QB got beat out by future Hall of Famer in ’56 for backup job behind Tobin Rote
Cliff Christl started gathering oral histories with former Packers and others associated with the team in 2000 and will continue to gather them as Packers historian. Excerpts from those interviews will be periodically posted at www.packers.com
Paul Held served as backup quarterback for the Packers for the final five games of 1955. His claim to fame was that Bart Starr replaced him on the roster the following year. A lesser claim to fame was that Held replaced Charlie Brackins, the Packers' first African-American quarterback, as Tobin Rote's understudy when he joined the team. Originally drafted by Detroit in the 19th round in 1953 as a future after serving in the Navy and while playing college football at San Diego State, Held went to camp with the Lions in 1954. Sold to Pittsburgh at the end of the preseason, Held appeared in eight games for the Steelers and completed 24 of 73 passes. The following March, the Lions exercised their option to reclaim Held and he went to camp with them again in 1955. When he was released just before the Lions' season opener in Green Bay, the Packers gave Held a tryout and added him to the roster on Nov. 8. In his brief stint with the Packers, Held appeared in two games and threw four passes. He was cut on Sept. 10, 1956, after almost six weeks of training camp.
On his brief time with the Packers: "I spent the 1955 season backing up Tobin Rote and Bart Starr was drafted out of Alabama. He came to camp and did an excellent job. So he ended up being the backup for Rote (in 1956)."
On Tobin Rote: "He was a big, tough son of a gun. He could throw the ball swift, but he wasn't all that accurate, not like the guys today. But Tobin was a big, tough, strong guy."
On whether Rote was a polished passer: "No, he threw it very hard. Green Bay was in the doldrums in those days and we didn't get much accomplished. He was better on medium length, 15-, 20-yard passes. He didn't throw many bombs. In 1955, Billy Howton was a great receiver, but he was hurt a lot that year. So they didn't throw many bombs. "
Held on his own talents: "I didn't have that good an arm. Out of San Diego State, we had a very, very good running game. It was the ball-handling that made Detroit draft me in 1952. I was drafted by Detroit, but only spent the '54 training camp (there) and then went to the Steelers on an option deal. I backed up Jimmy Finks in Pittsburgh and then Detroit exercised that option, and I went back to Detroit for training camp in '55. At the end of training camp, they told me to pack my bags I was going to Green Bay."
On whether he had the arm to throw most passes: "No, a lot of short slant-ins, square-ins, square-outs. Fifteen, 20 yards was about all I ever got a chance to throw. As a backup, I didn't get to play much."
On replacing Charlie Brackins: "That was how I ended up in Green Bay. Evidently, the coaches weren't too impressed. There was a game in Chicago and I guess he broke curfew or something. That was when they let him go. I got signed off the taxi squad."
On whether he made the trip to Chicago: "No, I wasn't active. I wasn't in Green Bay."
On whether he knew if there was something more to Brackins' release: "No, all I know it was a curfew thing. It didn't say what he was doing. He was out after hours. That was all they said."
On Brackins' raw talent: "He was strong. He could throw the ball a mile. Again, I didn't see too much of him. I don't know why he didn't get another chance."
On his dealings with Brackins: "Didn't get to know too much about him. I was in Green Bay only one or two weeks at the most when they went to Chicago and he was let go."
On how soon he recognized Starr's potential as a 17th-round draft pick: "He didn't waste any time. He looked good in scrimmages. He did well as a backup. Every chance he got he took advantage of it. Incidentally, he was a heck of a nice guy."
On Lisle Blackbourn, head coach of the Packers from 1954-57: "He never gave me a chance for one thing, but that has nothing to do with it. Evidently, he was pretty successful in his college coaching. But there weren't too many guys who appreciated him. I don't know what his philosophy was. The guys didn't really take to him."
On whether Blackbourn had a good football mind as some have claimed: "I can't answer that. I don't know what his philosophy was in college ball, whether it was a strong running game or passing game. We just couldn't get anything going.'
On whether it was Blackbourn's personality that caused his problems with players: "Yeah. He was a funny guy. He never had a smile on his face. I don't ever remember him with a smile. He just didn't fit in."
On the players calling him "The Lizard:" "Yeah. That's right. His name was Liz Blackbourn. They called him, 'The Lizard.' He wasn't well liked. I don't know how the town ownership of the Packers felt about him, but they gave him a three-, four-year chance."
On whether Blackbourn was a disciplinarian, tough, emotional: "He didn't get excited about anything, except mistakes. He liked to jump on guys if they made mistakes. I don't ever recall him getting excited about anything good that happened, which wasn't too often."
On whether Blackbourn could deliver a good locker room speech: "I don't recall him being very good at giving a one-for-the-Gipper. The guys just didn't take to him and never got excited about anything he said. He just didn't fit. Can't tell you anything more."
A negative guy? "Yeah. He really was."
