The culture of the fullback position for the Green Bay Packers is one of the most amazing facets of this fabled organization. For over 20 years the Packers have boasted an unbroken chain of impressive fullbacks that have become fan-favorites — despite only touching the ball a few times a game at best.
The fullback position in Green Bay, since the mid-1990s, is a bonafide fan-favorite creator as each of the team’s last three starting fullbacks have gained the adoration of the fans.
What’s interesting though is that over this period of years, the fullback position has disappeared for many franchises. But the Packers are immune to seemingly all fads and most trends — that is what sets this organization apart.
All of this started in 1995 when William Henderson came to Green Bay. By that time, the NFL was, as previously mentioned, moving away from traditional blocking fullbacks and many teams were opting to forego the position altogether. When other franchises changed philosophies on the position, the Packers doubled-down.
Henderson really broke onto the scene in his second season and helped the Packers win their first Super Bowl since the Lombardi Era. Henderson was a superb blocker and barely ever ran the ball. However he developed into quite a threat coming out of the backfield. In 12 seasons in Green Bay, where he spent his entire career, he caught 320 passes for 2409 yards.
His 19 total touchdowns, in an era of declining fullback production, was incredibly impressive. From 2002-2004 he registered at least three touchdowns in every season, culminating in him being named First Team All-Pro and to the Pro Bowl squad in 2004. Henderson caught 24 passes in the playoffs as well and is remembered as reliable of a player that has ever played in Green Bay.
Many remember Henderson being a safety blanket out of the backfield for Brett Favre and leaping opponents that tried to tackle him. His game-winning touchdown run against the Falcons in 2002 is a memory that sticks out to us the most.
In 2007, the first year without Henderson, John Kuhn picked up the Packers’ fullback torch. In just a few seasons he became a folk hero sort of player; the crowd would scream “Kuuuuuuuhn” in unison every time he touched the ball for nearly a decade
Kuhn amassed an astonishing 23 regular season touchdowns in his nine seasons in Green Bay, including six in both 2010 and 2011. He, like Henderson, won a ring with the Packers, but he scored two touchdowns in that playoff run. In fact, he scored seven postseason touchdowns in his postseason career in Green Bay on just 36 touches.
Has another player ever done more with less touches in the playoffs in NFL history?
Like Henderson, Kuhn was known as a premier blocker. However Kuhn was invited to three Pro Bowls and was named First Team All-Pro once as a Packer.
Kuhn scored a crazy amount of touchdowns for the amount of times he touched the ball in Green Bay, but his greatest play was the block he threw against Julius Peppers in the memorable “4th and 8” game-winning pass from Aaron Rodgers to Randall Cobb to defeat the Chicago Bears in the final game of 2013 to win the NFC North.
Because of these two players, the Packers have registered at least three touchdowns in a season at the fullback position in nine separate seasons since 1998. No other franchise can come close to claiming that.
What is fun is that the NFL of today is using less fullbacks than ever before, but Green bay has remained just as committed to the position. In 2015, Kuhn would play his last season for the Packers. That year also happened to be Aaron Ripkowski’s first year in Green Bay. He, reportedly, had his “heart set” on joining the Packers after coming out of Oklahoma.
Apparently he knew how impressive Green Bay’s fullback culture was.
Ripkowski is the future of the fullback position in Green Bay and he appears to be up to continuing Henderson and Kuhn’s legacy. His career has featured a small sample size of plays, but he is averaging an impressive 4.5 yards per rush (Henderson averaged 3.5, Kuhn averaged 3.1).
The Packers’ current fullback, Ripkowski, appears to be the physically strongest of the three and has been hard to tackle thus far in his career.
Interestingly, all three players are very similar in size. And yes, the fullback position requires a certain body type, but they’re eerily similar.
Hendreson: 6’1″, 252 lbs.
Kuhn: 6’0″, 255 lbs.
Ripkowski: 6’1″ 255 lbs.
It appears as though the Packers know precisely what they’re looking for at the fullback position. And it should be another eight years before the team will be looking for another starting fullback; what a luxury Green Bay has, and has had, at this underrated position.
The fullback is counted on to lead the way for running backs, to protect the quarterback and to understand the offense and blocking philosophies better than everyone else on the field. Fortunately, Ripkowski appears up to the challenge. Henderson and Kuhn certainly were.
Now Ripkowski’s legacy will ultimately hinge on if he can, like his two predecessors, help bring a championship to Green Bay. Like the two men that came before him he’s shown a knack for finding the end zone.
In Week 12 of his second season he found the end zone for the first time, and did so again the following week. He finished the 2016 regular season with three touchdowns (all coming at the end of the season). His 4.4 yards per carry puts him on par with his predecessors.
Ripkowski is already known for breaking tackles and pushing the pile when opposing teams attempt to take him down. It simply takes more than one defender to tackle him, always. Once he masters the offense he’ll get himself in position to become the third (modern) First Team All-Pro (blocking) fullback in Packers history.
What’s most important about Green Bay’s fullback culture is the fact that these three have combined to protect two elite, Hall of Fame-caliber quarterbacks in Favre and Rodgers. Without these fullbacks, who knows if Green Bay’s quarterbacks would have remained as healthy as they have all of these years.
Would the Packers have been as successful as they have been since the mid-1990s without these men? I would argue no. Would the future look as bright without Ripkowski? I’d also argue no.
The fullback position may be dying around the rest of the NFL, but it is not only surviving in Green Bay, it’s thriving. Both Henderson and Kuhn have secured their places in Packers history and Ripkowski appears to be the appropriate heir to the throne.
Yes, only in Green Bay can fullbacks become stars and fan-favorite players.