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|HOME||The (usually) Untold Story|
|of Dan Devine's Dog
Eighty-three years of professional football history; 12 world championships; 20 hall of fame players and coaches; countless epic games; the only town-team remaining in pro sports…
..yet one of the most enduring stories about the Green Bay Packers comes down to a dog. Dan Devine’s dog. A dog long gone.
It’s a simple story clouded by more than 30 years of hearsay and sloppy reporting among the national media…not to mention fans of the Bears, Lions, and Vikings.
When classicwisconsin recently stopped at its favorite Green Bay tavern, St. Michael’s Pub on Riverside Dr., and overheard another variation of the dead dog story -- this one involved a pitchfork, not a shotgun -- classicwisconsin decided it was time to revisit the dark days of the 1970s in hopes of resurrecting the truth behind the untimely demise of Dan Devine’s dog.
The team board of directors, led by its executive committee under president Dominic Olejniczak, began looking for a new coach, focusing its search on the college ranks. Among the prospects were Missouri’s Dan Devine, Penn State’s Joe Paterno, and Arizona State’s Frank Kush.
Devine had amassed an impressive 93-37-7 record in 13 seasons with Missouri, with two Big Eight championships and six bowl appearances, including a victory against Paul “Bear” Bryant’s Alabama team in the 1968 Gator Bowl.
The Packer executive committee selected Devine, but not unanimously. Five members, led by Olejniczak, supported the hiring; two others, including pro hall of fame halfback Tony Canadeo, wanted Paterno.
The split-vote foreshadowed the dissent that would eventually wrack the organization from top to bottom.
It did not help when Devine, in his first meeting with the squad, showed University of Missouri highlight films. Some of the veterans were offended from the start.
“He tell us that the Green Bay sweep was really his play and Vince Lombardi got it from him,” hall of fame safety Willie Wood told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in a 2000 interview. “That’s the kind of things he’d say.”
The 1971 season was a struggle. The Packers finished 4-8-2 under rookie quarterback Scott Hunter. Things were looking decidedly better -- at least on the surface -- in 1972, as Devine led his modestly talented team to a 10-4 record and the Central Division title. Devine was named NFC Coach of the Year. The team was hot going into the playoffs.
“I think the Packer team in the last four, five, six weeks of that ’72 season played as well as any Packer team I’ve ever seen,” said Lee Remmel, the Packers public relations director and former beat reporter with the Green Bay Press Gazette.
His players recalled a different scenario.
“We just got out coached,” cornerback Ken Ellis told reporter Jerry Polling for the book “Downfield! The Untold Stories of the Green Bay Packers.”
By several accounts, Devine refused to make adjustments during the game and began overruling (then assistant coach) Bart Starr’s play calling. It wasn’t the first time that confusion reigned on the sidelines. The year before, Devine and another assistant publicly engaged in a tug of war that resulted in different plays being sent to the huddle simultaneously.
The ’73 campaign began where ’72 crash-landed, and the Packers limped to a 5-7-2 record.
“I could have coached better” that year, Devine admitted in his autobiography. The board of directors, coaches, and players began taking sides. One player circulated a locker room petition in support of Devine. Others would ignore coaching calls made during games.
A players strike prior to the ’74 season exacerbated the problems. The entire organization was mired in chaos.
Devine decided that the ‘74 season would be his last in Green Bay. He had a standing offer from the University of Washington, and he would privately weigh other opportunities as the season wore on.
“It makes me sick,” he added.
Case in point: 1 slain dog.
“In the four year since he abandoned a distinguished career at the University of Missouri to join the Packers,” the article read, “Devine has been the target of physical threats, personal insults and professional criticism. He had been sabotaged by his assistants, undermined by owners, and harassed by hostile fans, who have literally pursued him to his front door. Early one morning two years ago, the Devines were awakened by a sharp bang: one of their dogs had been shot outside the house.”
Thus began one of the all-time infamous stories in professional sports, provided by Devine himself and fueled by no less a distinguished publication than TIME.
Less than a month later, another bombshell landed when Devine mortgaged the future of the team by trading a slew of top draft picks for aging quarterback John Hadl.
The ugly season came to an end, the Packers finished 6-8, and Devine had secretly accepted a college coaching position. He informed the Packers of his resignation and negotiated a buyout on the final year of his contract. Devine then relished telling the Packers that they had been duped. “By the way,” he said, moments after consummating the buyout, “I’m going to be the next head coach at Notre Dame.”
On that note, Dan Devine’s career with the Green Bay Packer came to an end.
But one thing didn’t make sense. Devine said the shooting occurred two years prior to the TIME interview, in 1972…when the Packers were enjoying their first successful season since the 1967 Super Bowl run.
Word of mouth in Green Bay maintained that a farmer took matters into his own hands after the dog repeatedly attacked the farmer’s chickens.
No matter. When Devine died May 9, 2002, thirty years after the incident, the dog returned with a vengeance. The Associated Press (AP) and CBS Sports explicitly reported that disgruntled Packer fans had killed Devine’s dog.
This, from CBS Sportline.com reporter Dennis Dodd: “Despite becoming the NFL coach of the year in 1972, Devine only lasted four seasons. During that time, some weirdo(s) shot his dog when the Packers were struggling.”
The AP story, written by Bob Baum, appeared virtually everywhere across the country since Devine was a College Football Hall of Fame coach. Packer fans, Baum wrote, “had grown disenchanted and ran Devine out of town. So angry were some, that Devine's dog was shot to death.”
The AP and CBS stories may have been based on the 1974 TIME article, or the reporters may have recycled the legend without checking the facts. Baum and Dodd did not respond to recent requests to discuss their stories.
The dog story was given a new lease on life as recently as last year because of those national media stories, despite an earlier development that could have settled the matter once and for all from a pretty good source -- Dan Devine himself.
“Rumors circulated that some disgruntled fans or anti-Devine people had shot my dog,” he said in the book. “I honestly don’t believe that was what happened.”
“We weren’t so lucky with another one of our dogs,” Devine continued. “It was only a couple days later, ironically, when the dog wandered over to a nearby farm and began chasing the farmer’s ducks. The farmer, a neighbor who we knew very well, fired a gun at the dog, intending to scare him and get him away from his ducks. Well, the bullet happened to hit the dog and killed him. He had every right to shoot at the dog, and he knew it and I knew it.
“Still, he felt terrible about what happened. I saw him walking toward our house, carrying the dead dog in his arms, crying uncontrollably. He kept saying, ‘I didn’t mean to kill him,’ and I knew that was true. Still more rumors spread, even though it was a total accident, and that night I was down at his house, playing basketball with his kids."
“All those rumors reflected badly on the good people of Green Bay. Most of the people we met were genuine and nice to us…"
There it is.
Devine was capable of being disingenuous, no doubt. He offered the dog story to TIME Magazine as evidence of poor treatment in Green Bay, and he let the legend metastasize for years, permanently besmirching the city’s reputation. For what it’s worth (not much if the national media reports are any indication), the former coach came clean in the end, leaving just one unresolved question:
Did the farmer really use a pitchfork?
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Copyright 2002-2010, Michael Bie (Classic Wisconsin)
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