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Ray Nitschke

Ray Nitschke

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Raymond Ernest "Ray" Nitschke (December 29, 1936 – March 8, 1998) was a professional football
American football
American football is a sport played between two teams of eleven with the objective of scoring points by advancing the ball into the opposing team's end zone. Known in the United States simply as football, it may also be referred to informally as gridiron football. The ball can be advanced by...

 player who played his entire career as a middle linebacker
Linebacker
A linebacker is a position in American football that was invented by football coach Fielding H. Yost of the University of Michigan. Linebackers are members of the defensive team, and line up approximately three to five yards behind the line of scrimmage, behind the defensive linemen...

 for the Green Bay Packers
Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers are an American football team based in Green Bay, Wisconsin. They are members of the North Division of the National Football Conference in the National Football League . The Packers are the current NFL champions...

 of the NFL
National Football League
The National Football League is the highest level of professional American football in the United States, and is considered the top professional American football league in the world. It was formed by eleven teams in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association, with the league changing...

. Wearing #66, he played fifteen seasons, from 1958
1958 NFL season
The 1958 NFL season was the 39th regular season of the National Football League.The Baltimore Colts defeated the New York Giants, 23–17, in the first sudden-death overtime in an NFL Championship Game...

-72
1972 NFL season
The 1972 NFL season was the 53rd regular season of the National Football League. The Miami Dolphins became the first NFL team to finish a championship season undefeated and untied when they beat the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII.-Major rule changes:...

.

Early life


Nitschke was born on December 29, 1936 in Elmwood Park, Illinois
Elmwood Park, Illinois
Elmwood Park is a village bordering the northwest side of the City of Chicago in Cook County, Illinois, United States. The population was 25,405 at the 2000 census. The community has long maintained a large Italian-American population, with a more recent influx of Polish-American and Hispanic...

. His father, Robert, and Nitschke's mother, Anna, had two other children, Robert Jr. (age 8) and Richard (age 4). His father was killed in a car accident in 1940. Anna died of a blood clot when Ray was 13. Robert (age 21) and Richard (age 17) decided they would raise Ray on their own.

Proviso High School


Ray entered Proviso High School
Proviso East High School
Proviso East High School is a public secondary school in Maywood, Illinois which serves the educational needs of Maywood and three other villages within Proviso Township, Cook County, Illinois: Broadview, Forest Park and Melrose Park. It is the original campus of Proviso Township High Schools...

 in Maywood
Maywood, Illinois
Maywood is a village in Proviso Township, Cook County, Illinois, United States. It was founded on April 6, 1869 and organized October 22, 1881. The population was 26,987 at the 2000 census.-Overview:...

 shortly before his mother's death. The loss of both parents enraged Nitschke, and the lack of a parental disciplinarian to quell his rage, caused him to engage in fights with other kids in the neighborhood. His freshman year at Proviso, Ray played fullback on one of the school's three football teams. He was a poor student at school and his grades eventually caught up with him as he was declared academically ineligible to play sports his sophomore year. This embarrassment he would lament for the rest of his life.

He succeeded in raising his grades sufficiently enough in his sophomore year to allow him to engage in sports his junior year. By his junior year he had grown significantly to stand at 6' and his quick temper had become notorious. His junior year he became the quarterback
Quarterback
Quarterback is a position in American and Canadian football. Quarterbacks are members of the offensive team and line up directly behind the offensive line...

 on offense, and safety on defense of the varsity football team, for coach Andy Pupils. He played varsity basketball and was a pitcher and left fielder for the varsity baseball team. His baseballs skills brought him an offer from the professional St. Louis Browns
Baltimore Orioles
The Baltimore Orioles are a professional baseball team based in Baltimore, Maryland in the United States. They are a member of the Eastern Division of Major League Baseball's American League. One of the American League's eight charter franchises in 1901, it spent its first year as a major league...

 with, what Ray considered an astronomical amount, a $3,000 signing bonus. Ray was also offered scholarships from college football programs around the country. Pupils advised him to accept a football scholarship. His desire to play at a Big Ten
Big Ten Conference
The Big Ten Conference is the United States' oldest Division I college athletic conference. Its twelve member institutions are located primarily in the Midwestern United States, stretching from Nebraska in the west to Pennsylvania in the east...

 college, with a chance to play in the Rose Bowl
Rose Bowl Game
The Rose Bowl is an annual American college football bowl game, usually played on January 1 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. When New Year's Day falls on a Sunday, the game is played on Monday, January 2...

