts of life. They know everybody's job depends on what a man does today."
When last seen, Anderson was indeed rooming with Grabbo and saying, "Jim's gal don't like me. She thinks I'm a bad influence, but that's not true. It's just that Jim wants one woman, and I want one woman in every town."
Now, really, how could Hornung dislike a guy like Donny?