With Randall Cobb reportedly on his way back to Green Bay, we’re looking back at some notable former Packers who spent two separate stints with the Green & Gold.
Adding to an already whirlwind week, several media reports indicate (at least as of mid-day Wednesday) the Green Bay Packers will be acquiring Randall Cobb from the Houston Texans, reuniting the veteran receiver with the team with which he spent eight seasons.
Of course, Cobb will be far from the first Packer to have two separate tenures in Green Bay. In fact, some of the franchise’s best players have gone elsewhere before returning to the team for a second time. For this article, we’re focusing on the top names who either departed for another team or briefly retired. That means no individuals whose gaps were attributed to military service (i.e. Russ Letlow, Forrest Gregg, Bob Skoronski) or league discipline (i.e. Paul Hornung).
Johnny “Blood” McNally (1929-33, 1935-36)
Despite playing in Green Bay for a total of seven years, McNally’s “Vagabond Halfback” moniker was fitting in more ways than one, as he played with five different NFL teams from 1925-38. Before joining the Packers prior to the ’29 campaign, McNally had already spent time with the Milwaukee Badgers, Duluth Eskimos, and Pottsville Maroons.
He would play a major role in Green Bay’s three-straight titles from 1929-31 and excelled in Curly Lambeau’s Notre Dame Box offense. However, McNally’s exploits away from the field ultimately wore thin with Lambeau, who sold him to the Pittsburgh Pirates (today’s Steelers) prior to the 1934 season. That stay in the Steel City lasted just one year, though, as McNally was let go and eventually convinced Lambeau to sign him back to Green Bay during the 1935 preseason.
McNally would spend two more years in Green Bay and win a fourth NFL title before joining Pittsburgh for a second stint as a player/assistant coach before calling it a career.
Cal Hubbard (1929-33, 1935)
Hubbard was considered among the best lineman in the NFL’s early years, earning praise from the likes of eventual Pro Football Hall of Famers like George Halas, Steve Owen, and Mel Hein. While he spent his first two seasons with the New York Giants, Hubbard insisted on being traded to the Packers prior to the 1929 campaign, noting his desire to play in a smaller market.
In Green Bay, Hubbard keyed the Packers’ imposing offensive line and was a big part of the team’s first three titles. Combining his great size with excellent quickness (he came into the NFL as an end), he was used in unique ways on the field.
“On occasions, he’d even station himself as a widely spaced end and knocked down most of the enemy line like a bowling ball spilling pins,” said New York Times columnist Arthur Daley.
After five seasons with the Packers, Hubbard retired to become a line coach at Texas A&M. However, he returned to Green Bay for one last season as a player/assistant coach for Lambeau in 1935. Upon retiring from football, Hubbard became an umpire in the American League. After a 34-year career as an ump and umpire supervisor, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, making him the only individual to be a part of the Pro Football and Baseball halls of fame.
Mike Michalske (1929-35, 1937)
Another one of Lambeau’s big acquisitions prior to the 1929 season, “Iron Mike” Michalske epitomized the dual role player of the NFL’s one-platoon era. On offense, he used his speed and agility to stand out as a pulling lineman and lead blocker. On defense, he broke standard and commonly knifed through the line to disrupt plays.
Joining the Packers from the recently-folded New York Yankees of the first American Football League, Michalske spent seven years in Green Bay before retiring. However, Lambeau convinced Michalske to return to the team in 1937, adding the role of assistant coach to his playing duties. That role ultimately started a nearly 20-year run as an assistant and head coach in the pro and collegiate ranks.
Gale Gillingham (1966-74, 1976)
Easily one of the most under-recognized players in Packers history, Gillingham was drafted at the end of the Vince Lombardi era and quickly found his way into the starting lineup as a rookie and stayed there for most of his initial nine years in Green Bay.
With brute strength and a bit of a mean streak, Gillingham earned Pro Bowl honors five times in a six-year stretch from 1969-74, in addition to All-Pro recognition in 1969 and ’70. The lone blemish during that time was when Gillingham missed all but two games due to injury in ’72.
“He was a beast,” said fullback and former teammate John Brockington. “He pounded those weights. He was something else. Physical and fast. He was bigger. Mean. Put somebody ordinary over (Gillingham) and the guy had no chance. ‘Gillie’ was going to pound him to death.”
