The Green Bay Packers were on top of the professional football world in 1967.
The season before, the league’s smallest-market franchise had just won its second consecutive National Football League championship, a thrilling 34-27 victory over the Cowboys in Dallas, and the inaugural AFL-NFL World Championship (Super Bowl I) in Los Angeles with a resounding 35-10 triumph over the Kansas City Chiefs.
Super Bowl MVP Bart Starr was the league’s most valuable player and emerged from the shadow of Baltimore’s Johnny Unitas as the NFL’s elite quarterback with the best statistical season of his career, completing 62.2 percent of his 251 passes for 2,257 yards and 14 touchdowns with just three interceptions.
The Packers roster also featured 11 all-pro players and the NFL’s top-ranked defense.
But the vaunted Green Bay ground game — the backbone of head coach Vince Lombardi’s offense — was on the verge of change.
Since 1959, the Packers offense featured bruising fullback Jim Taylor and multi-threat Paul Hornung, which helped propel Green Bay to four NFL titles in six seasons.
The Packers sweep was the hallmark of Lombardi’s virtues of teamwork and precision, and Green Bay led the league in rushing three times (1961-’62, ’64) in a run-oriented league.
From 1960 to 1964, Taylor rushed for 1,000 or more yards each season — with a career best 1,474 in 1962 (5.4 avg.) — and averaged 4.9 yards per carry.
Hornung produced his career-high season mark of 681 yards in 1959 and ran for 671 in 1960. His attempts were half or less of Taylor’s in the ensuing four seasons as his running mate emerged as the team’s leading ball carrier and Hornung was suspended for the 1963 season by league commissioner Pete Rozelle for gambling.
As a team, the Packers exceeded 2,150 yards on the ground and averaged at least 4.5 yards per carry each season in that five-year span from 1960-’64.
But the production from Lombardi’s ground game was about to experience diminished returns.
In the 1965 regular season, the Packers rushed for just 1,488 total yards with a 3.4 yard average — a dramatic drop from year’s past. Taylor accounted for 734 yards and Hornung 299 yards. Hornung and Taylor, however, came up big when it mattered most in the 1965 NFL title game against Cleveland. Together, the two combined for 201 yards in a come-from-behind 23-12 victory after a four-inch snowstorm softened the Lambeau Field turf.
In 1966, Green Bay produced 1,673 yards on the ground and an NFL-low 3.5-yard average as Starr and the big-play passing attack thrived. For the seventh consecutive season, Taylor led the team with 705 yards rushing, but an ailing Hornung rushed just 76 times for 200 yards.
“No doubt as I look back Jimmy and Paul had come down the hill a little bit, but remember not only Hornung and Taylor were aging, so was everyone else around them,” former Green Bay guard Jerry Kramer said.
“A lot of us had been together since 1958 or ’59 and there’s some wear and tear that takes place. We weren’t the young bucks of 1961, 1962 in 1966.”
With future Hall of Famers Taylor and Hornung entering their eighth seasons with the team, Lombardi drafted some new blood to infuse the Green Bay running game in 1966. The handwriting was on the wall for the aging tandem of Taylor and Hornung.
Lombardi traded center Jim Ringo and running back Earl Gros to the Philadelphia Eagles on the day of the 1965 NFL Draft on Nov. 28, 1964, for linebacker Lee Roy Caffey, and made Texas Tech standout halfback Donny Anderson the Packers' choice in Round 1 (seventh overall).
Just a junior, Anderson was a “futures” choice and would complete his senior season before joining the team in 1966.
The Packers head coach kept the priority on the backfield in 1966 as well, trading tight end Ron Kramer to the Detroit Lions, and tabbed Illinois star fullback Jim Grabowski with the ninth-overall selection. Four picks later, Lombardi drafted offensive lineman Gale Gillingham of Minnesota at No. 13.
Linebacker Dave Robinson said the changing of the guard was imminent, with Hornung being claimed by the Saints in the expansion draft and Taylor playing out his option and signing with New Orleans.
“We really didn’t have a choice, with Hornung and Taylor in New Orleans,” Robinson said. “Hornung was injured (neck) and Vince didn’t think the Saints would take him, but they did. New Orleans wanted to sell tickets and promote a Taylor-and-Hornung backfield for their expansion team.
“We had three first-rounders come in that year and with Gillingham replacing Fuzzy (Thurston) at guard, the talk in our locker room amongst the guys was that three quarters of the Packers sweep was gone.”
