“Gentlemen, we are going to relentlessly chase perfection, knowing full well we will not catch it, because nothing is perfect. But we are going to relentlessly chase it, because in the process we will catch excellence. I am not remotely interested in just being good.”
My favorite team, the Green Bay Packers, has a rich history of hard work, teamwork, and victory by way of perseverance and dedication.
For starters, it is the oldest NFL team to have never changed its name or its location. It’s not just Wisconsin and its neighbors who are passionate about the Packers. The franchise has placed among the six most popular in the league in every Harris Poll conducted since 1998. The Packers were the country’s most popular throughout much of the 2000s, and they placed second in the 2013 poll. But to a legion of fans, they are always first.
The Birth of the Team
The team’s genesis took place with virtually no fanfare on Aug 11, 1919, even though they were created in the building that housed the Green Bay Press-Gazette. There was no pre-meeting announcement, nobody kept note of exactly what happened at the meeting or who attended, and the newspaper did not report on it in its next edition.
However, news was revealed on Aug. 13 that the Packers would play games that fall at Hagemeister Park. The team, which was to be captained and coached by Curly Lambeau, would play in this intimate setting through the 1922 season.
The Packers received their name thanks to the team’s sponsor, Indian Packing Company, an organization that packed meat into cans and sold them nationwide. Lambeau also worked for the company at that time.
After the team played as an independent franchise its first two years, the Packers joined the American Professional Football Association for the 1921 season. The APFA became the National Football League (NFL) a year later. At the time, the league was full of cities such as Green Bay. Other league teams included the Rock Island Independents, Evansville Crimson Giants and Racine Cardinals in addition to clubs in larger cities like Cleveland, Detroit and New York.
Long-time Packers fans likely remember going to games at City Stadium in Green Bay, the team’s home facility from 1925-56. It still serves as the home stadium for East High School’s football team.
The First Championships
The club won its first NFL title in 1929 after the team went 12-0-1 and followed that up with two more in 1930 and 1931, becoming the first team to win three consecutive championships. Green Bay would go on to win 10 more NFL titles, and its total of 13 is something that no other team has reached. There’s a reason Green Bay is known as Titletown, after all.
The team played a home game in Milwaukee in 1933 and would play there regularly for years to come.
As soon as Lambeau wrapped up a stellar coaching career with the Packers, which included six NFL titles, new coach Gene Ronzani incorporated green into the team uniforms as a primary color for the first time. He felt that a team with “green” in its name needed green on its uniforms, and that color has been front and center since 1950.
Those games in Milwaukee in the 1950s proved so popular that Green Bay had to build a modern replacement for City Stadium or risk losing the team altogether to Wisconsin’s largest city. In 1957, a new City Stadium opened in Green Bay. This facility would be renamed Lambeau Field in 1965.
The franchise’s most revered decade would be the 1960s, and much of this success was due to one of the greatest – if not the greatest – coaches in the history of football, Vince Lombardi, namesake for the NFL’s championship trophy since 1970. Although many fans were skeptical of this New Yorker with not much of a reputation in Wisconsin, he quickly quieted those doubts.
The year before he arrived, 1958, the team went 1-10-1, still the worst record in the franchise’s storied history and the 11th straight year the team posted a non-winning mark. However, Lombardi led the 1959 squad to a 7-5 record and earned NFL Coach of the Year accolades. That squad’s final home game, a 21-0 win over the Redskins on Nov. 22, would end up being the last non-sellout that the Packers have ever had.
The team continued to improve in 1960 with an 8-4 record and an appearance in the NFL championship game, a 17-13 loss to the Eagles. After the game, Lombardi showed his refusal to accept anything less than titles when he told his team, “This will never happen again. You will never lose another championship game.”
Vince was wright. The Packers would play in five title games later that decade and win every single one of them.
Those championships included the first two Super Bowls, which were played at the conclusion of the 1966 and 1967 seasons. In fact, Green Bay won NFL titles from 1965-67 to become the second league team to ever win three straight titles. No other franchise has accomplished this feat even once.
The Ice Bowl
One of the most famous games in NFL history, the Ice Bowl, took place on Dec. 31, 1967. This was the championship game that would determine the participants in Super Bowl II. The Cowboys headed to frigid Green Bay to play a game in temperatures that dipped to -15 degrees with a wind chill that was about -40. With seconds remaining, right guard Jerry Kramer and center Ken Bowman performed perhaps the most famous block in NFL history when they opened up a space for quarterback Bart Starr to put the Packers up, 21-17.
A year later, Kramer wrote, “Instant Replay,” a fascinating account of that season and an absolute must read for any diehard Packers fan.
Another highlight of the 1960s was the creation of the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame. It became the first single-franchise hall of fame in league history when it opened in 1966.
In the years that followed the 1960s, devoted crowds kept coming. And by the 1990s, the Packers were pulling off successful seasons again.
In 1993, they made the playoffs for just the third time since the 1967 title season and proceeded to play in them for six straight years. The highlight of that span was a memorable run to a Super Bowl title in 1996 thanks to the leadership of NFL MVP Brett Favre and Super Bowl MVP Desmond Howard.
The 1990s were also when the famous Lambeau Leap was born. In the final home game of the 1993 season, LeRoy Butler leapt into the arms of cheering fans after he had received a lateral and raced 25 yards to the end zone. That fourth quarter score gave the Packers a 21-0 lead on their way to a 28-0 victory over the Los Angeles Raiders.
After playing its final home game in Milwaukee in 1994, the team must have enjoyed having a full-time home in Green Bay as the Packers won 25 straight home games from 1995-98.
Victory Once Again
The Packers continued to be a regular fixture in the playoffs until they won their 13th NFL title and fourth Super Bowl in 2010. Incredibly, Green Bay was the NFC’s sixth and final seed in the playoffs that year before winning three road games in three weeks and then knocking off the Steelers in the Super Bowl, 31-25.
Green Bay’s storied rivalry with the Chicago Bears reached fever pitch that season as the teams played in the NFC title game. The 21-14 win for the Packers earned them a measure of payback on what the Bears did in 1932. That year, the Packers were on their way to winning what would have been their fourth straight NFL title, but Chicago defeated them on the final day of the season, 9-0, to secure the top spot.
Although the history of the Packers is already revered, more is being added to it every day, and I look forward to seeing what stories are created in the coming years.
I’m not one to dwell on the past or get stuck in victories long since gone. But I feel that the legacy of Vince Lombardi goes well beyond football. He wasn’t just a great coach. For one thing, he set an admirable example of a total lack of prejudice in a time when discrimination was rampant. He proved that if you apply yourself, no matter who are, you can accomplish great things. Vince died of cancer in 1970 at the age of 57. Later that year, the NFL championship trophy was renamed the Vince Lombardi Trophy in his honor.
I work in a field where I help people get back on their feet and gain control of their lives. I use this simple but inspirational quote from Vince all the time: “It’s not whether you got knocked down; it’s whether you get back up.”