The Green Bay Packers have a rich history at the running back position with Hall of Famers like Johnny “Blood” McNally, Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor and all-time Packers greats like John Brockington, Dorsey Levens and Ahman Green.
It has always been a milestone for NFL running backs to gain 100 or more yards in a game. The best running backs in the game do it consistently, creating offense early in the game and then controlling the clock late in the game to help their team clinch a victory.
But here is a look at 10 lesser-known Packers runners who managed to top the 100-yard rushing mark in a game just once during their tenure as Packers. Sometimes it resulted from a rare chance to carry the football due to injuries to other players or because it was the season finale and the team was using backup players to close out the season.
How many of these obscure runners who had one day of glory as a Packers runner can you remember? The games are listed in chronological order and focus on post-1970 Packers. We will give you some background about the players and the circumstance surrounding their big performances.
- Willard Harrell, October 3, 1976, vs Detroit. Packers 24, Lions 14
The Packers drafted Harrell in the third round in 1975 and he spent three seasons with the Packers before finishing his career with seven campaigns with the St. Louis Cardinals.
At 5’8” and 162 pounds, Harrell was not built to carry the ball 20-plus times a game but his speed and elusiveness made him an effective runner and punt returner.
The former Pacific University star never gained more than 435 yards in a season with the Packers but he gained 111 yards on 17 carries in a Week 4 win against the Lions at Lambeau Field. The total was helped by a 56-yard run.
Harrell also threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Steve Odom which closed out the scoring in the Packers 24-14 victory. Odom was also 5’8” which may make that the shortest combination of passer and receiver to connect on a touchdown in Packers history.
- Steve Atkins, September 9, 1979, vs New Orleans. Packers 28, Saints 19
The Packers drafted Atkins in the second round of the 1979 NFL Draft after selecting running back Eddie Lee Ivery in the first round. Ivery was injured in the season opener and lost for the season and Terdell Middleton was banged up in the game so Atkins took over as the Packers primary runner in this Week 2 game against the Saints at Milwaukee County Stadium.
Atkins gained only 467 yards in his three seasons with the Packers but 110 of them came in this game. The total was boosted by a 60-yard run in the fourth quarter which did not result in a score. Atkins did run one in from three yards out in the third quarter that put the Packers ahead 21-12.
The Packers overcame a 12-0 halftime deficit to win the game 28-19. In addition to Atkins, Barty Smith, quarterback David Whitehurst and Eric Torkelson also ran for touchdowns in this game.
Mike Douglass and Johnnie Gray intercepted Archie Manning to help the Packers cause.
- Nate Simpson, October 14, 1979, vs Detroit. Packers 24, Lions 16
Nate Simpson was a backup halfback for the Packers between 1977 and 1979. He never gained more than 235 yards in any of his three seasons with the Packers but in one game in 1979, Simpson was the Packers workhorse back in a 24-16 comeback win over the Lions in Milwaukee.
The Packers trailed 9-0 in the second quarter before getting into gear. Simpson carried the ball 19 times for 121 yards in this game. His long run was just 22 yards so Simpson earned his yards in short chunks.
Whitehurst threw touchdown passes to tight end Paul Coffman and running back Walter Landers and ran for a third score as the Packers won a game that featured 22 penalties between these two struggling teams.
- Kevin Willhite, October 18, 1987, vs Philadelphia. Packers 16, Eagles 10 (OT)
Of all the players on this list, Willhite may be the most obscure. You see, the former Oregon star was one of the Packers replacement players during the 1987 NFL players strike. His brother, Gerald Willhite, enjoyed a longer NFL career, playing seven seasons with the Denver Broncos.
Kevin Willhite was in training camp for the Packers in 1987 but was released. He then played for Forrest Gregg’s team during the strike and did well, gaining 251 yards on 53 carries in the three replacement games. His best performance came in the Packers 16-10 overtime win over the Eagles in the final game before the strike ended and the regular players returned.
Willhite gained exactly 100 yards on 16 carries while catching two passes for 13 more yards. The Packers went 2-1 in the three replacement games and finished the 1987 season 5-8-1.
Willhite played well when called upon but never returned to the NFL again.
- Keith Woodside, December 17, 1989, at Chicago. Packers 40, Bears 28
The Packers selected halfback Keith Woodside in the third round of the 1988 NFL Draft and while he was a four-year starter for the Packers, he was better known for his receiving skills than his ability to run the football. In fact, Woodside never gained more than 326 yards rushing in any of his four seasons with the Packers.
But in a Week 15 contest in Chicago with the Packers battling for a playoff berth, Woodside had the best game of his NFL career. The former Texas A&M star gained 116 yards on just 10 carries as the Packers crushed the Bears 40-28.
Woodside opened the scoring with a 68-yard scamper in the first quarter that got the Green Bay offense going and helped him get over the 100-yard mark for the game. He also caught five passes from quarterback Don Majkowski for 43 more yards in the game.
