Flashback: Jeter a speedster with style

Bob Jeter knows he's a lucky man. Lucky to have been part of one of the NFL's greatest dynasties, the Packers of Vince Lombardi in the glorious 1960s. Lucky to have been part of the only team in the modern era of pro football to win three consecutive World Championships. Lucky to play in the first two Super Bowls. But for fate and a little miscommunication, Bob Jeter could have been even luckier. He could have played on all five of Lombardi's championship teams. <p>

December, 1960. As Lombardi was preparing his squad for the NFL Championship game with the Philadelphia Eagles, he and his staff were also preparing for the annual college player draft. High on their list was a 6-1, 200-pound running back out of the University of Iowa named Bob Jeter. Especially intriguing to Lombardi was Jeter's versatility. He was a speedster who could also play defensive back. Lombardi made up his mind that he would go after Jeter in the second round of the draft.

Unfortunately for Jeter, he had no idea any NFL team was interested in him. In fact, he didn't think he was ready for the NFL. "I didn't think I had a very good year my senior year, although I led the Big Ten in rushing. I still didn't think I had the kind of year I should have had," Jeter said recently. "I had ankle problems in training camp and I was never really healthy the way I wanted to be. I didn't hear my name being mentioned as a top prospect in the NFL, either."

Besides the Packers, the Los Angeles Chargers of the American Football League also had their eye on Jeter. But the first team to make him an offer - a three-year, no-cut contract - was the Vancouver franchise in the Canadian Football League.

"It sounded pretty good to me," Jeter recalled with a chuckle. "I said, ‘Hell, yes. Nobody's interested in me down here so I might as well go up there to play. I found out later that the Packers were very much interested in me. During those times, we didn't have agents so you were more or less on your own."

Faced with the same situation, many players would have bailed out of the Vancouver contract to jump to the NFL. Not Bob Jeter. He sucked it up and played in Canada for two seasons before Lombardi called again. After thinking it over long and hard, Jeter decided to come down to Green Bay. Because he was still under contract with Vancouver for the 1962 season, Jeter couldn't play for the Packers. So he sat out the season. NFL rules allowed him to practice with the Packers all season while he waited for 1963 to come.

Begins as receiver in 1963

"When I first came down here with the Pack and Coach Lombardi, I ran some offensive plays because I was a running back in college. But I played both offense and defense in college and in Canada. He had me at running back for one practice and then at the next practice he said I was a wide receiver. I played behind Boyd Dowler and Max McGee. Those guys never got hurt so you didn't hear too much about me."

Indeed. In 1963, Jeter caught one pass for 2 yards. 1964 wasn't much better with Jeter making one catch for 23 yards. Though he says he learned a lot from Dowler and McGee, Jeter also practiced with the defense.

"Making the transition from offense to defense was no big deal for me," said Jeter. "We had to cover Dowler, McGee, Carroll Dale and Bob Long in practice. There weren't too many other wide receivers in the league better than those guys so I was well-prepared to step up and play. That really helped me to play against guys like Raymond Berry (Colts), Paul Warfield (Browns), Bob Hayes (Cowboys) and those guys."

Lombardi liked what he saw in the young cornerback and decided to switch Jeter to defense permanently for the 1965 campaign. Unfortunately for Jeter, the Packers played the Cleveland Browns during an exhibition game and he found himself trying to tackle Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown.

"In the exhibition season that year, Brown busted four of my ribs and they carried me off the field," Jeter recalls, shaking his head. "While I was recuperating, Doug Hart stepped in and he played outstanding. Coach Lombardi believed that if a guy took your place when you got hurt and he was doing well, you had to wait to get your chance again."

Reclaims cornerback position

Fast forward to Jan. 2, 1966. Lambeau Field. The 1965 NFL Championship game. Once again, Jim Brown and the Cleveland Browns were in town. Jeter finally got his chance to play when Hart was injured early in the game.

"Doug Hart got hurt and Coach Lombardi asked if I was ready. You doggone right I was ready! I sat on the bench all that time and I never sat on the bench for anybody. I'd always been a starter in high school, college, Canada. I remember that championship game because I got in there and shut down Paul Warfield and he didn't catch another pass. I stopped Jim Brown two or three times and every time I hit him, man, it brought tears to my eyes! I remember hitting him one time and I got up, shaking my head. Willie Wood ran up to me and said, ‘Jete! Jete! Are you alright?' I said, ‘Yeah, if I can get these tweety birds to stop flying around in my head!' He (Brown) was awesome and I was hitting him down by his ankles. He ran over a lot of guys. He not only hurt defensive backs, you ought to see what he did to some of the linebackers. His forearms were like tree trunks. When you hit him and knocked him down, you'd swear by the way he got up you had him because he got up really slow and he'd go back to the huddle slowly, like he could just barely make it. And then next thing you know, he was coming at you again."

