Dick from Estero, FL
We met in 1973 when you covered our high school basketball team at Abbot Pennings High School in De Pere, Wis. Anyway, someone recently asked me if any of the Packers ever rode my bicycle from the stadium to the practice field during training camp when I was a kid. Actually, I don’t recall that happening. Do you know when and how the tradition got started?
Dick, I’m going to pass the buck here. Are there any fans in their 60s – or maybe late 50s, early 70s – that remember players from the Lombardi teams riding their bikes to practice? I ask that because I don’t remember it, either. I’ve searched for pictures and so have others, and as far as I know, the earliest one that anyone has found was of Travis Williams riding a bike in 1969. I’ve also read every Packers story in the Green Bay Press-Gazette from the start to the end of training camp for every year from 1959 through 1968 and found no reference to players riding kids’ bikes. Is there anyone in Web Land with any evidence that the bike tradition predates 1969? If so, please let us know. By the way, I remember your basketball team well. You guys were 20-1 going into the regional final and got upset one game short of the state tournament. I’m guessing that still hurts.
David from Ada, OH
I was reading your latest comment about the smallest NFL city. It still wasn’t correct. I believe the smallest was LaRue, Ohio. LaRue is a town of less than 1,000.
David, your point is well taken, but I would argue LaRue doesn’t count. LaRue was the home of the dog kennel that sponsored the Oorang Indians during their two seasons in the NFL, 1922 and ’23, but the Oorang Indians were a traveling team. They never played a game in LaRue, although they played one in nearby Marion, Ohio, which had about 4,000 fewer people than Green Bay at the time. Admittedly, the Pottsville Maroons never played in Pottsville, either. They played in nearby Minersville, Pa. I understand it was my misstep that started all this. The point I usually make is that Green Bay essentially has been the smallest city in the NFL since its start. In the first “Cliff’s Notes,” I neglected to use the word “essentially.” My mistake. And I probably should re-phrase my point. But here’s my take on it. In 1921, Tonawanda, N.Y., also was smaller than Green Bay, but its team lasted one game and played on the road. Pottsville was smaller from 1925-28. And Orange, N.J., which had a team in 1929, might have been smaller, too. It had a larger population than Green Bay in 1920, but a slightly smaller one when the 1930 census was taken. This will be the NFL’s 95th season. I’ll concede that Pottsville was smaller in four of those seasons, even if you include Minersville’s population of roughly 8,000, and Orange was probably smaller in 1929, but I don’t think traveling teams count. I’d be curious if the Oorang Indians even practiced in LaRue. If we’re going to get overly technical, should we count the Orchard Park Bills, Foxborough Patriots, East Rutherford Giants and Jets, and Landover Redskins? I believe all those burghs are smaller than Green Bay, too.
Dan from DeForest, WI
The Packers played a lot of teams from cities that no longer have a team. One of those was the Stambaugh Steelers back in the 1930s. My dad had a good friend who played on the team, but I can’t find any info on the game. Do you have any?
The Packers played the Stambaugh Miners three times. Stambaugh, by the way, was a city in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula that was recently consolidated with Iron River. The Packers beat the Miners, 17-0, at Stambaugh in 1919 and then beat them, 3-0 and 14-0, at Green Bay’s Hagemeister Park in 1920. Those were the Packers’ two semipro seasons. Other than Beloit, Stambaugh was the Packers’ toughest opponent those two years. When the Packers won in 1919, the Green Bay Press-Gazette said it was the first time the Miners had lost a home game in six years. The P-G also noted that Packers fans accompanying the team returned to Green Bay about $3,000 richer thanks to heavy betting on the game. (That would be about $41,000 in today’s money.) Also, the paper commended the Stambaugh police force for its crowd control. Officers used horsewhips to keep fans behind the wires surrounding the field. The second game in 1920 was the Packers’ first ever on Thanksgiving.
Bill from Clive, IA
When did the NFL move to a true postseason (seeded playoffs, etc.) and how many of the Packers championships came before that era?