, caused him to accept a football scholarship to the University of Illinois
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign is a large public research-intensive university in the state of Illinois, United States. It is the flagship campus of the University of Illinois system...

 in 1954.

University of Illinois


In the rural community, which his University was set in, Nitschke soon relished and embellished his role as a street wise punk. He smoked, drank heavily, and fought at the drop of a hat. Never a good student in high school, his grades suffered at college. Similar to his contemporary, Jerry Kramer
Jerry Kramer
Gerald Louis "Jerry" Kramer is a former professional football player, author and sports commentator, best remembered for his 11-year NFL career with the Green Bay Packers as an offensive lineman...

, Ray was ostracized by his professors because he attended the university as the result of a football scholarship.

In his sophomore year, due to a depletion of players in the offensive backfield, Illini head coach, Ray Eliot
Ray Eliot
Raymond Eliot Nusspickel was an American football and baseball player, coach, and college athletics administrator. He served as the head football coach Illinois College from 1933 to 1936 and at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign from 1942 to 1959, compiling a career college football...

 moved Nitschke from quarterback to fullback. His childhood dream of quarterbacking a team to a victory in the Rose Bowl was shattered. At this time, college football had reverted to single-platoon football. Single-platoon football meant those players that were on offense had to switch to defense, and vice-versa, when ball possession changed. On defense, Nitschke moved to the linebacking position. He proved to be a very skilled player and an absolute brutal tackler as a linebacker, so much so that, by Ray's senior year, Paul Brown
Paul Brown
Paul Eugene Brown was a coach in American football and a major figure in the development of the National Football League...

 considered him the best linebacker in college football. Growing up in the outskirts of Chicago
Chicago
Chicago is the largest city in the US state of Illinois. With nearly 2.7 million residents, it is the most populous city in the Midwestern United States and the third most populous in the US, after New York City and Los Angeles...

, Ray had always idolized the Bears
Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears are a professional American football team based in Chicago, Illinois. They are members of the North Division of the National Football Conference in the National Football League...

 and he hoped to be chosen by them in the 1958 NFL draft
NFL Draft
The National Football League Draft is an annual event in which the National Football League teams select eligible college football players and it is their most common source of player recruitment. The basic design of the draft is each team is given a position in the drafting order in reverse order...

. However, on December 2, 1957, Nitschke was chosen by Jack Vainisi, in what is considered the greatest drafting year in the history of the Green Bay Packers franchise, as a second pick of the third round.

Pro Football career


He was selected, at age 20, in the third round of the 1958 NFL Draft
1958 NFL Draft
The 1958 National Football League Draft was held on December 2, 1957 and January 28, 1958 .This was the last year in which the Lottery Bonus pick was used.-Player selections:-Round one:-Round two:-Round three:...

, the 36th overall pick. This draft, held on December 2, 1957, included two other significant Packers of the 1960s: fullback Jim Taylor of LSU
LSU Tigers football
The LSU Tigers football team, also known as the Fighting Tigers or Bayou Bengals, represents Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, United States in NCAA Division I FBS college football. Current head coach Les Miles has led the team since 2005. Since 1999 when Nick Saban took over as...

 (2nd rd., 15th overall) and right guard Jerry Kramer
Jerry Kramer
Gerald Louis "Jerry" Kramer is a former professional football player, author and sports commentator, best remembered for his 11-year NFL career with the Green Bay Packers as an offensive lineman...

 of Idaho
University of Idaho
The University of Idaho is the State of Idaho's flagship and oldest public university, located in the rural city of Moscow in Latah County in the northern portion of the state...

 (4th rd., 39th overall). Their rookie season in 1958
1958 NFL season
The 1958 NFL season was the 39th regular season of the National Football League.The Baltimore Colts defeated the New York Giants, 23–17, in the first sudden-death overtime in an NFL Championship Game...

 was dismal, recording just one win (and one tie), finishing with the worst record in the 12 team league.

A month after the 1958
1958 NFL season
The 1958 NFL season was the 39th regular season of the National Football League.The Baltimore Colts defeated the New York Giants, 23–17, in the first sudden-death overtime in an NFL Championship Game...

 season ended, Vince Lombardi
Vince Lombardi
Vincent Thomas "Vince" Lombardi was an American football coach. He is best known as the head coach of the Green Bay Packers during the 1960s, where he led the team to three straight league championships and five in seven years, including winning the first two Super Bowls following the 1966 and...

 was hired as head coach
Head coach
A head coach, senior coach or manager is a professional at training and developing athletes. They typically hold a more public profile and are paid more than other coaches...

