When you think of the places a big, successful sports franchise is located, you think of the usual suspects: New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston – all the classic cities. Baseball has the Yankees based in New York City. Basketball has the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. Hockey’s Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup in a long time, but they’re still the two most successful teams in the sport, and among the richest.
You don’t usually think of Green Bay, a city of a little over 100,000 located at a sub-basin of Lake Michigan which is also called Green Bay. Green Bay isn’t known for a whole lot of anything, and for eight months of the year, no one thinks anything of it. Then September begins, football season arrives, and Green Bay storms down whatever isolated mountain it lives on and forces the rest of the country to reckon with its team. Green Bay is the smallest metro area in the United States with a major professional sports team to call its own, and it’s not some leftover team tossed into a backwoods lot to make the people there feel like big shots, either. The Green Bay Packers have won 13 total NFL titles, which is more than any other team in the league. That’s a good four above their closest competition, the Chicago Bears (who aren’t threatening to close that gap, well, like, ever). Even if you axe the pre-Super Bowl Era titles, the Packers have still managed to win four of those. They’ve been coached by the greatest coach in the history of the NFL, and have an all-time roster stocked with many arguable best players. They’ve had their down periods, but they’ve also been unbeatable. They’re the only team that has won three straight titles on two different occasions.
The Packers weren’t the first NFL team ever created – that would be the Arizona Cardinals (seriously) – but they do predate the league by two years. Founded in 1919 by Curly Lambeau and George Whitney Calhoun, they were named for the Indian Packing Company, Lambeau’s employer. The company just happened to pony up $500 for some uniforms for the team to play in. In their first year, they went roundabout, playing all comers in Wisconsin and Michigan. They finished with a record of 10-1, the only loss courtesy of the Beloit Fairies. In 1921, they went professional, taking the name Acme Packers. That was revoked at the end of the season, though, when a certain George Halas told everyone the Packers were using college players. I know, that’s not a big deal these days, but professional football was in a different place back then. College football was the football to aspire to at the time, and the pros were for the workin’ folk too dummy to get edumicated in dem fancy colleges. Everyone thought college football had the better athletes, and there was no Draft. If an NFL owner offered a contract to a college grad, the player would laugh them off. Anyway, Lambeau appealed to the league, which took the Packers back if Lambeau paid a reinstatement fee of $50. When other problems threatened the team with more debt, local businessmen called the Hungry Five formed the Green Bay Football Corporation, which still runs the team now.
The Packers grabbed players like Johnny “Blood” McNally, Cal Hubbard, and Mike Michalske during the 20’s, who set off a string of modest winning seasons. For all the success the Packers have had through their history, they only had an undefeated season once, in 1929, when they won their first Championship with a 12-0-1 record. The little blemish there was a tie against the Frankford Yellow Jackets. They were able to successfully defend that title the following season, and again the year after. They very nearly won four in a row, but fell to second in 1932, behind the Chicago Bears and Portsmouth Spartans, who shared the league’s best record. The Packers didn’t have any losing seasons at all until the mid-30’s, but even while those were happening, Curly Lambeau was planning his next big moves. In 1935, the team signed Clarke Hinkle, Don Hutson, and Arnie Herber. Those players made them real good again real quickly, and the Packers went 10-1-1 in 1936, defeating the Boston Redskins in the Championship.
The Packers stayed at or near the top of the standings for the next decade. In 1938, they returned to the Championship, losing to the New York Giants. They returned to the title game the following season as well, successfully exacting their revenge against the Giants in a 27-0 blowout. While the whole NFL was basically playing second banana to the Bears during the 1940’s, the Packers did manage to sneak another title in, beating the Giants once more in 1944. Then a traditional slow decline began. Going in a rather tidy direction, the Packers started the decline by winning six games in both 1945 and 1946. In 1947, the NFL established a uniform 12-game season, and something about that really got to the Packers. They went 6-5-1 that year, but followed it up with campaigns of three wins and two wins. What made everything worse was that Lambeau’s relationship with the team’s management was also worse. He seemed to be losing interest, and spent a lot of his free time in California. Fans started calling him The Earl of Hollywood.
