In memoriam: Knafelc, Gustafson, Hadl among Green Bay Packers who died in 2022
Well-known Green Bay Packers who died in 2022 included Gary Knafelc, John Hadl and Alden Roche. The team also lost some players who had much shorter careers with Green Bay, but are Packers alumni just the same.
Some were ground breakers, such as Veryl Switzer, the first Black player to be drafted in the first round by a Packers team, and others played on NFL, conference and division championship teams, including Roche, Knafelc and Tyrone Davis.
In all, 10 former members of the Green Bay Packers organization are known to have passed during the year. Here is our in memoriam for those former Packers:
Ross Browner, who played one year with the Packers, died Jan. 4, 2022, at age 67. Browner was a defensive end who played nine years for the Cincinnati Bengals, who made him the 8th overall pick in the 1978 NFL draft. Browner, an Ohio native, graduated with a degree in economics from the University of Notre Dame. He played 11 games for the Packers in 1987, when he got one of his 62.5 career sacks. Three brothers, Jimmie Browner, Keith Browner and Joey Browner, also played in the NFL. After football, Browner lived in Atlanta and then Nashville, where he worked for several organizations.
Clayton Weishuhn, a linebacker who also played for the Packers in 1987, died April 22, 2022, as the result of a motor vehicle accident near his hometown of Wall, Texas. Weishuhn, who was 62, played at Angelo State University, an NAIA school, and was taken in the third round of the 1982 NFL draft by the New England Patriots. He started 16 games for the Patriots in 1983 and set the team's single-season franchise record of 229 tackles. A severe knee injury sidelined him for most of two years. After he returned in 1986, he played 13 more games, nine of them with the Packers.
Alden Roche died May 29, 2022, in Marrero, Louisiana. Roche, 77, played six of his nine seasons with the Packers. He attended Southern University and was drafted in the second round, 37th overall, of the 1970 NFL draft by the Denver Broncos. He played 14 games for the Broncos as a backup before he was traded to the Packers on draft day in 1971. As part of that trade, which also sent quarterback Don Horn to Denver, the Packers got the ninth overall pick, which they used to select John Brockington.
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"Roche was both durable and versatile. He missed only one game in his six seasons in Green Bay and could also capably fill in at defensive tackle if needed. Although Roche's strength was playing the run, he was credited with 8½ sacks and shared the team lead in 1976, before sacks were recorded as an official NFL statistic," wrote Packers team historian Cliff Christl.
Roche was a member of the 1972 Packers team that was the only division winner between 1967 and 1995. He finished his career with two years in Seattle. He taught at Delgado Community College in New Orleans during the off seasons and after he retired from football he worked at International Marine Terminal and Lockheed Martin. He was an active member of the NFL Retired Players' Association.
Veryl Switzer, the first Black player drafted in the first round by the Green Bay Packers, died June 4, 2022, in Manhattan, Kansas.
Switzer, who was 89, was chosen fourth in the 1954 NFL draft. Green Bay had the third and fourth picks in the draft, but coincidentally, the first four players chosen in that draft ended up playing for the Packers. The other three were quarterbacks Bobby Garrett and Lamar McHan and center Art Hunter. Gary Knaflec and Max McGee also were drafted by the Packers in 1954.
Switzer, a much-beloved alumnus of Kansas State University, played for the Packers in 1954 and1955. After two years with the Packers, Switzer joined the U.S. Air Force, where he served as a lieutenant for two years. He then played football for three years in Canada.
He was the first Black scholarship player to graduate from Kansas State and is still the highest NFL draft pick in school history. After working for the Chicago Board of Education for 10 years, he returned to Kansas State and started the university's student minority programs, including Ebony Theater, United Black Voices, Hispanic advocacy groups, Black Student Union and more.
At Kansas State, Switzer was named All-American in 1951-53. He led the Wildcats in rushing in 1952-53, and was one of the best punt returners in school history.
He died of complications from a stroke.
Tyrone Davis, a member of the Packers' 1997 Super Bowl team, died Oct. 2, 2022, in South Boston, Virginia.
Davis, 50, played six of his eight NFL seasons with the Packers, after the New York Jets drafted him in the fourth round of the 1995 draft. He played six games over two years for the Jets before Green Bay acquired him in an August 1997 trade with the Jets for past considerations.
Davis played in 69 games for the Packers, starting 27. He also played in seven postseason games. He caught 13 touchdowns for the Packers, including seven in 1998. His NFL career included 73 receptions, all but two of them with Green Bay.