. Nitschke became a full time starter in 1962
1962 NFL season
The 1962 NFL season was the 43rd regular season of the National Football League. Before the season, CBS signed a contract with the league to televise all regular-season games for a $4.65 million annual fee....

, the anchor of a disciplined defense that helped win five NFL titles and the first two Super Bowl
Super Bowl
The Super Bowl is the championship game of the National Football League , the highest level of professional American football in the United States, culminating a season that begins in the late summer of the previous calendar year. The Super Bowl uses Roman numerals to identify each game, rather...

s in the 1960s. He was the MVP of the 1962 NFL Championship Game
NFL Championship Game, 1962
The 1962 National Football League championship game was the 30th NFL title game. The game was played on December 30, 1962 at Yankee Stadium in New York City between the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers. The attendance for the game was 64,892. The Packers were coached by Hall of Fame coach...

, accepting the prize of a 1963 Chevrolet Corvette
Chevrolet Corvette
The Chevrolet Corvette is a sports car by the Chevrolet division of General Motors that has been produced in six generations. The first model, a convertible, was designed by Harley Earl and introduced at the GM Motorama in 1953 as a concept show car. Myron Scott is credited for naming the car after...

. 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
Super Bowl I
The First AFL-NFL World Championship Game in professional American football, later known as Super Bowl I and referred to in some contemporary reports as the Supergame, was played on January 15, 1967 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California.The National Football League ...

, Nitschke contributed 6 tackles and a sack. In Super Bowl II
Super Bowl II
The second AFL-NFL World Championship Game in professional American football, later to be known as Super Bowl II, was played on January 14, 1968 at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida....

, Nitschke led Green Bay's defense with 9 tackles.

On December 17, 1972, the 10-3 Green Bay Packers traveled to New Orleans to play the 1-11-1 Saints at Tulane Stadium for Nitschke's last regular season game of his career. Nitschke recored the only pass reception of his career in this game, a 34-yard gain on a blocked field goal attempt for which he was blocking. The Packers lost the next week in the first round of the Playoffs.

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 elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame
Pro Football Hall of Fame
The Pro Football Hall of Fame is the hall of fame of professional football in the United States with an emphasis on the National Football League . It opened in Canton, Ohio, on September 7, 1963, with 17 charter inductees...

 in 1978.

Personal life


Nitschke was married on June 26, 1961 to Jackie Forchette. Jackie was unable to have children, so they adopted three: John (in 1963), Richard (in 1966), and Amy (in 1972).

Death


Nitschke died of a heart attack in Venice, FL, at the age of 61 in 1998. He was in the presence of family, attempting to return to his winter residence in Naples, FL, at the time of his death.

Honors


Nitschke remained popular in Green Bay after retiring, even having his phone number and home address published in the Green Bay phone book. Soon after his death, the city of Green Bay
Green Bay, Wisconsin
Green Bay is a city in and the county seat of Brown County in the U.S. state of Wisconsin, located at the head of Green Bay, a sub-basin of Lake Michigan, at the mouth of the Fox River. It has an elevation of above sea level and is located north of Milwaukee. As of the 2010 United States Census,...

 named a newly constructed bridge, connecting Dousman Street to Main Street, in his honor.

Nitschke appeared in the 1968 film
1968 in film
The year 1968 in film involved some significant events.-Events:* October 30 - The film The Lion in Winter, starring Katharine Hepburn, debuts.* November 1 - The MPAA's film rating system is introduced.-Top grossing films :- Awards :...

 Head
Head (film)
Head is a 1968 psychedelic comedy-adventure major motion picture, starring TV group The Monkees , and distributed by Columbia Pictures...

 and the 1974 film
1974 in film
The year 1974 in film involved some significant events.-Events:*February 7 - Blazing Saddles is released in the USA.*August 7 - Peter Wolf, lead singer of The J...

 The Longest Yard.

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
Bart Starr
Bryan Bartlett "Bart" Starr is a former professional American football player and coach. Wearing #15, he was the quarterback for the Green Bay Packers from 1956 to 1971 and head coach from 1975 to 1983, compiling a record of 52–76–3 ....

, whose #15 was retired in 1973. Also, the team has named one of its two outdoor practice fields "Ray Nitschke Field
Ray Nitschke Field
Ray Nitschke Field is one of the two outdoor practice facilities of the Green Bay Packers . These fields, together with the Don Hutson Center, comprise the team's training complex....

".

