Green Bay Packers


Introduction

The Green Bay Packers, nicknamed ‘The Pack’, are the native team of Green Bay, Wisconsin. They are part of the North Division of the National Football Conference (NFC) in the National Football League (NFL), and one of the last of the local teams which once formed the basis of the League.

History

Beginnings

The Green Bay Packers were founded in 1919 by Earl ‘Curly’ Lambeau, a local shipping clerk, and George Whitney Calhoun, the sports editor of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Although they started out as just a semi-professional team, by 1921 they had been so successful that they were backed for entry to the American Professional Football Association (APFA), an early forerunner of the NFL.

The 1921 season proved disappointing and the team was forced to drop out of the APFA but the next year they were back, funded by a group of businessmen including Earl Lambeau and local publisher Andrew Turnbull.

This group, nicknamed the Hungry Five because they always seemed to be begging money from somewhere, was instrumental in keeping the team afloat by forming the Green Bay Packers Corporation and selling stock in the team to raise money.

During the Packers first few years in the APFA, Lambeau, now head coach, wisely recruited many promising college football stars who were to become very talented players. In 1929 the team won the first of three straight national championships, beating much bigger teams like Chicago and New York. The next 5 years, known as the ‘Iron Man period’ for the players’ extreme toughness, was to mark a high point in the team’s early years.

Sadly, the high times were not to last and, by 1934, the team was once again in financial trouble. A fan who fell from the stands won $5000 of compensation from the Packers – a huge sum. With their insurance company bankrupt, the team would have gone into receivership but for the local business community rallying round them and raising $15000 to keep them afloat.

The team’s fortune took another up-turn in 1935, when future Hall of Famer Don Hutson arrived at the club. Although a gangly youth, Hutson proved unstoppable on the field and the passing partnership between him and other Packers stars, like Cecil Isbell and veteran Arnie Herber, led the team to national championships in 1936, 1939 and 1944.

Hutson’s retirement in 1945 hit the team hard and was to mark the beginning of a wilderness period for the club. Financial pressure from the newly formed All-American Football Conference cost the Packers some of their most valued young players. By 1949, the club was a shadow of its former self and, in 1950, Earl Lambeau resigned and a mainstay of the club since the very beginning had departed.

Without leadership for the first time in their history, the Packers went through managers fairly rapidly for the next decade, with mixed success. Under Gene Ronzani, the team was in hot competition for the 1952 NFL title, but the next year their performance slipped and Ronzani resigned.

The Packers enjoyed moderate success under Lisle Blackbourn between 1954-57, but suffered a terrible season in 1958 when their reliable assistant coach, Ray ‘Scooter’ McLean, took over as head coach. But this shaky form was about to change with the arrival in 1960 of the Packer’s most successful coach, Vince Lombardi.

The Lombardi Era

Vince Lombardi was a relatively obscure assistant coach for the New York Giants, not the sort anyone would have expected to leapfrog into a head coach position. Despite his precarious position, Lombardi took the fight to the Green Bay authorities immediately, demanding “complete control” as soon as he arrived. The board gave it to him.

As the undisputed boss of the team, Lombardi swiftly set to toughening the players up. Using skills gained from his time as assistant coach at the West Point military academy, he set up tough training regimes which demanded complete dedication from his players.

This uncompromising training regime and Lombardi’s canny drafting of promising superstars was to be instrumental in turning the Packers into the dominant team of the 1960s. But Lombardi’s real talent lay in developing the players he had. Two notable successes were Bart Starr and Herb Adderly.

When Lombardi arrived, Bryan Bartlett Starr was proving a disappointing quarterback. His relatively small stature and low body weight meant that, for every touchdown he scored, he got pushed out of two more potential touchdown plays.

What Starr did have was a fantastic ability for tactical play and it was this skill that Lombardi saw and developed in him. From 1960 to 1967, Starr lost just one play-off game, his first, and as quarterback he led the Packers to five NFL Championships and later two Superbowl victories.

Starr also took part in the infamous ’Ice Bowl’, the 1967 NFL Championship game against the Dallas Cowboys, which was played in temperatures of -25C. Though the Packers tried their hardest, the icy conditions meant that the team could not play their usual fast-passing game and they were suffering, down 17-14 to the Cowboys in the final quarter.

Starr, seeing this and realising that any overtime would only make the situation worse, decided to risk all to finish the game. With 16 seconds left on the clock, Starr took the snap and, instead of the expected pass to send the game into extra time, drove through the defensive line himself, scoring a sliding touchdown on the icy ground and winning the game 21-17 for the Packers.

Herb Adderly was a different story. When he was drafted into the side in 1961, Adderly was already known as a superb player with a fantastic college football record. The problem was that he played in the offensive backfield, a position already held by Packers favourites Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung.

Being good but not quite the best left Adderly adrift in the team, until a surprise upset meant that he had to fill in for an injured defense player. Adderly’s speed and reactions made him a natural defender as he could chase down almost any opponent, and he soon became the cornerstone of the Packers’ defense.

