Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Final Game in Milwaukee

Today’s posting is the Milwaukee Journal’s coverage of the final game in Milwaukee County Stadium on December 18, 1994. The following season, all Packers’ home games were played in Green Bay, as they have been ever since. I attended the game with my brother, and Favre’s winning dive was right in our corner of the end zone...

Packers soar on Favre's flight

Milwaukee finale ends in heroic dive

By BOB McGINN, The Milwaukee Journal
Dec. 19, 1994

The Green Bay Packers endured an entire season of blown opportunities to finally pull out a close game at the end.

They also waited 20 years to find a worthy successor to Bart Starr as their quarterback.

Brett Favre stamped himself indelibly in the memories of the loyal fans of Milwaukee on Sunday with the Packers' most memorable play of the season seemingly headed for oblivion.

With one damn-the-torpedoes, full-speed-ahead dash to either destruction or glory, Favre saved the season with a diving exclamation point in a 21-17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in the Packers' final game ever at County Stadium.

"It's vintage Brett Favre," kicker Chris Jacke said. "Dumb and brilliant at the same time. If he doesn't make the first down or get out of bounds, we'd have been in trouble."

By outrunning defensive end Chuck Smith to the corner and hurling his body across the goal-line for the 9-yard touchdown with 14 seconds remaining, Favre climaxed a decisive 10-play, 67-yard drive.

But had he failed and been tackled in-bounds on his third-and-two scramble, the Packers might not have been able to reassemble, snap the ball and stop the clock because they were out of timeouts.

And, if Favre had been tackled short of the first down, the field-goal team would have had to make an improbable rush into position for a hurried attempt.

"I yelled to Brett to get out of bounds," Jacke said. "But I guess you just have to live and die with the kid."

When Atlanta's Hail Mary pass fell incomplete as time expired, the crowd of 54,885 stood as one in a final show of support after 62 years of watching the Packers.

As he approached the dugout tunnel, Packers coach Mike Holmgren paused near a snowbank along the first-base line and saluted the crowd. It was perhaps the most emotional post-game scene since the final home game of 1981, when Starr gathered his team at midfield in Lambeau Field after a victory over Detroit and sent them scattering to all corners of the stadium to shake hands with the fans.

"I'll never forget this," Holmgren said. "It was a very special moment. Just a wonderful game."

Nothing was wonderful for the Packers after their two-touchdown start created a false sense of superiority. From the start of the second quarter until 2 minutes remained, the Packers turned a 14-3 lead into a 17-14 deficit by failing to score on seven consecutive possessions.

The loss of Sterling Sharpe with a spinal injury in the second quarter cost the Packers their premier weapon. But before Sharpe left, he dropped a third-down pass that started the offensive malaise.

Later, Jacke would push wide to the right field-goal tries from 51 and 37 yards. Favre would throw an interception in the end zone after guard Harry Galbreath allowed excessive penetration by defensive tackle Jumpy Geathers.

Holding penalties on Guy McIntyre, Reggie Johnson and Galbreath would ruin two third-quarter drives. Then two fourth-quarter possessions would go no-where when the Falcons' 28th-ranked defense began to sense an upset.

"I was surprised our offense didn't do more today," Packers tackle Ken Ruettgers said. "Hopefully, it's just a fluke."

Atlanta got the ball back with 4 minutes 41 seconds left and a three-point cushion. The Falcons managed one-first down, then faced third and four when the Packers called their second of three timeouts. Just 2:10 remained.

Atlanta coach June Jones sent three wide receivers to the right and isolated Andre Rison against Doug Evans on the left. Just four plays earlier, Evans had gotten away with an obvious interference penalty, and on the previous series Rison had burned him for 25-yard gain and then the two-point conversion.

Rison drove hard against Evans, broke off his route and went to the sideline.

"He wanted me to to go up the field," Evans said.

But Evans stayed with Rison, giving backup quarterback Bobby Hebert little margin on the throw. Hebert made a bad pass, which was wide of Rison. Harold Alexander's 31-yard punt left the Packers to start from their 33 with 1:58 left.

"We didn't want to force it in there," Hebert said. "If we had made one more first down we would have been in pretty good shape."

The tone for the entire drive was set on the first play when tight end Mark Chmura ran scot-free down the middle of the field and made a stumbling catch for 25 yards. The Falcons double-covered the two wide receivers, leaving linebacker Jessie Tuggle to cover Chmura. But Tuggle moved up to cover Edgar Bennett, leaving Chmura open.

Chmura dropped a 13-yard pass on the next play, stopping the clock at 1:33. The Packers ran the same play and Favre found Robert Brooks for three. With the clock running, Favre hesitated and drilled an out pass to Brooks for 10 yards and the first down.

"I threw it as hard as I've thrown one all day and Robert made a great catch and stepped out," Favre said.

At that point, the Falcons changed from a 4-1 to 4-3 defense, but the Packers stayed in their base offense. Favre wisely threw incomplete to Bennett, then called an audible against a blitz and found the diving Anthony Morgan for four yards. With the clock again running, Brooks caught a short crossing pass from Favre and swung upfield with a gutsy cut to gain the first down by about a yard at the 17.

A spike killed the clock with 19 seconds left. The Falcons then went into a zone defense, so Favre went to Chmura underneath for eight yards to the 9.

"Brett just kept making great decisions," Packers wide receivers coach Jon Gruden said. "The Falcons didn't take a lot of risks and he executed perfectly. He was just composed."

