Remembering the Biggest Quarterback Controversies in Packers History

The Green Bay Packers are still uncertain who their starting quarterback will be this season. Training camp is just a few weeks away and the team and its fans are still not sure if Aaron Rodgers will be under center when the season starts or if Jordan Love (or someone else) will be the quarterback.

The Packers have had several quarterback controversies in their history. They are often a crossroads for a team. Make the right decision, and your team can reach the playoffs and possibly contend for a Super Bowl. Make the wrong decision and the season can be lost and the team ends up losing more games than it wins.

Quarterback controversies also have the potential to divide a locker room and a fan base with players and fans taking sides as to who should lead the team. They must be handled decisively and not be allowed to drag on.

Here is a look at the biggest quarterback controversies in Packers history since Vince Lombardi took over as head coach in 1959. They are listed in chronological order.

1959 and 1960: Bart Starr vs Lamar McHan

Many fans may not remember that Lombardi was not sold on Starr as his starter when he took over as head coach and general manager of the Packers in 1959. In fact, Lombardi acquired quarterback Lamar McHan in a trade with the Chicago Cardinals a few months after taking over in Green Bay.

McHan had five years starting experience with the Cardinals and won the starting job in training camp. He started the first seven games for the Packers that season, winning the first three before suffering through a four-game losing streak.

McHan got hurt and Starr took over, starting the final five games of the season. The Packers won the final four contests and Starr played well, giving him in the inside track as the starter for 1960.

The battle continued into the following season. Starr won the job out of training camp but was disappointing in the season opener so McHan started the next three contests. In Week 5, McHan was benched at halftime.

He confronted Lombardi at a local Green Bay restaurant about his benching that week and never started another game for the Packers again.

Starr took over as the starter and didn’t relinquish the job (when healthy) until he retired after the 1971 season.

Bart went on to lead the Packers to five championships in seven years between 1961 and 1967 and had a Hall of Fame career. Meanwhile, McHan spent two seasons backing up Johnny Unitas in Baltimore and then started nine games for the 49ers in 1963 when John Brodie got hurt. He played another year in Canada before retiring from football.

Would Bart Starr have had his Hall of Fame career with the Packers if McHan had not called out Lombardi in public about his benching? We may never know, but ultimately, the right man won the job and led Lombardi’s Packers to greatness.

1973: Scott Hunter vs Jim Del Gaizo vs Jerry Tagge

The Packers won the NFC Central division in 1972 with a 10-4 record and second-year man Scott Hunter started all 14 games. But the offense succeeded on the strength of the running of John Brockington and MacArthur Lane. The passing offense was subpar, ranking 25th in a 26 team league in passing yards.

Before the 1973 season, coach and GM Dan Devine sent a pair of second-round picks to the Dolphins for their third-string quarterback, lefthander Jim Del Gaizo.

The Packers also had Jerry Tagge, a first-round pick out of Nebraska in 1972 on their roster. This set up a three-way quarterback battle entering the 1973 campaign.

Hunter won the job out of training camp and led the Pack to a 23-7 win over the New York Jets on Monday Night Football in the season opener. After that, both Hunter and offense struggled.

By Week 3, the game of musical quarterbacks had begun. Del Gaizo replaced Hunter in that game only to be replaced by Hunter the following week in a comeback win over the Giants.

By the end of the season, Tagge started six games, Hunter five and Del Gaizo three. None of them were particularly effective. All three starters threw two touchdown passes each for the season while tossing a combined 17 interceptions. The Packers finished the season ranked 24th in the league in passing yards, up one spot from the previous season. The team stumbled to a 5-7-2 record and missed the playoffs.

The battle continued into the 1974 with Hunter being let go and Del Gaizo traded to the Giants. Tagge beat out Jack Concannon for the starting job but neither played well and in desperation, Devine overpaid severely for John Hadl, giving up two first round picks, two second round selections and a third rounder for the 34-year-old veteran. The Packers finished 6-8 and Devine resigned before he was fired. 

1987: Don Majkowski vs Randy Wright

The Packers were struggling in the mid-80s under Forrest Gregg and finished with a 4-12 record in 1986. Former Wisconsin quarterback Randy Wright started all 16 games that season, throwing 17 touchdowns and 23 interceptions.

