Tom Bettis, Packers LB in '50s and '60s, dies at 81

Jeff Ash
Gannett Wisconsin Media
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Green Bay Packers linebacker Tom Bettis (65) tackles Detroit Lions receiver Terry Barr (41) at new City Stadium on Oct. 2, 1960. The Packers won 28-9.

Tom Bettis, the Green Bay Packers' No. 1 draft pick in 1955 and a member of the 1961 NFL championship team, died Saturday. He was 81.

The former Purdue University standout, the fifth player chosen in that draft, was the Packers' starting middle linebacker in his first four seasons. He eventually became a backup to Ray Nitschke after Vince Lombardi became coach in 1959.

The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Bettis played in all 84 regular-season games over his seven seasons with the Packers, from 1955 to 1961.

Green Bay Packers linebacker Tom Bettis (65) comes off the field during the NFL championship game against the New York Giants at new City Stadium on Dec. 31, 1961. The Packers won 37-0.

He was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a third-round draft pick as the Packers opened training camp in July 1962. He played one season with the Steelers, then was traded to his hometown Chicago Bears, with whom he earned a second championship ring in 1963, his last NFL season.

Bettis then went into coaching and was an NFL assistant for 30 years.

He was named the Kansas City Chiefs' interim coach after Paul Wiggin was fired halfway through the 1977 season. However, Kansas City went 1-6 under Bettis, as it had under Wiggin in the first half of the season.

He was defensive coordinator for the Chiefs, St. Louis Cardinals and Cleveland Browns from 1977 to 1985. He retired in 1995.

Bettis is survived by three daughters, nine grandchildren and other family members. Services have been held.

Bettis was in a Houston-area memory-care facility at the time of his death. An obituary prepared by the family asked for memorials to the Alzheimer's Association.

Green Bay Packers linebacker Tom Bettis (65) grabs the sleeve of Minnesota Vikings fullback Doug Mayberry during an argument in the fourth quarter of Green Bay’s 28-10 victory over the Vikings at Milwaukee County Stadium on Oct. 29, 1961. Packers defensive tackle Henry Jordan (74) and Vikings tackle Bob Denton (62) look on at right.


An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Tom Bettis' age at the time of his death. He was 81.

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