The win improved Green Bay’s record to 9-6 on the season and gave the Pack their first season sweep over the Bears since 1981.
- De’Mond Parker, December 5, 1999, at Chicago. Packers 35, Bears 19
With Dorsey Levens out with an injury, rookie fifth-round draft pick De’Mond Parker took over as the Packers starting halfback. Parker helped the Packers overcome an early 10-0 deficit to beat the Bears at Soldier Field in Chicago 35-19.
The former Oklahoma star ran 19 times for 113 yards and two touchdowns in the game with both scores coming in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach.
After scoring the second touchdown, Parker waved at his cleats like they were on fire and he was trying to cool them off.
Unfortunately, a few weeks later, Parker tore his ACL returning a kick against the Bucs. He didn’t return the following season until Week 9 as he recovered from the injury. The knee injury cost him some of his speed which was his biggest asset as a runner.
In 2001, Parker was signed by the Lions but he never appeared in a game for Detroit and his NFL career was over.
- Noah Herron, October 8, 2006, vs. St. Louis. Rams 23, Packers 20
Noah Herron was the Packers third-string halfback in 2006 but Ahman Green injured his hamstring and backup Vernand Morency fumbled twice early in the game (one was ruled after the play was dead) and so Herron was put into the game.
The former Northwestern star responded by gaining 106 yards on 20 carries and scoring one touchdown in the Packers 23-20 loss to the St. Louis Rams.
Unfortunately for Herron, he never got the opportunity to carry the ball that frequently in a game again. In the remaining 11 games of the 2006 season, Herron never carried the ball more than five times in any of them and he didn’t carry the ball at all in five games.
Herron was let go by the Packers after the 2006 season and bounced around to the Bucs, Jets and Browns without playing in another NFL game.
- Vernand Morency, October 29, 2006, vs Arizona Cardinals. Packers 31, Cardinals 14
Morency wasn’t the only Packers runner to go over 100 yards in this game. Ahman Green returned to the lineup and gained 106 yards in 21 carries. But head coach Mike McCarthy wanted to make sure Green wasn’t overworked so Morency got 11 carries as a change of pace back and gained 101 yards. It was the first time two Packers runners went over 100 yards in a game since the Snow Bowl in 1985 when Eddie Lee Ivery and Gerry Ellis did the trick against the Bucs.
Morency gained 529 total rushing yards in two seasons with the Packers and 101 of them came in this game. He may have gained more yards in this game but a lower back injury forced him to exit the contest early.
The Oklahoma State alum was acquired from the Texans in the Samkon Gado trade. He spent three seasons in the NFL with Houston and Green Bay.
- DeShawn Wynn, December 28, 2008, vs Detroit. Packers 31, Lions 21
The Packers drafted Wynn in the seventh round of the 2007 NFL Draft. He made the team as a backup but missed the second half of his rookie season after suffering a shoulder injury in a Monday night game against Denver.
In 2008, Wynn was released and then added to the Packers practice squad. The Packers activated him in October when injuries hit their backfield.
In the season finale against Detroit, Wynn broke off a 73-yard touchdown run in the first quarter that put the Packers ahead 7-0. He finished the game with 106 yards rushing on just seven carries. Starter Ryan Grant also went over 100 yards in this game, gaining 106 yards in 19 attempts.
Aaron Rodgers concluded his first season as the Packers starting quarterback by completing 21-of-31 passes for 308 yards and three touchdowns in the Packers 31-21 win. They finished the season 6-10.
- Johnathan Franklin, September 22, 2013, at Cincinnati. Bengals 34, Packers 30.
Johnathan Franklin was a fourth-round pick for the Packers in 2013. He saw his first major action in this Week 3 game in Cincinnati after Eddie Lacy and John Kuhn were out with injuries. James Starks got the start and he and Franklin were the only running backs active for the game. Starks went down with an injury at halftime.
Franklin came into the game and had a very mixed experience. He gained 103 yards on just 13 carries and a touchdown. He broke off a 51-yard dash that helped him reach the 100-yard mark in the game.
But with 4:01 left in the fourth quarter and the Packers ahead 30-27, Green Bay faced a fourth-and-one situation at the Bengals 30. Mike McCarthy elected to go to it and the handoff went to Franklin. Michael Johnson of the Bengals knocked the ball out of Franklin’s hands and it was recovered by Reggie Nelson. He fumbled and Terrance Newman of the Bengals picked it up and ran it back 58 yards for the go-ahead score.
Aaron Rodgers got the Packers to the Bengals 20 with 1:25 left in the game but a fourth-down pass for James Jones fell incomplete and the Packers lost.
Franklin’s promising career was cut short later in his rookie season when he suffered a serious neck injury in a Week 12 game against the Vikings. He announced his retirement from football after doctors told him one wrong hit could leave him a paraplegic.
For one brief game, Franklin was able to show what he was capable of in the NFL.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
Click here for more great Packers coverage