In 1987, Wright battled rookie Don Majkowski who the Packers drafted in the 10th round of the draft that year out of Virginia.

Wright struggled early and the Packers were shutout by the Raiders in the season opener. Gregg turned to Majkowski in Week 2 against the Broncos and the Pack managed to earn a 17-17 tie in that game in Milwaukee.

After the strike and three games with replacement players, the regulars returned and Wright and Majkowski battled for the starting spot for the rest of the year.

In 12 non-strike games, Wright ended up starting seven times, Majkowski five. Neither quarterback shined, but the Pack was 2-2-1 when Majkowski started and just 1-6-0 under Wright.

The battle continued into the following season with Wright starting seven games and Majkowski nine. Majik seemed to provide the Packers with a bit more spark and the team won three of its four games in 1988 when he was starting.

By 1989, Wright was gone and Majkowski had a Pro Bowl season leading the Packers to their best record of the decade with a 10-6 finish.

2008: Brett Favre vs Aaron Rodgers

The last time the Packers had a quarterback controversy was 2008. Brett Favre had been the unquestioned starter since 1992. In fact, no other quarterback started a regular season game for the Packers between Week 4 of the 1992 season and the 2007 NFC Championship Game loss to the Giants.

But Favre “retired” again after the 2007 season, something he had been contemplating for several years. Favre retired and unretired several times and unfortunately, this was just the latest unretirement for the future Hall of Famer.

After Favre announced he was hanging up his cleats, the Packers committed to Rodgers who was the team’s first round pick in 2005 and had waited three years behind Favre. Then Favre announced he wanted to come back. He took a private jet to Green Bay and prepared to report to training camp.

Immediately, the fan base was divided between those who wanted Favre to return and those who preferred Rodgers and were tired of Favre’s repeated retirements and returns.

GM Ted Thompson made a firm decision and traded Favre to the New York Jets on August 7 in exchange for a conditional fourth-round pick.

Rodgers took over as the starter and threw for more than 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns in his first year as the starter. Although the Packers finished 6-10, Rodgers clearly showed he had the potential to be a special quarterback. One year later, he led the Packers to the playoffs and earned Pro Bowl honors for the first time in his career. A year later, he was Super Bowl MVP.

Rodgers has held the job ever since, missing time only due to injuries. Because Rodgers is unsure if he wants to return to Green Bay, the Packers may be facing their first real quarterback controversy in more than a decade when training camp starts July 27.

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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Comments (35)

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13TimeChamps's picture

July 08, 2021 at 12:33 pm

Great picture!!!

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GilMartin's picture

July 08, 2021 at 01:07 pm

Thanks, glad you liked it

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Savage57's picture

July 09, 2021 at 05:29 am

What caught my attention in the photo is the fans in the background. Relatively conservative attire, lots of white shirts, no signs, an absence of every second or third person decked out in a $150 player jersey, no banners, no weird get ups.

One could almost imagine they came to watch a football game, not go trick or treating.

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Lare's picture

July 08, 2021 at 12:40 pm

For some reason, it seems like QBs have a hard time accepting when it's time for them to retire.

We shall see if that's the case with Aaron Rodgers.

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TarynsEyes's picture

July 08, 2021 at 12:59 pm

Are you referring to Rodgers now or in like 5+ years whether with the Packers or not?

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GilMartin's picture

July 08, 2021 at 01:09 pm

Rodgers is the reigning MVP. I would say it's not time for him to retire yet. Thanks for the comment, TarynsEyes.

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GilMartin's picture

July 08, 2021 at 01:08 pm

Most players are cut or too injured to continue. Only a select few retire on their own terms. Rodgers has some good years left, though. He is the reigning MVP, not time for him to retire just yet. Thanks for the comment, Lare.

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mnbadger's picture

July 08, 2021 at 12:44 pm

Also love the photo. The linemen are all squared up and low, coiled to deliver a blow. The crowd is all dressed as if they just came from a neighboring church. Not so much in current times. GPG!