However, years of losing and the mess left at the end of the Dan Devine era made Gillingham retire at the start of training camp in 1975, himself saying, “I could see we absolutely weren’t going to win and I had had enough of losing and enough of stupidity.”
He would return to the Packers for ’76, but left the game for good after that season following frustrations both on and off the field.
Antonio Freeman (1995-2001, 2003)
Entering the league as a third-round pick from Virginia Tech, Freeman emerged as the Packers’ premier receiver in the late 1990s. After spending his rookie year as the team’s primary return man, he kicked off a phenomenal four-year run in 1996 in which he caught a combined 295 receptions for 4,674 yards and 41 TDs as he became Brett Favre’s go-to receiver.
However, drops in production in 2000 and 2001 combined with a salary cap crunch made Freeman expendable, as he became a post-June 1 cap casualty prior to the 2002 season. As a result, he signed with former Packers assistant Andy Reid and the Philadelphia Eagles to provide the team further depth. Though he didn’t recapture any of the ‘90s magic, he did put up 600 receiving yards and four TDs on 46 catches in his lone season with the Eagles.
After departing Philadelphia, Freeman found a home once again in Green Bay as depth behind a young receiving corps. Yet, he was used sparingly (14 catches, 141 yards) and retired following a training camp stint with Miami in ’04.
Ahman Green (2000-06, 2009)
Acquired in a trade with the Seattle Seahawks in the 2000 offseason, Green quickly became the Packers’ top running back – due in part to Dorsey Levens’ injuries – with 1,734 yards of total offense and 13 touchdowns in his initial season in Green Bay. That debut season kicked off a five-year run in which the Nebraska alum put up 9,036 yards from scrimmage (6,848 rushing and 2,188 receiving) and 61 scores, becoming a key focal point in Mike Sherman’s offense.
Following an injury-shortened 2005 season, Green once again eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in 2006 under new head coach Mike McCarthy. Yet, with plenty of wear and approaching age 30, the Packers let him hit free agency, where the Houston Texans gave him a four-year $23 million contract. In Houston, though, Green never found a groove and combined for just 709 total yards and two touchdowns before being released after the 2008 season.
In need of running back depth behind Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson, the Packers brought Green back midway through the 2009 season. While playing sparingly and wearing an unfamiliar #34 uniform (John Kuhn already had #30), Green did surpass Jim Taylor’s career rushing yards mark in his second stint.
James Jones (2007-13, 2015)
One of a multitude of receiving weapons in the late 2000s and early 2010s, Jones overcame drops issues early in his career to become one of the Packers’ more reliable receivers. From 2010-13, the San Jose State alum racked up 2,915 receiving yards and 29 touchdowns, including a league-best 14 in 2012.
Salary cap limitations and the emergence of Jordy Nelson and Cobb (plus the eventual drafting of Davante Adams in the 2014 NFL Draft) made Jones expendable. In free agency, he returned to northern California to sign with the Oakland Raiders. Though he put up respectable numbers in the East Bay (73 receptions, 666 yards, 6 TDs), Oakland released him, which resulted in him signing with the New York Giants. Believing they had plenty of young talent, New York released Jones at the end of training camp in 2015.
That move proved fortuitous for the Packers, who needed to find another proven receiving target following Nelson’s season-ending knee injury. Jones ended up recording 50 receptions for 890 yards and eight scores and played key roles in late-season wins at Minnesota and Oakland.
Tramon Williams (2007-14, 2018-19)
Another key figure of the Super Bowl XLV team and surrounding years, Williams accumulated 466 tackles and 28 interceptions during an eight-year stretch. Additionally, his performance in the 2010 postseason (three INTs, two fumble recoveries) played a large part in the franchise’s 13th NFL championship.
Though consistent and well-liked in the locker room, Williams departed in free agency and landed with the Cleveland Browns for the 2015 and ’16 seasons. He followed that with a one-year stay with the Arizona Cardinals.
Despite bouncing around the league, Williams proved he had plenty left at age 35, so much so that the Packers brought back the veteran prior to the 2018 season on a two-year, $10 million contract. The move proved beneficial, as he was a stabilizing force in the defensive backfield in an injury-riddled 2018 Packers season and a reliable nickelback during Green Bay’s turnaround in 2019.