While the departure of Taylor and Hornung grabbed the headlines, so did the unheard of contract numbers being paid to Anderson and Grabowski, dubbed the “Gold Dust Twins” or “Million Dollar Babies.”
Grabowski inked a deal worth $400,000 and Anderson a multi-year contract worth more than $600,000 — huge sums at the time when the top-paid Packers player made approximately $50,000 a season.
“I was a No. 1 (draft pick in 1963), but I was born a few years too early to get in on the big money,” Robinson said with a laugh from a hotel room in Madison, Wis., on Sunday afternoon. “Vince was tight with the Packers’ money.
“We couldn’t believe what Donny got with his contract, but everyone was getting big money with the bidding wars for No. 1s (draft picks) between the NFL and AFL. It started with Joe Namath and the Jets (1965). The NFL was beginning to change from a running league to a passing league.”
Hornung told Packer Plus in a 2012 interview that there were some hard feelings over the big contracts given to rookies that hadn’t proven themselves on the professional level.
“Some guys didn’t like it that these rookies were getting so much money,” Hornung said. “Anderson and Grabowski got more in bonus that we did in salary. It was just business and the times. The NFL had to compete with the AFL to sign college players. Donny was a talented kid. He could run the ball, catch the ball, and kick the ball. We knew these kids were the future.”
Taylor admitted he was upset, believing an unproven rookie should not make more money than a proven veteran player.
“Jim was my teammate and we were both competitors,” Taylor said. “I was driven to be the best I could be for my team and we had a lot of success under coach Lombardi. The two leagues were paying big money to sign the top college players who hadn’t played a down of pro ball.”
Former Chicago Bears tight end and head coach Mike Ditka said, “Hornung and Taylor were two of the best running backs to ever play the game. It’s not easy to replace their production on those great Packers teams under coach Lombardi.
“It was a big deal in the league at the time that these young players right out of college were getting the big dollars. The veterans on every NFL team — Bears, Packers, whoever — were ticked off. Some played the game a long time and were making peanuts. They helped make the game what it was and didn’t get the financial rewards. But I don’t begrudge or blame guys like Anderson and Grabowski.
“They were at the right place at the right time and took advantage of it.”
Kramer said: “There was a little resentment by some at the money Donny and Grabo made, but they were talented kids who came into camp and busted their tails. Yes, they got the big money and took advantage of the labor situation at the time like any of us would have. But we have to judge them on the practice field, the playing field, not their bank account.”
Anderson was “Hornung-esque,” a multi-purpose All-American halfback with the athleticism to run, catch, throw, and punt the football.
The 215-pound running back met Lombardi briefly during his senior year at Texas Tech when Anderson attended the Packers-Colts game in Baltimore on Dec. 12, 1965.
“Paul Hornung scored five touchdowns that game if I remember right,” Anderson said with a chuckle, recalling Green Bay’s 42-27 rout. “I met some of the guys in the locker room after the game and saw Lombardi briefly. When Lombardi drafted me the year before, all he said on the phone was, “We just drafted you in the first round. What do you think about that?”
Anderson also loved baseball, and he equated that honor to being drafted by the perennial MLB powerhouse New York Yankees.
“Green Bay was a winner, with tradition and championships,” Anderson said. “I wanted to be a part of that.”
Anderson was also being heavily courted by the Houston Oilers of the rival American Football League. According to an Associated Press article published in the Jan. 1, 1966, edition of the Milwaukee Sentinel, Oilers team president Bud Adams offered Anderson a reported $887,000 package that included a luxury $250,000 home, complete with furniture and a swimming pool.
But Anderson signed with Green Bay for less.
Just hours after Texas Tech’s 31-21 loss to Georgia Tech in the Gator Bowl, Anderson held a press conference at a downtown Jacksonville hotel to announce his decision to sign what was considered the richest contract ever awarded to an NFL player.
Quarterback Joe Namath of the University of Alabama signed a $427,000 agreement with the New York Jets of the AFL in 1965.
Pat Peppler, the Packers’ director of player personnel at the time, and Anderson would not disclose specifics of the three-year contract, reported to be over $600,000 according to the AP article. Anderson was represented by two Texas attorneys and his parents attended the press conference. Lombardi was in Green Bay preparing his team for the 1965 NFL Championship Game at Lambeau Field against the Cleveland Browns on Jan. 2.
“There was a big fight for talent between the leagues and Houston offered more, but Green Bay was it,” Anderson said, stating that he asked the Packers for three new vehicles.