On Blackbourn's offensive system: "Real basic. A regular T. Nothing fancy about it. Of course, play-action was minimal in those days. What passing I did in San Diego was off play-action because we had such a good running game."
On whether Blackbourn used a full-house T with two halfbacks and a fullback next to and behind the quarterback: "Yeah. That was a standard offense. There wasn't a lot of motion. Any time the flanker was (split) more than five yards that was exceptional. The ends would maybe split five, six yards. Very basic. There was no tight end designation. There were just two ends."
On whether he was aware of the executive committee interfering with Blackbourn: "I don't really know. I don't ever recall having any type of meeting with the ownership. I don't even know who was considered the general manager. There really wasn't much contact with the wheels through any of the ballplayers. It was all done through the coaching staff."
On playing in old City Stadium: "I played in high school, junior college and college in bigger stadiums."
On what he remembered about training camp in Stevens Point in 1956: "Not too much. It was a typical training camp. Howie Ferguson was a character. He had a smile on his face all the time. He wasn't that big - maybe 215 - but, boy, he could run. He was a tough son of a gun. He fought for that extra yard every time he carried the ball. He was a character. Everything was funny with him."
On where he found housing in Green Bay in 1955 when that could be a problem for players: "I lived in an apartment with Billy Bookout, a young defensive back, and Jim Capuzzi, a placekicker and reserve defensive back."
On where some of the other players found housing: "Of course, the Northland Hotel was there. Billy Howton and my good friend, Al Carmichael, they rented the main rooms. That was where they lived during the season. The Northland was where I spent my first couple nights in Green Bay. I guess the team had an agreement with them."
On whether the players did much drinking and carousing: "There were individuals. Tobin Rote liked to have fun. He'd go out and have a few beers. There was no big deal about guys going out."
On all-pro receiver Billy Howton: "He had good speed. Good moves, too. He could run after the catch. He was an all-around good receiver."
On whether his reputation as a clubhouse lawyer was deserved: "He was very well respected. He tried to pump the guys up. He was one of the leaders because of his ability."
On the relationship between Rote and Howton: "Pretty good. They both went to Rice. There weren't any cliques. Everybody got along fine. They were all good to each other - the whole team."
On halfback Al Carmichael: "He had good moves, but it was mostly his speed. He might still hold a Rose Bowl record for a kickoff return."
On halfback Veryl Switzer: "Very good. A good runner. He could move laterally. Good moves. Shifty. He wasn't that big and strong, but he knew how to avoid getting hit dead-on. He was a good, shifty runner."
On halfback Breezy Reid: "He was a little guy. I don't think he weighed over 180 pounds. A good, little, quick runner, but nothing outstanding. He was on his way out. Yeah, just a plugger. He wasn't real fast."
On halfback Joe Johnson: "He didn't get to play much. I don't know if it was a lack of ability or what. He and I spent a lot of time talking on the bench."
On offensive captain Buddy Brown: "Good guard. He was a rah-rah guy. He'd try to get the guys going, get some fire going. Good guy."
On tackle Tom Dahms, who started as a rookie for the NFL champion Rams in 1951 and played four years with them before being acquired in a trade by the Packers: "He was two, three years ahead of me at San Diego. Great guy. He married a gal from Milwaukee. He was from an athletic family in San Diego. He was more of a good pass blocker, I'd say. He didn't have good speed on pulling plays, but we didn't have many pulling plays for the tackles."
On roommate and cornerback Billy Bookout: "He was a tough, little guy. He was like Jimmy David from Detroit. They called (David), 'Hatchet.' Boy, he was tough."
On safeties Bobby Dillon and Val Joe Walker: "Dillon had one eye and the other one was missing two fingers. They used to call them the secondary with three eyes and 18 fingers or something like that."
On comparing Dillon to Detroit's Pro Football Hall of Fame safety Yale Lary: "Lary had been in the service so I didn't get to see him play much. But he probably had more ability against the running game than Bobby. But Bobby could cover anybody. I'd have trouble trying to compare them."
On comparing Pittsburgh's Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive back Jack Butler and Dillon: "Pretty much the same. Butler was a tough, hard-nosed guy. Dillon was a better defensive back against the aerial game."
On other memories of playing with the Packers: "Green Bay was a struggling outfit. We played that Thanksgiving game against the Lions in Detroit and our next game was the following week in San Francisco. We took the train to San Francisco. We spent two, three days on a train rather than flying out. It was a 24-hour poker game really. Guys would be playing poker, go get something to eat and come back. That was about all."
On whether there were any team meetings on the train: "No, there were no team functions at all."
On how he looks back on his experience with the Packers: "I enjoyed my time in Green Bay. You know when Bart Starr took my place he took my number (15), too. So I tell all my friends, 'My number is retired in Green Bay.'"
Held died in 2019 at age 90. The above interview was conducted in 2013.