Jeter made sure he never lost his starting right cornerback position with the Packers again, playing in Green Bay through the 1970 season before being traded to Chicago. He played another three years with Bears before retiring in 1973. A two-time Pro Bowl selection (1967, 1969), Jeter played in 107 games for the Packers, intercepting 23 passes for 333 yards and scoring two touchdowns. In a memorable 1966 regular season opener against the Baltimore Colts in Milwaukee County Stadium, Jeter stepped in front of Raymond Berry to intercept a Johnny Unitas pass and raced 46 yards down the sidelines for a touchdown. Later that season, against the Rams in Los Angeles, Jeter picked off Roman Gabriel and galloped 75 yards for another score. Jeter was inducted into the Packer Hall of Fame in 1985.

Many memories

A witty story teller, Jeter loves to recall his days as a Packer – and some of the darnedest things that happen on game day. Like one memorable clash with the Vikings. "One time against Minnesota, (wide receiver) Gene Washington ran an out and up pattern and beat me. He beat me badly. So, I tackled him! He jumps up and says, ‘What are you doing, Jeter?' The ref threw a flag but I said, ‘Hey, you didn't score a touchdown. I've got three more downs to get to you.'"

Jeter also has vivid memories of trying to cover Hall of Fame receiver Raymond Berry.

"He was a big challenge because he and Johnny Unitas had such camaraderie. Unitas would throw the ball before Berry would make his final break on you so it was challenge to get there before he caught the ball. I remember one time Berry came down and broke hard to the inside. I had watched the game films from the previous three weeks and Unitas was throwing him a fast pass to the inside. So I broke hard to the inside and Berry broke back to the outside and I just said, ‘Oh, no!' I had no help. He scored the touchdown and I just kept running off the field. Wood ran up to me and asked, ‘What the hell are you doing over here?' and I said, ‘Man, he beat me so bad that I'm not going to let them catch me on Instant Replay!'"

After retiring from the game, Jeter held a number of sales positions before ending up in his current job with the Chicago branch of Unilever Best Foods, an international food products corporation. He still follows pro football closely and loves to watch the Packers. However, he admits he doesn't appreciate the brash attitude of some of today's players, especially when they launch into huge celebrations after making a routine play.

"It does bother me a bit but the game has changed. Back in our time, we used to put fear in the guys who were coming across the middle on us because a wide receiver going across the middle – we were in man-to man defense. I can see the ball and the receiver's back is turned so I had the advantage of really separating him from the ball. After I'd lay a receiver out, I'd say something like, ‘Better go tell your quarterback not to throw that one again because I'm going to be here all afternoon.' One guy caught a TD and tried to do some kind of a dance in the end zone. We told him, ‘Oh, no, no, no. don't do that. You'll never dance again when you come down here.' We earned respect from our opponents."

Respect from opponents. And love from his teammates. Jeter has clear memories of both, especially the bond he had with teammates like Herb Adderley, Willie Wood, Ray Nitschke, Dave Robinson, and Lee Roy Caffey.

"I think often about the camaraderie that I had with all my teammates, how we were like a family. I learned to do things on ‘Lombardi time.' If it was a four o'clock practice, you were ready at a quarter to four. Five o'clock meeting, be there at a quarter to five. I still do that today."

Lucky? You bet. Proud of his accomplishments? Of course. But perhaps the biggest source of pride for Jeter these days is to watch his son, Rob, who is the top assistant basketball coach for Bo Ryan at the University of Wisconsin. The younger Jeter was also a four-year letter winner at UW-Platteville from 1988-91 where he captained Ryan's Pioneers to the 1991 NCAA title and was named to the '91 all-final four team. He recently took over as head coach for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's men's basketball team.

"He's doing a helluva job down there. He can recognize talent and he runs Bo Ryan's recruiting system. Let me tell you, I'm a proud father. I'm happy for him."

No doubt, the feelings of pride are mutual.

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