bobby dillon packers

Packers History: “Irreplaceable” Bobby Dillon Gets His Due

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While most attention on this weekend’s Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremonies will be on Charles Woodson, we’re taking a look back at the career of Bobby Dillon – the Packers’ other honoree this weekend – and the success he had during the doldrums of the 1950s.

The history of the Green Bay Packers is littered with great defensive backs with numerous accolades. Yet, arguably the original in that group, Bobby Dillon, has never gotten the recognition he deserves.

That is, until now.

After a wait of 60-plus years, Dillon finally earned his spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year as part of the Centennial Class. Though his official induction occurred on April 28 during a ceremony honoring those in the group inducted posthumously, Dillon and many others from the NFL’s early years will be recognized at this weekend’s ceremonies.

To say Dillon is deserving of the honor would be a major understatement. In eight seasons and just 92 games played, he intercepted 52 passes – a mark that still sits as the most in franchise history. Additionally, his 976 interception return yards is also a career franchise record, outpacing both Herb Adderley (795 yards) and Willie Wood (699).

At the time of his retirement, he ranked second in NFL history for career interceptions and still sits in the top 30. He returned five of his interceptions for touchdowns, also setting a franchise record that has only been surpassed by Adderley and Charles Woodson.

A third-round draft pick in the 1952 NFL Draft from Texas, Dillon used his speed and instincts to make an immediate impact, leading the Packers with four interceptions as a rookie. That trend continued throughout his career, as he paced Green Bay’s defensive backfield in picks in all of his seasons except his final one.

“When we played like the Chicago Bears, they had an end Harlon Hill and no matter where he went, I went with him,” Dillon said in an interview with team historian Cliff Christl. “I played him man every game we ever played and had good success. Elroy Hirsch, I covered man-to-man; Tom Fears after Elroy left. I played Raymond Berry man-to-man. Val Joe (Walker) would move over to my position and the cornerback (on his side) would move over to the other safety position. We didn’t change personnel, we’d just move them over.”

Dillon picked off nine passes in three different seasons (1953, ’55, ’57) and had seven interceptions each in two others (1954, ’56). Additionally, he set a single-game franchise record (and tied the NFL record) with four picks in the Packers’ 34-15 Thanksgiving Day loss to the Lions on Nov. 26, 1953. Appropriately, Dillon earned All-Pro honors from the Associated Press four times during that six-year stretch and was named to the Pro Bowl four straight years from 1955-58.

“Dillon is one of the few men in the league who can get the ball even when it’s thrown perfectly,” said former Packers head coach Lisle Blackbourn of Dillon. “He has that something extra.”

“Bobby Dillon was one of the most superior athletes you’ll ever find in the NFL,” said Pro Football Hall of Famer Raymond Berry. “He had tremendous speed. Great brains. Great range. Great instinct.”

Interestingly, Dillon was able to do all this despite only having vision on one eye. At age 10, he lost his left eye after two accidents and needed a glass eye for the rest of his life. However, that loss of vision did not seem to bother Dillon on the gridiron.

“He and Willie Wood were the two best safeties we ever had here,” said Dave Hanner, who spent 44 years with the Packers as a player, coach, and scout. “When Lombardi came here, he talked about Bobby being the best defensive back in the league at that time.”

Dillon was going to retire after the 1958 season to start at a sales position in his hometown of Temple, Texas. New head coach Vince Lombardi, though, deemed him “irreplaceable” and convinced him to come back for an eighth season in Green Bay. Injuries and a loss of his starting job ultimately resulted in Dillon retiring for good following that season, but it turned into the first and only time in his career he was part of a team that finished above .500.

Dillon passed away in 2019, mere months before he was announced as one of the members of the Hall’s Centennial Class. Yet, after waiting for decades, he’ll finally get the recognition he deserves.

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