Phil Bengtson’s defense during the Lombardi era was designed to maximize the talents of its best players, but if not for the specific skill sets of some of the supporting actors, it might not have been as dominant as it was. Ron Kostelnik, who started at left defensive tackle when the Packers won three straight NFL championships from 1965 to 1967, was a prime example.
A stay-at-home tackle who played between left end Willie Davis and right tackle Henry Jordan, Kostelnik clogged the middle and made it possible for them to focus on what they did best: rush the passer. Davis and Jordan were both inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame for their special talents. Kostelnik started between them for four-and-a-half seasons and much like his predecessor, Dave Hanner, went virtually unrecognized. “(Kostelnik) was an unselfish individual, very accepting of his role,” said Davis. “He was never overly concerned with what Ron Kostelnik had coming.”
While Hanner was in his 30s when he played between Davis and Jordan, Kostelnik became a starter at age 24. “(Kostelnik) might have been a little better. He was quicker,” said cornerback Herb Adderley. “Let me say this about Hawg Hanner and Kostelnik. Their man job was to play the draw and the screen. That was the main assignment for those guys. If you don’t see a draw, don’t see a screen, then rush the passer.”
While Kostelnik might have been one of the more unsung performers on Lombardi’s teams, the Packers never ranked lower than third in yards allowed in the five seasons he started at least half of the games. He used his strength to fend off blockers and effectively smell out the screens and draws so Jordan and Davis could raise havoc with opposing quarterbacks.
“The only reason Henry could rush the passer and Willie could go after the quarterbacks so hard and make all those big headlines was because they knew if there was a draw, Ron had it,” teammate and Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Dave Robinson said. “He took care of all the draws. He took the middle. I don’t think that people other than the guys who played against him and with him really understood the worth that Ron Kostelnik brought to the Green Bay Packers.”
The Packers chose Kostelnik in the second round of the 1961 NFL Draft and signed him on Dec. 29, 1960, two days after he was selected. The Packers announced his signing on Jan. 9, 1961. Buffalo of the rival American Football League had drafted Kostelnik in the 14th round.
Only 20 years old and big for a defensive tackle at the time, Kostelnik brought a smile to Lombardi’s face after he made the choice. “He’s a mad Russian,” Lombardi gushed on draft day. “You’ve got to spoon-feed him with a steam shovel.”
Following his first three seasons where his playing time increased gradually, Kostelnik spelled an injured Jordan early in 1964 and then replaced Hanner as the starter over the last half of the season. From 1965 to 1967, during the Packers’ championship run, Kostelnik started every regular-season and postseason game. He also started all but one game in 1968.
In eight seasons with the Packers, Kostelnik played in 110 games. On Aug. 19, 1969, he was traded to the Baltimore Colts for what turned out to be a fourth-round draft pick and played one more season before retiring.
Born Jan. 14, 1940, in Colver, Pa. Given name Ronald Michael Kostelnik. Died Jan. 29, 1993, at age 53.
- Defensive Tackle: 1961-68
- Height: 6-4; Weight: 260
- College: Cincinnati, 1959-60