Those of us who lived through the 1980s Green Bay Packers would like to forget the experience.
Other than the 1989 season, the whole decade was pretty much a loss. The highlights were few and far between.
Sure, we got some good shots in on the Chicago Bears. Charles Martin killed their shot for a repeat in 1986.
There were some good players — the receiving duo of John Jefferson and James Lofton, the badassedness of Tim Harris, the beginning of one of the best ever in Sterling Sharpe, and the Majik Man himself, Don Majkowski.
More or less, the ’80s sucked it up, though. Bart Starr was not a coach. Forrest Gregg was not Vince Lombardi, regardless of how he tried to replicate his style. Lindy Infante was an offensive genius, but he ran a country club as a locker room.
The worst thing about the ’80s Packers was the personnel decisions, though.
In theory, bad teams should get better through the draft. High picks equal better players.
Somehow, the Packers, despite being near the bottom of the league throughout most of the decade, managed to disprove this theory. In the ’80s, the Packers personnel department made some of the worst draft picks in the franchise’s history.
What’s worse is, the coaching staff could never seem to develop anyone the team chose.
Nowhere is this more in evidence than the Packers’ draft class of 1981.
I’ve come to believe the saying shit runs downhill and it seems an appropriate analogy for the Packers in the 1980s. The team’s second draft in the decade set the tone for what was to come — a decade of ineptitude, from the top of the organization on down.
The Packers owned the No. 6 overall pick in the ’81 draft, with which they selected Cal quarterback Rick Campbell.
Campbell was a stud at Cal. He played four seasons for the Packers and never rose above the No. 3 spot on the depth chart. After his rookie season, offensive coordinator Bob Schnelker said Campbell had neither the arm strength nor the skill to play in the NFL.
Either the Packers didn’t properly develop Campbell or Schnelker was right. The team traded Campbell to Oakland before the ’86 season and he never played another NFL game. He didn’t start one game for Green Bay.
It didn’t get any better for the Packers later in the ’81 draft, unfortunately. Here are their remaining picks and their career stats with Green Bay.
Gary Lewis, tight end, 2nd round: four seasons, three starts, 21 catches, 285 yards, one touchdown
Ray Stachowicz, punter, 3rd round: two seasons, 25 games, 40.5 yard average, two blocks
Richard Turner, nose tackle, 4th round: three seasons, five starts, one sack
Byron Braggs, defensive end, 5th round: three seasons, 14 starts, 5.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries
Bill Whitaker, defensive back, 7th round: two years, no starts, two punt returns, one fumble recovery
Larry Werts, linebacker, 8th round: never played an NFL down
Tim Huffman, guard, 9th round: five years, 25 starts
Nickie Hall, quarterback, 10th round: never played an NFL down
Forrest Valora, linebacker, 11th round: never played an NFL down
Cliff Lewis, linebacker, 12th round: four years, one start, two sacks
In total, here’s what the Packers got out of their 1981 draft class: 48 starts (plus a punter who kicked in 25 games), 386 yards and three touchdowns passing, 285 yards and one touchdown receiving, 7.5 sacks, three fumble recoveries, a couple bad punt returns and some mediocre blocking.
To say the tally is pathetic would be an understatement. To say the draft class was pathetic would be even more so.
Granted, the NFL wasn’t quite the animal it is today back in the beginning of the Reagan era. Scouting wasn’t as sophisticated. Coaching staffs weren’t as large. In Green Bay, people were still attached to the way Lombardi did things and the names they associated with that success.
Thankfully, things have changed.
The 1981 draft may not have ruined the entire decade for the Packers. There were certainly other factors at play — poor leadership both on and off the field being chief among them — but it certainly didn’t help.
Can you think of another draft where the Packers — where anyone — has struck out on every single choice?
I can’t, and it would be a recurring theme of the Packers’ drafts throughout the 1980s.
We’ll delve more into some of the other Packers’ ’80s draft busts later this week.
’81 will set the tone for failure.