The Year the Packers Came Back

The Packers rise from the disappointment of several losing seasons.

In 1972, the Packers were led by a coach in his first NFL head coaching job and were coming off of several disappointing seasons that saw the Minnesota Vikings win the NFC Central Division four years in a row. The Packers played the Vikings on the second-to-last week of the season with a chance to clinch the Division Title. Sound familiar?

The reason I'm thinking about 1972 is that I recently received a book titled "The Year the Packers Came Back", written by Joe Zagorski with a foreword by Mike Holmgren (published by McFarland Books). The book recounts the story of the 1972 season, one where expectations were low (coming off a poor 4-8-2 1971 season - Dan Devine's first as Packers Head coach).

It was a team in transition, with holdovers from the Lombardi era team hanging on or getting traded away mixed with shiny new draft picks and players acquired in trades. It was a team with a head coach that had been very successful at the college level, but most everyone believed was in way over his head at the NFL level. There were strange decisions; Devine decided that All-Pro guard Gale Gillingham should convert to the defensive line (with disastrous results). Hall-Of-Fame MLB Ray Nitschke sat on the bench most of the year, and he traded away veterans like Donny Anderson, Bob Jeter, Lionel Aldridge,Travis Williams and Zeke Bratkowski, among others.

There was little about this team that would have predicted any modicum of success, yet  they would go on to win the NFC Central with a 10-4 record, which would be their only playoff appearance for the next 10 years.

How did this team do it? THAT is the question this book answers. The book takes you through the entire year, from the off-season, to the draft, training camp, the full season and playoffs. There are interviews with Packers players that help us understand how 1972 became the one shining light of the 70's decade for the Packers.

Without giving away too much, I can tell you there is a big focus on Dan Devine, his jealousy of the Lombardi legacy, his relationships (or lack of) with his players, his head-scratching moves and how the team overcame all of that to have the season they had.

It's fascinating reading and a book that should be on the shelf of any fan of Packers history.

About the book: The 1972 Green Bay Packers were not expected to challenge for a playoff spot, or even to top their four victories from the season before. But the players were an eclectic group of over-achievers, 20 of whom were brand new to the team. Despite disheartening decisions by a questionable head coach, they gelled almost immediately and by season’s end became the only Packers team throughout the 1970s to earn a division title. This book details how they succeeded beyond all expectations and tells one of the great stories in pro football history.

About the Author: Former sportswriter Joe Zagorski has been a member of the Pro Football Researchers Association since the mid-1980s, and has written numerous articles for their monthly publication The Coffin Corner. He has also written articles for the internet site Pro Football Journal.

__________________________

"Jersey Al" Bracco is the Editor-In-Chief, part owner and wearer of many hats for CheeseheadTV.com and PackersTalk.com. He is also a recovering Mason Crosby truther.  Follow Al on twitter at @JerseyalGBP

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Comments (31)

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Handsback's picture

December 22, 2019 at 07:59 am

That was the year I met my wife. She was from Cleveland and knew quite a bit about football. We hit it off and have been together ever since. If my memory is correct, the Packers played and beat the Browns 20-7. I'm wrong the Packers won 26-10 so much for my memory.
Regardless, Been a fan a long time and always happy when they play great football and win. Even happy when they win like this year!

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NickPerry's picture

December 22, 2019 at 08:09 am

John Brockington and MacArther Lane was WHY the Packers went 10-4 in 1972. Brockington was an absolute BEAST and Lane pretty damn good himself, especially in 1972. They were the reason. Scott Hunter was the QB and let me tell you, Hunter gave you a reason to REALLY complain about the way the Packers QB played that week...EVERY week.

Devine was an idiot who later would set this team back for years after the Hadl trade. But for that ONE season in 1972, the ONLY winning season under Devine, it was GREAT being a Packers fan while living in Minneapolis MN.

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PeteK's picture

December 22, 2019 at 10:13 am

Absolutely, loved that powerful backfield tandem. I have a memory of Devine scowling along the sideline with a broken leg.

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wildbill's picture

December 22, 2019 at 12:18 pm

Totally agree, that RB tandem was awesome and Devine an idiot.