Holmgren sent out three wide receivers for the first time in the drive, Terry Mickens and Morgan tight on the left and Brooks on the right. The Packers sent five receivers in the pattern, with Mickens on a short crossing route from left to right. Brooks on a deep post pattern, Chmura working into the middle of the end zone, and Morgan and Bennett occupying defenders on the short left.

"It's an all-purpose play against any defense," Gruden said.

As Favre took a five-step drop, right tackle Joe Sims was being bull-rushed by Smith. It was a gamble by Smith, because if he got sucked inside there was no one to contain Favre if he scrambled right.

"Usually, he was coming up the field," Sims said about Smith. "But the [pain-killing] shot I took before the game had started to wear off. I think he saw me limping and he tried to bowl me over."

As Smith pushed Sims backward, Geathers broke free inside with his patented "forklift" power move against Galbreath. As Favre bounced right, Sims noticed him in his peripheral vision. He shuffled his feet and hooked Smith, which was crucial to the success of the play.

Smith didn't totally blow containment. He pushed off Sims and, on a normal day with his outstanding speed, probably would have been quick enough to prevent Favre from turning the corner.

But remember that Smith suffered a sprained knee in the second quarter and thereafter had been in and out of the lineup. So when their paths intersected at the 9, the best Smith could do was dive at Favre's heels.

Favre stumbled at the 6, gathered himself at the 3 and lunged in the air. He landed just across the goal line, safely under the charge of the big rookie cornerback, Anthony Phillips.

"It could have been another [Jay] Novacek," said Morgan, a reference to the Cowboys' tight end who was tackled at the 6-inch line as time expired in Cleveland's 19-14 victory last week.

"Hey, we have to get lucky one of these days," Sims said. "Brett's not the perfect guy, but he's such a winner."

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Practice in the Olden Days — II

Today’s posting features a photo from a 1960’s practice, in which Paul Hornung (#5) hones his field goal skills with quarterback Bart Starr (#15) holding the ball. While the subjects of the photo are interesting enough, it is interesting also to notice the background, where we can see the old shed which held practice equipment. This is at what is now the corner of Oneida Street and Potts Avenue, where there is no shed anymore.

The houses in the background all remain, as does the duplex at the left side of the photo. And, as we’ve also seen in earlier photos, there is no fencing as a barrier between the fans and the practice field, just a wooden rail that the fans are leaning on while watching the proceedings.

A simpler time.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

More Jim Taylor

Today’s posting has another image of Hall of Fame running back Jim Taylor, this time after being tackled by a couple of Cleveland Browns players. He was a hard player to bring down, and would rather run into a defender than run out of bounds.

A favorite Jim Taylor story is from the 1962 NFL title game in Yankee Stadium where, play after play on a frozen rock hard surface, Taylor and Giants’ linebacker Sam Huff were beating the heck out of each other. This was back when defenders could get in an extra punch or gouge after the play and not worry about getting a 15-yard penalty. After one play, Huff gave Taylor a hard shove and said, “Taylor, you stink!” Several plays later, when Tayor broke through the Giants’ defense for the Packers’ lone touchdown, he yelled to Huff, “Hey Huff... how do I smell from here?”

The Packers won the game 16-7 mainly on the field-goal-kicking foot of guard Jerry Kramer.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Jim Taylor

Today’s posting is a fine image of Packer great fullback Jim Tayor, who is a member of both the Packers Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH.

Here are some facts about Taylor from the Hall of Fame website:

James Charles Taylor.
Height: 6-0
Weight: 214
College: Louisiana State
NFL Career: 1958-1966 Green Bay Packers, 1967 New Orleans Saints

LSU All-America, 1957. . .Packers' No. 2 draft pick, 1958. . .1,000-yard rusher five straight years, 1960-1964. . .Rushed for 8,597 yards, caught 225 passes, amassed 10,539 combined net yards, scored 558 points. . .Led NFL rushers, scorers, had record 19 TDs rushing, 1962. . .Excelled in 1962 NFL title game. . . Ferocious runner, rugged blocker, prime disciple of "run to daylight" doctrine. . .Born September 20, 1935, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Taylor was selected to five consecutive Pro Bowls from 1960-1964. . . He fumbled only 34 times in the 2,173 times he handled the ball (1.56% of his touches.)

When Vince Lombardi took over the Green Bay coaching reins in 1959, fullback Jim Taylor became the Packers' bread-and-butter guy. Lombardi depended upon him to get the needed short yardage whether it was for a first down or a touchdown. As the Packers’ dynasty grew, so too did Taylor become the symbol of power in the awesome Green Bay attack. Jim was a throwback to an earlier era, who ran with a fierceness no one could match. He caught the short swing passes and blocked with rugged determination.

Thousand-yard seasons became a specialty for Taylor. He went over 1,000 yards five straight seasons beginning in 1960 but reached his zenith in 1962, when he had a career-high 1,474 yards and was named the NFL Player of the Year.

Jim was living testimony to the popular football adage "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." Nowhere was this more evident than in the 1962 NFL title game. Playing on a bitter-cold day, Taylor engaged in a personal duel with the New York Giants' outstanding defense, led by All-Pro linebacker Sam Huff. Jim carried 31 times for 85 yards and scored Green Bay's only touchdown in a 16-7 victory. He took a fearful pounding both from the hard-hitting Giants and the frozen ground. He suffered an elbow gash that took seven stitches to close at halftime and a badly cut tongue. At the end, he could scarcely see and he couldn't talk.

