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Thorp Trophy preceded Super Bowl-era Lombardi Trophy

Some historical perspective on championship teams and dynasties


The 1944 Packers won the franchise's sixth league championship.

I'm going to stick with questions about championships, trophies and dynasties this week.

Willie from Hayward, Wis.

I know the NFL was on an entirely different level in the days before the Super Bowl. But I sometimes think the Packers do not give enough respect to championship teams prior to the Super Bowl. The Packers Hall of Fame had rings and trophies from the Super Bowl championships but not for the nine championships prior to 1966. I would hope when the Hall opens again there would be more attention to the pre-Super Bowl era.

Let me first point out that all 13 of the Packers' championship seasons are posted in big letters in the Lambeau bowl, and I've seen bunting in our building commemorating all of the titles so it's certainly a mark of honor here. But your point is well taken. Anyone who watched the Super Bowl should realize how important it is for us to flaunt all of our championships because others seem to want to diminish the importance of the pre-Super Bowl titles. The NFL might be at an entirely different level today in terms of hype and exposure, but championships are championships. The Major League Baseball post-season was expanded in 1969 when the AL & NL Championship Series were introduced. But baseball people don't view the World Series winners of today any differently than the pre-'69 winners. For whatever reason, the NFL and those who cover it don't grace the league's history the way baseball people do. Almost every historical graphic shown before and during the Super Bowl was presented in the context of the Super Bowl era, not NFL history. Then during the week following the game, there was a panel discussion on the NFL Network about the league's greatest dynasty. The four franchises under consideration were the Steelers of the 1970s, 49ers of the '80s, Cowboys of the '90s and Patriots since 2001. How shallow can you get? It had been 10 years since the Patriots last won a Super Bowl. That's a dynasty? The Packers of the 1960s won five titles in seven years and are the only team in history to win three straight under a playoff format. And the 1929-31 Packers are the only other team to have done it, winning three straight when championships were decided by the final standings. The Monsters of the Midway, the Chicago Bears of the early 1940s, weren't part of the discussion, either. Could you imagine a panel of baseball experts debating the greatest dynasties and not including the Babe Ruth/Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio/Mickey Mantle Yankees? Sorry for taking a roundabout way to answering your question; but, yes, when the new Packers Hall of Fame opens each of the Packers' 13 championship teams will have its own panel or display area.

Joel from Kalamazoo, Mich.

What were the NFL championship trophies named before the Vince Lombardi Trophy?

Maybe I'm telling you something you already know, but Vince Lombardi died Sept. 3, 1970, and the trophy wasn't named after him until a week later. So the first four Super Bowl winners were awarded an AFL-NFL Championship Game trophy, not the Lombardi Trophy. Previously and also concurrently for the last four years, or from 1934-69, the NFL champion was presented with the Ed Thorp Trophy. The league established the trophy following Thorp's death in 1934. He had been a noted referee, rules expert, sporting goods dealer and friend of some of the NFL's early and influential owners. The Thorp started out as a traveling trophy, but there was no room left on the nameplate after the L.A. Rams won it in 1951. Thereafter, I'm not sure anyone knows the history of the Thorp trophy. Did the league buy a new traveling trophy? Did it present permanent trophies to the subsequent winners? If there was another traveling trophy, did the Minnesota Vikings really lose it after winning it in 1969? Were replicas always made for the winners when it was a traveling trophy? I do know this. The Packers won their first Thorp Trophy under Vince Lombardi on Dec. 31, 1961, but it wasn't presented until four months later. Prior to 1934, it's widely believed that the only champion to receive a trophy was the 1920 Akron Pros. That was the league's first season, and the trophy was called the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Cup. The plan was for that to be a traveling trophy, but apparently it disappeared before it was ever passed on to the 1921 champion. At the time, the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co. produced large ornate neoclassical style bars for saloons.

Robert from Saginaw, Mich.

Do any of the trophies, or whatever the award was, for any of the first six championships still exist? Or, were they all lost in the Rockwood Lodge fire?

*I've never heard of the Packers losing any trophies in the Rockwood fire. I'm not even sure if that's where they would have been kept. Here's what Krissy Zegers, our Hall of Fame manager and the person overseeing the day-to-day work of the ongoing Hall of Fame project, tells me about the old trophies: "The Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame Inc., a non-profit organization separate from the Packers which lends many of its artifacts to the Packers for display in the Hall of Fame, owns three Thorp trophies, two of which we believe were trophies given to the team and one that we believe was a traveling trophy." Actually, Krissy recently showed me a picture of the traveling trophy and I think it's a prized piece of NFL history. There were 18 champions listed on it starting with the 1934 N.Y. Giants and ending with the 1951 Rams – and there was no room to list another. I assume it's the original Thorp Trophy. But how did the Packers wind up with it if the Rams were the last team to win it? I suspect there's a great story there. But is there anybody alive who knows it? *

Mike from Dalton, N.Y.

