People under the age of 40 don’t know how tough it was to be a Packers fan in the 1970s and 1980s. Back then, a first-round pick actually chose to play in the Canadian Football League. Yes, exactly 37 years ago today, Bruce Clark signed with Toronto instead of Green Bay. It was the first of many lowlights the 80s had to offer.
The Packers selected Clark with the 4th overall pick in the 1980 draft – even though the two-time All-American from Penn State had been telling the team for weeks that he had no desire to play nose tackle in defensive coordinator John Meyer’s newly installed 3-4 scheme. But coach and GM Bart Starr chose Clark anyway. And why not? His only other option was to go to Canada, and no player would ever willingly go to… Oops.
Clark signed with the Argonauts on May 29, 1980. He blamed having to play nose tackle as the reason, but it was more than that – something he finally admitted in 1982 when given a second chance to sign with the Packers. “I wouldn’t have gone to Toronto for two years if I wanted to go to Green Bay,” he said at the time. Starr even promised to play Clark at defensive end, but he simply wanted no part of what was then known as the “Siberia of the National Football League.” And to be completely honest, who could blame him?
The 1979 Packers were 5-11. It was the team’s ninth losing season in the past 11 years. And here were some of the starters Clark would’ve been joining in 1980: offensive linemen Tim Stokes and Derrel Gofourth, wide receiver Aundra Thompson, nose tackle Charles Johnson, linebackers Ed O’Neil and Kurt Allerman and corners Mike McCoy and Estus Hood. And while quarterback Lynn Dickey was always a bit underrated, nobody ever confused him with Joe Montana (49ers) or Dan Fouts (Chargers) or even Danny White (Cowboys).
The Packers eventually traded Clark to New Orleans on June 11, 1982 for a first-round pick (11th overall) in the 1983 draft. Starr chose University of Pittsburgh cornerback Tim Lewis. The trade might’ve been a good one, but as was the case with pretty much everything back then, it wound up going terribly wrong for Green Bay. Lewis, who flashed star potential, suffered a career-ending neck injury early in the 1986 season. Clark went on to play 7 productive seasons with the Saints, amassing 39 sacks and one trip to the Pro Bowl.