Taylor was often compared with Jim Brown, the Cleveland fullback, who played at the same time. There were many different viewpoints but Lombard's summation was most succinct. "Jim Brown will give you that leg and then take it away from you. Jim Taylor will give it to you and then ram it through your chest!"

Despite a lifetime of good health habits and conditioning, Taylor suffered a stroke on June 3, 2004. "It's progressing I suppose," Taylor said of his health. "It's coming up on three years now here in June. I'm working through it. . . . It's just a long-term workout. You just move on. It's like in football, in these games and things, year in and year out. You love to compete. You love to be involved and be a part of it."

Monday, March 26, 2007

The John Hadl Trade

Packers’ Coach Dan Devine's trade for Los Angeles Rams quarterback John Hadl after the sixth game of the 1974 season is one of the most infamous in Packers history. Devine gave up five draft picks — a first, second and third in '75 and first and third in '76 — for the 34-year-old veteran. Hadl would play just 1-1/2 seasons for the Packers, throwing 3 touchdowns and 8 interceptions for a 54.0 quarterback rating in 1974 and 6 touchdowns and 21 interceptions for a 52.8 rating in 1975. Devine resigned at the end of the '74 season.

Here is the original article from the Milwaukee Journal:

Packers trade for Hadl
Milwaukee Journal
October 23, 1974

MILWAUKEE — Coach Dan Devine of the Green Bay Packers, as displeased as most fans with the Packers' lack of punch on offense, overhauled the team's quarterback corps Tuesday.

After announcing that veteran Jack Concannon, Jerry Tagge's backup, would start Sunday against the Lions in Detroit, Devine then obtained veteran John Hadl from the Los Angeles Rams for five draft choices and waived the Packers' other quarterback, Dean Carlson.

Hadl, 34, and in his 13th season of pro ball, was expensive. To get him, the Packers gave up first-, second- and third-round choices in the next draft, and a first and second choice in 1976.

Said Devine, however, "We still have everything for the 1975 draft but our first and third choices, and that includes two second-round picks. The Rams originally wanted players, and we got it down to the draft choices. We have a lot of people on injured reserve who, when healthy, will give us an overcomplement of players, so replacing those draft choices is not going to be any problem if and when we want to do it."

Devine said that the Packers had been considering a quarterback deal for more than a week before Monday night's 10-9 defeat at Chicago against the Bears.

"We had a lot of discussions," he said. "We were thinking about Archie Manning of the Saints, too. But John became available and we needed to do something at this point."

The deadline for trades in the National Football League was 3 p.m., Wisconsin time.

Devine said that Hadl was the only quarterback actually sought by the Packers, although three other NFL quaterbacks, Craig Morton, Norm Snead and Joe Reed were traded Tuesday.

Ironically, it was a poor showing against the Packers in Milwaukee Oct. 13 that led to Hadl's availability. He was the Rams' starter for that game, but he was replaced by James Harris after completing only 6 of 16 passes for 59 yards and throwing two interceptions.

The Packers went on to win the game, 17-6, and Harris was promoted to starting quarterback. In his first start Sunday, Harris completed 12 of 15 passes, three for touchdowns, and the Rams beat the San Fransisco 49ers, 37-14.

Just Monday, Ram's owner Carroll Rosenbloom had called Hadl a great quarterback, saying, "We expect John to be with us for a long time."

The trade caught Hadl by surprise, he said Wednesday morning. "I knew they had some irons in the fire, but I thought it would be for next year," he said. "But I'm ready to play for Green Bay. I just hope I can work out a deal with the Packers and get up there right away. I want to play, but only if the numbers are right."

Hadl would not elaborate on that statement, but apparently means that he wants to work out a new contract with the Packers, or renegotiate the one he was under with the Rams.

Hadl, from the University of Kansas, has spent his entire pro career on the West Coast, first with the San Diego Chargers, then with the Rams. He also has a business there.

When Hadl played against the Packers here, there were rumors that he had a sore arm. "We checked them all out and we have assurances that he's sound," Devine said. "I heard the rumors too." Both Hadl and Coach Chuck Knox of the Rams said after the game against the Packers that there was nothing wrong with Hadl's throwing arm, although Hadl admitted to having been in a slump.

He said again Wednesday that there was nothing wrong with his arm. "My arm is good," he said. "I heard that other stuff, too, but it's just a lot of stuff the Rams put out and that's BS. Chuck Knox knows my arm's okay. Ask him and he'll tell you."

Last season, his first with the Rams, Hadl led the team to the National Conference title and was chosen the most valuable player in the National Conference. He ranked third in NFC passing with 135 completions in 258 attempts for 2,008 yards and 22 touchdowns. Eleven of his throws were intercepted.

Even if Hadl would report to Green Bay this week, Concannon will be the starter Sunday for the Packers. He was impressive for the Packers when Tagge was injured during the exhibition season, although he has not played in any of the Packers' six league games. Tagge has been the starter for Green Bay since the sixth game of the 1973 season.

Devine said, however, that the Packers' problems on offense could not all be traced to Tagge.

"I in no way want to make Jerry Tagge the scapegoat," he said. "But we feel a change is indicated. The decision is based in part on the fact that we feel Jack deserves a chance because he moved the offense well during the preseason. Jerry's attitude has been great and I still have strong convictions that he will be a strong NFL quarterback.

