With more cows than people, Green Bay, Wisconsin, is a unique place. One of the coldest, windiest, snowiest, and most uncomfortable climates of any NFL market, it is also the smallest. The only reason that cheese and beef industry Green Bay has a pro football team at all, is that it was instrumental to making football as popular as it is today. It started before him, but a lot of it has to do with the Legend of Curly Lambeau. As a proud cheese-head myself, I will relate the story of the origins of football as best I can.
Back around 1895, the daily newspaper Green Bay Press Gazette printed the rules of a brand-new game being played on college campuses. Called football, it was a combination of Australian rugby and European soccer. It featured an unusually-shaped ball, not yet available in all areas, and the newspaper wanted to standardize the rules of the game, so that it could be played by competing universities. Some campuses were using soccer balls, as no footballs were yet available. A little publicity will solve that problem.
In addition to colleges, some manufacturers had after-work social sports teams, including softball teams, rugby teams, and now even football teams. The Acme Meat Packing Company, in Green Bay, Wisconsin, which primarily turned old used dairy cows into hamburger meat, had such a team. Their butchers took football so seriously after work that the team started paying its players a salary.
Eventually, some players were so good at the game of football, played in stadiums for an admission fee, and paid so well, that they gave up the meat business and played professionally. It was an “extreme sport” in those days, played with no padding, no helmets, and comparable to professional skateboarding today. Very dangerous. The Acme Packers became like the Harlem Globetrotters of basketball, travelling the world to take on any team, and beating almost everybody.
Green Bay played college teams, helping sell out football stadiums and making money for charities, scholarships, sports programs, and pay their professional players as well. The original idea of football on university campuses was to generate money with a sports entertainment event, and use that money for college scholarships. Then, as today, most who attend universities on football scholarships go on to careers that have nothing to do with football. Green Bay helped, and I will always remember seeing the Packers take on the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, an upset won by the college team. I once had the idea of having the last-place NFL team to be forced to play the College NCAA All-Stars as a penalty for coming in last.
Eventually football developed a second pro team, the Chicago Bruins (a bruin is a bear) and it is primarily the connections of that big-city team that led to today’s NFL. The Bears were the first major-city pro team. Curly Lambeau, influential in developing both football and Green Bay, said that the new (1930-1940) invention from RCA Radio and NBC, called “Telly Vision”, would someday be important to football. Prophecy. He noted that with this new tool, people could watch the game from the comfort of their living room at home, or a nearby bar, without having to go out in the cold and sit in a frigid stadium. Not necessary to brave the frozen tundra. And, it gave them a nationwide market potential, too.
It also made selling out the stadium no big deal, reduced some of the massive parking problems, and opened up an unlimited marketing potential. Curly Lambeau proposed that this new tool, Telly-Vision, could make a whole lot of money by selling advertising, which he called Telly-Vision Commercials. Once again, prophetic. He proposed that football, solely a running and kicking game, get the addition of new rules establishing the Forward Pass. He said it would make TV broadcasts more interesting. His crowning achievement was suggesting the annual Super Bowl. His Packers would win the first two. Any wonder why there is a Lambeau Field? We sort of ended up with a Lambeau Broadcasting Company in the process, CBS.
Part of all this is that in reward for making football popular, there must always be an NFL team in Green Bay, Wisconsin, as small as it is. The Packers can never be bought and moved. They are to be publicly held, and shares of common stock are sold. The rest of the NFL is big-city with wealthy owners, but Green Bay is a small town team, representing small towns everywhere, and it is owned by shareholders, many of whom are not wealthy. I have been told that each person owning Green Bay Packers stock gets an official NFL identification card listing them as “Owner, Green Bay Packers”. And, as an Owner in the football business, they get all access to all stadiums and owners’ boxes, per NFL rules. After all, they helped make football the industry it is.
Labor strike? Everybody loses. When baseball went on strike I suggested to Commissioner Selig that everybody go back to one day before the strike, and continue playing under those bargaining rules. If football goes on strike, I suggest the same solution.