Outside Looking In
It's only natural that Brad Gillingham feels his father belongs in the National Football League Hall of Fame. Not just because he looked up to his father, but because many others feel the same way.
"I've read a lot of articles that feel he should be in the Hall of Fame," Brad told me recently. "I've read where some think he might be the best guard to ever play in the NFL. For whatever reason, he isn't in."
Once Packers' right guard Jerry Kramer, most noted for his key block in the "Ice Bowl" game in the NFL Championship in 1967 was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2018, most Packers Backers feel Gillingham is the best Packer of the Vince Lombardi era not enshrined in Canton.
"Dad didn't care about those kinds of things," said Brad. "But the family would love to see him in the Hall of Fame."
Gale Gillingham, who was born in Wisconsin and went to high school in Little Falls, died Oct. 20, 2011 at age 67. He played college football for the University of Minnesota.
"He died lifting weights," said Brad. "He always told us if he died, that's how he wanted to go."
He was drafted in the first round in 1966, and the 13th player overall. He replaced Fuzzy Thurston at left guard less than a year after he was drafted and started in the Ice Bowl and in Super Bowl II.
Gillingham earned six All-Pro honors, was named to the Association Press First Team twice and was selected as the inaugural winner of the Forrest Gregg Award for NFL Lineman of the Year in 1970. In 1971, Gillingham was named the NFC's Offensive Lineman of the Year.
But because the Vince Lombardi era ended after 1967, just one year after Gillingham became a starter, he has been the forgotten Packers in terms of enshrinement. The Lombardi Era was instrumental in several Packers getting into the Hall of Fame. Had Gillingham played a few years sooner, he likely would also have his bust in Canton.
Because of that, Gillingham became forgotten outside of Green Bay. He was inducted into the Packers' Hall of Fame in 1982.
During a 10-year career, Gillingham was selected to five Pro Bowls. In 1972, then Packers coach Dan Devine, who is also known as the Notre Dame coach in the infamous "Rudy" movie, made an unexplainable move and switched Gillingham from the offensive line to the defensive line.
The move caught everyone off-guard, including Gillingham, who was the team's best offensive lineman at the time. In those days, NFL teams played six pre-season games and Gillingham had played all six on offense. When the season began, Gillingham, had to learn his new defensive position on the fly.
With the Packers' offensive line in shambles, Devine moved Gillingham back to guard after two games. Unfortunately, Gillingham blew out his knee in the third game and missed the remainder of the season and a chance for another Pro Bowl selection to add to his resume. The following year, Gillingham made All Pro and Pro Bowl teams at guard.
It was said that Gillingham never forgave Devine for making the switch.
Gillingham was an early advocate for year-round weight training, which most NFL clubs were against having their players do back then because they felt it tightened the muscles and caused injuries. But Gillingham trained at his home and evolved into one of the game's most powerful blockers.
"He was so strong," said Brad. "I was a world record holder in the deadlift and my dad could lift more than when he was 55 years old."
It's east to tell when talking to Brad that he still holds his father in the highest regards as he rattles off one honor after another that he achieved.
"It's coming up on 10 years since he died, and I still think about him all the time," Brad said. "He was my weightlifting coach for a long time."
Meddard and Erma Debbaut once owned and operated Joy Theatre in Minneota. An incorrect first name was attributed to Erma in last week's edition.