No doubt, Packers ’50s scout Jack Vainisi belongs in Hall of Fame
Vainisi drafted stars for Packers
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.