Murphy Takes 5

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Chuck Lane (Part I): Lombardi intimidated everybody

Posted Apr 14, 2016

Max McGee’s Super Bowl story a con job?

Cliff Christl started gathering oral histories with former Packers and others associated with the team in 2000 and will continue to gather them as Packers historian. Excerpts from those interviews will be periodically posted at

Chuck Lane served as the Packers’ director of public relations from 1966 through the 1979 season. He currently is a member of the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame Inc. board as a director emeritus. A native of Minneapolis, Lane played quarterback on the football team and shortstop on the baseball team at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Va. Vince Lombardi hired Lane as the Packers’ publicity director in 1966, the season they won Super Bowl I. Lane’s title changed to director of public relations the following year, and he held the position until March 1974 when he went to work for Bart Starr. When Starr was hired as the Packers’ coach in December of that year, Lane returned to the organization in his previous capacity and stayed until Starr fired him on Jan. 3, 1980.

On whether people were always on pins and needles around Lombardi: “Pretty much. Anybody that says they weren’t intimidated by him is pulling your leg. He intimidated everybody. Players, executive committee members, even (Tony) Canadeo and (Dick) Bourguignon. He’d threaten to take away their yes vote. Then he’d laugh his (butt) off. But we all knew it was true.”

On how Lombardi treated female workers: “Excellent. I never saw him tear into the gals at all. I think everybody was terrified of him. Quite frankly, they heard him bellow and scream and carry on. Lori Keck stood right up to him. Ruth McKloskey was like his confidant. I never saw him get even close to being rude to her or to holler at her.”

As for the males in the office: “Fair game. He hollered at me a bit, but nothing like (assistant general manager) Tom Miller and some of the others. He was brutal with Tom Miller. But he was pretty good to me. Quite frankly and I’m almost embarrassed to say this, but I’ve told Vince Jr., ‘I think he treated me better than you.’ I had a great relationship with the guy. He was so easy to work for. There was only one way to do it: His way. I figured that out real quick.”

On when Lombardi was at his worst: “In the locker room, he (Lombardi) was a lot more pleasant after a loss than he would be after some victories. If they played well, he was quite pleasant to deal with. If they ever won and didn’t play well, he was a (bleep).”

On Lombardi’s mood leading up to Super Bowl I: “Tighter than a drum. There was so much pressure on him. He was getting telegrams and messages and everything else from other owners. The pressure was really on him to snuff these upstarts. The NFL owners didn’t have a lot of regard for the AFL owners. They had cost them a lot of money. They had driven the salary levels up and raided their rosters. They were just praying Lombardi and his Packers would kick the snot out of them.”

On his dealings with Lombardi before the Super Bowl: “I was down at the Wilshire (in Los Angeles) where the team stayed the night before the game. I’d go up there (to Santa Barbara, where the Packers practiced) a couple, three times. The league was basically running the media thing and they had to come to me. Someone wanted Lombardi to pose on a trampoline with a bunch of ladies who were in soap operas or something. The last thing I wanted to do was ask Coach Lombardi something like that. I said, ‘Nope. I might be young and naïve, but I’m not stupid.’ There were certain things he just wouldn’t bend on. He agreed to a lot of things like the press conferences on a daily basis, the media sessions. But he didn’t bend on some of this other stuff.”

On whether Max McGee actually partied until the wee hours before Super Bowl I or if he made up the story, as some in the organization claimed, conned reporters into believing it and then milked it for everything he could: “I think it’s very unlikely (he sneaked out). I think it got to be such a (Paul) Hornung, McGee story and they were getting so much mileage out of it, why change it now? It’s hard to believe a player could get away with it or risk his relationship with his teammates and Coach Lombardi to do it.”

On Phil Bengtson, Lombardi’s defensive coach, and the high regard many players and coaches had for him: “He was almost like a father figure. He was a perfect buffer for the players when they were dealing with Lombardi. They could feel close to Phil. I don’t think they got close to Coach Lombardi. In ’65, they won with Bengtson’s defense. It wasn’t the offense. They were all banged up. I think they beat the Rams in Milwaukee and the offense didn’t score any points. That was definitely true (in ’66 and ’67, as well). Phil was a great X-and-O guy.”

On whether Lombardi gave Bengtson as much credit as he deserved: “I wrote a story once on how Phil’s defense had held Gale Sayers and Andy Livingston to under 100 yards. It was in the program and Lombardi saw it and just went bananas. He tore me a new (bleep). ‘That’s not Phil’s defense. It’s my defense.’”

