Longtime Green Bay Packers photographer Vernon Biever, a member of the Packers Hall of Fame and one of the most respected individuals in his profession, died on Wednesday. He was 87 years old.
Associated with the Packers since 1941, Biever began taking photographs as an 18-year-old freelancer for the Milwaukee Sentinel while a student at St. Norbert College in nearby De Pere, Wis. Five years later he became the Packers’ official team photographer, offering to shoot the games for free in exchange for a sideline pass.
Biever caught Packer moments under the watch of every Green Bay coach from Curly Lambeau to Mike Sherman, an association with the team that lasted six decades and still continues today as his youngest son, Jim, remains a team photographer.
Biever started bringing his older son, John, and then later Jim, to Packers games when John was a high school freshman. While in high school, John shot the famous photo of Bart Starr’s quarterback sneak for the winning touchdown in the “Ice Bowl,” and he eventually went on to work for Sports Illustrated. Vernon and John were two of only six photographers to cover the first 35 Super Bowls.
“He was the one off-the-field name that you associated with the Packers, and I think he established what everybody wanted to be if you wanted to be a team photographer,” former Packers President/CEO Bob Harlan said on Thursday. “He was loyal, and he was good.
“His love for the franchise was fantastic, and I think a lot of his talent is shown in what he’s done with his two sons, Jim and John, how they have followed in his footsteps, and they have fortunately the great talent that Vernon had.”
Biever photographed Packers greats from Don Hutson in the 1940s to Brett Favre within the past decade, and his most famous subjects were among those who most appreciated his work.
"Vernon captured 16 great years of my life in Green Bay and many of the great moments in Packer history," Favre said. "It’s not just the stars on the field but the great legends like Vernon Biever that make the Packers organization special.”
Starr, a longtime friend, also reflected on Biever’s career and what he meant to the Packers.
“I’m sure it would be difficult for anyone to appropriately describe the impact that he had on the Packers because of his exceptional work,” Starr said. “I don’t know of a photographer who did the type of work he did, who excelled as he did, for so long. It’s one thing to be outstanding, but when you’re outstanding for the length of time that he was, I find it almost mind-boggling.”
A native of Port Washington, Wis., Biever covered the Packers’ five championships during the Vince Lombardi era and was named the NFL’s photographer of the year in 1984. In 2002, he received the ultimate honor from the Packers when he was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame along with wide receiver Sterling Sharpe.
Starr had a lot to do with that recognition, having placed several calls and written letters to the Packers Hall of Fame selection committee to campaign for Biever’s induction. Harlan certainly didn’t disagree with Starr’s sentiments.
“I think there’s always a debate about someone who’s not a player or coach, if they should go into the Hall of Fame,” Harlan said. “But Vernon was one of those guys who established something for the rest of the NFL to follow, and I think because of what he established and the way he did it and the way he was known nationally, he was one you never hesitated for a minute to say Vern Biever deserves to be in there.
“He’s a huge part of this organization and a huge part of this history, and that’s exactly where he belongs.”
Starr introduced Biever at his induction banquet, which he called a thrill and an honor all its own.
“I would pick one word – devotion,” Starr said, recalling his remarks from that memorable evening. “I think we touched on it that night. This man was truly devoted to the organization and what his calling was and how he could help that great franchise and team with his work. Because his work, it was seen and became known worldwide.
“He was like one of the offspring of the Green Bay Packers organization. Every time you saw a photo, it had Vern Biever noted on it. It was an exceptional honor to be able to introduce him. We were just so pleased and uniquely happy for him, and we were very proud to be able to be there and witness that.”
At the time of his induction, Biever had more first-place winners in the NFL’s Hall of Fame photo contest than any other photographer.
“He was truly an exceptional gentleman and I think personified the statement about consistently chasing perfection, knowing full well you’re not going to catch it because nothing’s perfect,” Starr said. “But if you consistently pursue it, you can be excellent and that’s of course what he was, and that’s a heck of a lot better than just good. I think he personified that.”
View a photo gallery of some of Biever's classic photos.
In 2009, Biever shared some of his favorite photos in the official Green Bay Packers Yearbook. See how he ranks his top 5 photos of all-time (PDF download).
For information on services for Biever, click here.