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Packers essential to Green Bay by PG's Terry Anderson

Discussion in 'Packer Fan Forum' started by PWT36, Oct 29, 2007.

  1. PWT36

    PWT36 Cheesehead

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    Our Story: Packers essential to Green Bay

    Team brings national recognition to the city

    By Terry Anderson
    tanderso@greenbaypressgazette.com


    The Green Bay Packers are far more than a pleasant diversion once summer has faded. They are high octane for an economic engine. They are a seasonal shot of vitamin D, a community mood elevator when the hours of sunlight are on the wane. They are a globally recognized brand name for a community that otherwise might not be distinguishable from Fort Wayne, Ind., Peoria, Ill, Saginaw, Mich., or dozens of other mid-sized Midwestern communities.


    They are essential to Our Story. That is, the story of Green Bay; and the Press-Gazette for that matter.


    "Most people in the country have never been to Green Bay, don't know where it is in Wisconsin, but they know it's different. And the most marvelous part of the difference is that it is the smallest town in professional sports," says Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Maraniss, whose book "When Pride Still Mattered (A Life of Vince Lombardi)" chronicles the life of the legendary coach. "It's not just the rhetoric but the reality of a team belonging to the people. That combination with the mystique of the Lombardi era make Green Bay one of the really magical places in American life, and particularly American sports life."


    Football evolved during the latter half of the 19th century from rugby, itself an offshoot of soccer. It soon became popular in preparatory schools and colleges.


    On Aug. 18, 1895, the Press-Gazette featured an announcement of the formation of a football team:


    "This coming autumn will see another sport introduced to the amusement lovers of Green Bay, and the boys — and girls, too — will be talking of the 'gridiron field,' 'touchdowns,' 'punts,' 'tackles,' and 'bucking the center.' For Green Bay is to have a football team, trained by an old football man, and the Green Bay public will have a chance to witness the game and judge for themselves whether it is as brutal as it has been pictured."


    The old football man was Fred Hulbert, a Chicago native who had learned the game while attending Wayland Academy in Beaver Dam. Hulbert had recently moved to Green Bay and brought the first football to the community. To play this new game, he recruited young men from the ranks of the railroad workers' families who lived near St. Patrick Catholic Church on the city's west side.


    The first game was played on Sept. 21, 1895, and for the next quarter-century football would be a popular activity in the Green Bay area.


    According to Denis Gullickson, the author of "Before They Were Packers: Green Bay's Town Team Days," many of the first gridiron stars in the community were Oneida Indians who had learned the game from Glenn "Pop" Warner while attending Pennsylvania's Carlisle Indian School.


    Athletes such as Tom Skenandore, Jonas Metoxen and Martin Wheelock earned renown (and in some cases a few dollars) for their football skills.


    To most of the nation, and the world for that matter, the city of Green Bay is synonymous with the Green Bay Packers, who have won more championships (12) than any other football franchise. And those victories occurred with different coaches, players and generations of fans.


    The Packers have their origins in the Green Bay Press-Gazette's newsroom. On Aug. 11, 1919, sportswriter George C. Calhoun and a group of local young athletes, among them Earl "Curly" Lambeau, gathered there to discuss the formation of a local football team.


    Lambeau convinced his employer, the Indian Packing Co., to put up money for jerseys. And while the company had pretty much faded from the picture before the season was over, the football team did not.


    The David-versus-Goliath analogy that is so often used to describe Green Bay's position with respect to the rest of the NFL community, has validity for several basic reasons: The Packers have prevailed over travails that might have doomed another team. There have been moments when the franchise seemed about to fold, and contentious debates over stadium construction and renovation.


    But important to myth and analogy, they've won on the football field.


    Four decades after Vince Lombardi led the Packers to five NFL titles, there remains a powerful mystique to the city and the team, says Maraniss.


    Lombardi turned America's rags-to-riches saga on its head. Instead of the small-town boy who makes good in the big city, Lombardi was a middle-aged man from Brooklyn who found lightning in a bottle when he came to the NFL's smallest market.


    "Despite the fact that he couldn't find a hard roll, like he was used to in New York City, everything else about this small city was perfect for him," Maraniss said. "He wasn't flashy or ostentatious or slick in any way. He was a deeply Catholic person who attended Mass every day. Green Bay was as Catholic a community as could be found."


    And just as Lombardi was dedicated to his football team, so was (and is) Green Bay.


    Packers Chairman Bob Harlan likes to point out that in his 37 years with the franchise, while he has seen both the highs and lows on the football field, he has never seen the city's love for the Packers diminish.


    "I thought (former NFL Commissioner) Paul Tagliabue summed it up after we won the Super Bowl (1996-97) by saying it was the best story in sports," Harlan said. "It is a small town, a blue-collar town, a team that is owned by its fans."


    Harlan's favorite game during his tenure with the team came during that same Super Bowl run when the Packers defeated the Carolina Panthers 30-13 to capture the NFC Championship. "Because it happened in front of our fans. I only wish that we could play the Super Bowl here."


    "Certainly Green Bay has grown over the years as far as population goes, but the fans are still the same," says Harlan. "It's such a good story that it almost seems more like fiction than reality."



    "Wisconsin Hometown Stories: Green Bay," an hourlong television show developed by Wisconsin Public Television and the Wisconsin Historical Society, will be televised at 8 p.m. Nov. 12 on WPNE, Channel 38.
     

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