After the 1949 season, Lambeau met with the executive committee to talk about, you know, his job. At that point, he had been the coach of the Packers for the last 30 years, and the only coach the team ever had. But everyone decided it was time for him to step down and take his job offer with the Chicago Cardinals. The news stunned everyone, as Lambeau had left the team in tatters. They had no good players, and they had so little money that they had to establish a bond drive for the 1950 season. It raised $118,000, but didn’t do much for the on-field product. The Packers struggled to three victories in 1951. They managed to double that total in 1952, but all that started was a decade of the bouncy routine: Tease fans with flashes of contention one year, only to fall, then lose straight another year, repeat ad nauseum. The Packers went 4-8 in 1956, but there was a notable silver lining to that year: They drafted a University of Alabama quarterback by the name of Bart Starr.
Meanwhile, The Packers’ home situation started to get unstable. Their stadium was old and decrepit, and more opponents started asking the Packers to play their home games at County Stadium in Milwaukee. So the league told Green Bay that if it wanted to keep the Packers, it would have to build a new stadium, and the team listened. In the inaugural game at New City Stadium, the Packers beat the Bears 21-17. Not that it helped them very much in the standings; it was one of only three victories the Packers posted that year. There were reasons the Packers were struggling: None of their post-Curly Lambeau coaches were Curly Lambeau, for one thing. The team was suffering through a revolving door period. Players were lost to the Military. Players were lost to the CFL. Players were put off by the small town setting of Green Bay. Micromanagement from the board of directors.
From the late 40’s to the early 60’s, few teams in the NFL were better than the New York Giants. In fact, from the mid-50’s to the early 60’s, the Giants were dominant – they won the 1956 title and played in five more NFL Championships in the ensuing seven years. They were led by playmakers like Alex Webster, Sam Huff, and Frank Gifford. And for that 1956 title, they were also employing the services of a particular offensive coordinator. And in 1959, the Packers decided to take a huge chance by making him the head coach of their team. A lot of people were skeptical because he was unknown outside of New York City, but his hiring was hailed as a stroke of genius by insiders. Upon his introduction in Green Bay, Vincent Thomas Lombardi immediately gave an impression of the sort of person he was when he declared, “I want it understood that I am in complete command here.”
Arguably the greatest NFL coach of all time, Lombardi figured out how to get the best out of a swarming collection of talent which included Starr, Paul Hornung, Forrest Gregg, Ray Nitschke, and Dave Robinson. He got the Packers turned right the hell around in his first season. In their first game under Lombardi, the Packers beat the heavily favored Bears 9-6. They started the season 3-0 before the ways of the last decade came back to bite them. After falling to 3-5, though, they won all of the last four games of the season to achieve their first winning record in 12 years. In 1960, the Packers went 8-4 to win their first division title since 1944. They also ran through to the NFL Championship, where they faced the Philadelphia Eagles. The game was a gritty teeter-totter battle. With the Packers trailing by four late in the game, Eagles linebacker Chuck Bednarik tackled Jim Taylor nine yards short of the goal just as time ran out. Philadelphia won the Championship that year, 17-13, and a royally pissed-off Vince Lombardi told his team after the game that there was no fucking way they were gonna lose another NFL Championship with him at the helm. He was right, too, which in his case is saying something. Or rather, five somethings, which is also the number of NFL Championships the Packers played in after he he said that.
1961 debuted the league’s new 14-game schedule. Did that stop the Packers? Nope. They went 11-3, returned to the Championship, and faced the Giants. Paul Hornung scored 19 points, the Packers exploded for 24 in the second quarter, and the game ended in a 37-0 blowout. The next year, the Packers jumped out to a 10-0 start on their way to a 13-1 record. Facing the Giants in the Championship again, the game this time was a lot more brutal. They were forced to wear the G-Men out in this game, and they prevailed 16-7. In 1963, the Packers went 11-2-1, but getting swept by the Bears left them to second in the division. The Bears ultimately won the title. The Packers were invited to Miami to play in a game called the Playoff Bowl, a game held between the second place conference finishers every year between 1960 and 1969. In other words, it was a useless exhibition created to appease greedy owners and bloodthirsty fans. It was cancelled because it wasn’t very popular; fans hated it, and players knew they were playing for second place. Vince Lombardi minced no words in calling it what it was. While the Packers hammered the Cleveland Browns 40-23, Lombardi said it was, “The Shit Bowl. A loser’s game for losers. Because that’s all second place is.” Upon being forced to play it again the following season with an 8-5-1 record, he called it, “A rinky-dink game in a rinky-dink town between two rinky-dink teams.” He lost that one to the Cardinals 24-17.
