Packers Hall of Fame an ‘Extreme Honor’ for Class of 2016

Nick Collins, Chad Clifton and Russ Winnie will be enshrined in the Packers Hall of Fame on July 23.

“They hurry to line up! About 35 seconds left in the game! T-formation. Signals called to the open. The ball goes back to Herber! Herber fades off to the left. He throws a pass… to Hutson! Hutson takes it into the end zone. It’s complete for a touchdown!”

The forceful, passionate voice behind the microphone of WTMJ Radio in Milwaukee from 1929 through 1946 was an absolute godsend to Packers faithful all across Wisconsin. That legendary voice belonged to a man named Russ Winnie in a time long before television or the Internet. Those Packers fans literally hung on Winnie’s every word as he brought the color, excitement and glory of six NFL championships during the Curly Lambeau era.

For 16 of those same years, Winnie also broadcast University of Wisconsin football, and when he retired from announcing to concentrate on his job as WTMJ’s station manager, he was widely respected as one of the best sportscasters in the Midwest. A native of Racine, Wis., Winnie passed away in 1956 at the age of 49.

“The interesting thing about Russ is that not only is he acknowledged as the first radio voice of the Green Bay Packers but he actually established the first Packer fan base,” said Denny Tattum, vice president of the executive committee at the Packers Hall of Fame. “His eloquence on the radio network, his ability to convey what was going on on the football field, the action and dedication of the ballplayers was conveyed to football fans that didn’t have the opportunity see the action in person.”

Winnie, whose dramatic, memorable broadcast style ushered in a tradition of outstanding Packers radio and TV announcers including Ray Scott, Ted Moore, Jim Irwin and Wayne Larrivee, will be immortalized in the Packers Hall of Fame when he is enshrined along with tackle Chad Clifton and safety Nick Collins at Lambeau Field on July 23.

“When you take a look at the announcers and the credit they have been given, most people don’t really understand what goes into being able to deliver on-field action through the radio waves,” added Tattum. “You really have to have a personality that defines the actions of others. With the sportscasters that have been representatives of the Packers, we’ve been blessed.”

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Clifton and Collins returned to Wisconsin earlier in the week to soak up a few accolades, share laughs and tall tales with other Packers alumni at the annual Packers Hall of Fame Golf Classic. As it has for many years, the event was held at The Bull at Pinehurst Farms in Sheboygan Falls.

“Obviously, it’s an extreme honor,” smiled Clifton, a 2000 second-round draft from the University of Tennessee who appeared in 165 games with 160 starts during his 12-year Packers career. “It’s one of the top fraternities in all of professional sports. My family and friends are so proud of this accomplishment.”

Clifton was a fixture at left tackle and ranks No. 2 in franchise history for most games played by an offensive tackle behind only Forrest Gregg (187 games). In 2004, Clifton was part of an offense that allowed a franchise-record 14 sacks. He and his teammates did not allow a sack in eight games, another single-season club record. He was selected to two Pro Bowls (2007 and 2010) and played on eight playoff teams, highlighted by the team’s victory in Super Bowl XLV.

Unlike many other players, Clifton did not dread Green Bay’s frigid winters.

“As brutal as the winters are up here, the summers can be that brutal down south,” Clifton explained. “So, I enjoyed it. I’m kind of a cold-natured person, anyway. Some of my kids’ fondest memories of Green Bay were about going outside to play in the snow. We don’t get that in Nashville very much.”

As Clifton reflects on his Packer career, he has no trouble flagging highlights.

“Super Bowl XLV is the first thing that comes to mind,” said Clifton. “Just the relationships that we built with that team as well as my entire career in Green Bay – it really was and still is a family. My two sons being born in Wisconsin and all those things hold great memories for me.”

Collins has plenty of great Green Bay memories, too, even if his outstanding career was cut short by a neck injury.

“This is overwhelming,” Collins said of the Hall of Fame honor. “I’ve been dreaming about this all my life just to have a chance to play in the National Football League. To be in the Packers Hall of Fame with such a good group of guys who paved the way for us so we could play this game that we love so much, I feel blessed to be part of something so special.”

The second-round selection out of Bethune-Cookman in 2005 played seven seasons for the Packers while becoming one of the top playmakers in the league at the safety position. He racked up 21 interceptions among 83 passes defensed in his career. Collins was a three-time Pro Bowler, doing so in 2008, 2009 and 2010 to become the first Packers safety since LeRoy Butler (1996-98) to earn that honor for three straight seasons.

“When I got drafted back in ’05, I didn’t know I would be drafted that high,” Collins recalled. “They took a chance on me coming from a small school and I’m thankful to Ted (Thompson) and the coaching staff that was there at the time. I cherish that phone call the most, ‘We want you to come in.’ I’m like, ‘Really? Green Bay, Wisconsin?’ I’d heard of Green Bay, Wisconsin but I didn’t know where Green Bay was. But it was still very special.”

Like Clifton, Collins gets a big, broad smile when he recalls his favorite Packers highlight — the Super Bowl XLV triumph over the Pittsburgh Steelers. With Green Bay leading 7-0 in the first quarter, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger faded back to pass near his goal line. As he released the ball, defensive tackle Howard Green hit Roethlisberger’s throwing arm, sending the ball fluttering like a wounded duck. Collins, like a hawk, swooped in and took it to the house for a 37-yard touchdown.

“It was just a great push by our defensive line,” said Collins, savoring the memory. “Big Howard Green got his hands on Big Ben’s arm. I just saw the ball floating up there. I was like, ‘Just don’t drop the ball! Please don’t drop the ball!’ I was able to corral it, make a couple of moves and get into the end zone. I was just thankful and blessed because I had just lost my father at that time, so I had a lot of emotions going through me. I screamed and yelled and it was just amazing. I still don’t understand why the ref through the flag because in my celebration I didn’t do anything crazy.”

Russ Winnie. Chad Clifton. Nick Collins.  Three outstanding contributors to Green Bay Packer lore will now take their place among the greatest to ever represent this historic franchise.

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