Pinehurst Resident Recalls Playing Days with Green Bay
One Pinehurst resident will be watching tonight’s Super Bowl with particular interest.
Gene White suited up as a defensive back for the Green Bay Packers in 1954. His former team faces the Pittsburgh Steelers in a world championship match-up between two of the NFL’s most storied franchises. The Steelers are hoping to add their league-best seventh Lombardi Trophy to their case while the Packers seek their fourth.
An alumnus of the University of Georgia and a standout on the Bulldogs’ football team, White also served in Korea before heading to the frozen tundra of Wisconsin for the 1954 season, five years before the arrival of the legendary Vince Lombardi. He’s lived in Pinehurst for about 10 years and currently works with Brenner Real Estate.
He remembers the tough try-outs he and others hopefuls had to endure in order to make the team.
“I was just lucky to be playing,” White recalled during an interview at his home Wednesday. “They had 24 guys I think … 24 veterans that they had, and they only kept eight or nine of the rookies. We had 93 guys trying out for the team, so it was dog eat dog.”
White made the team, and said he was paid $7,500 for the season; the team’s starting quarterback made only $12,500. That’s a far cry from the six-year, $65 million contract extension franchise QB Aaron Rodgers signed in 2008.
“The pom-pom girls make more than that now,” White joked about his salary. “The only reason I made $7,500, I guess they didn’t expect me to make it so they just picked a figure out of the air and threw it on the contract and said, ‘That’s what you’ll get paid if you make the team.’”
White was born in Greensboro, but moved to Commerce, Ga. when he was 3 years old. He was one of five Georgia players from that team that went on to play pro ball, which was a lot back in those days. He said he was discovered by a scout — this was before the days of the glitz and glamour of the NFL draft.
He played for four years under coach Wally Butts as an offensive end as well as defensive end and defensive back at UGA. He was also an accomplished runner, and still holds the school record for the 440 sprint medley relay.
“I got scared that day,” he said. “I had a premonition, thought was I going to get struck by lightning. Had a storm come up, so I ran really fast.”
He tries gets down to Athens for a game once a year as part of homecoming to reunite with some of his former teammates.
He said the ’54 season in Green Bay was a “good season,” but he was kicked in the back during the last game. He was hospitalized for about a month, and was told that if he was kicked in the back in the same place again he would be crippled.
“So I said, ‘that’s enough for me,’” he said.
He looks back on his playing days fondly, and has a large scrapbook with countless newspaper articles that covered his career from UGA to the NFL. A 1954 team photo and a print of Lambeau Field are prominently displayed on his study, as well as plenty of Bulldog memorabilia.
Since his playing days, he’s followed the Packer organization closely. The team provided him with a lifetime pass that allows him to watch games from the sidelines at Lambeau Field. He was scheduled to go to Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans when Brett Favre and the Packers beat New England, but a medical procedure prevented him from going.
He remarked at how much the game has changed since he played, envolving into a big business.
White thinks highly of Rodgers — who he thinks has proven himself after waiting his turn behind Favre, a future Hall of Famer — and the current Packer squad.
White anticipates that tonight’s Super Bowl will be a hard-fought game. He said it’s going to depend on whether Rodgers is on or his opponent, Steelers’ QB Ben Roethlisberger, is on. He concedes that Roethlisberger’s three Super Bowl appearances give him an advantage in the experience department, but thinks Rodgers can give him a run for his money.
When asked to make a pick for the big game, White stayed true to his green and gold roots.
“You don’t expect me to take the Steelers, do you?”
Contact John Krahnert III at email@example.com.
More like this story