State Your Case: Jack Vainisi

General manager who built the Green Bay dynasty

In the salary-cap era, the most important person in the building is the guy who finds the players.

In today’s NFL, you can’t pay everyone so you can’t keep everyone. The salary cap forces an annual roster churn with younger, cheaper players replacing older, expensive players. The NFL draft serves as that turnstile.

The drafters, the builders, over the years have earned their rightful place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. With the implementation of a contributor category in 2015, a path was paved for the men who call the shots on draft day to have busts in Canton. They supply the players who win the championships. And the Hall has enshrined five such drafters to this point — four general managers (Bobby Beathard, Bill Polian, Ron Wolf and George Young) and one personnel director (Gil Brandt).

Beathard spent 22 seasons as a general manager of the Washington Redskins and San Diego Chargers. He drafted 13 Pro Bowlers and four Hall of Famers – players who helped the Redskins and Chargers reach four Super Bowls. He also traded for quarterback Joe Theismann, the 1983 NFL MVP.

Polian spent 22 seasons as a general manager with the Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts. He drafted 19 Pro Bowlers and four Hall of Famers – players who helped the Bills and Colts reach six Super Bowls. He also traded for linebacker Cornelius Bennett, a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Wolf spent 13 seasons as a general manager with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers. He drafted 13 Pro Bowlers and one Hall of Famer – players who helped the Packers reach two Super Bowls. He also traded for quarterback Brett Favre, a three-time NFL MVP.

Young spent 20 seasons as general manager of the New York Giants. He drafted 17 Pro Bowlers and two Hall of Famers – players who helped the Giants win two Super Bowls.

Brandt spent 29 years running drafts for the Dallas Cowboys. He selected 31 Pro Bowlers and nine Hall of Famers — players who helped the Cowboys win five Super Bowls.

Deserving candidates, one an all. But were any of them more deserving of Canton than Jack Vainisi, the architect of one of the greatest dynasties in NFL history?

Photo courtesy of the Green Bay Packers

The championships of the Curly Lambeau-Don Hutson era were in the distant past when the Packers went looking for a re-start in 1950. Green Bay won its last title in 1944 and Hutson retired after the 1945 season. Lambeau departed after the 1949 season, having lost 26 of his last 31 games.

The cash-strapped Packers hired Gene Ronzani as head coach and the 23-year-old Vainisi as their personnel director in 1950. And Vainisi went to work as a one-man scouting staff – but he was only on the job for 11 years before suffering a fatal heart attack in 1960. So he never saw the fruits of his labors.

His drafting set the table for the 1960s NFL team of the decade. From 1960-67, the Packers played in six NFL championship games and won five of them. Green Bay also qualified for the first two Super Bowls and won both of them.

In just 11 drafts, Vainisi delivered 20 Pro Bowlers and eight Hall of Famers to the Packers. He also signed safety Willie Wood as an undrafted college free agent in 1960 – and he became Vainisi’s ninth Hall of Famer.

Vainisi drafted three future NFL MVPs – Paul Hornung (1961), Jim Taylor (1962) and Bart Starr (1966). He drafted six players who made the 1960s all-decade team, five who made the NFL’s 50th anniversary team, two who made the 75th anniversary team and one (Forrest Gregg) who made the 100th anniversary team.

Vainisi also drafted six players who made Pro Bowls with other teams. He drafted a quarterback – Tobin Rote — who went to a Pro Bowl with the Packers and then delivered the last championships for two franchises, the Detroit Lions (1957) and San Diego Chargers (1963). He drafted another quarterback – Babe Parilli — who took the Boston Patriots to their only AFL championship game in 1963. And he drafted end Billy Howton, who retired after the 1963 season as the NFL’s all-time leading receiver.

Vainisi also was the driving force in the Packers hiring Vince Lombardi as their coach in 1959.

Six years after Vainisi’s passing, when the Packers played in the first Super Bowl, their starting lineup still included eight of his draft picks, two of his trade acquisitions and his undrafted college-free-agent Wood. Another of his draft picks served as a captain of the AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs that day, center Jon Gilliam. And yet another of his draft picks, Max McGee, came off the bench to catch seven passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-10 victory over the Chiefs.

Pittsburgh’s 1974 draft is widely considered the best in history. The Steelers selected four Hall of Famers in the first five rounds – wide receiver Lynn Swann in the first round, linebacker Jack Lambert in the second, wide receiver John Stallworth in the third and center Mike Webster in the fifth.

But Vainisi’s 1958 draft wasn’t far behind. The Packers selected Pro Bowl linebacker Dan Currie in the first round and then claimed three Hall of Famers in consecutive rounds: fullback Jim Taylor in the second, linebacker Ray Nitschke in the third and guard Jerry Kramer in the fourth.

Vainisi knew what a player looked like. He was as responsible for the Green Bay dynasty of the 1960s as Lombardi was. Lombardi has a bust in Canton. Vainisi deserves one as well.

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