A Few Good Men

Let's talk about centers today and start with the 38th president of the United States.<p> Yes, Gerald Ford was an All-American center out of Michigan and he darn well could have played with the Packers.<p>

Curly Lambeau was a great salesman and after watching Ford in the annual Shrine Classic in San Francisco in 1935, he tried to talk Ford into joining Green Bay, then a three-time NFL champ. Ford, however, said he wanted to continue his education toward a law degree.

Lambeau didn't give up and wrote Ford a glowing letter about the Packers. That letter is still on display in the Ford museum in Grand Rapids, Mich.

I've always suspected Ford was a big Packer fan and, as president, he handled the dedication of the Packer Hall of Fame on April 1, 1976. He lit up the audience in front of the new HOF building with "I might have played right here with Curly Lambeau."

Like most centers on the Packer roster, they're generally far in the background, but the Pack's infrequent number of centers is really quite rare. For example:

Only six centers, including the present Pack's Frank Winters, played 63 of the Pack's 81 years in the NFL. They are:
• Jug Earpe, 11 seasons, 1922-32;
• Charley Brock, 9 seasons, 1939-47;
• Jim Ringo, 11 seasons, 1953-63;
• Ken Bowman, 10 seasons, 1964-73;
• Larry McCarren, 12 seasons, 1973-84;
• Winters, 10 seasons, 1992-01.

Thirty-three straight years were covered by Ringo, Bowman and McCarren.

The centers are really "something" because they're the first player to actually handle the ball in a game. The Packers have played 1,072 league games in their 80-plus seasons and that comes out to approximately 77,180 snaps by the center, give or take a few.

Ringo often said "the only time we get our name in the paper is if we make a bad pass (from center)." Mike Flanagan got a little "notice" when he had two bad passes to Brett Favre in the shotgun in the loss at Minnesota.

You often wonder if there will be any longevity at the position what with free agency these days. The Packers escaped that problem with Flanagan, who signed a four-year contract last fall. Mike replaced Winters last season as the starting center.

Flanagan, 28, actually is in his fourth Packer season but he was beset by injuries in his first three seasons. Mike was happy to continue his work in Green Bay, noting: "This is a unique place. Maybe you take less money here. Maybe money is worth more than other places. I've got a good thing here with this staff and the guys I'm with. I didn't want to leave and I think almost every guy that plays here will tell you he didn't want to leave."

Winters, 37, is in his 15th season, having played with Cleveland, New York Giants and Kansas City before coming to the Pack in '92. A real battler, Winters doesn't mind getting into a scrap during a game. Back in '93, the Packers were hosting the New York Jets and Favre was creamed by linebacker Marvin Jones as he slid to the ground after a run. Winters came after Jones with knuckles flying. Frank is undecided about returning for season No. 16.

Of the six longtime centers, four of them remained in Green Bay and got to be active River City citizens, especially McCarren, who is sports director at WFRV-TV (Channel 5), a local CBS station.

The 1978 Packer Yearbook carried a story on Larry and the title was "Larry McCarren, the strong, silent type." Known at "The Rock" during his playing days, Larry is the opposite of silent as he conducts two TV shows during the season – Larry McCarren's Locker Room on Monday nights and co-hosts The Mike Sherman Show the next night.

A two-time Pro Bowler, McCarren played two seasons under Dan Devine, nine under Bart Starr, and one under Forrest Gregg. Larry had put on 10 pounds of muscle with extensive weight training and his position coach, Bill Curry, said the added weight made him a "much improved player."

The 1978 press guide said McCarren made 828 plays, including kicks, without an errant snap. Larry recently retired from writing a column for Packer Report.

The first longtime center, Earpe, was a big, happy guy. He served as publicity director of the Packers in the early 1950s and every August he'd proclaim: "I don't see how we can lose a game." The Packers didn't have a winning season throughout the 1950s.

Like Earpe, Brock played two ways and had quite a reputation as a ball-stealer at linebacker. He was active in continuing the Packer Alumni Assoc., and started the Packer clinic for high school players and coaches.

Ringo, an All-American at Syracuse, was only 20 when he joined the Packers in '53. In fact, he left training camp when he grew lonesome and Coach Gene Ronzani found him at his home in Pennsylvania. A Hall of Famer, Ringo played two more years with the Eagles.

Bowman was a star at Wisconsin and earned his law degree while playing in Green Bay where he set up a practice. Ken's now a public defender in Tucson, Ariz. He always had a good philosophy on football: "You get to be a little boy for just a few years longer. It's an enjoyable way to make a living."

Yep, two-way Earpe had the most winning run (90-31-13, .720) for his trip. McCarren had the most misery, a 71-99-5 record for .420.

Note: Art Daley has covered the Packers since 1941. He was former sports editor of the Green Bay Press-Gazette and founded the Packer Yearbook.

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