Not sure what you mean by “true” postseason. The first NFL Championship Game was played in 1933 between the winners of the Eastern and Western divisions. Before that the NFL title was decided by the final standings. I firmly believe the championship teams from the league’s first 13 seasons are as legit as today’s Super Bowl winner. The Packers have won 13 NFL championships, more than any other franchise. They won three prior to 1933 and 10 under a playoff format. The Chicago Bears are second with nine titles – and I’d call that a distant second. The first Super Bowl was played following the 1966 season or the NFL’s 46th year. Four teams qualified for the playoffs that year: The two conference winners (Green Bay and Dallas) in the NFL met and the two division winners (Kansas City and Buffalo) in the old American Football League played for the right to play in what is now called Super Bowl I. In 1967, the NFL created four divisions, so four teams qualified for the postseason for the first time (other than 1950 when there happened to be two playoff games due to regular-season ties). When the merger between the NFL and AFL was officially completed in 1970, two wild card teams were added. The 1975 playoffs were the first where sites were determined by seeding. What has happened is that with each rule change, the importance of the regular season has been diminished and the playoffs essentially have become a postseason tournament with more and more teams. That doesn’t make today’s champions more deserving. Vince Lombardi once said his best team was the 1963 Packers. They finished second in the Western Conference with an 11-2-1 record and went home. The Bears beat them twice and then won the NFL title game. I’d say the ’63 Bears were about as “true” a champion as you could ever have.
Mark from Appleton, WI
Over the years, I’ve heard different stories about whether the Packers played on Dec. 7, 1941, the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. Could you please clear up the confusion?
The Packers did not play. They had finished 10-1 and clinched a share of the Western Division title the week before. The Bears played the Chicago Cardinals that day at Comiskey Park, and Curly Lambeau took a traveling party of roughly 30 Packers to Chicago to scout the game. They caught a 7 a.m. train and then watched the game from the upper deck in the end zone at old Comiskey. The bombing at Pearl Harbor took place before kickoff, but players have told me they were sitting in their seats when the announcement was made. Anyway, the Bears beat the Cardinals to also finish 10-1 and force a playoff, and there’s probably no story that better illustrates how big the Packers-Bears rivalry was back then than what happened over the next two weeks. The Packers-Bears playoff was played on Dec. 14 and drew an overflow crowd of 43,425 to Wrigley Field. The Bears won and played host to the New York Giants the following Sunday in the NFL title game. Attendance that day was 13,341.
Steven from Las Vegas, NV
Really digging your column. Was just mesmerized by the 1961 team photo. Who was No. 84? Carroll Dale was my favorite Packer, but he was acquired in 1965.
Gary Knafelc. Played with the Packers from 1954-’62. A lot of people forget that he started at tight end ahead of Ron Kramer in Lombardi’s first two seasons.
Todd from the Decatur, IL
I was wondering where the field was in Decatur where the Packers and Bears played? No one in Decatur seems to know. It would be interesting to go to the site and see the area.
Sorry, Todd, but the Packers and Bears (or Staleys) never played in Decatur. The Decatur Staleys of 1920 moved to Chicago the next year. They were the Chicago Staleys in 1921, the Packers’ first year in the league, and the Bears thereafter. The first Packers-Bears game (or only Packers-Staleys game) was played on Nov. 27, 1921 at Wrigley Field (or Cubs Park as it was called then). Wrigley was the Bears’ home field from 1921-’70. The Staleys played in Decatur in 1920 and again in their first game in 1921 against Rock Island. They played at Staley Field, located at the northwest corner of Eldorado and 22nd streets, according to “Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the NFL.”
Pat from Green Bay, WI
Congratulations on the Ralph Hay Award from the Pro Football Researchers. Hope to see you at the 2016 PFRA meeting in Green Bay.
Thanks and I’m looking forward to the PFRA meeting here. There are more landmarks, links, remnants – whatever you want to call them – in Green Bay that date to the earliest years of the NFL than in any other city in the country. So I’m sure the PFRA members will enjoy their time here.
Leigh from Houston, TX
My father would tell me about going to watch the Packers play as a young boy at State Fair Park in Milwaukee. He said in the 1920s and ’30s they’d play inside the racing oval. Is there any truth to that and are there any photos?
Yes. The Packers played either two or three home games at State Fair Park each year from 1934-’51. In 1939, they played the NFL Championship Game there and won the fifth of their 13 titles.