If you were a quarterback, running back, or a receiver playing against the Detroit Lions in the early 1960s, you were in for one hell of a beating.
Even if your team won, you would pay for it.
Without question, the 1962 defensive squad was the greatest in Lion history, and Hall of Famer Joe Schmidt will attest to that despite playing on two world championship teams.
First, in the trenches you had the “Fearsome Foursome” of Alex Karras, Roger Brown, Darris McCord, and Sam Williams.
Now if you got past that line, you had to face arguably the greatest middle linebacker of all time, Joe Schmidt, who was flanked by outside linebackers Wayne Walker and headhunter Carl “The Badger” Brettschneider.
If you were not decapitated by that point, good luck running into the “ 4 Ls” consisting of Gary Lowe and three future Hall of Famers, Yale Lary, Dick LeBeau, and the bone-crunching cornerback Dick “Night Train” Lane.
Sadly, last week we lost Carl Brettschneider who passed away at age 82 in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he lived with his wife of 57 years Louise.
It’s hard to believe, but ever since the Paper Lion reunion I helped organize in 2003 on the 50th anniversary of the ’63 squad that was the subject of George Plimpton’s bestseller, we have lost Plimpton, Alex Karras, Darris McCord, Sam Williams, Earl Morrall, Terry Barr, John Gordy, Tommy Watkins, Harely Sewell, John Gonzaga, along with coaches Don Doll and Aldo Forte.
Brettschneider, an All Pro in ’62, played for the Chicago Cardinals from 1956 to 1959 and with the Lions from 1960 to 1963.
Opponents will tell you that Carl was a “piece of work” with a killer reputation just like Night Train Lane, his teammate with the Cardinals and Detroit. Both were known for throwing vicious clothesline stiff arms across the neck and head that later was banned from play.
“He was just different”, Joe Schmidt told Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. “He wouldn’t think anything about doing something different from what had been called defensively and think it was OK. And most f the time he’d get away with it, or even get to the point where he’d make a big play of it. He was sort of a rogue type guy and would do a little bit of what he thought should be done and get away with it.”
To get a picture of what opposing players thought of Brettschneider, writer Tom DeLisle shared this story with me the other day.
“It was either in ’60 or ’61 and the Lions were playing the Bears at Wrigley Field and I was watching it on television. At one point a brawl broke out between the teams and I am not kidding but every Bears player went after Brettschneider.”
Carl eventually got the ultimate payback with a crack back block that took out a knee and ended his career in 1963.
Off the field, Brettschneider was as deadly a prankster as he was a linebacker.
George Plimpton wrote about Brettschneider’s escapades in Paper Lion.
Known as the “Creeper”, although not positively identified, Brettschneider would terrorize his teammates at training camp or on the road by jumping out at them with a fright mask. The players figured it was Carl because there was a “Creeper” with the Cardinals a few years earlier when Brettschneider was playing in the Windy City.
Before Plimpton played his famous scrimmage with the Lions in Pontiac, he found a dagger dripping in blood with a note that said, “George, you are going to get your butt knocked off. –The Badger and his friends.”
What many don’t know is that Carl Brettschneider was an excellent judge of talent and was the Director of Player Personnel when Joe Schmidt was the head coach beginning in the late 1960s. Brettschneider was responsible for drafting some of the team’s best talent including Hall of Famer Lem Barney, Mel Farr, and Charlie Sanders and the architect of the 1970 team that almost made it to the Super Bowl.
In a radio interview this past January with Jack Ebling on his Lansing show, “The Drive” Brettschneider did not mince words when the topic of Russ Thomas, the long time general manager of the Lions came up.
“Russ Thomas set the Lions back twenty years and he had Bill Ford’s ear,” said Brettschneider before recounting just one example of his frustration with Thomas.
“I wanted to draft quarterback Ken Stabler who had been recommended by the BLESTO scouting services, but Thomas came up with his usual lies”, said Brettschneider. He claimed that he spoke with Bobby Layne and that Layne had recommended Greg Landry saying he was the best quarterback in the country. So of course Bill Ford listened to Russ Thomas.”
After leaving the Lions for good, Brettschneider had a highly successful career working for Jostens’ Recognition Division becoming the division’s first million dollar sales achiever.
A private family service for Brettschneider was held in Las Vegas and a public memorial is being planned for Detroit in January.
Listen to an interview by Jack Ebling’s with Carl Brettschneider from January, 2014.