"I know Jerry is disappointed, but I think the best thing for him now is a little break in the action. He's been throwing a lot and I think his arm has lost a little zing, a little life. He's taking the films of the six games we played this year home to study and look at the technical aspects of what he's been doing. He's going to study those very, very carefully.

"And this isn't necessarily permanent. He's just one play away from being back in there Sunday. There are other things, too, besides his passing, holding up our offense. The quarterback always gets too much blame when things are going bad and too much credit when they're going good. It's the nature of the position."

Another Packer problem has been the lack of a strong running attack this season, and a strong running game has been a Packer trademark. Adding to the problems in that area, MacArthur Lane has been suffering back spasms, missed much of Monday night's game because of them, and has been list as doubtful for Sunday's game.

Asked if that might mean that Barty Smith, the big running back from Richmond, might make his debut Sunday, Devine said he was not sure.

Smith, the Packers first round draft choice last spring, was injured in June during the Coaches' All-American All-Star game and has not been activated by the Packers, although he has been practicing in recent weeks.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The 1965 Title Game

Today’s posting is the original coverage of the 1965 NFL Championship game, which was played in Green Bay on January 2, 1966:

“Starr Leads Packers to NFL Championship”

“Hornung and Taylor Pile Up 201 Yards in 23-12 Victory”

By CHUCK JOHNSON, The Milwaukee Journal
January 3, 1966

Green Bay, Wis. — Bart Starr, ignoring the sore ribs that sidelined him in the western division playoff a week ago, guided the Green Bay Packers to a 23-12 victory over the title defending Cleveland Browns here Sunday for the National Football League championship.

Starr split open the Cleveland defense with his passes, then sent fullback Jim Taylor and halfback Paul Hornung hurtling through, around and over the line as the Packers left little doubt of their superiority under the lights of Lambeau Field.

The lights were on for the start of this, the 33rd annual NFL championship playoff, because it was a dark and wintry day. It snowed in the morning, some three inches covering the tarpaulin. It rained, sleeted and spit snow while the game itself was on. And then it snowed some more after the Packers had won their ninth championship, thus breaking a tie with the Chicago Bears for the most league titles.

Many of the 50,852 fans who filled the stadium to capacity did not arrive until the game was well under way. Road conditions coupled with a traffic snarl for miles around accounted for the inordinate number of late arrivals.

The temperature was slightly above freezing. "Steam" from the breath of fans and players hovered over the field and the stands, adding to the eerie setting. The field itself was muddy, but the footing was surprisingly good, at least as far as the Packers were concerned.

The game started in high scoring gear as the the Packers made a touchdown by going 77 yards in seven plays and the Browns retaliated by flying 66 yards on three straight passes.

After that, though, Green Bay's defense clamped down, as it had all this long fluctuating season, and the Browns could accomplish precious little. In the whole second half, in fact, Cleveland was restricted to 26 yards from scrimmage.

Green Bay's touchdowns were scored on a 47-yard pass play from Starr to end Carroll Dale and on a 13-yard run around left end by Hornung. Don Chandler, the excellent kicker whose previous championship game experience was with New York, added the extra points and also made three field goals of 15, 23 and 29 yards. His kicks tied a playoff record held by six other players, including present teammates Hornung and Jerry Kramer.

Cleveland scored its touchdown on a 17-yard pass from quarterback Frank Ryan to end Gary Collins, who had caught three touchdown passes in leading the Browns to a 27-0 victory over Baltimore in last year's title game.

Lou Groza, the 41-year-old kicker, never got a chance to try the extra point. The snap from center was low and fumbled. Groza picked it up and tried to pass to Bobby Franklin, who was supposed to hold. Franklin caught the ball, but Willie Wood of the Packers caught Franklin five yards from the goal. Groza had made 96 in a row.

Later, Groza kicked field goals of 24 and 28 yards. He tried another one from the 37-yard line, with Green Bay ahead in the third quarter, 20-12, but tackle Henry Jordan broke through and blocked it.

The Browns led after the first quarter, 9-7, and trailed by only the missed extra point at the half, 13-12. But they hardly had the ball in the second half. The Packers required almost seven minutes to drive 90 yards to Hornung's touchdown. Then they used up another eight minutes in moving 59 yards to position for Chandler's last field goal.

Starr completed 10 of 18 passes all told, and two of the misses were perfect tosses that were dropped. Once he established that he could throw on Cleveland's defense, however, he played it close and let Taylor and Hornung pound out the yardage. Starr tried only five passes in the second half and completed four of them.

The Packers wound up with 204 yards on the ground, 201 by Hornung and Taylor between them. Hornung made 105 yards in 18 carries and Taylor 96 in 27. By comparison, Cleveland made only 64 yards rushing, with the perennial league leader, fullback Jim Brown, picking up only 50 yards in 12 carries. Once the Browns had to play catch up, though, Brown's number was rarely called.

The Packers piled up a 21-8 edge in first downs and outgained the Browns from scrimmage, 332 yards to 161. Starr probably could have taken even further advantage of deficiencies in the Browns' pass defense, but he let Hornung and Taylor gain ground.

This was Green Bay's third title in the last five years under Coach Vince Lombardi. In both 1961 and 1962, the Packers beat the New York Giants for the crown.

The last title game here was in 1961. In that one, the Packers beat the Giants 37-0, and Starr helped Hornung win the sports car as the game's most valuable player by letting the halfback carry on the big plays. Sunday, Taylor was voted the same honor, but the award could have just as well gone to Starr or Hornung or Wood or any number of Packers in the offensive line or on the defense.

