Murphy Takes 5

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Who filled those 50,000 seats at the Ice Bowl?

Posted Apr 21, 2016

Plus more on the Packers Hall of Fame origins, oldest living Packers and dubious claims

Tom from Elgin, IL

Whenever I talk to fans about the Ice Bowl, it seems as though all of them were at the game. Maybe half a million people at the game! So what was the attendance that day and how many opted for a warm living room over a below-zero seat in the crowd? In other words, how many no-shows?

The attendance was listed at 50,861, Lambeau Field’s capacity at the time. There was no turnstile count so there’s no way of knowing the number of no-shows. Those of you who have sat in the bowl for cold-weather games know that even if tickets go unused, the rows still look full. My memory of the Ice Bowl is that most everyone was bundled in what no doubt was bulky wool and cotton clothing, pressed shoulder-to-shoulder and nobody would have known if there was an empty seat anywhere near them. But it’s hard to imagine there weren’t at least several thousand no-shows, although fans who stayed home or left early couldn’t watch the game on TV, either. In 1967, home games were blacked out in NFL cities.

I liked your tone so please don’t take offense to this. But I’ve lived in Green Bay almost my entire life and I’ve never doubted anyone who has told me they were at the Ice Bowl. Call me naïve, but somebody was filling those 50,000 seats. What I believe started as a glib remark by Ron Wolf soon after he became general manager of the Packers has snowballed into a standing joke. I understand why Wolf said what he did before he got a chance to get a lay of the land around here, but when somebody now repeats it I take it as a telltale sign they’re not from here or at least didn’t grow up in Green Bay in the 1960s. In other words, I consider it a joke on the person telling it. Wolf is one of the true stewards of pro football history, but Ron came to Green Bay from New York. When I was last in The Big Apple two years ago for the Pro Football Hall of Fame voting prior to the Super Bowl, I went to the Schwarzman Library to research Packers history in old New York newspapers. As I was applying for my library card, the young man at the reference desk asked why I was visiting. I told him I was there for the Super Bowl. This was just days before the game. With a puzzled look, he asked, “Is the Super Bowl being played here?”

As Ron discovered and you may sense from your perch in Elgin, Green Bay isn’t New York. In 1967, Green Bay had recently annexed the Town of Preble and its population had jumped nearly 40% to 83,000 people. Subtract all the kids under 12 and maybe anyone older than 55 and you might be down to about 50,000 people to fill 50,000 seats. Of course, not everyone in Green Bay is a diehard or even casual fan so there were a lot of people who would have had little or no interest in going to the game – or ever claiming they did. And, surely, not everyone at the Ice Bowl was from Green Bay. But I would guess it was mostly a local crowd between the ages of 12 and 50 with a disproportionate number of teenagers and males compared to other games at the time. Keep in mind in 1967, it wouldn’t have been out of character for parents to wake up that morning, listen to a frightful weather report and hand their tickets to their kids with nothing more than an idle warning, “Here, you go freeze to death.” That was life, not bad parenting. By 1991, when Wolf got here, those 12-year olds would have been 36 and those who were 50 would have been 74, probably the likely age range of fans he first met. They probably had all kinds of Ice Bowl stories to tell, as well. Someone who sold concessions back then once told me he decided there was no sense in hawking programs or popcorn and walked down to the field and watched the game from the sidelines. He reasoned, as others probably did, that nobody was going to be checking passes or tickets with the wind chill at minus-46.

Ed from Dousman, WI

I’m looking for proof of where the Packers practiced and stayed in the fall of 1959. Can you help?

