February 22, 2011
On February 22, 1972 the NFL announced a straight-up swap of former Pro Bowl running backs as the Green Bay Packers sent Donny Anderson to the St. Louis Cardinals for MacArthur Lane.
Anderson, a two-time All-American at Texas Tech, had come to the Packers amidst great fanfare in 1966. Drafted in the first round of the ’65 draft as a future pick (a practice that was allowed at the time; he still had a year of college eligibility remaining), he signed for an estimated $600,000. Along with FB Jim Grabowski, the 1966 first round selection out of Illinois who signed for $400,000, much was made of the combined million dollar commitment made by Green Bay to both keep the highly-touted runners away from the AFL as well as provide successors to the aging starting backfield of HB Paul Hornung and FB Jim Taylor.
The 6’3”, 210-pound Anderson started off slowly in the NFL, running tentatively and blocking poorly – Coach Vince Lombardi considered moving him to flanker after the ’66 season. But while Grabowski, the power runner, was never able to fully recover from a 1967 knee injury and had a mediocre career (he was cut a year prior to the Anderson trade, signing on with the Bears), Anderson broke into the starting lineup when injuries began to decimate the backfield during the ’67 season and rose to the occasion, contributing to a third straight championship as well as a win in Super Bowl II.
While the Packers dropped to 6-7-1 in the first post-Lombardi coaching year of 1968, Anderson led the team in rushing with 761 yards and was selected to the Pro Bowl. With a crowded situation in the backfield (veteran Elijah Pitts and speedy Travis Williams were also available at halfback), he saw less action in ’69, but bounced back with 853 yards rushing and 36 pass receptions in 1970. In addition to his play at halfback, Anderson also was a highly-regarded left-footed punter.
Anderson was involved in a contract dispute with the team in 1971 and considerable animosity arose between him and Head Coach/GM Dan Devine, who arrived that same year. Also arriving was rookie FB John Brockington, who pushed him into a supporting role. Devine was critical of Anderson’s blocking and expressed a preference for backup HB Dave Hampton, who he considered to be a better blocker.
“I tried to overcome the fact that there was a line between us,” said Anderson immediately following the trade to St. Louis. “I tried to play better football. I couldn't do it because when someone is down on you, you've got to prove yourself day after day. I didn't feel I had to prove myself on that basis, but maybe I'll have to do it in St. Louis.”
MacArthur Lane was a year older than Anderson (Anderson was 28 and Lane 29 at the time of the deal), but also bigger at 6’1” and 220 pounds, which seemed a better fit in tandem with the 6’1”, 225-pound Brockington. Lane had also been a first round draft choice, taken by the Cardinals in the 1968 draft with the thirteenth overall pick. He also stepped into a crowded backfield situation in St. Louis and saw scant action as a backup and kick returner in his first two years with the club.
Lane had a breakout season in 1970, showing off his power-running skill to gain 977 yards on the ground while catching 32 passes for another 365 yards, and scoring a league-leading 13 touchdowns. He was named to the Pro Bowl. But like Anderson, he also ran afoul of a new head coach, Bob Hollway, in 1971. Lane slumped to 502 yards rushing and was suspended for the season finale after publicly criticizing the team’s vice president, Bill Bidwill, due to a salary dispute.
Following the trade, Hollway said. “As far as the Cardinals - myself and management – are concerned, we resolved any problems we had with Lane. The trade came
about because we were able to get a more versatile running back.”
Both players expressed relief at the trade, although Anderson paid tribute to his prior experiences and the fans in Green Bay. “Certainly I will miss the players and the fans in Green Bay,” he said. “There's nobody in the world like them and I wish them the best of everything. I cannot deny that the greatest, most rewarding athletic experiences of my life were having the honor to play for Vince Lombardi and to have played in the first two Super Bowls.”
The deal worked more to the benefit of the Packers in 1972. Following a 4-8-2 record in ’71, the team went 10-4 and won the NFC Central Division title. The running game was the key to the conservative offense led by young quarterback Scott Hunter, who only went to the air 199 times and completed just 43.2 percent of those passes. While Brockington, who had gained 1105 yards as a rookie, followed up with 1027 in ’72 (thus becoming the first player in NFL history to rush for a thousand yards in each of his first two seasons), Lane (pictured at left) contributed 821 yards on 177 carries for a healthy 4.6-yard average, led the team with 26 pass receptions for another 285 yards, and was named the club’s MVP.
In St. Louis, the 4-9-1 record of 1971 was duplicated in ’72. Anderson played respectably in combination with veteran RB Johnny Roland, leading the team with 536 yards on 153 rushing attempts (3.5 avg.) and catching 28 passes for 298 yards. As he had in Green Bay, he also handled the punting, averaging 39.5 yards on 72 kicks.
The situation was different in 1973, when things did not go so well for the Packers. While the running tandem of Brockington and Lane was still considered to be one of the best in the NFL, there was still no viable passing attack to complement them. Hunter failed to improve at quarterback, and when backup QB Jerry Tagge was given the opportunity to start, he was found wanting as well, as was young veteran backup Jim Del Gaizo, obtained from the Dolphins amid much fanfare. Brockington ran for 1144 yards and Lane 528, although Lane’s yards per carry average dropped to 3.1. The team as a whole fell to 5-7-2.
Lane played one more season in Green Bay, with the numbers continuing to diminish, and played four years in Kansas City, where he ran the ball less but was used effectively as a receiver out of the backfield – he led the NFL with 66 catches in 1976. Overall, in 11 seasons he ran for 4656 yards on 1206 carries (3.9 avg.) with 30 touchdowns and caught 287 passes for 2786 yards (9.7 avg.) and 7 more TDs.
As for Anderson in St. Louis, his numbers improved in 1973 as he again led the team in rushing with 679 yards on 167 carries (4.1 avg.) with 10 touchdowns and caught a career-high 41 passes for 409 yards and three more scores. The team was still 4-9-1 for the third straight year, but under a new head coach, Don Coryell.
Coryell turned the team around dramatically in 1974, winning the NFC East with a 10-4 tally, but Anderson’s production dropped off significantly with the emergence of explosive all-purpose HB Terry Metcalf. Traded to Miami in the offseason, Anderson retired during the 1975 preseason. His overall totals were 4696 yards rushing on 1197 attempts (3.9 avg.), including 41 touchdowns, and 209 pass receptions for 2548 yards (12.2 avg.) with 14 TDs. He also averaged 39.6 yards on 387 punts.