Dale, the former Los Angeles Ram, outscrambled Cleveland's defense on the first Green Bay drive. He had to come back for Starr's pass, then eluded three Browns, two of whom had slipped and fallen, and went the last 13 yards of a 47-yard play.

The Browns caught Green Bay looking for Brown's sweeps on their first time with the ball, and Ryan completed passes of 30 yards to Brown, 19 yards to Paul Warfield and 17 yards to Collins. Herb Adderley, who later made an interception against Collins, was fooled by Collins' favorite move toward the goal post. The Cleveland end cut back to the corner and caught Ryan's perfect pass.

The Packers were thrown back for the only time in the afternoon on their next try, and the Browns quickly moved into position for Groza's first field goal. But Green Bay retaliated quickly to provide an opportunity for Chandler's first field goal.

Then Wood made a leaping interception to set up Chandler's second field goal, only to have Walter Beach intercept for position for Groza's second field goal, just before the half ended. That, as it turned out, also ended Cleveland's serious threatening gestures.

The Packers went 90 yards in 11 plays in the third quarter. Hornung and Taylor took turns on nine runs and Starr completed his only two passes. Hornung used Kramer's blocking to find the way into the end zone. After that, Jordan blocked Groza's field goal try and Chandler made good on his, and that was that.

Green Bay's domination of the game is perhaps best exemplified by the number of plays from scrimmage, not including punts or field goal attempts. The Packers had 69 and the Browns had 30. In the first half, the ratio was 34-23. In the second, it was 35-16.

The victory will be worth about $7,000 to each Packer. Each Brown will get about $4,600. It was a long road to the title for the Packers. Including exhibitions, they played 21 games, winning 16, losing four and tying one. They had to go an extra game to win the western division title, and that game went an extra 13 minutes 39 seconds of "sudden death" overtime. It probably all seems well worth it now.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Locker Room Scene — 1963 or ’64?

Today’s posting features an image of the Packers’ locker room, with quarterback Bart Starr and one of his young sons. The photo must be from 1963 or 1964, the two years in the middle of the decade where they didn’t win the NFL Championship (in 1963 it was the Bears, and the Browns in 1964).

The sign above the lockers lists all of the years the Packers were champions, including the recent (at the time) 1961 & ’62 titles. Since it doesn’t list 1965 we can be reasonably sure it’s not later than 1964. Looking further, the players whose names can be seen on the locker nameplates are:

#58 Dan Currie (1958-1964)

#77 Ron Kostelnik (1961-1968)

#88 Ron Kramer (1957, 1959-1964)

#15 Bart Starr (1956-1971)

#83 Urban Henry (1963)

Well, there you have it... Urban Henry’s name establishes that the photo is from 1963 — his only year on the team. It’s amazing how a little detective work can solve simple issues.

Having been in the Packers’ current locker room twice, I can tell you that this 1963 version is very spartan compared to today’s luxury amenities that teams “need” to provide modern-day players.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Photo Day — 1960’s

One of the annual traditions of Training Camp used to be the Photo Day, where the players would each stage several “action shots” for the team’s official photographers. These photos would then be distributed to media outlets to have on file for future stories (this being before the “everything at your fingertips” internet era).

Shown going through the paces in today’s posting is quarterback Bart Starr. Judging by the visitor’s locker room at the south end of the stadium in the background, this photo must be from the mid-Sixties.

In yesterday’s posting, we talked about the fans being right on the field during practice, and here we can see that they have put up the single wooden rail along the edge of the field to keep the fans where they should be. Note that some of the young boys have slipped through to get closer to the action. The wooden rail shown here is probably the reason Packer fans who show up annually for Training Camp are still referred to as “railbirds.”

The photos that came out of Photo Day were often the overposed, over-the-top pictures that were commonly seen in this era in sports magazines. An example is this shot of Packers’ receiver Gary Knafelc, who went on to be the Lambeau Field P.A. announcer until just a couple of years ago.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Practice in the Olden Days

The photo for today is from a late-1950’s practice, perhaps training camp. In the background is the original pre-Lambeau “City Stadium” that we showed in an aerial view yesterday.

It is interesting to see the differences between today and 50 years ago (when the stadium opened) — most notably the fact that the fans are standing on the practice field with no fences to keep them out. Unfortunately today when one watches practice along Oneida Street, you have to peer through a cyclone fence. And it’s also interesting to see that the crowd is very far off the street, and the team is utilizing the field which is taken up by the Hutson Center today, and the Soap Products Company building.

Also noteworthy in this photo is the farm on the other side of City Stadium, on what is now Ridge Road — about where the Green Bay landmark Kroll’s West restaurant is located.

I would love to go back to the days where, even when they practiced along the street, you only had a wooden rail in front instead of the giant cyclone fence, which has gotten even higher since they re-did the Clarke Hinkle Field a couple of years ago. Now, you can't hardly take a photo over the fence even by standing unsafely on the top row of bleachers.

Ah, those were the good ol' days.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

City Stadium — 1957

Today’s posting features an aerial image of brand new City Stadium (later Lambeau Field) in its inaugural 1957 season. At less than half the capacity of the stadium today, it looks more like a college arena than the legendary “hallowed ground” it would become.

The neighborhood across Highland Avenue (upper right) — which would later be renamed Lombardi Avenue — is just getting going as a west-side housing development. When the Packers chose the location for their new playing field, it was “out in the boondocks,” as most business and shopping was done downtown, along both sides of the Fox River.