Although the 1965 season was memorable for a playoff the Packers had to play against the Baltimore Colts to decide a standings tie and the Packers winning another title, it was the next two seasons which saw a wave of changes in the NFL. The outside threat of the AFL and its success in marketing itself managed to back the senior league into a corner. Starting that year, the NFL Championship would no longer be the final decider of football supremacy. The NFL Champion was now forced into a single winner-take-all match against the AFL Champion. The Packers came out roaring and had one of their greatest seasons ever, finishing 12-2 and beating the Dallas Cowboys to win the NFL Championship… And now, they weren’t finished yet. They had that final game, this time against the AFL Champion Kansas City Chiefs. And in the first-ever AFL-NFL World Championship Game, the Packers shined once more, annihilating the Chiefs 35-10. The next season, the Packers were aging, but they still had enough gas left for a 9-4-1 record. The NFL Championship was against the Cowboys again in a game history calls The Ice Bowl. That year, New City Stadium – renamed Lambeau Field a few years before – had had a new heating system installed. But it just happened to fail just in time for a game which was played in a temperature of around -15 degrees, complete with a -48 degree wind chill. In today’s meteorology, the game was played on a -36 degree day. The referees had to use their voices to make calls because the whistles froze to their lips. Seven members of the band came down with hypothermia. Many of the players for the Packers weren’t able to start their cars. A fan died of exposure. Nevertheless, the Packers and Cowboys played a classic game, which the Packers won 21-17 when Bart Starr insisted he could score the touchdown instead of having the team try for a tying field goal. According to the book America’s Game, Lombardi’s response was, “DO IT! And let’s get the hell out of here!” I’m mentioning that because Starr’s quarterback sneak is frequently brought up in his mythology as an example of his mad genius and trust in his players. But let’s face it – he was just sick of standing around outside on a -36 degree day and made the call to prevent an overtime. The following game against the AFL Champion Oakland Raiders was anticlimactic – the Packers won 33-14 for Lombardi’s final triumph. He stepped down as head coach after the game.
It was a good thing Lombardi made his years count, because they were followed up by a long period of futility where they were pretty much all the Packers had. New coach Phil Bengtson was, shall we say, not quite as capable as Lombardi was. There was still talent around from Lombardi, but it never quite coagulated under Bengtson, and the 1968 Packers finished 6-7-1 amidst players starting to retire. The retirements continued, and while the Packers went a respectable 8-6 the next year, then 6-8 the year after. Bengtson walked away from the job after that out of a sense of dejection – after what Lombardi had accomplished, he was disappointed in his inability to follow it up. Dan Devine was the next one to step up. While Devine is best known for his stint as the head coach at Notre Dame, he coached in Green Bay just before going to Notre Dame, and his previous work at Missouri had already established him as a college football legend. Devine started trying to rebuild, but that didn’t get anywhere. Starr retired in 1971 after appearing in only a few games. Devine left for Notre Dame after 1974.
There were times when the Packers somewhat resembled what they had been. They went 10-4 in 1972 but got rubbed from the first round of the playoffs. Efforts to improve were pathetic; the team blew Draft after Draft. In 1972, the Packers picked quarterback Jerry Tagge, hoping he would be the permanent successor to Starr they were looking for. Franco Harris was still on the board. This was actually a consistent theme throughout this stretch – 1981 saw the Packers draft Rich Campbell while Ronnie Lott, Mike Singletary, and Howie Long were waiting around, and the less said about the Tony Mandarich disaster, the better. Anyway, losing seasons just mounted in the 70’s. The NFL introduced the 16-game schedule in 1978, the Packers briefly looked like they had turned a corner when they won six of their first seven games. But that was only because their schedule for that part of the season was cake. Ultimately, they went 8-7-1, which was enough to give a little hope to Packers fans starved for a decent team. But they followed that up with a five-win season in 1979.