That was Vince Lombardi’s first season and by all accounts, it was a brutal training camp. That also was the Packers’ second year at St. Norbert College, their training camp home to this day. They broke camp there on Sept. 4 and headed east for exhibition games in Bangor, Maine, and Winston-Salem, N.C. When they returned to Wisconsin on Sept. 14, they stayed five days at Oakton Manor on Pewaukee Lake, left for Minneapolis and their final exhibition, and then returned to Pewaukee for their final week of preparation for their season opener against the Chicago Bears on Sept. 27. While they were staying in Pewaukee, the Packers practiced at St. John’s Military Academy in nearby Delafield. Once the season started, they practiced in Green Bay on their South Oneida Street practice field and no doubt Lombardi would have been careful to ensure his players had fresh legs on game day. But here’s a taste of what it was like during those two weeks at St. John’s from Gary Knafelc.

“Ron Kramer, Steve Meilinger and I were fighting for the tight end position. Coach Lombardi took us all down to St. John’s Academy. That was with our wives, our kids, everybody. The whole week we trained down there. We had a big scrimmage Thursday night before we broke camp. He brought (the tight ends) all together and said, ‘Line up.’ The Packer sweep to the right side was red, white 49. He called that and said, ‘Knafelc – get in at tight end.’ As you know, the whole sweep depends on the block of the tight end. So Lombardi stood behind me where I couldn’t see him. He’d point to the linebacker in front of me to come down the line or come straight. The first one was Dan Currie and I blocked him for about 10 plays. Then he put Bubba (Bill Forester) over there and I blocked him for about 10 plays. Then he put (Ray) Nitschke in. I’m just worn out. All that time, (Lombardi) is chewing my (butt) out: ‘Move your feet, get your legs,’ all that kind of crap. In fact, my sons were watching practice. The last one, I’m beat up, my legs are shaking. I’m exhausted. I’m standing there by Coach Lombardi worn out and said real quietly, ‘Even Nitschke knows it’s a run, coach.’ He looked at me, didn’t say anything. ‘Everybody in.’ My little son, my five-year old Guy, looked at me and said, ‘Dad, I still love you.’ The next day at breakfast, we’re breaking camp and I’m sitting with my wife and two sons. I can see Coach Lombardi coming toward our table. I told my wife, ‘Coach Lombardi is coming to our table. He’s going to cut me.’ He stops at the table, looks at me and says, ‘You’re going to start Sunday.’ And then he walked away. That’s what he would do. In front of the whole team, he’d chew your (butt) out and make you feel like you’re nothing. Then in front of my whole family that’s how I learned I was starting.”

Willie from Hayward, WI

Was there another Lane beside Chuck, the Packers’ public relations director? Why do I remember him as a backup quarterback?

Yes, there were two Lanes: Chuck and Gary. Desperate for a quarterback, Dan Devine signed Gary Lane in July 1971. This was after Devine learned Bart Starr needed shoulder surgery, leaving him with Zeke Bratkowski, Frank Patrick and Scott Hunter as his quarterbacks. Bratkowski was 39 and coming out of retirement following a two-year hiatus. Patrick was a converted tight end who had played in one game as a rookie after being drafted in the 10th round. Hunter was a rookie. Gary Lane’s resume was even more suspect. He was 28 and had just been cut by Saskatchewan of the Canadian Football League. Prior to that, he had been traded by Cleveland, sold by the New York Giants and cut by New Orleans, Washington and the Los Angeles Rams. His appeal, at least to Devine, was that he had started for him for three years at Missouri. Lane didn’t make the cut that summer so Devine gave him a job in the Packers’ personnel department. Lane lasted less than six months in that role and then went into private business. The official word was that he resigned. My sources told me Devine got rid of him.

Paul from Kewaunee

Can you provide some history of the founding of Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame Inc.? I was in college in the mid-1970s when the Hall of Fame ran a Charter Membership campaign for funds to build a Hall of Fame. At that time, $25 for a college student was a huge amount of money. Yet I am forever glad I pulled the trigger. The promise of lifetime free admittance to the Hall of Fame was too much to turn down. Who were some of the original “movers and shakers” in the organization?

