Not many outside of Green Bay remember former Packers’ linebacker Bill Forester, and I get it. He spent over half his career – six years, to be exact – on lackluster Green Bay teams that didn’t win.
But then Vince Lombardi arrived, and the Packers took off. And so did Bill Forester.
In his last five seasons he became one of the best outside linebackers in the game, named to four Pro Bowls, chosen to three first-team All-Pro units and part of two league championship teams.
Wait a minute, did I say, “Part?” Hardly. He was the defensive captain of the Packers from 1957 to 1963 and had the respect of teammates and opponents.
“Kind of the silent leader,” former Packers’ safety Bobby Dillon, named to the Pro Football Hall-of- Fame’s Centennial Class of 2020, told historian Cliff Christl of Packers.com. “Everybody knew he was a good player and tended to his business. And he didn’t make any mistakes. He called the defenses.”
Had he played for another team, Forester might be a candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But there are 13 members of the 1960s’ Packers in Canton – including coach Vince Lombardi – and voters can be excused for suffering Packers’ fatigue … especially with someone who wasn’t there for the duration of the Green Bay dynasty.
So Forester has never been a finalist.
But Green Bay was an extraordinary team with extraordinary players. The Packers won five league championships in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls, and are considered one of the greatest dynasties in NFL history.
Forester—whom teammates called “Bubba” — wasn’t there for three of those championships, and that hurts his case. But it doesn’t mean he was any less a player. Because he wasn’t. In a Nov.18, 1962 game vs. the Baltimore Colts, for instance, he sacked Hall-of-Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas four times.
In the first half.
“That,” Lombardi said afterward, “is as fine a football game as I’ve seen ‘Bubba’ Forester play.”
The Packers would go on to win that game, 17-13, though outgained 382 yards to 116. They would also go on to win the NFL championship, losing only one game all season. It was their second title in as many years, and Forester played a significant role in both title games. He teamed with linebackers Dan Currie and Hall-of-Famer Ray Nitschke to comprise the heart of a defense that didn’t allow the Giants an offensive score in either the 1961 or ’62 championship contests.
Forester played 11 years with the Packers, with the first six (1953-58) spent on teams that were 20-50-2 and went nowhere. A third-round draft pick out of SMU, he was an all-Southwest Conference choice at defensive tackle and considered a prospect at that position, fullback and tackle. But the Packers put him at middle guard his rookie season, and he played the position through 1956.
One year later, however, he was moved to outside linebacker, spent the rest of his career there and never budged. In 11 years, he did not miss a single game, playing 138 consecutive contests before retiring after the 1963 season. He finished with 21 interceptions and 15 fumble recoveries and twice led all linebackers in the NFL in interceptions.
“He was the old pro, the leader and the captain,” former Packers’ assistant Norb Hecker told Christl. “He was never a problem. He was a stable linebacker. He couldn’t cover very well. He didn’t have any kind of speed. But he was good against the run. He could plug those holes inside.”
That didn’t go unnoticed. In 1974 the Packers named him to their Hall of Fame. In 1999 he was chosen to his high school’s Hall of Fame and two years later was named to the Texas High School of Fame. Then, in 2015, the Pro Football Researches Association named him to its Hall of Very Good’s Class of 2015.
But he’s never been considered by Pro Football Hall-of-Fame voters, and that’s a shame. Because Forester, who died in 2007, was an important part of one of the game’s most dominant teams, yet was lost in a tidal wave of noteworthy teammates who played on after he left.