The team started going between good and bad to start the 80’s. In 1981, they went 8-8. The next year was the players’ strike and the nine-game season. To make up for it, the NFL had a little playoff tournament for the eight best teams in each conference. The Packers qualified for it, with a 5-3-1 record, and they even managed to beat the Cardinals in the first game. After a short string of 8-8 years, the Packers bottomed out again, and a 10-6 season in 1989 didn’t bring much relief, even though it was the best record the team had posted in 17 years. But it wasn’t until an overhaul during the 1992 offseason that things got going again. That was when the Packers made two significant moves: Hiring Mike Holmgren as head coach and making a trade with the Atlanta Falcons for a young second-year quarterback named Brett Favre.
In the third game of the 1992 season, starting quarterback Don Majkowski went down with a torn ligament. Holmgren sent Favre in to relieve him, and Favre decided he liked being an NFL starting quarterback so much that he started literally every single game until 2010. (His last few years weren’t even with the Packers!) Although Favre ultimately went down in history as the kind of quarterback who infuriated fans as often as he elated them, he was the successor to Bart Starr the Packers had long needed. He was only 20 years too late, but better late than never, right? Especially in this case, because Favre led the Packers to a new age among the league’s best. The Favre Era started off in a somewhat inconspicuous way; he took them to a pair of 9-7 seasons. In 1995, the Packers were finally reborn. Going 11-5, they won the division crown and played in the NFC Championship, losing to the Cowboys.
The next few years saw the fruits of good player acquisitions adding up. In 1996, Favre placed himself among the league’s elite quarterbacks when he led the Packers to a 13-3 record and their first Super Bowl appearance since Lombardi. (The AFL-NFL World Championship Game started officially calling itself the Super Bowl after the second one. Thus, hindsight now refers to those first two games as Super Bowls I and II.) Through a couple of long kick returns by game MVP Desmond Howard, the Packers handily beat the New England Patriots 35-21. The team returned to the Super Bowl the next year as well. Heavily favored against the Denver Broncos, that game turned into one of the great Super Bowls when Denver quarterback John Elway – who had played and lost three previous Super Bowls – decided he wasn’t going to lose this one even if it killed him. It was a back and forth fight. Elway famously ran for a first down in the waning minutes while Denver running back Terrell Davis ran for three touchdowns. Despite their best efforts, the Packers lost, and Favre never played in another Super Bowl. But the Packers were in the spotlight again.
More to the point, they were a constant threat to win it all. They went 11-5 in 1998, losing the Wild Card Round of the playoffs to the Niners when Terrell Owens caught a touchdown with three seconds to go. A pair of average years followed, but the Packers were back in form by 2001, going 12-4 before bowing out of the divisionals. That period turned into one of unfulfilled potential; the Packers were a great team that could kill anyone in the league, but they kept getting the heebie-jeebies in the playoffs. 2001 saw them getting crushed by a Rams team that everyone on the planet expected to win the Super Bowl. 2002 had them getting beat by the Falcons right at Lambeau Field. 2003 was the year of the famed fourth and 26 game, where the Packers defense forced the Eagles offense into a fourth down with 26 yards to go for a first down. Everyone then watched in shock as quarterback Donovan McNabb launched a 28-yard zinger to receiver Freddie Mitchell for the first, and the Eagles soon tied the game with a field goal. In overtime, Favre was intercepted by Brian Dawkins, and the Packers were out on another field goal.
