No doubt, Pack­ers ’50s scout Jack Vain­isi be­longs in Hall of Fame

Vain­isi drafted stars for Pack­ers

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Front Page - Gary D’Amato Colum­nist Milwaukee Jour­nal Sen­tinel USA TO­DAY NET­WORK – WIS.

The Green Bay Pack­ers honor play­ers, coaches and con­trib­u­tors elected to the Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame by list­ing their names in big yel­low let­ters on the east and west fa­cades of Lam­beau Field.

Con­spic­u­ous by his ab­sence is Jack Vain­isi.

Vain­isi is not a mem­ber of the Hall of Fame and likely never will be. An ex­cep­tion should be made, how­ever, be­cause if any­one de­serves to be hon­ored among Pack­ers greats, it’s Vain­isi. He might be the third-most im­por­tant fig­ure in the his­tory of the fran­chise, be­hind only Curly Lam­beau and Vince Lom­bardi.

It was Vain­isi, a scout from 1950 un­til his un­timely death at 33 in 1960, who as­sem­bled the tal­ent Lom­bardi would coach to five NFL ti­tles. Vain­isi also played an in­flu­en­tial role in con­vinc­ing the team’s ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee to hire Lom­bardi in 1959.

In other words, with­out Vain­isi there are no Glory Years. There is no Title­town, no Bart Starr to score the win­ning touch­down in the Ice Bowl, no Ron Wolf to res­ur­rect the fran­chise in the 1990s – and get his name up on the façade – and no Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers to set records and win Su­per Bowls.

Am I be­ing over­dra­matic? Not in the least.

Con­sider the play­ers Vain­isi drafted: Jim Ringo in 1953, For­rest Gregg and Bart Starr in ’56, Paul Horn­ing in ’57 and Jim Tay­lor and Ray Nitschke in ’58. He also signed Wil­lie Wood as an un­drafted free agent and fa­cil­i­tated trades for Wil­lie Davis and Henry Jor­dan. All are in the Hall of Fame.

In ad­di­tion, Vain­isi drafted Max McGee, Bob Sko­ron­ski, Hank Grem­minger, Ron Kramer, Dan Cur­rie, Jerry Kramer, Boyd Dowler, Tom Brown and Bob Jeter, all of whom would start on cham­pi­onship teams.

“The Lom­bardi dy­nasty — Jack was re­ally re­spon­si­ble for it,” said younger brother Sam Vain­isi.

Jack Vain­isi was just 22 and fresh

out of Notre Dame when then-coach Gene Ron­zani hired him in 1950 and put him in charge of player per­son­nel.

In an era in which most teams drafted play­ers based on what they read in me­dia guides and mag­a­zines, Vain­isi paid col­lege coaches to fill out re­ports on their own play­ers and op­pos­ing play­ers. He then cross-ref­er­enced the re­ports and or­ga­nized them in three-ring binders.

“Jack was a boy won­der,” Sam Vain­isi said. “He was way ahead of his time.”

When the Pack­ers were look­ing for a coach in 1959, Vain­isi rec­om­mended Lom­bardi, the New York Gi­ants’ of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor. Lom­bardi was wary of the team’s board, which he knew con­stantly med­dled in foot­ball af­fairs. He told the board he would deal with only one man: Jack Vain­isi.

“Vince would not have come to Green Bay but for Jack and he even told the board that,” said Jerry Vain­isi, an­other younger brother who was then a Pack­ers ball boy and would be­come gen­eral man­ager of the Su­per Bowl XX cham­pion Chicago Bears.

Lom­bardi and Jack Vain­isi quickly grew close. Un­for­tu­nately, Vain­isi would not live to see a sin­gle play­off vic­tory. He died of heart fail­ure on Nov. 27, 1960.

One month later, Lom­bardi se­lected Herb Ad­der­ley in the first round of the NFL draft. Sam Vain­isi said Ad­der­ley told him years later that when Lom­bardi drafted the fu­ture Hall of Fame cor­ner­back, he told him, “The only rea­son I’m pick­ing you is that Jack rec­om­mended you. You’d bet­ter be good.”

Had he lived longer, Vain­isi likely would have gained greater recog­ni­tion as the ar­chi­tect of the teams Lom­bardi coached. Even Lom­bardi noted on oc­ca­sion that Vain­isi was not given enough credit for the team’s suc­cess.

“My gut feel­ing is that Vince would not have re­tired (as coach in 1969) if Jack would have lived through the ‘60s,” Sam Vain­isi said. “Jack would have shared a lot of what Vince had to do as gen­eral man­ager. He would have taken a lot of the bur­den off him.”

Jerry Vain­isi said it was un­for­tu­nate his older brother doesn’t get the recog­ni­tion he de­serves.

“I know that they just named the new gen­eral man­ager in Green Bay and they said he was a pro­tégé of the leg­endary Ron Wolf,” Vain­isi said of Brian Gutekunst. “I looked at the num­ber of play­ers Ron put in the Hall of Fame com­pared to the num­ber of play­ers Jack put in the Hall of Fame and there’s no com­par­i­son.”

A few years ago, Sam Vain­isi wrote to many of Lom­bardi’s Pack­ers and asked them to en­cour­age the team to honor Jack Vain­isi by putting his name on the façade in Lam­beau.

“I got a call im­me­di­ately from Bart Starr,” Sam said. “He said, ‘Sam, he ab­so­lutely be­longs up there. I’ll do what I can.’ But noth­ing ever came of it.

“When Ron Wolf ’s name went up there, I talked to Mark Mur­phy and I men­tioned that I re­ally thought Jack’s name should be up there also. He said, ‘Let me talk things over.’ He talked with Bob (Har­lan). Bob said be­cause Jack wasn’t a gen­eral man­ager he couldn’t be up there.”

Said Jerry Vain­isi, “It doesn’t mat­ter what your po­si­tion is, it’s what you con­trib­ute. What was your con­tri­bu­tion? That’s all that should mat­ter.”

With­out ques­tion, Jack Vain­isi’s name be­longs in big yel­low let­ters on the façade at Lam­beau Field.

It’s never too late to right a wrong.


Jack Vain­isi (left), Green Bay's player per­son­nel direc­tor, meets rookie wide re­ceiver Billy How­ton at the air­port in Green Bay in 1952. Vain­isi drafted many of Vince Lom­bardi’s great play­ers.

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