In looking closer, one can see how the lower ring of seats and the playing surface itself are below ground level — as it is today as well.

Also noticeably absent from the stadium are the team’s administration and locker room buildings. The Packers would not move their offices from downtown until 1963.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Favre Arrives in Green Bay

Country boy heads due north

The Milwaukee Journal
Feb. 12, 1992

Green Bay, Wis. — Southern-born and bred Brett Favre knows he's in for the cultural and climatic shock of a lifetime. Why? The Green Bay Packers' new quarterback claimed not to know whether the city had 1 million or 100,000 residents, and shuddered to hear that the temperature was a rather balmy 32 degrees Tuesday.

But don't fret for Brett. Northern Wisconsin might as well be a foreign country compared to his tiny home town of Kiln in the delta region of Mississippi, but as long as coach Mike Holmgren is there, Green Bay is fine with Favre. Of all the coaches who stopped in Hattiesburg, Miss., last spring to work out Favre at Southern Mississippi, Holmgren might have made the most lasting positive impression on the colorful, chatty quarterback. "We sat up in the stands for about 30 minutes afterward and he just seemed like a great guy," Favre said. "He told me, 'Look, I don't foresee us drafting a quarterback but I really like you.' On the phone today I told him, 'We're back together. Hopefully we can go out and kick butt together.'"

Favre will get that opportunity, which he didn't foresee happening with Chris Miller and Billy Joe Tolliver ahead of him on the Atlanta depth chart. After the Falcons acquired Tolliver from San Diego in late August for a fifth-round pick, Favre was relegated to third string. He ran the scout team but took no snaps with the No. 1 offense.

Leaving His Southern Roots

The trade meant Favre will have to sell his house in Atlanta and leave his Southern roots. When Falcons vice president Ken Herock informed him of the trade, Favre was a bit upset. Later, after calls from Holmgren and general manager Ron Wolf, he regained his enthusiasm. "I'm kind of in shock, a good old country boy going due north," Favre said. "But the good thing I see in the trade is a team that really believes in me. There were games Chris Miller played really bad and they stuck with him, which kind of disappointed me a little bit. Not that I could have played better, but just give me a chance. That's all I'm asking for in Green Bay."

Favre, 22, said he admired Don Majkowski for displaying toughness throughout his career and Mike Tomczak for his passing accuracy against Atlanta last season. "It's going to be a tough three-way battle," Favre said. "I really think I can play. How soon? I don't know. A lot depends on the coach and the guys surrounding you."

Favre's time almost came in July 1990, when the car he was driving flipped over several times about a mile from his home, located near the resort towns of Gulfport and Biloxi. He told police he swerved onto the gravel shoulder after being blinded by the lights of an oncoming car. His injuries included a cracked vertebra, a concussion and numerous cuts.

Then, about three weeks later, he was rushed to a hospital for emergency surgery in which 30 inches of his intestine were removed. Five weeks after leaving the hospital, he led Southern Mississippi to an upset victory over Alabama.

Meanwhile, Back in Kiln...

Back in Kiln, the Favre legend only continued to grow. Most of the action in the one-stoplight burg occurred at the VFW Hall, where folks feed five slot machines in a back room. "Around here, there's people who can tear down an engine by the time they're 11 or 12," Favre told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last year. "To tell the truth, you pretty much do what your daddy did before you. Mostly, the people work on cars all day, party at night and wrap it all up with a few barroom brawls."

Favre's role model was his father, who coached the high school football team. Scouts have compared Favre to a spirited quarterback from the past, Hall of Famer Bobby Layne. So long as the player was a winner, Favre approves. He has disdain for quarterbacks who amass statistics but don't win.

In Atlanta, Favre said he was miscast in a run-and-shoot offense that demanded rollout passing. He appeared excited about returning to a conventional system in which his ability to throw downfield will be accentuated. "I have a lot to learn, not only about this offense but about the NFL," Favre said. "But I'm a big guy with a strong arm. I'm an intelligent guy when it comes to football. And I'm a competitor.

"There won't be any adjustment for me because all my life I've been a drop-back passer. Playing one year in a run-and-shoot, not getting any practice time, it wasn't like I changed any. Hey, this offense is going to be for me."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

How many people thought in 1992 that he'd turn out to be a Hall of Famer?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Old City Stadium

The Packers’ home playing field for 31 years was the old “City Stadium,” which was located behind Green Bay’s East High School. At the opening game in 1925, the seating capacity was 5,389 — which was eventually expanded to a peak capacity of 24,500. The field was annually voted the finest playing surface in the league.

But after World War II, “City Stadium” began to be outdated and obsolete, especially compared to the other stadiums in the larger cities. The Packers had trouble scheduling some of the top teams to play there for their home games. One can imagine that even the players back in that era would balk at dressing in a high school locker room before the games.

The very survival of the Packers as a viable National Football League franchise began to be questioned, and so a drive was begun to construct a new stadium on the west side of town. That facility would also be named “City Stadium” when the first game was played there in 1957. It would later be renamed “Lambeau Filed” in 1965 after the death of Packers’ founder and coach Curly Lambeau.

The old “City Stadium” field still exists, and is used by Green Bay East High School for their football needs. A historical marker has been added in recent years to commemorate the Packers’ history at the site.