Do the Packers have the championship trophies from before the Super Bowl era on display?

Plans for the new Hall of Fame call for a Championship Gallery. I think it will have a wow factor for those of you who have inquired about the Packers' unmatched collection of NFL hardware. There's no evidence the Packers were ever presented with a trophy following any of their first three championships from 1929-31, but fans raised enough money to present the players with some precious jewelry. After the NFL adopted a playoff format in 1933, the Packers won the Thorp Trophy eight times: in 1936, '39, '44, '61, '62, '65, '66 and '67. In truth, the Thorp trophies should be as treasured as the Super Bowl trophies. Those of you who followed the Lombardi teams might remember that when the Packers beat Dallas in the Ice Bowl they were hailed nationally as the first three-time champions in the history of the NFL – even before Super Bowl II was played. Don't forget, the games against Dallas following the 1966 and '67 seasons were still NFL Championship Games, not NFC championships. So in reality it's the three Thorp trophies from 1965-67 that symbolize the Packers' three straight NFL titles, a feat no other team has matched in the 82-year history of the NFL playoffs.

Bill from Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

While other teams have won more Super Bowls, the Packers are the only ones to do it with three completely different teams as the 1967-68, 1997 and 2011 winners all had different GM, coaches and rosters. Other teams (Cowboys, Steelers, Raiders, Giants, 49ers) have won as many or more, but only with two completely different rosters and management. It speaks to Green Bay's ability to regenerate as a franchise compared to others, even if during the Super Bowl era the Packer teams haven't had as much luck winning multiple championships.

Let's start with the last 23 years. When you talk about long-range planning and lines of succession, I think what has happened in Green Bay over that time period is unmatched in NFL history. Not every transition within the organization was smooth or unbroken, but the Packers in short order replaced the four people who resurrected the franchise from the depths of despair – Bob Harlan, Ron Wolf, Mike Holmgren and Brett Favre – with four successors – Mark Murphy, Ted Thompson, Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers – who are on track to match or perhaps even exceed their accomplishments. How often does that happen in the nearly 2,000 companies on the New York Stock Exchange? I would guess rarely. The Packers have been members of the NFL for 94 years and have endured only two droughts: for 11 years from 1948-58 and for 24 years from 1968-91. When Ron Wolf was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I mentioned to him that it was foremost a testament to his achievements, but also a tribute to the Packers to have the three architects of their three eras of glory all in the Hall of Fame. The Bears have two – George Halas and Jim Finks – although Finks' name requires an asterisk. While Finks was largely responsible for building the 1985 Bears, he left the organization three years before they won it. Among other franchises that have won at least four NFL championships, only Washington (Ray Flaherty, Joe Gibbs) and the New York Giants (Steve Owen, Bill Parcells) have two coaches in the Hall.

Mark from Newark, N.J.

My brother-in-law is a big Dallas Fan, and boasts about how the Dallas Cowboys are "America's Team." He also says the reason why the Packers have all their titles is because there were only nine teams back then. I am a die-hard Packers fan and I would say the Packers are "America's Team." Dallas has more Super Bowl appearances, but also the most chokes in Super Bowl games. What are your thoughts?

Under "All-Time Team Records" in the Official NFL Record & Fact Book, "Championships" is the first category. Three franchises are listed. The Packers are No. 1 with 13 titles; the Bears and Giants are second and third with nine and eight, respectively. Dallas isn't even on the radar screen. I'm old-school so I still think of the Cowboys as an expansion franchise. They didn't even tee it up until 1960. I understand the Cowboys have branded themselves well, but they've won only five championships. And who's to say it's tougher to win championships now than it was in the pre-Super Bowl era? Today, 12 of 32 teams make the playoffs, or 38 percent. When the Packers won their first three NFL titles under Lombardi, two of 14 teams made the playoffs, barring ties in the standings, or 14 percent. In 1963, the Packers finished 11-2-1 and were done. Given a second chance, that might have been yet another championship season. Lombardi once called it his best team. When the Packers won Super Bowl I, only four of 24 teams in the NFL and AFL qualified for the playoffs. In 1967, the Baltimore Colts were left out with an 11-1-2 record. Maybe some math whiz will tell me the only number that counts here is the number of teams in the league. But if so, how would he explain Pittsburgh not winning a league title for 41 years then winning four in an expanded 1970s NFL? Maybe it's tougher now to win in the post-season with 12 teams rather than two. But how many of those 12 teams really had a legitimate shot this year? The Carolina Panthers qualified for a second chance with a 7-8-1 record. I repeat: Championships are championships. It's just that today there's less emphasis on the regular season and more on the post-season.

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