- Ray Nitschke
Elmwood Park, Illinois
deathdate=death date and age|1998|3|8|1936|12|9
Green Bay Packers(1958-72)
Pro Bowlselection (1964)
All-Proselection (1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1969)
NFL 50th and 75th Anniversary All-Time Teams
NFL 1960s All-Decade Team
Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame
* Green Bay Packers #66 Retired
Raymond Ernest "Ray" Nitschke (
December 29, 1936– March 8, 1998) was a professional football player who played middle linebackerfor the Green Bay Packersof the NFL. Wearing #66, he played fifteen seasons, from 1958-72.
Nitschke was born in
Elmwood Park, Illinois. He was orphaned at age thirteen, when his mother died (his father died when Ray was three), and was raised by an older brother. He played quarterbackat Proviso East High Schoolin Maywood, guiding his team to a suburban league title, and made the All-State team. In 1954, Nitschke accepted a football scholarship to the University of Illinois, where he switched to fullback in his sophomore year, scoring four touchdowns on long runs against Iowa State. While a bruising runner, his greatest strength was as a linebacker on the defensive side of the ball.
Pro Football career
He was selected, at age 20, in the third round of the
1958 NFL Draft, the 36th overall pick. This draft, held on December 2, 1957, included two other significant Packers of the 1960s: fullback Jim Taylor of LSU (2nd rd., 15th overall) and right guard Jerry Kramerof Idaho (4th rd., 39th overall). Their rookie season in 1958 was dismal, recording just one win (and one tie); finishing with the worst record in the 12 team league.
A month after the 1958 season ended,
Vince Lombardiwas hired as head coach. Nitschke became a full time starter in 1962, the anchor of a disciplined defense that helped win five NFL titles and the first two Super Bowls in the 1960s. He was the MVPof the 1962 NFL Championship Game, accepting the prize of a 1963 Chevrolet Corvette. In the game, Nitschke recovered 2 fumbles and deflected a pass that was intercepted. The Packers won the game, 16-7, and finished the season with a 14-1 record. In Super Bowl I, Nitschke contributed 6 tackles and a sack. In Super Bowl II, Nitschke lead Green Bay's defense with 9 tackles.
Although Nitschke was known for his hard hitting, he was a good all-around linebacker who also intercepted 25 passes over his career.
Lombardi gave partial credit to Nitschke's success to Ray's wife, whose calming influence helped him focus on his career.
He was an All-Pro three consecutive seasons (1964-66), and was elected to the
Pro Football Hall of Famein 1978.
He died of a heart attack while visiting family and friends in
Venice, Floridaat the age of 61 in 1998.
named a newly constructed bridge, connecting Dousman Street to Main Street, in his honor.
His #66 was retired in 1983, the fourth of only five numbers retired by the Packers. [http://www.packers.com/team/players/nitschke_ray/] The only other Lombardi-era player to have his number retired is quarterback
Bart Starr, whose #15 was retired in 1973. Also, the team has named one of its two outdoor practice fields " Ray Nitschke Field".
Every year, the
Pro Football Hall of Famehas a luncheon the day before its induction ceremony, attended by most of the living members and honoring the new inductees. Nitschke always spoke at this luncheon, telling the new inductees what a great honor they were receiving, and that they were now members of the greatest team of them all. Following his death, the Hall named the luncheon after him.
In 1969, he was awarded as the NFL's all-time top Linebacker by the NFL in honor of the NFL's 50th Anniversary. Thus he is the only linebacker to have made both the NFL's 50th and 75th Anniversary Teams. ----
In 1999, he was ranked number 18 on "
The Sporting News"' list of the 100 Greatest Football Players, making him the highest-ranked player coached by Vince Lombardi, second among Packers behind Don Hutson, and third among linebackers behind Lawrence Taylorand Dick Butkus.
Nitschke was known for his strength and toughness. Once, a metal tower on the Packers practice field fell over on top of Nitschke. Lombardi ran over to see what had happened, but when told it had fallen on Nitschke, said, "He'll be fine. Get back to work!" According to Nitshcke's biography, the tower drove a spike into his helmet, but didn't injure him. The helmet (with the hole) is currently on display in the Packer Hall of Fame in Green Bay.
Nitschke appeared on "
What's My Line" following the 1962 NFL championship game, wearing his standard black rimmed glasses and not looking at all like one of the most feared players in pro football. It all went for naught, as panelist Bennett Cerf, who had attended the game, guessed his identity immediately.
In the ABC movie "
Brian's Song", NFL running back and cancer victim Brian Piccoloclaimed the "only thing (he was) allergic to is Nitschke."
Nitschke is referenced in the cartoon "
Danny Phantom" in the episode "Bitter Reunions." The primary villain, Vlad Masters, is revealed to be a Packers fanatic, and his most prized possession in a Nitschke-autographed football.
* [http://www.profootballhof.com/hof/member.jsp?player_id=165 Pro Football Hall of Fame] - Ray Nitschke
* [http://www.packers.com/team/players/nitschke_ray/ Packers.com] - Ray Nitschke
* [http://www.databasefootball.com/players/playerpage.htm?ilkid=NITSCRAY01 Database Football.com] - Ray Nitschke - career statistics
* [http://www.profootballhof.com/history/release.jsp?release_id=1448 1958 NFL Draft] - from the Pro Football Hall of Fame
* [http://proviso.k12.il.us/EastNew/penew.htm Proviso East High School]
* [http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0633014/bio Internet Movie Database] - Ray Nitschke
* [http://www.northernresort.com Northern Resort.com]
* [http://www.footballcardgallery.com/player/Ray+Nitschke/ Gallery of Ray Nitschke football cards]
"Great Linebackers of the NFL," 1970, Richard Kaplan, ISBN 0-394-80152-0
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