Milwaukee County Stadium

In 1994, the Packers played their last game in the old Milwaukee County Stadium, which has since been replaced by Miller Park. The Packers began playing a portion of their “home” schedule in the baseball stadium in 1953, and when they moved all their home contests to Green Bay starting in 1995, they offered Milwaukee season ticketholders two regular season games at Lambeau Field. Over 97% of the ticketholders took them up on this offer. Today, the former Milwaukee ticketholder package — which is called the “Gold” season ticket package — receive tickets to games 2 and 5, regardless of the opponent, plus one pre-season game and a shot in a lottery for playoff tickets.

Even though going to Lambeau is a priceless experience, some of us former Milwaukee folks still miss games at the old County Stadium.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Mystery Game

Today’s posting is a photograph of a game between the Green Bay Packers and the Rams in more simpler times of the National Football League. While the exact year of this image is not known, the location is also in question in my mind. They are playing the Rams, and judging by the face masks, it would appear to be a 1950’s-era photo.

While researching, I checked to see if maybe it was a late-1940’s image, but looking at the score (Packers: “21”), it could only possibly be a 1942 contest in Green Bay (Packers 45; Cleveland Rams 28), or a 1944 game in Green Bay (Packers 30; Cleveland Rams 21). But, the car in the extreme left middle behind the referee appears to be a Fifties-style automobile.

The other games in which the score indicates a possibility are “home” games in Milwaukee in 1952, 1954, 1955, 1956, or 1957 — all against the Los Angeles Rams. That would make this photo from State Fair Park, since the Packers started playing in the new Milwaukee County Stadium in 1953 — and this isn’t County Stadium. So, that leaves only 1952 as the possible year — but that year they played their Milwaukee Rams contest at Marquette Stadium.

Anyway, even though we don’t know for sure where or when it was taken, it is interesting to note the neighborhood houses in the background, the wooden goal posts, and the analog time clock. Much, much different from the modern-day games at Lambeau Field.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Sports Illustrated: December 4, 2006

The 30th and final (as of this point) appearance of the Green Bay Packers on the cover of Sports Illustrated came in December 2006 in their “Football America” issue. On the cover, quarterback Brett Favre is depicted with the headline “For the Love of the Game: Brett Favre Now.”

On the inside, the article is listed as “The Veteran: Huck Finn’s Last Ride... for 15 years Brett Favre has been the NFL’s answer to Mark Twain’s barefoot scamp — forever young and reckless. But nothing lasts forever, and the chattering heads think it’s time for him to retire. Pray that they’re wrong.”

“To interview Brett Favre in the basement at Lambeau is to sit awhile face-to-face with the phenomenon of American celebrity. There is the private person, of course, and there is the public persona. Often enough these two are utter opposites, even when each can fit the other like a second skin. Favre is, though, as he appears.”

“ ‘Is this the beginning of the end?,’ Favre says, ‘I hear that all the time. When you’ve played 16 years you know that it’s just a matter of time before arm strength, or your legs, give out. You’re always wondering... I come into camp now, my mind’s still telling me I can make that throw. But will my body tell me that? My game’s always been about throwing from awkward positions and making throws that other people wouldn’t make.’ He pauses. ‘And if I can’t do that, I can’t play.’ ”

“There will come a time when Brett Favre can no longer play. This is not that time. But at the end of this season — or the next or the next or the next — he will step away at last, having earned the peace of an endless off-season.”

Whether or not 2007 is Favre’s last season remains to be seen.

But as always, win or lose, it’ll be priceless to watch him play.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Temporary Problems

There is a problem with uploading images to Google's "Blogger" system currently, so that's why there was no post yesterday — or today. Once this problem is fixed, I will resume (and finish) the Sports Illustrated covers theme with the 30th and final installment.

Then, it will be on to other areas of Packers trivia and history!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Sports Illustrated: July 26, 2006

The late Reggie White was pictured in the Packers’ 29th appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated, which was the “Pro Football Hall of Fame Commemorative Issue,” in July of 2006. The cover states, “Reggie White: A Salute to an NFL Legend.” The other members of the Hall of Fame class of 2006 were Troy Aikman, Harry Carson, John Madden, Warren Moon, and Rayfield Wright.

Each player is featured in a special section, along with many photos and career statistics. At the beginning of White’s feature, SI states: “It takes a giant of a man with a huge heart and a powerful will to build a church and then rebuild it from the ashes while also galvanizing a young team and ultimately leading it to the Super Bowl. The Minister of Defense was one of a kind.”

Actually, the article presented in this “Special Issue” is a reprint from a Sports Illustrated issue in September of 1996 — before the Packers won Super Bowl XXXI. A good portion of the article focuses on the then-recent burning of White’s church in Knoxville, TN — and his ministries in general.

White retired from the Green Bay Packers in 1998, and later came back to play one season for the Carolina Panthers in 2000. He retired for good from football after that season as the NFL’s all-time sack leader with 198. Bruce Smith would later surpass White’s mark by two in 2003.

White died unexpectedly the day after Christmas in 2004 at the age of 43 from a respiratory ailment.

The Packers and the NFL will probably never see a player of his caliber again for a long, long time.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Sports Illustrated: August 8, 2005

Once again, for the 28th time, the Packers were on the cover of Sports Illustrated during Training Camp time in 2005. Pictured going through a ropes drill is running back Ahman Green (#30), with fellow running backs Najeh Davenport (#44) and Chris Robertson (#38). The occasion for the cover appearance is that SI picked them to adorn their “Training Camp Kickoff” issue — probably due in part to the popularity of the Green Bay camp each year.

