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Hall of Fame Packers cornerback Herb Adderley dies at 81

Pete Dougherty
Packers News

Herb Adderley wasn’t the most famous of the “Glory Years” Green Bay Packers who won five NFL championships for coach Vince Lombardi in the 1960s.

But he probably was as good as, if not better, at his position than the other 10 Pro Football Hall of Famers from those Packers teams.

Adderley, who died Friday at age 81, was one of the NFL’s all-time great cornerbacks. He was first-team All-Pro five times in his nine seasons with the Packers and was a member of the NFL’s 1960s all-decade team. He played on all five of Lombardi’s championship teams and was a key member of the outstanding defenses that were the strength of the final three of those title winners (1965-67).

“(Adderley) was the best I played with,” said former Packers linebacker Dave Robinson, a fellow Hall of Famer who joined the team in ’63. “I played with a lot of guys.”

Lombardi drafted Adderley with a first-round draft pick in 1961 as a halfback coming out of Michigan State, though in that era of single-platoon football in college Adderley also had played defensive back.

Packers cornerback Herb Adderley was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980.

Late in Adderley’s rookie season, an injury sidelined starting cornerback Hank Gremminger, and at halftime Lombardi unexpectedly chose Adderley to replace him in the second half of that Thanksgiving Day game against Detroit.

Adderley hadn’t practiced at cornerback with the Packers but responded with an interception. He’d found the position he was made for in the NFL.

Over his 12-year career – he also played three seasons with the Dallas Cowboys – Adderley intercepted 48 passes, which ranked 13th in league history when he retired after the 1972 season. His 39 interceptions with the Packers ranks No. 3 on the team’s all-time list, behind only Bobby Dillon (52) and Willie Wood (48). And his seven returns for touchdowns ranks second on the team’s all-time list, behind only Charles Woodson (nine).

“The Green Bay Packers Family was saddened today to hear of Herb Adderley’s passing,” Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy said in a statement. “Herb was one of the greatest defensive backs to ever play the game. Few players can match his statistics with 48 interceptions and seven pick-sixes. He was a tremendous all-around athlete, as evidenced by the fact that he was All-City in Philadelphia in football, basketball and baseball, played halfback and defensive back at Michigan State and was an outstanding kick returner in the NFL. He was instrumental in the great success of the Lombardi teams and was the only player to play in four of the first six Super Bowls, and was a key member of six NFL championship teams.

“We extend our deepest condolences to Herb’s family and friends.”

Adderley’s most famous play was his 60-yard interception return for a touchdown against Oakland in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl II that removed all doubt of the outcome in the Packers’ 33-14 win.

Adderley also was a kickoff returner for his first eight seasons with the Packers and averaged 25.7 yards on 120 returns in his career. Two of those were for touchdowns, including a 103-yarder in 1962.

Adderley was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1980. As much as anything, his play at cornerback was marked by a fluid athleticism.

“To watch (Adderley) up close, unforgettable,” said Pat Toomay, a defensive lineman who was a Cowboys teammate for Adderley’s final two seasons in the NFL. “Never have I seen such grace. And he could just hang, hang, hang. It was like he was in slow motion. He’d go up and up and up, and hang and hang and hang, and then bat down the ball or pick it.”

The Packers traded Adderley to the Cowboys in 1970 and he played in two more Super Bowls – the Cowboys lost to Baltimore in Super Bowl V, then beat Miami in Super Bowl VI. But he chafed at the Cowboys’ segregated locker room and clashed with coach Tom Landry, whose rigid defensive system didn’t allow for the freedom he’d had under Lombardi to play instinctively. Landry eventually benched Adderley about halfway through the cornerback’s final season.

“Tom Landry and (general manager) Tex Schramm knew what was going on in Dallas and were a part of it for not stopping it,” Adderley said in “Lombardi’s Left Side,” a book he co-authored with Robinson. “The two of them made the decision to keep a less-talented white player and cut the more-talented black player. … This stuff was the exact opposite of Lombardi’s policy of putting the best players on the field and not judging anyone by the color of their skin.”

Adderley was born June 8, 1939, in Philadelphia. He was a football, basketball and baseball star at Philadelphia’s Northeast High School, and played college football at Michigan State from 1958-60.

“The entire Pro Football Hall of Fame family mourns the passing of Herb Adderley," Pro Football Hall of Fame President/CEO David Baker said. "He was a great player and an even greater man. Herb left an indelible mark on the Game and was respected tremendously by players and personnel across the league.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Herb’s wife, Brenda, and their entire family. We will forever keep his legacy alive to serve as inspiration for future generations. The Hall of Fame flag will be flown at half-staff in Herb’s memory.”

The Herb Adderley file: Facts and figures

Born:  June 8, 1939, in Philadelphia.

School: Michigan State 1958-60. Halfback rushed for 813 yards and 4.1-yard average in 27 games.

Hall of Fame: Packers Hall of Fame, Class of 1981; Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1980.

Packers playing career: Packers’ first-round pick (No. 12 overall) in the 1961 draft, Moved from halfback to cornerback in his rookie year and played that position for nine years. His 39 interceptions ranks third in team history. Played on all five Packers NFL title teams under coach Vince Lombardi.

Post playing career: Worked as a broadcaster for Temple University and Philadelphia Eagles games, later as an assistant coach of the Philadelphia Bell of the World Football League. Co-wrote a book with former Packers teammate Dave Robinson and author Royce Boyles entitled, “Lombardi’s Left Side” that was published in 2012.

Quote: “I'm the only man with a Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl ring who doesn't wear it. I'm a Green Bay Packer.” – Herb Adderley