Adderly left Green Bay for the Dallas Cowboys in 1969. But though he had great success in Dallas, Adderly’s heart remained with his first team and he is quoted as saying "I’m the only man with a Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl ring who doesn’t wear it. I’m a Green Bay Packer."

With players like Starr and Adderly behind him, Lombardi’s record from 1959 until 1967 was beyond reproach. Between 1960 and 1967, the Packers never finished lower than second and won the World Championship five times. By 1967, with three consecutive championships behind him, Lombardi called it a day and passed the head coach baton to his assistant, Phil Bengston.

Back To The Wilderness Years

In contrast to Lombardi’s dynamic coaching style, Bengston was a low-key, cautious coach and this timidity cost the Packers dearly. From 1967-1970, they fell to mid-table obscurity and Bengston resigned in 1970, making way for Dan Devine.

At first, Devine seemed to be living up to expectations, taking the Packers to the NFC Championship in 1972, the team’s first title in five years. However, poor draft choices and an aging team sent the Packers into recession again and, in 1974, Devine quit.

Next to try his luck was Packers legend Bart Starr, a humble coach, asking for the fans’ prayers and patience but promising to earn everything else. This promise was slowly fulfilled as the Packers improved bit-by-bit over the next five years.

Record injury rates in 1979 and 1980 slowed progress a little, with up to 27 of the 33 players injured at one point, but in 1981 and 1982 the Packers regrouped and finally re-entered the Superbowl playoffs.

Sadly, in 1983 the team missed playoffs again and Starr was relived of his coaching duties. His job went to former team-mate Forrest Gregg who, despite his promise to “field a winning team”, spent three straight years with an 8-8 win/loss record.

In 1986, Gregg decided on a clean sweep and fielded a much younger team. Though initially inexperienced, the team began to develop. However, progress was too slow and, in 1987, Gregg quit.

The next head coach, Lindy Infante, was renowned as a brilliant innovator in the NFL and to begin with, this promise seemed to be being fulfilled. After a slow start in 1988, Infante led the 1989 team to the Packers’ best win/loss record in 17 years and to within one game of the playoffs. This all changed within two years though, as 1990 and 1991 were bad years for the Packers and, at the end of the 1991 season, Infante was dismissed.

The Pack comes back

The 1990s were to see a new golden age for the Packers, due largely to two men – new head coach Mike Holmgren and the Packers’ legendary quarterback Brett Favre.

Drafted from the Atlanta Falcons in 1992, Favre’s first game for the Packers was against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Brought on at half time, Favre was unable to turn the 17-0 scoreline around and the game ended badly, 31-3.

After this false start, Favre got a second chance when lead quarterback Don Majkowski was injured and a replacement was needed. Favre stepped up and proceeded to win the game with a couple of soaring passes.

After this first game, Favre went from strength to strength, setting up a six game winning streak, the longest string of wins for the team since 1965, and beginning the Packers’ 13-year non-losing home record.

These games also began Favre’s record of 275 consecutive starts as quarterback. He also holds the records for most NFL career touchdown passes (442), most victories as quarterback (160) and most Associated Press Most Valuable Player of the Year awards (3 wins between 1995 and 1997).

While Favre’s leadership may have driven the Packers resurgence during the 1990s, it was Holmgren’s management of the team that allowed them this success. With a decent season in 1992 behind him, Holmgren took the team to the playoffs in 1993 and 1994 until finally winning the NFC Central Division championship in 1995, the best showing from the team in 28 years.

The rise was not over yet though. In 1996, after almost 30 years of waiting, the Packers finally fought their way to the Superbowl and crushed New England 35-21 to take their first NFL title since 1967. The revival was complete and Holmgren’s commitment and expertise was rewarded in the best possible way, as the Favre-charged side took the game’s biggest prize.

The Packers almost matched the superb form of their 1996 season in 1997 but fell to the Denver Broncos after a literally last minute touchdown by Broncos running back Terrell Davis.

The 1998 season was also to prove disappointing as, despite a superb season run against high injury rates, the Packers were denied a Superbowl trip by the San Francisco 49ers. This disappointment finished Holmgren and five years later, he quit.

Over the next eight years, the Packers maintained a low key record. With Holmgren’s departure, the club also lost many of its longer-serving staff and struggled to re-establish itself. In 2001, Packers veteran general manager Ron Wolf resigned and was replaced by current head coach Mike Sherman.

This marked a slight upturn in the Packers fortunes and they took the NFC Northern Division championship in 2002-2004, although they failed to reach the Superbowl. The following year saw a huge spate of injuries, resulting in a 4-12 win/loss record by the end of the season and Sherman’s dismissal.

The Present

Sherman was replaced with Mike McCarthy, an assistant coach from the San Francisco 49ers, who got off to a good start, helping the Packers to win their first four games and, by the end of the 2006 season, took them from a 4-12 win/loss record to a far more respectable 8-8. He built on this good form in 2007 when he took the Packers back to the top of the NFC North table.

