Green Bay Packers: Ray Nitschke was nicest off field, meanest on it

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Ray Nitschke.

For Green Bay Packers fans, the name exemplifies the Green Bay Packers of the 1960s, when Lombardi molded championship teams on the backs of guys like Nitschke.

He was the nicest guy off the field and the meanest on it.

He played injured. Toughness was never questioned.

But this is about Ray Nitschke as teammate and opponent. In their own words, those who knew Ray the best tell us about the man who died too early.

Ray Nitschke: Contemporaries had deep respect

Here’s what others had to say about him …

George Allen: ‘Nitschke was one of those special players who did things others didn’t do. When I was with the Bears we named one of our defenses ’47 Nitschke’ because it was copied from the way Ray played a certain situation. Naming a defense after a player is a pretty high compliment in my book.’

Bears center Mike Pyle: ‘I can say playing against Ray Nitschke shortened my career dramatically. I had  great respect for Nitschke. I thought he was one of the greatest linebackers to play the game. Raymond hit awfully hard, but he wasn’t a dirty player.’

Mike Ditka: ‘The toughest guy I ever played against was Ray Nitschke … he was a physical, tough guy and he was a great football player.’

Dave Robinson: ‘Pound for pound, there’s never been a linebacker that’s come close to Ray Nitschke.’

Ray was a vicious hitter and sure tackler, as noted in the above testimonials, and was a solid run-stopper, but he also could cover backs in pass coverage as Bengston’s defense required. He intercepted 25 passes and recovered 20 fumbles in his years in Green Bay, and was known for making big plays at critical times.

Only Bart Starr played longer in a Packer uniform than Ray Nitschke. In his 15 years in Green Bay, Nitschke made All Pro three times and played in only one Pro Bowl, but was named the NFL’s all-time top linebacker in 1969 and was named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary team in 1993.

Of most importance to Ray himself was being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1978. For the last 20 years of his life he would go to every annual induction ceremony to welcome his new brothers in arms.

Each year there is a special inductees-only luncheon held the day before the ceremonies and that luncheon is now called the Ray Nitschke Luncheon, because year after year Ray would get up at the luncheon and give a spontaneous, emotional speech on what being elected to the Hall means. Many count Nitschke’s speech among the most moving experiences of their lives.

In his retirement, Ray became an unpaid ambassador for the Packers, for football and for the Hall of Fame, always happy to meet new fans and treat them with great friendliness.

When he died of a heart attack in 1998, Green Bay lost its number one citizen and football its number one gentleman.

Ray Nitschke: What a guy; what a player

Incredibly and quite amazingly, Nitschke had a single recorded pass reception during his career.

According to Wikipedia, “On Dec. 17, 1972, the 9-4 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 recorded 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 went on to the playoffs that year, but lost to the Washington Redskins in Nitschke’s final game as a Green Bay Packer.

We miss Ray Nitschke. We miss his passion for life and for the game and only wished there were other players who could match him for his ferocity on the field and his kindness off of it.

Here are his career statistics:

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