It was around this time that constant, insufferable speculation about Favre’s retirement was born. Every year you heard it from the media: When will Brett Favre retire? How will Brett Favre retire? Why isn’t Brett Favre retiring right now? (The answer, by the way, is clear to anyone who ever watched him play: He took a kid’s joy in being a football player and couldn’t just walk away.) It turned out that Favre’s final season was 2007, when he led the Packers to a 13-3 record and lost a hard-fought overtime classic to the Giants, who went on to beat the famed 16-0 Patriots in the Super Bowl. (It was his final season as a Packer, anyway. He retired, then unretired with the Jets for the next season, retired again, and unretired with the divisional rival Vikings for two more seasons before acknowledging that his body finally gave up.) Of course, a great, exciting quarterback like Favre is a generational player, a generational leader, and the Packers were going to suck for 20 more years before finding a player of his caliber…
Well, that went quickly, didn’t it? Enter Aaron Rodgers, the next great Green Bay Packers quarterback and a player more fundamentally sound than Favre ever dreamed. Rodgers was The Man starting in 2008, and it took him all of three years to lead the Packers to their fourth Super Bowl title. The 2010 edition of The Pack went 10-6, finishing second in their division to the Bears. Facing the Bears in the NFC Championship, the Packers won the game by a 21-14 score which was far more one-sided than that score makes it look. In the Super Bowl, they faced the Pittsburgh Steelers. The first half of the Super Bowl ended with the Packers leading 21-10. Pittsburgh made it more competitive in the second half, but a key fumble on the first play of the fourth quarter and being stopped on the final drive did them in. Green Bay won handily, 31-25.
That season was followed by a 15-1 regular season, but the Packers lost in the playoffs to a Cinderella Giants team that won the Super Bowl. No matter, though; as long as Rodgers is running the team, the Packers are set to duke it out with any team in the NFL. It’s tough to argue who the BEST quarterback in the league is right now, but Rodgers is, without question, the most talented. His arm is a laser-guided rocket launcher. He rarely throws into double coverage. He never throws into triple coverage. He’s a master of his craft, and he’s in his prime. Unfortunately, the team currently isn’t as talented as it needs to be to win that fifth Super Bowl, but look out if the Packers make the necessary improvements. Rodgers is young enough to wait out a quick rebuild, and he probably still has at least one more title in him.
You don’t see football teams retire very many numbers because there are so many players on a football team. But the Packers have retired six: Those of Tony Canadeo, Brett Favre, Don Hutson, Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke, and Reggie White. Favre was a very flawed player, but he was an exciting quarterback who gave his team a chance in every game he played. He’s the iron man of the NFL; he started 297 games in a row just because he loved to play. That streak stretched past his term in Green Bay. After he retired in 2007, he signed with the New York Jets to prove he had something left, and he led them to a great first half before his body broke down in the second half of the season. Unfortunately, he felt slighted by the Packers because the team was in a hurry to develop Rodgers, and he basically had to be pushed into retirement. After his year with the Jets, Favre unretired again and signed with the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikes are a divisional rival of The Pack, and Favre all but admitted this was just to spite Green Bay. He played maybe his best year with the Vikes, getting him to the NFC Championship, where an interception stood between him and the Super Bowl. After stinking up Minneapolis the next year, he finally retired for good. Starr was also a great quarterback and a Green Bay icon. White was maybe the greatest defensive lineman ever; he retired with 198 sacks to his name. Hutson was a receiver who played from 1935 to 1945. He was light years ahead of his time, and you often see his name on league legends teams lined up to the other side of Jerry Rice. He held every major receiving record when he retired, and still has a good 13 of them, including most points in a single quarter (29); most seasons leading the league in touchdowns (eight); most seasons leading the league in receptions (eight); and most seasons leading the league in receiving yards (seven).
Those retired numbers barely even begin to tell the story. The Packers have been a team of luminaries. Paul Hornung, Forrest Gregg, James Lofton, Ted Hendricks, and Jim Taylor are among the MANY greats who have graced their roster. The players for the Packers can hold their own against anyone in the league most of the time. You just don’t hear about them very often because Green Bay is a small market. It’s tough for players to get noticed.