Other favorites of his on Lombardi’s staff: “I think Bob (Schnelker) should have been a head coach somewhere, but he wasn’t a politician. He said what he felt and didn’t sugarcoat anything. With Dave (Hanner), I see a lot of him in Coach Arians in Arizona. Same type of direct response to questions. Pretty straight-forward guy.”

On whether he believed what Lombardi told at least one of his friends: That he hired Jerry Burns as defensive backs coach in 1966 without interviewing or meeting him: “Well, he hired me without interviewing me. Jim Finks gave him a recommendation. Tom Miller said I was available and he’d talk to me. I met (Lombardi) at the cafeteria in the offices for the first time and introduced myself. It was my first day on the job.”

On whether Lombardi truly believed he could win no matter who his assistants were, good or bad: “I think so. He felt he could get anything out of anybody. There weren’t a lot of experienced coaches in the bunch. Let’s face it, as the PR guy, I had no experience at all. But (Lombardi) knew that if he just beat you or worked you hard enough, you’d either crack or perform.”

On whether Lombardi was close to anyone on the executive committee other than Canadeo and Bourguignon: “I know he had great respect for Fred (Trowbridge), but he wasn’t close socially with him. (Lombardi) had very little respect for some of the others, but he thought Trowbridge was a brilliant guy.”

On Lombardi’s favorite players: “Obviously, Max and Paul. I think he had a great deal of affection for Willie Davis. I think he was determined that Willie Davis was going to be a success after football. He cut him some slack to go to night school, law school, etc. Willie Davis was a bright, articulate guy. Great with the team. And Lombardi was spot on about him.”

On Hornung’s role when he joined the Packers in 1966: “He was on his way out when I got there. He had the nerve issue in his shoulder. But you talk about a leader, he was the emotional leader.”

On Lombardi calling the left halfback “the key operative” in his offense: “By the time I got there Paul wasn’t the key operative. (Elijah) Pitts was basically the guy. But look at the Giants. Lombardi’s teams were built around the Frank Giffords and Paul Hornungs.”

On Lombardi’s power sweep: “I remember talking to – I think it was Night Train Lane – and he said, ‘We knew that sweep was coming.’ The lead back would cheat up a half-yard. But there wasn’t a thing we could do about it. It was such an efficient play he said (the Packers) would come up there and knock us off the line of scrimmage and the rest was history.”

On whether he ever heard Lombardi say Forrest Gregg was his best player: “I can’t see Lombardi singling out anyone. I can’t see Lombardi declaring that.”

On Herb Adderley: “I told Herb Adderley maybe five years ago. I said, ‘Herb, I think you were the best football player I ever saw.’ From an athletic standpoint, big game -- he was something else.

On what led to the falling out between Lombardi and Jim Taylor in 1966: “A contractual thing. And I think Jimmy was less a team guy. He was more of a Jim Taylor guy than a team guy. Jim was difficult to deal with. He was tough. And when he was playing out his option and then (Associated Press writer) Ken Hartnett broke that story (about it), everything turned to (bleep) at that point.”

On what Lombardi thought of Bart Starr as a quarterback: “We’ve heard a lot of stories when Lombardi was in Washington about how he said if (the Packers) would have had Sonny Jurgensen they would have never lost a game. I’ve heard rumors – don’t know it for a fact – that Lombardi tried to trade for Don Meredith. That wouldn’t surprise me. (But) Bart was a perfect fit for his offense. He would soak up all that information during the week and go out on the field and the plays were coming off the top of his head. So he fulfilled what Lombardi needed. Bart was a good athlete, not a great athlete. He didn’t have a strong arm. He wasn’t a big guy. I think a lot of guys in the league had greater physical skills. He was a leader and he didn’t vary from what Lombardi wanted him to be.”

On the key to Starr’s play calling: “The guy had a rote memory. He could look at a script, read it, put it down and recite the whole thing verbatim. Apparently, that was a very handy thing calling a game, being able to call exactly what Lombardi wanted to run.”

On Starr’s physical and mental toughness: “I saw him so beat up. He’d have his gear off in the locker room and the front of his rib cage was like all calcium deposits. I don’t think he wore a flak vest until the end of his career. He took a heck of a whacking, but he was a physical, tough guy. Then the shoulder issues gave way to the nerve issues in his hand. He couldn’t grip the football. He was durable, but it finally caught up to him.”

On being PR director when Green Bay served as the host city for the 1967 NFL Championship Game, better known as the Ice Bowl: “Jim Kensil (of the NFL office) came to town and set up shop at the Northland Hotel. That was the center of everything. The NFL handled credentials and all the league people and media stayed there. It was an older place, but it was kind of a grand old hotel.”

