What Caused the 1970-1991 Green Bay Packers Drought?

Former Packers quarterback Bart Starr, now a television commentator, interviews current Packers quarterback John Hadl. Dated 1974

The Green Bay Packers of the 1960’s were one of the most dominating NFL teams of all time. During those “Glory Years” the Green Bay Packers won five league championships over a seven year span culminating with victories over the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders in the first two Super Bowls respectively.

Then in 1970 the unthinkable began to happen.  The Green Bay Packers started to lose.  The losing would continue for nearly a quarter of a century, with the exception of a few bright spots and a few exceptional players.

What caused the “Green Bay Packers Drought” from 1970 through 1991?  In a pistachio nutshell, three key mistakes occurred.  Mistake # 1-The Green Bay Packers drafted lousy college players in the 1st round of the NFL Draft.  Mistake # 2-The Packers were guilty of clinging to a former Green Bay player-turned-head-coach for far too long and Mistake # 3-The Green Bay Packers traded away valuable future draft picks for an aging veteran past the prime of his career.  A far cry from Ted Thompson’s philosophy of draft, develop and retain quality players and coaches in order to create stability and a playoff contending team year after year.

Mistake # 1 – The Packers drafted lousy players in the 1st round of the NFL Draft.

Drafting poor players was a major reason why the Green Bay Packers had many losing seasons from 1970-1991. For instance, in the first round of the 1972 NFL Draft, when future Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris was still available, the Packers instead selected quarterback Jerry Tagge.  Although he did orchestrate two national championships for the Nebraska Cornhuskers,  Tagge clearly forgot to pack his potential when he left college and did poorly during his brief career in the NFL.

In round 1 of the 1981 draft three future Hall of Fame defenders were still available on the Green Bay Packers draft board: Ronnie Lott, Mike Singletary and Howie Long. But with pick # 6 the Packers chose instead another mediocre quarterback, California Golden Bear Rich Campbell.  Given his poor production at the quarterback position, Campbell’s career with the Packers was brief.  The Green Bay Packers would not draft another quarterback in the first round until 2005, when Aaron Charles Rodgers also from the University of California, became a Green Bay Packer.

Finally, in the 1989 draft, future legends Barry Sanders, Deion Sanders and Derrick Thomas were all available, but the Packers instead selected offensive lineman Tony Mandarich from Michigan State. Though rated very high by many pundits and scouts at the time, Mandarich, who later admitted to using steroids in college, proved to be a colossal bust for the Green Bay Packers and after three seasons he was cut by the team.

Mistake # 2 -The Packers were guilty of clinging to a former player turned head coach for far too long.

Bart Starr had an illustrious Hall of Fame career as an NFL player.  However, this was not the case as an NFL head coach for the Green Bay Packers.  After retiring from the game as one of the greatest Packers player ever, he was hired by Green Bay on December 24, 1974.  In 1975 under head coach Bart Starr the Packers won only 4 games.

Under the tutelage of Bart Starr, the 1976 Packers suffered through another losing campaign with a record of 5 wins and 9 losses. In 1977 the team dropped back to 4 and 10. The frequent change at the quarterback position during this dark period was indicative of Green Bay’s troubles and woes.

The losing ways would continue until 1983 when Starr, a Packers fan favorite and beloved Packers legend was finally relieved of his duties.  From 1975-1983, Starr compiled a regular season record of 52 wins 76 losses and 3 ties.  Retaining losing head coaches and general managers for nearly 10 years is unheard of today.  In fact, retaining head coaches with winning season records, but no Super Bowl victories, is unheard of today.

For example, Denver Broncos Head Coach John Fox was dismissed after posting a winning regular season record of 46 wins and 18 losses, but produced no Super Bowl victories.  In another example, Head Coach Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears was relieved of his responsibilities after posting a regular season record of 81 wins and 63 losses, but no Super Bowl victories.  The owner’s mentality these days is “What have you done for us lately, coach?”

Mistake # 3 -The Packers traded away valuable future draft picks for an aging veteran past the prime of his career.

“Drastic times calls for drastic measures.”  This poor practice was utilized by the Packers several times during this dark period.  In 1975, tired of losing, head coach Dan Devine overhauled the team’s quarterback corps.  He obtained aging veteran John Hadl from the Los Angeles Rams for five draft choices, a 1st, 2nd and 3rd round draft choice in the 1975 draft, and a 1st and 2nd round draft choice in 1976.

At the time of the trade, Hadl was 34, and in his 13th season.  Hadl was expensive. He cost the Packers dearly. Perhaps 5 future NFL Hall of Fame players for one over-the-hill quarterback not worth more than a hill of beans

History lessons are valuable tools.  People can learn from history lessons.  Obviously, Ron Wolf tore these pages out of the Packers history book, taped them to his wall in his office at 1265 Lombardi Avenue and vowed on his first day as the Green Bay Packers general manager, “I will not employ or utilize these poor team building practices in an effort to build a winner.”  Mike Sherman and Ted Thompson have also used those history lessons to their advantage and, since 1992, the Green Bay Packers record has been far better than those results from 1970-1991.

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Todd Stelzel, a loyal Packers fan since 1966, is a contributing writer with PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @ToddStelzel for more Packer news.

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5 thoughts on “What Caused the 1970-1991 Green Bay Packers Drought?

  1. Thanks for the update. It’s a truly pathetic story but enjoyed the read.

      1. Hi, what I meant is that it’s a sad story. I really enjoyed reading your story or article. It’s really good. It’s a good read. However, I didn’t watch pro ball back then. So, had I been a Packer’s fan back then (as I am now) I don’t truly know How I would have handled that sort of drought. I hope this explains where I’m coming from.

          1. Actually its a shame he didnt live thru the drought because hes been so spoiled & doesnt really appreciate the “flooding” of success the Packers have had for over 20 plus years.

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