Before he sprouted into a bone-crushing NFL linebacker, Bryce Paup stood on the end of a coming-of-age verbal pounding.
“My coach got on me really hard for something,” Paup recalled of the junior-high harangue. “He said, ‘If Vince Lombardi had seen that, he would be rolling over in his grave.’ I said to myself, ‘Who the heck is Vince Lombardi?’ Later on, I found out.”
In 1990, a Green Bay Packer organization that had failed for two decades to replicate Lombardi’s grandeur selected the Division I-AA all-American from Northern Iowa in the sixth round of the NFL draft.
The Scranton, Ia., native developed into a four-time Pro Bowler and the AP Defensive Player of the Year, in 1995.
Paup and Paul “Tiny” Engebretsen, Iowans who rose from hardscrabble and anonymous small-town roots to become all-pros with the venerated Packers, together join the Des Moines Sunday Register’s Iowa Sports Hall of Fame as the 191st and 192nd members.
Paup’s upbringing in the western Greene County town of 600 consisted of the staples of rural Iowa life — operating heavy machinery, hefting 60-pound bags of soybeans and baling hay.
“When I got ready for football in Scranton, I’d run on gravel roads,” he said. “I never lifted (weights) a whole lot because I was always doing stuff on the farm. It gave me the work ethic to make it to the top.”
At times, Paup’s hard-nosed play wrought unexpected consequences. Against Bridgewater-Fontanelle, Paup said, he knocked three players out of a game. But an upset Scranton school official hollered down to the coach, who gave Paup the hook.
“He was a one-man crew,” said his mother, Harriett, 65, who still lives in Scranton with her husband, Byron, 67. “They funneled everything through him because he was the biggest guy on the field.”
In the NFL, the 6-foot-5, 247-pound Paup’s stature grew in 1994, when he was voted to his first Pro Bowl in his fifth season — only two years before Brett Favre, Reggie White and Co. brought another championship to Titletown.
But the Packers decided not to pursue Paup aggressively and Buffalo snapped him up with a three-year deal worth $7.6 million.
“It was where I bought my first house and had my first child,” Paup said of Green Bay. “I didn’t want to leave.”
Paup, however, flourished in Buffalo, where he was a Pro Bowl choice all three seasons and led the NFL in sacks with 17 1/2 in 1995.
“The Packers had never seen me as that type of player,” he said. “It took someone looking from the outside. … Buffalo put me over the tight end and let me rush.”
Paup, who had 75 career sacks, rounded out his 11 years in the league with two seasons in Jacksonville and one in Minnesota.
He is 38, married to Denise and has six children, including 6-month-old twins. He lives in the Green Bay suburb of De Pere, works for a hospital in performance enhancement and is an assistant coach for the De Pere High School team.
Since 1996, Paup and his family have lived in the shadow of nearly 50-year-old Lambeau Field.
“Other places say they have great fans,” he said. “I have done everything at Lambeau: I was a player, I’ve sat in the stands, I’ve tailgated and I was an opponent. It’s a great place to play, the absolute best.”
A long way from Chariton
Earl Louis “Curly” Lambeau, the Packers’ founder and first head coach, signed Paul “Tiny” Engebretsen in 1934 at a time the Packer mystique was gaining currency. Green Bay had won its first NFL titles in 1929, 1930 and 1931.
The Packers’ website heralds the midseason acquisition of Engebretsen from the NFL’s Brooklyn Dodgers as Green Bay’s free-agent grab of the decade.
“Tiny was a guard and one of the more important members of the offensive line,” said Packer team historian Lee Remmel, 82, who has lived in Green Bay since 1944. “And he won a few games for them with his foot.”
Engebretsen was born in 1910 in Chariton, a town of 4,600 in central Lucas County, and through his life wore a multitude of hats.
He worked on a wheat ranch in Canada, was a lifeguard, sold optical goods, owned an ice business, operated a restaurant, prospected for gold, and for many years until his death in 1979 at age 68 raised ringneck pheasants and mallards with his brother Bill on a farm outside Chariton.
His versatility extended to football. In addition to being a triple-threat on the field, he scouted for the Packers and coached the Buffalo Tigers of the short-lived American Professional Football League in the 1940s.
Engebretsen first made his name, which that era’s press frequently misspelled, as a center on the Register’s all-state second team in 1927.
He jumped to Northwestern, where he was named most valuable player of the Big Ten co-champion in 1931. In Evanston, he gained his reputation as a first-teamer at the dinner table and acquired his fashionably ironic nickname. The Chicago Daily News reported: “Tiny will eat anything placed before him.”
Engebretsen grew to 6-1 and 245 pounds and had a large presence in his 1932 rookie season with the Bears, starting at guard and leading the NFL in extra points (10) and attempts (15). He was coached by George Halas, while the Bears starred other Pro Football Hall of Famers Bronko Nagurski and Harold “Red” Grange, “The Galloping Ghost.”
“Pretty fancy neighborhood,” Remmel said.
The Bears, aided by an Engebretsen extra point, won the 1932 title 9-0 over the Portsmouth Spartans in a rare indoor football game, at Chicago Stadium.
After short stays with the NFL’s Chicago Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Brooklyn, Engebretsen began his eight years in Green Bay.
He was an all-league choice on the 1936 and 1939 champion Packer teams led by Hall of Fame receiver Don Hutson, topped the NFL in extra points (18) in 1939 and retired on Sept. 16, 1941, two days after the season opener.
In the NFL, Engebretsen scored 100 points on 15 of 28 field-goal tries and 55 of 62 extra-point attempts.
“This was a guy who played when they played for the love of it,” said grandson Mike McCune, 37, of Johnston. “They wore leather helmets, for gosh sakes.”
Engebretsen was inducted into the Packer Hall of Fame in 1978 with Canton enshrinee Ray Nitschke, a Lombardi disciple. In failing health, Engebretsen could not attend the ceremony. His weathered helmet is on display behind glass at the Packer Hall.
“He was quiet, laid back and wasn’t a real showman. A gentle giant comes to mind,” said McCune. “This was just a modest kid from Chariton who worked hard to get where he got.”
(Published in The Des Moines Register, Aug. 6, 2006)