“Pat (Peppler) brought that to Lombardi during negotiations and he wanted to know why in the world I needed three cars. Pat told Lombardi I was going to give one to my mom and another to my brother, who was becoming a CPA and helped me negotiate. Pat told him I was a good man.”
Anderson grew up in the small Texas Panhandle town of Stinnett, and his father was a “true cowboy” with a strong work ethic.
“Nobody was used to that kind of money being thrown around, but it all worked out,” Anderson said. “The players were pretty respectful to Grabo and I and Gillingham. A couple guys like (Ray) Nitschke and Taylor grumbled a bit. But I get why they would be upset — giving money to unproven rookies when a guy is all-pro and proven. The attitude of the Packers players was that we were all there to win. That’s what I was there for too.”
Grabowski was a two-time All-American from the University of Illinois, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound fullback who finished third in Heisman Trophy voting his senior year and concluded his collegiate career as the Big Ten’s all-time leading rusher.
About a week before Anderson signed his Packers contract in Jacksonville, Grabowski and his agent boarded a flight in Chicago headed for Green Bay.
“The Packers sent a plane for me and my attorney, Arthur Morse,” Grabowski said. “Dick Butkus used him the year before and Arthur had done a lot of work in the theatrical business so he was used to (high-profile) negotiating.”
Grabowski said a game plan was in place for the one-on-one meeting with Lombardi, as tough a negotiator as he was a football coach.
“Our plan was no matter what the offer was or what was said, we’d take 24 hours to think about it,” he said. “It was supposed to be just an hour-long meeting and then fly back home.”
Grabowski and Morse were picked up at Austin Straubel Airport and driven to Lambeau Field, where they met Lombardi in his spacious office, which displayed several of the franchise’s championship trophies.
“Lombardi’s office was this long impressive table, where the executive committee met,” Grabowski said. “It was pretty impressive stuff for me, a 21-year-old kid, to be meeting with a legend like Vince Lombardi in his office with those trophies.”
After the usual pleasantries, Lombardi, dressed in a shirt and tie, presented the Packers terms. Morse and Grabowski listened intently, and then he spoke up.
“Lombardi said I’d give you this amount of money over three years and I’d like you to sign,” Grabowski said. “I nodded my head.”
Morse looked at Grabowski in disbelief, and asked his client if he was sure.
“He had this look of exasperation on his face, but I said yes, accepted it,” Grabowski said. “I had never made more than $1,000 in my summer jobs. I didn’t follow instructions, but I was happy with what I got.
“Lombardi made me an offer I didn’t expect. Donny and I had the good fortune to have leverage because of the AFL that players before us and after us didn’t have. It was the last year of the war between the leagues before the merger.”
Grabowski, who still has his rookie contract in a safety deposit box, said the contract was $400,000 for three years.
“In retrospect, I could have probably made more, but remember the average NFL salary was $10,000 a year at the time,” he said.
“I had a pretty smooth transition with my new Packer teammates. I remember distinctly Henry Jordan telling me, ‘I don’t care what you make if you help us win championships.’
“I also remember not speaking much with Jim Taylor my rookie year. Donny and I had some of the usual rookie hazing, but it was pretty smooth transition for us.”
Anderson and Grabowski, like the vast majority of rookies in the Lombardi era, did not see extensive action in the 1966 season.
Taylor and Hornung were the starters, but veteran Elijah Pitts filled in for Hornung when the former Notre Dame star was sidelined with injuries.
Pitts carried the ball 115 times for 393 yards — just a 3.4 yard average — but like Hornung had a nose for the end zone and scored seven rushing touchdowns and three more through the air on 26 receptions.
Grabowski had 29 rushing attempts for 127 yards (4.4 avg.) with one touchdown and four receptions for 12 yards. Anderson was the leading kickoff returner with 23 attempts for 533 yards and ran back six punts for 124 yards and a lofty 20.7 yard average. He rushed from scrimmage 25 times for 104 yards (4.2 avg.) and two touchdowns. He also caught two passes for 33 yards.
“Jim and I wished we played more, but we were Green Bay Packers, learning the system and going on from there,” Anderson said. “Rookies weren’t Lombardi’s favorite, but a lot of the veterans like Hornung and Dave Robinson helped us out with pointers. We were ready in 1967 to take on bigger roles.”
With the departure of Hornung and Taylor to New Orleans, the future of the Gold Dust Twins was now, as the starting running backs for the World Champion Packers.
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