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Tundraboy's picture

December 23, 2019 at 06:31 am

Spot on NP. We used to dream about getting a great QB and a defensive star at MLB. Which is why we have been frustrated when we haven't had enough talent around Farve and Rodgers.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

December 22, 2019 at 06:50 pm

GB had a great defense. Willie Buchanon, the 7th pick that year, came in and started all 15 games, giving GB a nice CB pair in Buchanon and Ellis. Very fine punt returners. And as you note, Brockington, Lane and a reasonably good OL.

My family still lived in Illinois, so I was still a Bears fan. I watched Chicago go 4-9-1. Missed GB's greatness in the 60s as a bears fan, instead watching Chicago go 48-83-4. Then became a GB fan circa 1973 or 1974 and got to watch GB struggle for almost 2 more decades.

I am really hungry for deep playoff runs, at the least, which the griddle (QB position) is hot.

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Bure9620's picture

December 22, 2019 at 08:37 am

Great story, it was the one decent year in 20. I was negative 11 years old, remember it well..........

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Tundraboy's picture

December 22, 2019 at 09:08 am

Yes Brockington AND Lane!

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PeteK's picture

December 22, 2019 at 10:32 am

The dark years for Packer fans. Two appearances in 27 years. I also remember 1983 when we actually won a playoff game. We had an excellent air attack with Dickey, Lofton, Coffman(wish we had him now, especially after watching TE's shine last night), Ellis, Jefferson.

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Tundraboy's picture

December 22, 2019 at 10:47 pm

"We had an excellent air attack with Dickey, Lofton, Coffman(wish we had him now"

Wish we had them both right now. I often think of having a wide receiver like Lofton again and Coffman is exactly the type of TE we lack.

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GVPacker's picture

December 23, 2019 at 06:41 am

Awesome Blast From The Past Al! I was at Lambeau for the game against the Raiders (A 20-14 Loss) The Packers were the victims of a bad call which led to the loss! Scott Hunter threw a pass that was incomplete but the zebra ruled it a catch and a fumble and was recovered by the Raiders who scored a TD. Even in those days the officiating was really bad! With a name like Zeke BRATkowski you were destined to play for the Packers!

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Qoojo's picture

December 22, 2019 at 10:29 am

I remember that year. It was the year we forgot to name a horse.

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PeteK's picture

December 22, 2019 at 04:42 pm

Was it a one trick pony?

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Qoojo's picture

December 23, 2019 at 10:09 am

When the horse finally made it back home, he was quite thirsty, like he was in a desert or something.

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Leatherhead's picture

December 22, 2019 at 10:40 am

Our QB, Scott Hunter, under the tutelage of Bart Starr, completed about 7 passes for 100 yards per game. We were near the bottom of the league in nearly every passing stat except one: We threw the fewest interceptions in the league.

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Ferrari-Driver's picture

December 22, 2019 at 11:06 am

I also recall that season well and I especially remember the playoff loss which was to the Redskins and if I remember it correctly, George Allen was the head coach. The Packers had been running the ball well in the latter part of the season and when the Packers played the Redskins, I remember Allen who was always a creative thinker on defense, installed a five man line and essentially shut the Packers running game down and we lost the game handily, but I can't remember the exact score any longer, but the disappointment of the game remains clear.

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Tundraboy's picture

December 22, 2019 at 10:51 pm

I remember that game. Losing to Allen was particularly painful. Good coach,but a smug bastard.

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NickPerry's picture

December 23, 2019 at 03:47 am

It was 16 to 3...Google is awesome...LOL... I actually remember watching it because it was on Christmas Eve Day. The score makes it look closer but your right, it wasn't even THAT close.

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Boneman's picture

December 22, 2019 at 11:23 am

Packers were somewhat overshadowed that year by the "perfect" Miami Dolphins and the Redskins "over the hill gang". Football back when 'men were men' and before it turned into a money train. The game didn't even stop for commercials back then. Imagine that! LOL

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packerbackerjim's picture

December 22, 2019 at 11:41 am

George Allen was the first HC who not only publicly said he would emphasize Special Team play actually did it quite successfully.