On whether Lombardi ever held press conferences during the week during his time as head coach: “It was catch as catch can. After practice, (the writers) were on the field and he’d stay and meet with them for five to 10 minutes. Five o’clock clubs at St. Norbert we could arrange for access to him. It was off-the-record, although if someone wanted something on the record, he’d change a little bit. But, by and large, there were no press conferences.”

The New York writers Lombardi respected: “Arthur Daley. Jimmy Breslin. Jimmy Cannon. Red Smith. W.C. Heinz. Jerry Izenberg. Paul Zimmerman. Paul wasn’t here that often, but Jerry was a lot. David Klein was another.”

The writers outside New York that Lombardi favored: “Cooper Rollow, down in Chicago, was probably one. Jim Murray he loved. (Murray) really revered Lombardi and vice versa. Tex Maule (of Sports Illustrated) was superb. I thought he was one of the classiest guys I ever met.”

On Lombardi’s treatment of the Milwaukee writers: “(Lombardi) had a working relationship with (Milwaukee Sentinel sports editor) Lloyd Larson and (Milwaukee Journal sports editor) Oliver Kuechle, but I don’t think he had any respect for either one. And I was kind of a buffer there. Every time I went near those guys they were asking for free tickets from me. And they’d go to Lombardi if they didn’t think they were getting out of me what they should. (Lombardi) had a morning telephone conversation almost daily with (Sentinel beat reporter) Bud Lea and (Journal writer) Chuck Johnson. And (Lombardi) would go through the motions of it. I think he had more regard for Bud than he did for Chuck. Chuck was kind of a whiny guy, but Bud would rip him a (bleep) once in awhile. I think Bud got away with more.”

On Lombardi’s treatment of the Green Bay writers: “He used to treat Lee Remmel and Art Daley just terribly. And he’d mistreat them in front of other writers. That would have been a tough beat job to cover Vince Lombardi.”

On Lombardi’s relationship with Green Bay sportscaster Al Sampson, who also served as host of his coach’s show: “They had a great relationship. Al was just a character and stood up to him. Lombardi liked to be accounted for and Al was his own man.”

On the player hangouts in the 1960s: “Speed’s, almost exclusively. Mr. Spielbauer (the owner) was absolutely wonderful. He and Lombardi were good buddies. Speed’s was the kind of place he wanted his players to hang out at. He knew they were going to be out and he knew, at least there, they would be taken care of and there was a pretty good communication system back to him. The other place was off limits: The Piccadilly. I’d sit in on the meetings when the security people from the league came in and told the players where they could go and couldn’t go. So I kept my list where I could go and not run across players.”

On The Spot Supper Club when it was located downtown: “That was where all the players hung out when they stayed at the Northland. A great story was when Bobby Layne and the Lions were in town. They were over there for dinner. Bobby was drinking martinis and after about the third pail, his teammates had to carry Bobby home. With that, (owner) Wally (Adamany) went and called his bookie and loaded up on the Packers. The next day, of course, Bobby Layne threw for about five and murdered the Packers. Wally’s only comment after losing his shirt was, ‘I don’t mind losing the bet, but the son of a (gun) never paid his bill.’”

On Bertrand’s Sports Shop, another downtown Green Bay business that handled all the Packers equipment: “I don’t think any of us (with the Packers) ever paid retail in Green Bay, but especially at Bertrand’s. George (Bertrand) took care of everybody. I’ll tell you what, ‘He was absolutely wonderful to that franchise and I don’t know if he ever got the credit.’ He bought so many season tickets at a time you couldn’t give them away.”

On Sneezer’s Snack Shop, Lombardi’s daily stop for breakfast after attending Mass at St. Willebrord Catholic Church: “Norm Jahnke (the owner) was just wonderful to the players: Black, white. He always threw a feed for them during the course of the year. I think Lombardi really appreciated that. (Jahnke) would always keep an eye on the players, too.”

On what Lombardi’s post-game parties at his home on Sunset Circle were like: “Absolutely wonderful. He was a great host. He’d tell stories. He’d tend bar. And he’d laugh at his own stories. He was a consummate host. (His wife) Marie was wonderful, too. David Maraniss’ book dealt with her excessive drinking, but I never saw that in the three years I was around her. I never saw a hint of her having too much to drink. She was a great hostess, too. She was always one to stand up for the players. If he was hard on a player, she’d stand up for them and tell him he was being a pain in the (butt). I really enjoyed her. She was as strong a personality as he was. There were some historic arguments between the two and she’d never back down. I’d see that like on a bus or something like that.”

Lane, 74, lives in Green Bay. He retired in 2014 after spending 29 years with a company that evolved into Humana. The excerpts above were taken from interviews conducted in 2009, 2011, 2015 and two this year.

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