Ray Nitschke, according to Hall of Fame quarterback and teammate Bart Starr, was a “classic example of Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hyde.” Off the field he was a thoughtful caring person. On the field, he was a ferocious middle linebacker who at times seemed to truly enjoy hitting people.
A fierce competitor, Ray was the heart of the great Packers defense of the 1960s. He was the first defensive player from the Packers’ dynasty years to be elected to the Hall of Fame.
In the mid 1960s, a national sports magazine asked a group of former NFL linebacking stars to rate the middle linebackers of the day. The panel first determined the skills it would seek in the ideal man — strength, quickness, speed, toughness and leadership. Ray Nitschke, the choice as the all-around top man, ranked very high or absolutely tops in every category. "The core of the Packers”… "an inspiration on the field" . . . "gives 100 percent all the time”. . ."has an overwhelming desire to make the play" . . . "without a peer as a leader" . . . panel members remarked as they explained their consensus opinion.
Ray was born in Elmwood Park, IIIinois, and grew up in a tough Chicago neighborhood. He was an all-state quarterback in high school and could have signed a professional baseball contract with the St. Louis Browns.
He opted for a football scholarship at Illinois, where he was shifted to a combined fullback on offense, linebacker on defense. The Packers drafted Ray No. 3 in 1958. Although he started eight games as a rookie, it wasn’t until his third season that Nitschke got the job of middle linebacker for good. Ray was the complete player.
Ray earned either first- or second-team All-NFL honors seven times in eight years from 1962 to 1969. In addition to being a hard-hitting tackler, he was excellent in pass coverage as his 25 lifetime interceptions attest.