Though he’d win six NFL titles, reach five Pro Bowls and earn four first-team all-NFL honors as a shutdown cornerback with Green Bay and Dallas, Herb Adderley was still a running back when, in the humblest of circumstances, his professional career officially began.
Mr. Adderley, a Philadelphian who along with Northeast High teammate Angelo Coia comprised the “Touchdown Twins,” perhaps the most famous scholastic halfback tandem in the city’s history, died Friday at 81 following a recent hospitalization.
“He was a great player and an even greater man,” said David Baker, president of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where the flag was lowered to half-staff in Mr. Adderley’s honor. “Herb left an indelible mark on the game and was respected tremendously.”
Elected to the Hall in 1980, Mr. Adderley liked to tell the story of the day he signed his first NFL contract.
The Michigan State running back, the Packers' No. 1 pick in 1961, had just finished an East-West Shrine Game practice in Moraga, Calif., when Green Bay assistant Bill Austin approached him in a parking lot.
“We started talking,” Mr. Adderley told The Inquirer in 2007. “I didn’t have an agent but we eventually agreed on a bonus. Once we decided it would be one-year, no-cut, he took a contract out of his pocket and I signed it right there on the hood of a car. That’s how things were done back then.”
It was a deal that worked out spectacularly well for both parties.
Bart Starr, the quarterback for those Vince Lombardi-coached Packers teams that won championships in 1961, ’62, ’65, ’66, and ’67, once called Mr. Adderley “the greatest cornerback to ever play the game.” Dave Robinson, another Hall of Famer, said he’d never played with as talented a teammate.
The late Eagles wide receiver Tommy McDonald said Mr. Adderley gave him more problems than any other NFL cornerback.
“He’d just beat me up,” McDonald once said. “He’d force me to turn underneath routes all the time. Other guys tried the same thing but he was the only one tough and fast enough to get it done.”
Though he won a sixth and final title with Dallas in 1971, Mr. Adderley’s allegiance to Green Bay never wavered.
“I might be the only guy ever with a Cowboys Super Bowl ring who won’t wear it,” he once said. “I’m a Green Bay Packer. Always will be.”
In a 12-year career, Adderley intercepted 48 passes, returning seven for touchdowns. A kickoff returner, he ran one back 103 yards for a touchdown in 1962 and another 98 yards in 1963.
“Never have I seen such grace,” Pat Toomay, a Dallas teammate, said of Mr. Adderley’s cornerback play. “He’d go up and up and hang and hang, and then bat the ball down or pick it.”
“I might be the only guy ever with a Cowboys' Super Bowl ring who won’t wear it. I’m a Green Bay Packer. Always will be.”
Perhaps his most memorable moment came in Super Bowl II, when he picked off a pass from Oakland’s Daryle Lamonica and ran it 60 yards into an Orange Bowl end zone, the first defensive score in the game’s brief history.
Born in Philadelphia in 1939, Mr. Adderley lettered in football, baseball, basketball, and track at Northeast. But it was as a speedy running back that his name – typically missing its second “e” – began appearing in the sports pages. Teamed in the backfield with Coia -- a state champion in the 220-yard dash who went on to play seven NFL seasons as a receiver -- he led the Public League in scoring twice.
Northeast reached the 1955 City Title game but, with Mr. Adderley hobbled by a serious ankle injury, fell to La Salle, 26-0.
“That was such a disappointment,” he said. “I’ve often wished I could have played that game again. When we were healthy, teams just hadn’t been able to stop Angelo and me.”
» READ MORE: Our obituary for Angelo Coia, who died in 2013
Curiously, it wasn’t until the 11th week of his rookie season – a Thanksgiving game with Detroit – that Lombardi first moved Mr. Adderley from offense to defense.
“That’s how smart I was,” Lombardi once said. “It took me all that time to move one of the best defensive players ever to that side of the ball.”
It happened after cornerback Hank Gremminger was injured. Lombardi told Mr. Adderley at halftime that he’d be replacing him.
“I was shocked and very nervous,” he said.
Mr. Adderley intercepted a pass that set up the game-winning score. He also had an interception in the championship game against the New York Giants. But it wasn’t until 1962 that he became a full-time cornerback.
After retiring in 1972, Mr. Adderley worked briefly as a radio broadcaster for Temple University football and served as a coach for the Philadelphia Bell of the World Football League. In 2012, he and Robinson co-authored a book, “Lombardi’s Left Side.”
His brother’s grandson, Nasir Adderley, a safety, was a second-round pick of the L.A. Chargers in 2019. Earlier this month, he recorded his first career interception, against New Orleans’ Drew Brees.
Funeral details are pending.