Sadly, the 2007 season was also Brett Favre’s last season as, on March 4th 2008, he announced his retirement after 16 years with the Packers. However, with one of the youngest teams in the NFL, it seems sure that a worthy successor will appear and bring back some of the success which has made this franchise one of the most remarkable in American Football.

The Team and the Fans

The Green Bay Packers are unique in the NFL as being the only team controlled by the fans, not by a large company. This may be the reason that such a successful team has stayed in a relatively small city.

The way the business side of the Green Bay Packers was set up in 1923, if the team were ever to be sold, any profits after the sale would go to charity (originally the American Legion, now the Green Bay Packers Foundation). This means that a move wouldn’t make the shareholders any money so no move has ever been considered.

To raise money when they need it, the team simply releases more shares. They last did this in 1997, selling over 120,000 at $200 each and raising $24 million, despite each share stating it is virtually impossible to make a profit or break even by buying them. Any fan can buy a share although no-one is allowed to own more than 200,000 shares in case they gain control of the team.

This structure is actually against NFL rules, which says that at least one of the owners must own at least 30% of the shares. However the Green Bay Packers are older than the NFL and brought their own rules with them, which they have kept.

This system means that 112,000 fans can all claim part-ownership of the club, which may explain why the Packers have some of the most dedicated fans in the NFL – every single home game since 1960 has been sold out.

The waiting list for season tickets is one of the longest in the country, with more people on the waiting list than there are seats in the Packers stadium. In fact, tickets are willed between father and son, and babies are often put on the list as soon as they are born so that, once the 35 year wait time is finished, they’re still young enough to enjoy the ticket.

Packers fans also have some of the strangest traditions of any fans. Their nickname, ‘cheeseheads’, based upon Wisconsin’s cheese production, explains the curious foam-rubber hats in the shape of wedges of cheese worn by the fans.

Odder still, is the team’s tradition that, during the summer training camps, young fans can bring their bikes to the training ground and have their favourite players ride them to and from the practice field.

Uniform and Name

The Green Bay Packers slightly odd name comes from their first ‘sponsors’, the Indian Packing Company. Curly Lambeau’s then-employers donated $500 for the fledgling team’s uniforms and equipment but demanded that the team be named after them.

So, until 1920, the team competed as the ‘Green Bay Indian Packers’. In 1921, the Indian Packing Company was bought by Acme but the deal still stood and the team became the ‘Green Bay Acme Packers’ until dropping the company name to become, simply, the ‘Green Bay Packers’.

Strangely, the Green Bay Packers didn’t actually wear green until 1935. The team’s original colours were navy blue and gold (after Lambeau’s team colours from the University of Notre Dame) and it wasn’t until later that the team’s current colours of green, white and gold were introduced.

Even then, the team alternated between green and blue, and it took a decision by coach Vince Lombardi in 1959 to finally drop the navy-blue for good.

The Packers’ ‘G’ logo was also introduced in 1959. Before then, the team had used logos ranging from a combination of the letters G and B to a silhouette of Wisconsin state. These all seemed too fussy so, to go with the new uniforms, the simple oval G was brought in and is still the only logo to ever have been worn on the team’s helmets.

The Stadium

The Packers have played at many different stadiums, increasing in size as the Packers increased in popularity. Their first homeground, from their founding in 1919 until 1952, was Green Bay’s East Stadium.

However, by 1952, the Packers had too many fans to fit into the East Stadium and moved to the newly built County Stadium in Milwaukee, a venue which they shared with the Milwaukee Braves and Milwaukee Brewers.

By 1956, it became clear that the Packers needed their own home and a $960,000 loan was agreed to allow the building of a new City Stadium, back in the heart of Green Bay. City Stadium had a capacity of just over 32,000 when it was opened in 1957 but it still proved too small for the Packers’ following and over the next six years extra seating was added to bring it up to 42,000.

In 1965, City Stadium was renamed Lambeau Field, in honour of the club’s recently deceased founder, and the capacity was increased to over 50,000. This last piece of construction work gave the stadium its basic oval shape which has simply been built around since.

Now, in 2008, the stadium has a capacity of 60,000 as well as its own Hall of Fame and team store. However, despite being one of the most modern stadiums in the NFL, it is still one of the only ones to have always had an all-natural-grass playing surface.

Achievements

  • NFL Championships – Winners (1929, 1930, 1931, 1936, 1939, 1944, 1961, 1962, 1965)
  • Super Bowl Championships – Winners (1967 (I), 1968 (II), 1997 (XXXI))
  • NFL Western Championships – Winners (1960, 1961, 1962, 1965, 1966, 1967)
  • NFC Championships – Winners (1996, 1997)
  • NFL West Divisional Championship – Winners (1936, 1938, 1939, 1944)
  • NFL Central Divisional Championship – Winners (1967)
  • NFC Central Divisional Championship – Winners (1972, 1982, 1995, 1996, 1997)
  • NFC North Divisional Championship – Winners (2002, 2003, 2004, 2007)