Packers’ front fours in 1962, 1996 rank among the NFL’s best ever
By CHRIS HAVEL
The Green Bay Packers’ 1996 defensive line is among the NFL’s greatest of all-time. It is probably the most underrated, too.
News of the great David “Deacon” Jones’ death Monday at age 74 triggered a barrage of bone-jarring memories. Images flashed of Jones using a since-outlawed head slap to shock opposing offensive linemen before obliterating the quarterback. Jones, along with Merlin Olsen, Lamar Lundy and Rosey Grier comprised the Rams’ “Fearsome Foursome,” long considered one of the greatest defensive lines in NFL history.
Jones’ passing resurrected thoughts of the great pass rushers. It also begged the question: Which defensive lines rank among the NFL’s greatest of all-time? After numerous online searches a couple of things became obvious.
First, there are more than a handful of great defensive lines with multiple Hall of Fame players to choose from. Deciding which is the greatest is an intriguing but unscientific endeavor.
Second, there isn’t a defensive line in the league’s history that has been underrated more than the Packers’ unit of 1996.
Led by Reggie White, the Minister of Defense, the Packers’ defense terrorized opposing ball carriers and quarterbacks alike. White lined up at left end opposite right end Sean Jones to create a dynamic duo. Jones, one of the NFL’s all-time leading sack masters, gave opponents nowhere to run, or hide, from White. Whatever plays the 6-foot-5, 320-pound White didn’t blow up, the 6-foot-7, 295-pound Jones did.
Tackles Gilbert Brown, at 6-2, 340, and Santana Dotson, at 6-5, 300, rounded out a physically imposing group. There were times when offensive linemen would break the huddle, turn to trot toward the line of scrimmage, and be heard to utter expletives as they gazed at the Packers’ front four.
The Packers’ 1996 defense under the masterful direction of coordinator Fritz Shurmur established the NFL’s record for fewest points allowed (210) in a 16-game season. Amazingly, there isn’t a mention of the Packers’ 1996 unit among the all-time greats.
“I think that’s one case where being a small-market team probably affects that,” Sean Jones said Tuesday. “We didn’t have the nickname or the accolades, but we did have the numbers and the Super Bowl trophy to prove it. I think in time that defense will be considered among the greatest, but it might be long after you and I aren’t here anymore.”
Sean Jones expressed great sadness at Deacon Jones’ passing.
“He was a great mentor to me,” Sean Jones said. “He told me that no matter how the game changes, how the rules change, make sure that you’re always being aggressive. He preached aggressive play. He loved defensive ends, and he hated quarterbacks. I don’t even think he had any teammates that were quarterbacks that he considered a friend.”
So who are the greatest defensive lines of all-time? Here’s one writer’s opinion of the top five (in no particular order):
- The Dallas Cowboys’ “Doomsday Defense” in the late 1970s was led by a defensive line that included Jethro Pugh, Harvey Martin, Ed “Too Tall” Jones and Randy White. That was as dominant a group as I can remember.
- The Kansas City Chiefs’ defensive line of the late 1960s featured Curley Culp, Jerry Mays, Bobby Bell and Buck Buchanan with the great Willie Lanier at middle linebacker. It was among the great AFC defensive lines in history.
- The Pittsburgh Steelers’ “Steel Curtain” owned the mid-1970s. “Mean” Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Ernie Holmes and Dwight White were the most recognizable quartet of pass rushers in the game.
- The 1969 Minnesota Vikings’ “Purple People Eaters” were arguably the most talented front four ever assembled. Carl Eller, Alan Page, Jim Marshall and Gary Larsen led a defense that allowed a measly 9.9 points per game in 1969.
- The 1981 New York Jets’ “Sack Exchange” of Mark Gastineau, Abdul Salaam, Marty Lyons and Joe Klecko could bring it. A clever nickname, plus Gastineau’s off-field exploits, created a buzz. Then, come Sunday afternoon, the defensive line would deliver on the field.
- The 1960’s Green Bay Packers’ defensive front included Willie Davis, Lionel Aldridge, Dave “Hawg” Hanner and Henry Jordan. Davis and Jordan are Hall of Fame players.
Packers Notes From Tuesday’s Practice
Coach Mike McCarthy expressed confidence in his offensive line, but added that it will take time for Bryan Bulaga and Josh Sitton to work in concert on the left side.
“We have some work to do,” he said. “But I have confidence we’ll be OK on the offensive line.”
Sam Shields signed his free agent tender and immediately was inserted into the starting lineup. Shields worked with the first group at cornerback along with Tramon Williams, while Casey Hayward worked as the nickel back and Davon House (injured) watched.
Shields said he wanted to be paid, but that he signed his tender and is “ready to rock and roll.”
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’ MVP Parties the evening before home games.