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GilMartin's picture

July 08, 2021 at 01:10 pm

Definitely different times. Also, very few fans had team licensed merchandise back then, the league hadn't really set that up yet back then. Thanks as always for the comment, mnbadger.

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Slim11's picture

July 08, 2021 at 01:31 pm

IIRC, Starr didn't start the last five games in 1959. Joe Francis got the start, but was ineffective. Starr replaced him in what was the Packers' fifth loss. He did well enough that Lombardi started Starr in the next game. The rest is history.

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GilMartin's picture

July 08, 2021 at 06:46 pm

Hey Slim11:
Thanks for the comment. According to Pro-Football-Reference, Francis started one game for the Packers in 1958 and didn't start a game in 1959. I know I heard Lombardi was considering Francis as an option but my research indicates he didn't start a game in 1959.

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Slim11's picture

July 09, 2021 at 12:21 pm

I had to do some digging too. You're correct. Francis played extensively against the Giants in a 20-3 loss. He was put in because the starter, Lamar McHan was injured or ineffective. The following week, McHan was, once more, hurt or ineffective. Lombardi didn't make the mistake of putting Francis in again. That's when Starr started to shine.

At one point, I believe Starr was considered third string behind McHan and Francis.

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13TimeChamps's picture

July 08, 2021 at 02:15 pm

I had forgotten about the Del Gaizo trade.

So, in total, Dan Devine gave up (2) 1st's, (4) 2nd's, and (1) 3rd for Hadl and Del Gaizo.

Mind boggling!!

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GilMartin's picture

July 08, 2021 at 06:48 pm

Scary. That's a high price for two quarterbacks that threw a total of 11 touchdowns and 35 interceptions over roughly 2 plus seasons.

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13TimeChamps's picture

July 08, 2021 at 09:50 pm

And set the franchise in a hole for the next 15 years. That's what a horrible FO/GM can do. Thank god we have a professional like Gutekunst. I'll never understand fans on here that don't appreciate him or our FO.

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NickPerry's picture

July 09, 2021 at 05:40 am

I don't either 13TimeChamps, I don't get it at all. Now I'm not a huge Mark Murphy fan but even Murphy has done an excellent job keeping the Packers in the "Back" and making them more money.

I'm a Gute fan, personally I think he's a pretty damn good evaluator of talent and EARNED his stripes from two of the best, Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson. Packers fans are SPOILED. I'm spoiled. I EXPECT the Packers to be in the running for a SB every year and for the most part they have been since Wolf arrived.

THINK abut that for a minute and THINK about what this team looks like now from when Gute took over in January of 2018.

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Curt's picture

July 09, 2021 at 10:00 am

Always though Devine was a decent coach, but the Del Gaizo trade showed his lack of GM abilities and Hadl was pure panic.

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Billyk24's picture

July 11, 2021 at 09:17 pm

I can't remember any player saying Devine was a decent coach. He was the wrong pick for the team.

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Crankbait's picture

July 13, 2021 at 10:44 am

Devine was incompetent and over his head in the NFL. It was sad actually, but the FO was just as incompetent.
(There was John Brockington , MacArthur Lane and the google eyed Chester Markol to give the Packer faithful hope.)
Broke his leg on the sideline during his NFL debut then after too many losing seasons his neighbor shot his dog.
The Packers FO was such a mess for 25 years and I was a Packers addicted teenager born and raised in Wisconsin.
I remember going to a Packers game at County Stadium and seeing fans with paper bags on their heads with the words "Bag Bart" written on them. But that's another story !
I will take Aaron Rodgers and his diva attitude any day than having to suffer through those years.

Pro sports is all about winning right now and Aaron gives us the best chance to win.

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HarryHodag's picture

July 08, 2021 at 02:40 pm

I remember a picture of Howie Long from the Raiders picking up Randy Wright completely off his feet and tossing him backwards like a rag doll, ala WWE.

At the same time, the Packers offensive line routinely held out for more money though the team wasn't even close to sniffing the playoffs.

James Lofton and Mossy Cade were indicted for rape. Lofton acquitted, Cade sent to the Big House.

So were the Packers in the 1980's under Forrest Gregg and later Lindy Infante.

