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Current Packers See Good, Bad In Playing 90 Years Ago


With the Green Bay Packers celebrating the franchise's 90th birthday this week, asked a handful of current players what they would have liked or disliked about playing professional football 90 years ago.

They found plenty to talk about on both sides of that coin.

"The brutality of it was probably a positive and a negative," linebacker Brady Poppinga said. "The purity of the game, it was as pure as it can be. Guys played the game and didn't worry about being famous. The integrity of the game was really pure at that time.

"But it was a violent sport."

And the equipment, or lack thereof, back then did little to curb the violence.

"No facemasks, leather helmets, very little or no pads," rookie linebacker Clay Matthews said. "Physically it was a very violent and brutal game. We've made tremendous leaps in today's age, and it's still a violent and brutal sport.

"A long time ago, also I'm sure pay was a lot different, and that didn't change until very recently. I'm sure a lot of men had to provide with a second job for their family. It's definitely come a long way when it comes to those two areas, and I'm sure I'm just scratching the surface."

Certainly back on Aug. 11, 1919, the day Curly Lambeau and Green Bay Press-Gazette sports editor George Calhoun gathered a bunch of athletes together in the newspaper's building to start a football team, the Packers' founders had no idea professional football would become the industry it is today, with multi-million dollar player contracts, 70,000-seat stadiums, a nationally televised NFL Draft, and radio and TV networks dedicated exclusively to the sport.

Cornerback/return specialist Will Blackmon felt that there would have been plusses and minuses to living and playing through some of the team's, and league's, growing pains.

"The best part probably would have been witnessing all the history and how it was then, or if you just love the game, playing the game itself," Blackmon said. "But the worst part would probably be the racial issues. It was an issue in every sport."

Linebacker Nick Barnett took a more lighthearted view.

"I don't know how much they got paid to do that, but whatever they got paid, and to play with no helmets on, that's probably the worst part," Barnett said. "But less rules, no fines, that would have been a lot better, and you could celebrate all you want when you score a touchdown."

{sportsad300}Another point brought up was that while the work in the offseason to prepare wasn't nearly as extensive, just playing the games themselves was far more taxing.

"You had to play multiple positions, so as a kicker that would be nice to be able to mix it up and get out there a little bit," kicker Mason Crosby said. "It was kind of a pure game, still almost a youthful game. They didn't have to train so hard every day just to compete and stay physically in shape. They worked hard and put it out on the field."

They didn't play in front of tens of thousands of fans every Sunday either, but every game has its different eras. Today's players seem perfectly happy with the era they play in, but perhaps nearly every pro athlete says that at the time.

"Football is football, and I'm sure they had a blast doing it," Matthews said. "That's all they knew, wearing either leather helmets or no helmets and little or no pads. They probably had top-of-the-line equipment for that time, so they were doing what we're doing right now.

"And I'm sure in another 90 years they'll be looking back on us saying 'How did they do it?'"

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