State Your Case: Why it's time to remember Packers' Jack Vainisi
The man who coached the fabled Green Bay Packers' teams of the 1960s is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and so are many of his players. And they should be. But what about the guy who found those players and brought them to Green Bay?
Nope. Not on the radar.
I'm talking about Jack Vainisi, a scout and personnel director who found so many of the Packers' greats that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel earlier this year said "he might be the third most important figure in the history of the franchise, behind only Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi."
Lombardi, of course, coached the Packers to five NFL championships in seven years in the 1960s and is widely considered the greatest coach in league history. But he had to have talent to get to the top, and it was Vainisi -- a virtual one-man personnel department who died in 1960 from a heart condition at the age of 33 -- who found that talent.
Granted, the Packers' general manager retained the ultimate authority over the acquisition of players, but he almost always followed Vainisi's advice. And for good reason. Vainisi had a network of collegiate coaches who provided him scouting reports on players who later comprised some of the greatest teams in NFL history.
"Vanisi wasn't (former Rams' scout Eddie) Kotal," former Hall-of-Famer voter and Packers' historian Cliff Christl told me. "He didn't go out on the road, hitting every school. But he was one of the first to organize a network of college coaches and ex-Packers to file reports for him.
"Jim Finks was one. John McKay, who wrote "no prospect" on his Willie Wood report (was another). But Vainisi knew talent."
The envelope, please.
In 1953 Vainisi pushed for the drafting of center Jim Ringo. In 1956, it was offensive lineman Forrest Gregg and quarterback Bart Starr. A year later, halfback Paul Hornung. Then, in 1958, he added fullback Jim Taylor, guard Jerry Kramer and linebacker Ray Nitschke in one of the greatest drafts in NFL history. He also signed safety Willie Wood as a free agent and pulled off deals to acquire Willie Davis and Henry Jordan.
All are Hall of Famers.
But why stop there? Vainisi was behind the drafts of wide receiver Max McGee, the hero of Super Bowl I, as well as tight end Ron Kramer, offensive lineman Bob Skoronski, wide receiver Boyd Dowler, linebacker Dan Currie and defensive backs Bob Jeter, Hank Gremminger and Tom Brown -- all of whom started on championship teams.
By the end of 1961, when Green Bay won its first NFL title since 1944, 17 of the 22 starters on offense and defense were acquired in some way by Vainisi.
Bottom line: Without Jack Vainisi, there aren't five championships in seven years, there's no Title Town and there may be no Lombardi in Green Bay. You heard me. No Lombardi.
Because it was Vainisi who called Lombardi to set up an interview, and it was Vainisi who played an influential role in convincing the Packers' executive committee to hire the former Giants' assistant in 1959 -- with Lombardi telling the Packers' board of directors he wouldn't have considered Green Bay were it not for Vainisi.
"The Lombardi dynasty -- Jack was really responsible for it," Jack's brother, Sam, told the Journal-Sentinel.
OK, so that's an overstatement. Someone had to coach those players, and it was a Hall-of-Famer so accomplished that the NFL named its Super Bowl trophy after him. Nevertheless, Vainisi's contributions should not be overlooked.
"It doesn't matter what your position is," another brother, former Chicago Bears' GM Jerry Vainisi, told the Journal-Sentinel. "It's what you contribute. What was your contribution? That's all that should matter."
Which is why Jack Vainisi is the ideal contributor candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His role in the construction of one of professional sports' greatest dynasties can't be overstated … except that's the problem. It's not stated at all. We've never had a conversation about him because he's never been a finalist.
Well, it's time that changes.
"I certainly think he deserves consideration," Christl said. "He headed the personnel department for some great drafts, with 1958 was one of the best ever … He was a pioneer in creating an efficient, thorough personnel department. And I think he must have been a tireless worker.
"The question is: How much say did Vainisi have, and did he do it long enough? Other than the January portion of the '59 draft between (former coach Ray) McLean's firing and the hiring of Lombardi, Vainisi never made the picks. However, (former coach) Lisle Blackbourn said he almost always listened to Vainisi."
That's good enough for me. It's time voters hear about Jack Vainisi. In fact, it's way past time.