Remembering Herb Adderley: Another crucial member of Lombardi Packers gone too soon

This year can't leave soon enough. I fear what the final two months will bring.

Today, I woke up with the news that Herb Adderley had passed at the age of 81. In February, it was Willie Wood. In April, Green Bay Packers fans of my generation and before lost Willie Davis. Three Hall of Famers -- more than a quarter of the players on a Packers defense that won Super Bowls I and II -- all gone in fewer than nine months.

In the last 24 months, those great, great championship teams led by Vince Lombardi have now lost seven starters, four on offense (quarterback Bart Starr, fullback Jim Taylor and tackles Forrest Gregg and Bob Skoronski) and the three on defense. All but Skoronski enshrined in Canton.

I hope the dominoes stop falling soon because there just aren't many left.

By my count, just eight starters remain from those first two Super Bowl teams. As someone who grew up in Wisconsin and covered the Packers for a dozen years at the Milwaukee Sentinel, then the Journal-Sentinel, it saddens me each time I hear the news that another member of those spectacular Lombardi teams has passed.

Adderley, who is one of four players in NFL history to have played on six NFL championship teams, was once called by Starr "the greatest cornerback to ever play the game." The term "shutdown corner" originated with Roger Wehrli, Deion Sanders popularized the expression, but it was Adderley who epitomized it. He was a bit of a gambler, yes, and while he sometimes got beat, it mostly paid dividends. His penchant for the big play oftentimes showed up in the biggest games. His 60-yard interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl II against the Raiders sealed the Packers' second consecutive title.

Adderley was not just a big play waiting to happen, though -- he was a fearless, aggressive man-to-man corner who made very few "business decisions" when it came to tackling.

"Herb Adderley simply wouldn't let me get to the outside," Hall of Fame receiver Tommy McDonald once said. "He'd just beat me up, force me to turn underneath routes all the time.

"Other guys tried the same tactic, but he was the only one tough enough and fast enough to get it done."

Adderley was a highly successful running back and receiver at Michigan State; Lombardi wanted to turn him into the next Lenny Moore in Green Bay. It wasn't until Thanksgiving Day 1961 in Adderley's rookie season that Lombardi gave up on his plans. That was the day starting left cornerback Hank Gremminger got injured and was replaced by Adderley in the third quarter. Making his first-ever appearance on defense in the NFL, Adderley intercepted a pass that set up the Packers winning touchdown against Detroit. It was the first of 39 picks he had with the Packers (third-most in team history) and first of 48 for his career.

Adderley often credited Lombardi for instilling in him what it would take to survive in a post-football world. "Once you start working in the world," Adderley once quoted Lombardi as saying, "you'll have to have the same ingredients to make it: self-pride, pride in performance, sacrifice, self-respect, respect for others and hard work."

"I love my father very dearly," Adderley continued. "I don't think about my father every day, but I think about Coach Lombardi every day."

Two years after Lombardi retired, Adderley asked for a trade and got it. He went to the Dallas Cowboys, where he was a key member of the "Doomsday Defense" and played on two more Super Bowl teams, including a victory in VI, giving him six NFL championships in 12 seasons.

Adderley was traded to New England in July 1973, then to the Los Angeles Rams a month later. He opted not to report and retired at age 34. Eleven years later, after stints as a broadcaster and coach, he drew on his pension and put in motion Lombardi's words of wisdom. He became the owner and president of a cable/telephone-installation company and oversaw the business for 20 years. In 2006, he sold his shares in Tele-Communications, but he wasn't exactly wealthy.

Adderley -- along with hundreds of other players, including 40 Hall of Famers -- drew early retirement at age 45. According to The New York Times, Adderley had been drawing $126.85 a month from his pension for years before having it raised to $179 over a good portion of the last two decades.

The way things ended in Dallas, along with the menial pension payments, created some bitterness in Adderley's post-football life. He refused to wear the rings he earned from the Cowboys and the Hall of Fame, and chose not to participate in the Hall's yearly festivities.

The brilliance of his football career is what I'll choose to remember, just as I do with the other 13 starters from those great Packers teams who passed before him.

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