He attended University of Virginia, where he set the record for touchdown receptions as a wide receiver. Davis' 28 touchdowns broke the record held by future NFL star receiver Herman Moore. Davis also led Virginia in receiving yards in three of his four seasons and led the Cavaliers with 38 receptions in 1994.
Bill Whitaker, a defensive back who played two seasons with the Packers, died Oct. 2, 2022, in Prairie Village, Kansas.
Whitaker, 63, attended the University of Missouri and was taken in the seventh round of the 1981 NFL draft by the Packers. He was a backup defensive back and special teams standout who played in 25 games over his two seasons in Green Bay. He was released by the Packers in training camp in 1983 and played two more seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Ron Gassert, a defensive tackle on the Packers' 1962 NFC championship team, died Oct. 8, 2022, in Southhampton, New Jersey. Because of a knee injury, it was his only season in professional football.
Gassert, 82, was taken in the fourth round of the 1962 NFL draft by the Packers. He attended the University of Virginia and played 10 games as a rookie for the Packers. He had knee surgery after the season and was traded to the Los Angeles Rams, who released him during training camp.
After football, Gassert had 30-year career in banking. He served on the Lenape Regional School District Board of Education.
Burt Gustafson, a Packers coach and scout under four head coaches, died Oct. 22, 2022.
Gustafson, 96, served from 1971 to 1989 under head coaches Dan Devine, Bart Starr, Forrest Gregg and Lindy Infante. He joined the Packers as linebackers coach, was a college scout for two years, special teams coach in 1977 and three preseason games in 1978, a pro scout for one year, and director of pro scouting for six years. Gregg made him an administrative assistant in football operations, a position he held through 1988.
A native of Marquette, Michigan, Gustafson won 12 letters in football, basketball and track at Northern Michigan University. After graduation in 1950, he was a high school coach for six years before becoming an assistant to Lloyd Eaton at Northern Michigan. He joined Eaton, who left Northern Michigan in 1957, at the University of Wyoming in 1963.
Packers historian Cliff Christl interviewed Gustafson extensively in 2014 and 2018, particularly regarding the Devine years. That interview can be read at https://bit.ly/3DsQoHY.
John Hadl, the subject of what is arguably most controversial trade in Packers' history, died Nov. 30, 2022, in Lawrence, Kansas.Hadl, 82, whose 16-year career included six Pro Bowl selections, was acquired by head coach Dan Devine during the 1974 season. The Packers were 7-12 over two seasons in games Hadl started. He threw for 9 touchdowns and was intercepted 29 times.
In October 1974, Devine surrendered the team's first-, second- and third-round draft choices in 1975 plus a first- and second-round choice in 1976 for the 34-year-old Hadl. He had just completed an All-Pro season leading the Los Angeles Rams to a 12-2 record, and was named NFC player of the year.
Hadl, who attended the University of Kansas, is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. He played in three American Football League title games as quarterback for the San Diego Chargers. While with the Packers, he became the fifth quarterback in NFL history to surpass 30,000 career passing yards. He ended his career playing two years for the Houston Oilers.
After his NFL career, Hadl coached professional and college teams, including University of Kansas. After coaching, he worked with the Kansas Athletics' Williams Education Fund until he retired after a three-decade career at KU.
Gary Knafelc, a member of the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame, died Dec. 19, 2022, in Clermont, Florida.
Knafelc, 90, was a wide receiver and tight end for the Packers before working 40 years as stadium public address announcer in Green Bay and Milwaukee. He lived most of his post-football life in Green Bay, but moved to Florida about 10 years ago.
Knafelc signed with the Packers as a free agent two games into the 1954 season. He was native of Pueblo, Colorado, who played for the University of Colorado. The Chicago Cardinals made him the 14th overall pick in the second round of the NFL draft, but he was injured in the College All-Star Game and waived by the Cardinals after the season-opener.
Knaflec played wide receiver before new head coach Vince Lombardi moved him to tight end, where one of his primary duties was to block linebackers for the famed Lombardi sweep.
Knafelc scored 23 touchdowns in his 10-year career, but three of them game-winners. After playing one season for the San Francisco 49ers, Knafelc returned to Green Bay, where he owned an interior design company. He was the Packers' public address announcer from 1964 to 2004.
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This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Knafelc, Gustafson, Hadl among Green Bay Packers who died in 2022