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Johnblood27's picture

December 22, 2019 at 11:34 am

I remember the '72 season like it was yesterday. The end of the year games, beating the snot out of Detroit 33-7 and Minnesota 23-7 really made me believe that the Pack was back. The last game of the year, a 30-20 beatdown of the Saints had some memorable plays as well including a run by Ray Nitschke off of a blocked kick where he almost scored a TD but was caught at the 5 yd line from behind with lots of players in front of him for blocking, but nobody looked back and Nitschke was just sooooo slow! I also remember Jim Carter as the up-back on the punt team getting a punt right in the ass in the Packer end zone that went for a NO TD.
Chester Marcol was a rookie and set the league on fire with his kicking. Willie Buchanon was the DROY and was sure a great DB. Ah, I loved that team.

Interestingly enough, the George Allen led "over the hill gang" in '72 was a remnant of the Washington team that Lombardi resurrected and led to their first winning season in quite a while, he then passed and Washington hired Allen who loaded up on veterans with a rejuvenated (under Lombardi) Sonny Juergenson and an equally ancient Billy Kilmer splitting QB duties. Larry Brown, who became a darn good RB after Lombardi coached him up, led the Washington offense.

I remember coming home from Church and rushing to the TV to watch the game, it was Christmas eve.

That was the year of the undefeated Miami Dolphins who beat that ancient Washington team 14-7 in the SB. I wonder what the Packers could have done to that Miami team? Could the GBP Championship game winning history carry the day? Could Brock and Mac run to victory? We will never know...

I suffered for a lot of years with '72 being my only shining moment as I stayed the course and rooted year after year for my Pack, I also remember the 83 Playoffs after a strike shortened season. The air attack was incredible with Lynn Dickey under the tutelage of Bart Starr coupled with the running of Eddie Lee Ivery and Gerry Ellis. The years of no defense under Bart were a killer to that potent offense ever leading to a winning season.

I was so disappointed when the season ended in Dallas, the Pack just couldn't stop the Dallas offense. I think I got most of this right, but my memory isn't always perfect these days. Memories make us rich!

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GVPacker's picture

December 22, 2019 at 12:17 pm

Lombardi discovered that Larry Brown had a hearing disability and had a hearing aid installed in his helmet, Larry Brown became one of the NFL's best rb's after that!. Ever notice the similarities between the Redskins and Packers uniforms? That was another Lombardi idea.

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Tundraboy's picture

December 22, 2019 at 10:58 pm

You got it right. It was a special year.Flawed but special. And a lesson for this year's team.

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PackfanNY's picture

December 22, 2019 at 12:23 pm

I remember watching the playoff loss to the Redskins with my now late father. The game was very frustrating as Packers couldn’t get going on offense and lost 16-3. FG early then nothing. They had played a few weeks earlier in Washington and it was a close loss.

Interesting memory for me. Shortly after this game my father brought home (he was a printer by trade) a color cardboard action photo of John Brockington in that game. I kept it in my room at my parents house. After I got married and had a son I gave it to him for his room. Last year when I went to Lambeau, Brockington was signing in the lobby of the stadium. So I had my son bring the picture. Brockington signed it and asked how I got the picture. He told me that he remembered it and that it was used to promote an event he attended. Not sure if he said a book signing. So almost 50 years later it’s signed and something me and my son will keep forever.

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JerseyAl's picture

December 22, 2019 at 01:18 pm

that's awesome!

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wildbill's picture

December 22, 2019 at 12:27 pm

The only good thing about the 70s is they didn’t broadcast every game, and none in my overseas station, so I didn’t have to suffer watching all of the losses. If they all had been broadcast I would have watched every minute though. I remember 1970 where the lions beat us 40-0 in the first game, I watched every minute, and then beat us 20-0 in our last game. I again watched every minute and thought that we showed good progress, lol.

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PeteK's picture

December 22, 2019 at 05:04 pm

There was always the Thanksgiving game to give us indigestion.

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GVPacker's picture

December 22, 2019 at 02:19 pm

Wasn't the Packers Red Skins 72 playoff game on the same day the Steelers beat the Raiders with Franco Harris Immaculate reception?

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PackfanNY's picture

December 22, 2019 at 02:36 pm

No. The Raiders/Steelers Immaculate Reception Game occurred on December 23, 1972. Packers/Redskins was December 24, 1972. Games were on same playoff weekend. Pretty close. I had to look that up.

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GVPacker's picture

December 22, 2019 at 03:02 pm

Thanks PackfanNY!

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CharlesSpivey's picture

January 10, 2021 at 03:52 pm

I remember it very well, all of the year

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