The Packers Hall of Fame opened in 1967 as a seasonal museum in the east concourse of the Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena. The hall’s first permanent home opened in 1976 adjacent to the arena. The lifetime membership drive was part of that fundraising effort. Tom Hutchison, the first president of the hall, tells me, “We reasoned if you bought a membership for $25 that person would be responsible for at least seven additional attendees at the Hall of Fame and it worked out pretty good.” Hutchison said the hall sold roughly 5,000 memberships, raising nearly $125,000. Those memberships are still good today. Bill Brault of the local Visitor & Convention Bureau planted the seed for the hall of fame. Hutchison took the lead in creating the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame Association, which is now Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame Inc. Chuck Lane was his liaison with the Packers as the team’s PR director. Jim Van Matre was the hall’s manager when it moved into its permanent home and it was his idea to raise money through the lifetime memberships. Tony Canadeo and Cherry Starr were honorary chairs of that part of the Third & Goal Fund effort. Like so many other things over the course of Packers history, there were a lot of people involved who generously donated time and money.

Donna from Cable, WI

Myrt Basing was my second cousin. The family just found out he played for the Packers from 1923-27. What was his uniform number?

Basing was a native of Appleton, a product of Lawrence College. Our media guide lists uniform numbers starting with the 1925 season. It notes Basing wore No. 15 that year and again in 1926, and No. 27 in 1927. The highlight of his career might have been when the Packers played their first league game at old City Stadium, their home from 1925 to 1956. The date of the game was Sept. 20, 1925, and the opponent was the Hammond Pros. Basing started at fullback and scored on about a 5-yard run in the fourth quarter as the Packers beat Hammond, 14-0.

Jamie from Rhinelander, WI

Who is the oldest living Packer?

Based on the website, Oldest Living Pro Football Players, it would be 96-year old Ben Agajanian, the kicker who filled in for three games when Paul Hornung was called up for military duty in 1961. There also are five other former Packers who are in their 90s: Alex Wizbicki (1950), 94; Ken Kranz (1949), 92; Al Cannava (1950), 91; Dan Orlich (1949-51), 91; and Harper Davis (1951), 90. It’s a changing list, but I consider it a reliable website.

Tom from Menominee, MI

I was wondering if you had any detailed info or pictures from the Packers’ very first game played in Menominee in 1919? I know this was pre-NFL, but I always thought it was cool the Packers’ first game was played here! And their second was across the river in Marinette.

The Packers played teams from your neck of the woods in their first two games, but they were played in Green Bay. And there’s some question about where those opponents were actually based. Please check this blog about snake-oil football.

Tim from Austin, TX

Really enjoy your columns and research on the site. Here in Austin, there was a recent death of a well-known homebuilder, Bill Milburn. The article in the Austin newspaper stated that he played for the Packers for a few years in the 1950s. What do you know about him?

No Bill Milburn ever played for the Packers in a regular-season game. Bill Milburn signed with the Packers as a free agent on March 30, 1956, and was cut Aug. 6, 1956, before the Packers even played a preseason game. Based on questions in the inbox I use for these Q&As, I’ll bet there are more people out there who claim to have played for the Packers and didn’t than there are fans in Green Bay who claimed to have been at the Ice Bowl and weren’t.  See the next question for more evidence of that.

Greg from Nashville, TN

I run the Nashville Packer Backers Club and I have a question raised by my brother. He met an elderly fella near his home in Boulder, Colo., who claims to have played under Lombardi. However, I can't find any record of him. The man says his name is David Anderson. He says he was a reserve quarterback and defensive back and tells several stories. In one, he claims Bart Starr broke his wrist and was replaced by the backup QB. (This sounds like the game John Roach replaced Starr.) But then, he says, the second-string QB suffered a concussion at which point David Anderson entered the game and led the team to victory. In another story, while playing defensive back, he claims he collided with Jim Brown, a hit that spun Anderson around in the air earning him the nickname, "The Helicopter." Finally, he says he avoided the spotlight, changed his number several times and avoided team photos. Is David Anderson a real but mysterious Packers player or a con man?

Greg, I think you know the answer.

Photos courtesy of Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame, Inc. archives.

For more of Cliff Christl's historical perspectives, click here.

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