February 2, 2012

"I HAD TO TAKE THE CHANCE":

Emlen Tunnell: The Giants' Greatest Packer (BILL PENNINGTON, 1/14/12, NY Times)

Emlen Tunnell, a star defender for the glittering, magnetic Giants, had been summoned to Green Bay. It was 1959, and the new Packers coach, Vince Lombardi, traded for Tunnell, ending his run of 11 record-setting seasons in New York.

A longtime Giants assistant, Lombardi was plotting a thorny overhaul of the bumbling Packers and needed allies from his roots. Tunnell, a dynamic safety and a Manhattan fixture in the golden era of New York sports, gamely made the trip halfway across the country to northeastern Wisconsin.

On arrival in his new home, Tunnell was told he had just doubled the black population in Green Bay. The city's other African-American, Tunnell heard, was the shoeshine man at the Hotel Northland.

"Well, I'll live there, then," Tunnell said.

And so he did. Lombardi paid the rent, which seemed well worth it to ensure Tunnell's contentment.

Tunnell, then 34, was brought to Green Bay to help instill the tenacious Giants defensive philosophy in the Packers, to school them in the confrontational ways of their new coach and, not insignificant, to make it possible for Lombardi to entice more African-American players to nearly all-white Green Bay.

And how did Lombardi know Tunnell could handle all that? Because Tunnell had performed many of the same duties for the Giants, beginning in 1948, when he was the first black player to suit up for them -- and then, in a game against the Packers, intercepted three passes.

In the N.F.L., where the sidelines always seem crowded with helmeted, faceless warriors whose careers are often brief, the everlasting worth and contribution of even gifted players can pass unnoticed, especially for those from the era before television. As the Giants and the Packers prepare for their divisional playoff game here Sunday, the remarkable life of Emlen Tunnell is a rarely recalled tale of a landmark player for each franchise.
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Posted by at February 2, 2012 6:24 AM
  

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