Ray Nitschke - Class of 1978
The Vince Lombardi era is often remembered for its offense. But not to be forgotten is the part the Green Bay Packers' defense played in the franchise's five NFL championships and two Super Bowl titles in the 1960s.
Headlining that defensive effort was middle linebacker Ray Nitschke, who was regarded among his peers as the best of his generation.
A caring person off the field, on the field the 6-foot-3, 235-pounder was ferocious. Teammate Bart Starr said Nitschke's opposing temperaments provided a "classic example of Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hyde."
A third-round selection in the 1958 draft, Nitschke played both linebacker and fullback at Illinois. In 1960, he became the Packers' regular starter at middle linebacker and flourished.
Although the Packers didn't track tackles until 1975, Nitschke was known to be a hard-hitter. His athleticism is demonstrated in his 25 career interceptions, including a personal best of four in the Packers' championship season of 1962.
In the Lombardi era (1959-67) the Packers defense gave up just over 262 yards and 15 points per game during the regular season. Meanwhile, in the playoffs the Packers defense allowed just over 12 points per game.
In the 1961 NFL Championship game, in which the Packers demolished the New York Giants, 31-0, Nitschke provided an interception that set up a Green Bay touchdown.
One year later, in the 1962 NFL Championship game, also against the Giants, Nitschke was named the game's MVP.
Among his heroics in the 16-7 win that day, Nitschke deflected a pass that allowed for a Packers interception, thwarting a Giants drive that had reached the Green Bay 10-yard line. He also recovered two fumbles, one of which led to the Packers' only touchdown, while the other set up a field goal.
Meanwhile, the Giants' only points came not from their offense, but special teams, blocking a Max McGee punt in the Green Bay end zone.
Four seasons later in Super Bowl I, Nitschke made six tackles including a sack. In Super Bowl II, his nine tackles led the team.
A consensus All-Pro in 1966, Nitschke was an Associated Press All-Pro five times (1962, '64-67).
Nitschke played what strangely enough was his only Pro Bowl in 1964, and made a 42-yard interception return for a touchdown.
In 1970, Nitschke was named to the NFL's All-50 Year Team.
Following the 1972 season, Nitschke retired having played 190 games for the Packers, which is second in team history to only Bart Starr and Brett Favre. More than three decades later, his 20 career fumble recoveries remain second only to Willie Davis' 21.
In 1983, Nitschke's jersey number 66 was the fourth to be officially retired by the Packers.
In 1994, Nitschke was voted to the NFL's 75th Anniversary Team.
In 1997, the Packers' east practice field, across Oneida Street from Lambeau Field, was named in Nitschke's honor.
Raymond Ernest Nitschke, born December 29, 1936, in Elmwood Park, Ill., died March 8, 1998, at the age of 61.