The Packers also stand out because of the list of coaches they’ve had. Yes, they’ve had their duds. During that run of mediocrity in the 70’s and 80’s, in fact, they were one of those teams that desperately tries to appeal to nostalgia by bringing back old great players to coach who turn out to be less than great coaches – Gregg and Starr are both notable culprits. But the Packers were the team of Vince Lombardi. You know him as the guy the fucking trophy is named after… And he was only the second-most decorated coach on the team! Yes, he might have been the greatest coach of all time. He started in 1959, appeared in six NFL Championships, won five, won the first two Super Bowls, all in not even ten years. He never had a losing season. In 1969 he coached his final year with Washington, taking them to a decent winning record before succumbing to cancer. But Curly Lambeau – you know him as the guy the fucking stadium is named after – guided the Packers to six titles. Three of them came in the years when the NFL Champion was the team that won the most games. After Lombardi, Mike Holmgren fared pretty well too; he ran a record of 75-37 which included two conference titles and a Super Bowl victory. After leaving Green Bay, he took over the middling Seattle Seahawks and turned them into a marquee team; he compiled an 86-74 record there, took the Seahawks to their first Super Bowl, and retired with a career total of 161-111 as a coach. He looks underrated, is what I’m getting at. Current coach Mike McCarthy is doing pretty well for himself too. He won a Super Bowl, has a 15-1 season under his belt, and his career record stands at 118-62-1 as of now.
The thing that really makes the Packers stand out is the way they’re owned. Every sports team introduces itself by saying, “Introducing YOUR…” And we all know that’s not true. The second an owner smells a better opportunity, or the fan interest wanes, or the city doesn’t give them the money for a new stadium, they’re introducing someone else’s. The Packers, however, are owned by a fan collective, which is probably the reason they still exist in Green Bay. Fans are allowed to purchase stock shares in the team, and the team is now owned by 360,584 shareholders. In contrast, the city of Green Bay has a population of 104,057, and the total TV market for the area is around 600,000. Shares cost around $250 apiece, and in return, fans get to have voting rights, an invitation to the shareholders’ meeting, and the rights to buy shareholder-only merchandise. It also guarantees that no asshole whining about not getting a share of a firefighter’s salary to build a new stadium they could easily afford without help is going to skip town with the Packers. The team’s ledgers aren’t kept secret either, so everyone knows how much money is coming in and going out, and no one can lie to you about the team’s ability to make money. The Green Bay Packers are the only team in North America that has this arrangement. It’s fairly common in Europe – Spanish giant FC Barcelona notably uses this arrangement – but it doesn’t happen here.
There are, however, a few caveats. Even though ownership shares are called stocks, they don’t act like regular stocks. On the surface, in fact, they look like little more than expensive souvenirs. Packers stock doesn’t include equity interest or securities-law protection. It can’t be traded, doesn’t pay dividends, and holders don’t get special purchasing privileges. If you decided the Green Bay Packers were a bad investment and decide to sell the stock, you’re only allowed to sell it back to the team, and you do it at just a fraction of the original price. Stock can be given as gifts, but only between immediate family members once ownership is established. Still, though, this is an ownership situation fans should take advantage of, because Roger Goodell is a slimeball and you bet your ass he’s looking for a way to liberate the Packers from Green Bay. And this collective ownership is a direct violation of the league’s ownership rules, so if it gets lost, it’s not coming back, ever.
If anyone decides to buy a stock, that lack of season ticket privilege is gonna hurt. The Packers have a sellout streak dating back to 1960. The season ticket waiting list consists of 86,000 names. Now consider: There are 81,441 seats at Lambeau Field. Yeah, you’re going to be waiting awhile to get to a game. The team says the wait is going to be about 30 years, but that’s the best case scenario. The truth is that there are very few turnovers per year – only 90 or so. Therefore, if you were to put your name on the list right now, it would be close to 1000 years before you got one. I seriously doubt football is going to be popular for that long, and even if it is, Roger Goodell is going to sink the NFL under the weight of its own hubris long before. Every NFL team except the Packers will be relocated to Los Angeles and games will be played before live studio audiences before you get to a game.
The Green Bay Packers are America’s real team. You can buy a share and legitimately call yourself owner of a sports team, complete with voting rights. The tailgating is second to few, and the fans are known as some of the friendliest in the country. Their very presence in a place like Green Bay is a tribute to the small places that first embraced football before it became a major sport. Therefore, the Packers are a team you’ll love if you embrace the idea of a team that’s really for the people.
You can purchase ownership stock; team is more decorated than any other; setting a throwback to what football once was
Ownership stock isn’t real stock; you’re never going to a game; Roger Goodell is almost definitely plotting to take them away
Should you be a fan?
Just a fan? You can be an owner! And owning this team, you have little to be ashamed of.