Many coaches in Green Bay Packers history had less than auspicious debuts, but few had one as devastating as Dan Devine. Devine’s team not only lost the game, but by the end of it, the coach was in the hospital with his leg broken in two places. Oh, the game was a wild one which the Packers lost 42-40. It was a harbinger of things to come for Devine and the Packers.

Packers Coach Dan Devine Broke His Leg in a Disastrous Debut: The Leadup to the Game

Devine took over as Packers head coach before the 1971 season, taking over after Phil Bengtson was let go. Prior to Green Bay, Devine had been a successful college coach, most notably with Missouri.

The Packers were coming off a 6-8 season in 1970, but Bengtson was never able to live up to the expectations in Green Bay coming out of the Lombardi Era.

The team still had Bart Starr at quarterback, but he was injured and unable to play in the season opener. The Packers went 2-4 in the preseason and opened the regular season with Zeke Bratkowski as their starting quarterback with rookie sixth-round pick Scott Hunter serving as the backup. Bratkowski came out of retirement to play for the Pack at the age of 39 after sitting out the last two campaigns.

The season opener and Devine’s Packers debut took place at Lambeau Field against the New York Giants coached by Alex Webster and led by long-time Packers nemesis Fran Tarkenton at quarterback.

A Wild Start to the Game

The Packers got on the board first. The Giants took the opening kickoff and moved into Packers territory when their drive stalled. Pete Gogolak missed a field goal which Packers cornerback Ken Ellis fielded at the goal line and returned 100 yards for a touchdown. The Packers led 7-0. That was the only scoring in the first quarter.

The Giants took control of the game in the second quarter. Tarkenton threw two touchdown passes to wide receiver Rich Houston, the first from six yards out, the second from 39.

Then, the Packers started to turn the ball over. Running back Dave Hampton fumbled at the Packers three and Ralph Heck of the Giants recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. Hampton then fumbled the ensuing kickoff in the end zone and Joe Green recovered for the second Giants score in six seconds. The Packers trailed 28-7.

Green Bay pulled closer before the half thanks to Hampton. He returned the kickoff 44 yards and then capped off the drive on a 19-yard pass from Bratkowski. The Pack trailed 28-14 at the break.

Packers Coach Dan Devine Broke His Leg in a Disastrous Debut: The Giants Pull Away

The Giants added to their lead in the third quarter despite Hunter taking over at quarterback. Tarkenton threw two more touchdown passes, another to Houston for 81 yards and a 20-yard toss to running back Tucker Frederickson.

The Packers answered with a Lou Michaels field goal and a 21-yard touchdown pass from Hunter to tight end Rich McGeorge. That was the first touchdown pass of Hunter’s NFL career. The Pack still trailed 42-24 after three quarters.

A Broken Leg

The Packers mounted a late comeback. Donny Anderson ran up the middle for 19 yards and the Packers pulled to within 42-31. Anderson finished the game with 99 yards rushing.

That was still the score when Devine suffered his injury. Packers defensive back Doug Hart intercepted Tarkenton. He was tackled on the Packers sideline by Bob Hyland of the Giants. Hyland accidentally crashed into Devine who broke his leg in two places below the knee. He was carried off the field on a stretcher and taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital. He missed the rest of the game.

“I slipped on that stuff [mud] and went right into coach Devine,” Hyland said. “I saw he was on top of me, but I didn’t know he was hurt. He’s got a broken leg and I’m sick about it. I feel terrible. What a lousy debut for him.”

Packers Coach Dan Devine Broke His Leg in a Disastrous Debut: A Wild Finish

The Packers carried on without their coach and pulled to within four points on an 18-yard touchdown pass from Hunter to wideout Carroll Dale making it 42-38.

The Packers pulled to within two points when Hyland’s snap went over the head of punter Tom Blanchard. Although Ray Nitschke signaled touchdown the Giants recovered the loose ball, and the Packers were awarded a safety. The score was 42-40 Giants. The Packers would also get the ball back with a little more than 2:00 left in the game.

Hunter drove the Pack to the Giants 36 with 1:32 left in the game. He faced a 3rd-and-5 situation and just needed a field goal to win. Unfortunately, his third down pass was intercepted by linebacker Jim Files which clinched the win for the Giants.

“It was my own call and I know it’s a mistake,” Hunter admitted after the game. “I knew as soon as I threw. I should have called a couple of sneaks and kicked a field goal right then and there.”

From his hospital, Devine praised his team despite the loss and their five turnovers. “They didn’t quit, did they?” he said.

Devine was back on the sidelines the following week on crutches. The Packers finished the season with a disappointing 4-8-2 record.




Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

Click here for more great Packers coverage