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splitpea1's picture

July 08, 2021 at 03:10 pm

Remember Gil's article on Packer nicknames a couple of weeks ago? "The Aunteater" has to be the most infamous one of them all in NFL history.

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GilMartin's picture

July 08, 2021 at 06:49 pm

Those were tough times for the Packers organization and tough times to be a fan. Thanks for the comment.

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Ferrari-Driver's picture

July 08, 2021 at 03:03 pm

Enjoyed the article, Gil. There was no mention of Tobin Rote who I felt was as physically talented as most any quarterback during his time. He had a strong arm and could run the ball like a running back at times. We traded him a couple of years before Lombardi took over and I vaguely remember comments from Lombardi where he said he would liked to have had the chance to coach Tobin Rote in Green Bay.
Also, the Packers drafted Babe Parilli in 1952 with the 4th selection while they had Tobin Rote, so there was consideration who would lead the Packers. Rote was the only quarterback that I know of who lead his team to a Championship in both the NFL and AFL leagues. We have certainly had some great quarterbacks on the Packers teams over the years. I also met the Great Arnie Herber when he delivered beer after he retired when I was a little kid. He was a good guy and always had some friendly words for us when we would run up to him while he was making a delivery. He was a Packer hero to us at that time.

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GilMartin's picture

July 08, 2021 at 06:50 pm

You listed some great players and names. I cut things off at the start of the Lombardi Era, but had I gone further back, those would have been included in the article. Thanks as always for commenting, Ferrari-Driver, always good to hear from you.

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stockholder's picture

July 08, 2021 at 07:13 pm

Nice history. But you should have mention John Hall and Lynn Dickey. Nothing has come easy for the packers and their QBs. But before we give the job away again. Maybe you need to point out what a Rookie QB makes. The recent signing of a rookie, is at #20 on the salary list. And he hasn't played a game yet. Forget Allegiance! Their being paid to win. Shouldn't we expect the same thing from the FO?

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PackerAaron's picture

July 09, 2021 at 07:45 am

Wut

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Johnblood27's picture

July 09, 2021 at 06:24 pm

Stockholder has been declared incompetent by his health care proxy.

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Starrbrite's picture

July 09, 2021 at 10:13 am

You may recall the QB controversy over Farve and Mark Brunell. I read that their was a split among the coaching staff as to who should start and the story goes that Holmgren told Farve they were tied at the hip and would succeed and/or fail together.

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barutanseijin's picture

July 09, 2021 at 12:00 pm

When we were kids we used to call a wobbly, fluttering off-target pass a “Randy Wright throw.”

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LayingTheLawe's picture

July 09, 2021 at 04:27 pm

You sort of missed the key point of what made Jerry Tagge a controversy. He was a graduate from Green Bay West High School and had then led Nebraska to back to back national championships. I am sure fan sentiment was high behind him.

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LayingTheLawe's picture

July 09, 2021 at 09:15 pm

And Scott Hunter was an efficient if not exciting QB from Alabama drafted later in the draft - so he had that second coming of Bart Starr sort of vibe going for him.

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Billyk24's picture

July 11, 2021 at 09:22 pm

Looking at Tagge's stats at Nebraska makes one wonder why was he even picked. An odd stat was Jerry Tagge had beaten out a quarterback at Nebraska who moved to Tight End. This Tight end came to Green Bay and played QB. His name was Fran Patrick!

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Stroh's picture

July 11, 2021 at 11:35 pm

Tagge won 2 consecutive National championships at Nebraska. That and he's from GB and played HS at GB West. So he was a 2 time natl champ QB at a football powerhouse, PLUS he was a native of GB. Not hard to see the reason he was drafted. But yeah, it was a HUGE mistake!

At the time, the Packers were a mess as an organization.

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VinceL's picture

July 09, 2021 at 04:39 pm

# 15, 31, 75 Hall of Fame members.

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mnbadger's picture

July 09, 2021 at 06:27 pm

As a Packer fan that wasn't from Green Bay, I hated the pick as a kid. IIRC, Nebraska ran the wishbone and JT probably threw less than 100 passes per year. I knew then that either I or the GM didn't know much. Turns out, both were true. GPG!

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