Every year, the Pro Football Hall of Fame
Pro Football Hall of Fame
The Pro Football Hall of Fame is the hall of fame of professional football in the United States with an emphasis on the National Football League . It opened in Canton, Ohio, on September 7, 1963, with 17 charter inductees...

 has 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.

He was elected to the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame
Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame
The Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame is a promenade in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, dedicated to honoring distinguished members of Wisconsin's sports history. New members are honored at a biennial banquet.-History:...

 in 1981.

In 1999, he was ranked number 18 on The Sporting News
The Sporting News
Sporting News is an American-based sports magazine. It was established in 1886, and it became the dominant American publication covering baseball — so much so that it acquired the nickname "The Bible of Baseball"...

 list of the 100 Greatest Football Players, making him the highest-ranked player coached by Vince Lombardi, second among Packers behind Don Hutson
Don Hutson
Donald Montgomery Hutson was the first star wide receiver in National Football League history. He is considered by many to have been the first modern receiver....

, and third among linebackers behind Lawrence Taylor
Lawrence Taylor
Lawrence Julius Taylor , nicknamed "L.T.", is a Hall of Fame former American football player. Taylor played his entire professional career as a linebacker for the New York Giants in the National Football League...

 and Dick Butkus
Dick Butkus
Richard Marvin "Dick" Butkus is a former American football player for the Chicago Bears. He was drafted in 1965 and he is also widely regarded as one of the best and most durable linebackers of all time. Butkus starred as a football player for the University of Illinois and the Chicago Bears. He...

.

Miscellany


Nitschke was known for his strength and toughness. Once, the bleachers on the Packers practice field collapsed 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 Nitschke's biography, a spike was driven 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
Bennett Cerf
Bennett Alfred Cerf was a publisher and co-founder of Random House. Cerf was also known for his own compilations of jokes and puns, for regular personal appearances lecturing across the United States, and for his television appearances in the panel game show What's My Line?.-Biography:Bennett Cerf...

, who had attended the game, guessed his identity immediately.

In the ABC movie Brian's Song
Brian's Song
Brian's Song is a 1971 ABC Movie of the Week that recounts the details of the life of Brian Piccolo , a Wake Forest University football player stricken with terminal cancer after turning pro, told through his friendship with Chicago Bears running back teammate and Pro Football Hall of Famer Gale...

, NFL running back and cancer victim Brian Piccolo claimed the "only thing (he was) allergic to is Nitschke."

Nitschke is referenced in the cartoon Danny Phantom
Danny Phantom
Danny Phantom is an American animated television series created by Butch Hartman for Nickelodeon, produced by Billionfold Studios. The show was about a teenage half-ghost boy, who frequently saves his town and the world from ghost attacks, while attempting to keep his ghost half a secret...

 in the episode "Bitter Reunions." The primary villain, Vlad Masters, is revealed to be a Packers fanatic, and his most prized possession is a Nitschke-autographed football.

He appeared in the comic film Head
Head (film)
Head is a 1968 psychedelic comedy-adventure major motion picture, starring TV group The Monkees , and distributed by Columbia Pictures...

, starring The Monkees
The Monkees
The Monkees are an American pop rock group. Assembled in Los Angeles in 1966 by Robert "Bob" Rafelson and Bert Schneider for the American television series The Monkees, which aired from 1966 to 1968, the musical acting quartet was composed of Americans Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork,...

, as a footballer who repeatedly tackles Peter Tork
Peter Tork
Peter Tork is an American musician and actor, best known as a member of The Monkees.-Early life:Tork was born Peter Halsten Thorkelson in Washington, D.C.. Although he was born in 1942, many news articles report him as born in 1944 in New York City as this was the date and place given on early...

 in a mock war movie sequence. His character is listed in the credits as "Private One" because his jersey is emblazoned with the number "1". Also appeared in 1987 Miller Lite beer commercial. Nitschke also appeared in the film, "The Longest Yard
The Longest Yard
The Longest Yard is a 1974 American comedy sports-drama film about inmates at a prison who play American football against their guards. Burt Reynolds portrayed Paul "Wrecking" Crewe in the original, and the coach Nate Scarborough in the 2005 remake...

" as Guard Bogdanski.

External links


Further reading

  • Kaplan, Richard (1970), Great Linebackers of the NFL, ISBN
    International Standard Book Number
    The International Standard Book Number is a unique numeric commercial book identifier based upon the 9-digit Standard Book Numbering code created by Gordon Foster, Emeritus Professor of Statistics at Trinity College, Dublin, for the booksellers and stationers W.H...

     ISBN 0-394-90152-5