Inside, the article opens with a two-page spread of the Packers’ Clarke Hinkle Field along Oneida Street, with Lambeau Field in the background. The headline “Bigger Than Ever — As training camps open across the nation, the ever-more-popular NFL is looking at a season like no other” starts the article, which has many Packer references.

“It doesn’t matter how many Packers are griping about their contracts, or what little the team did to buttress a 25th-ranked defense, or how much better the other NFC North teams got in the off-season. Football fever is at an all-time high in Green Bay. In March the faithful came from as far away as Italy to attend the club’s inaugural fan convention. In June the Packers needed all of three hours to sell some 60,000 tickets (at $8 a pop) to Family Night, a combined practice and scrimmage with the Buffalo Bills (plus fireworks afterward) at Lambeau Field this Friday...”

Most of the article talks about how popular the NFL had become (as of 2005) and the excitement surrounding various teams in the league.

At the end, SI says: “In Green Bay the story line for much of the off-season was wideout Javon Walker’s contract woes. After leading the team in catches (89), receiving yards (1,382), and touchdowns (12), Walker said he was unhappy because the Packers wouldn’t redo a deal that calls for him to make $515,000 in salary this year, and he threatened to stay out of camp. The issue flared when quarterback Brett Favre criticized Walker in the media, saying the receiver should honor his contract. So last week, when Walker surprisingly showed up on the first day, he was the big story again. ‘Pretty weird,’ he said as he walked off the practice field in Green Bay last Friday. ‘But people love football. People love drama. I gave them both.’ ”

And now he's giving it to the fans in Denver.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Sports Illustrated: February 2, 2004

The Packers appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated for the 27th time with the Kansas City Chiefs as part of a “Tales of the Super Bowl: Untold Stories” issue in February 2004. The article was a collection of Super Bowl stories over the years. Pictured shaking hands on the cover prior to the coin toss in Super Bowl I are the Packers’ tackle Bob Skoronski (#76) and defensive end Willie Davis (#87), and the Chiefs’ defensive end Jerry Mays (#75) and a player named “William” (#65). Also pictured is longtime NFL referee Norm Schacter.

Inside the magazine, there is a brief piece about the Packers’ left tackle Bruce Wilkerson, who, at the time of Super Bowl XXXI, was a 10-year veteran who had been signed in 1996 by Green Bay after being cut by Jacksonville. On Media Day, the reporter discovered Wilkerson sitting alone with no one interviewing him, and wondered why. Wilkerson had a stuttering speech problem. The writer states: “Running back Dorsey Levens mentioned it to me while cataloging a list of various Packers’ flaws that he and his teammates took pleasure in making fun of. Obviously, I interrupted, you don’t tease a man about his speech impediment. ‘Oh we kill him about it,’ Levens assured me.”

“Wilkerson’s teammates raved about his economy of movement, his veteran’s wiliness. His resourcefulness, it turned out, was not limited to his footwork. When a certain run was called, it was the play-side tackle’s job to make a line call. One of those calls required him to shout, ‘Cow!’

“In a game earlier that season Wilkerson sought to make the ‘cow’ call but got stuck on the hard ‘c.’ After struggling valiantly — ‘C-c-c-c-c’ — he finally bellowed ‘MOOOO!’ Everyone knew what he meant, left guard Aaron Taylor told me. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was that half the offense was laughing too hard to run the play.”

Just one of the things you don’t see while watching the game on television.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Sports Illustrated: December 23, 2002

The Green Bay Packers’ 26th appearance on the Sports Illustrated cover was near the end of the 2002 season, and again, quarterback Brett Favre was the photo subject. The headline reads, “True Grit: Why the Packers Keep on Winning.” The occasion was the 20-14 victory over San Francisco in the 14th game of the season.

The article opens with: “In a showdown of division leaders, Green Bay proved that it was ready for the playoffs by stopping the 49ers.” The story mainly describes how the defense held San Francisco from scoring at the end to assure the Packers’ victory. “As it turned out, the 49ers had no chance because furious pressure forced (quarterback Jeff) Garcia to rush a throw that bounced short of (Eric) Johnson. ‘I couldn’t be more proud of our defense,” Favre said after the game. ‘I always make a point of watching those guys, and they’re relentless. Half the time you don’t even know who’s in there, but they never quit, and there’s no substitute for that.’ ”

“No matter their (playoff) seeding, the Packers are secure that in a league of parity, they’ll enter the postseason boasting the most potent quarterback and a defense well-versed in preserving his handiwork.”

It didn’t matter apparently... as Green Bay was humiliated at home 27-7 by Atlanta during a snowstorm — perfect “Packer weather.”

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Sports Illustrated: September 27, 1999

The Packers’ 25th appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated came during the one year tenure of coach Ray Rhodes. The Packers had started their decline in the post-Holmgren era, and the magazine took notice. Pictured on the cover is tight end Mark Chmura, who has just been walloped and is laying on his back, looking like he’s wondering what happened.

The headline reads “Bottoms Up: The Lions are on top, the Pack is on its back, and the Broncos, Vikings and Niners are reeling. What’s going on?” Apparently, it wasn’t just the once-winning Packers who were experiencing troubles on the field.

As the feature article opens with a two-page photo of Packers’ running back Dorsey Levens getting gang-tackled by the Detroit Lions, the accompanying text reads “Piling On: In the season’s crazy first two weeks, some some erstwhile NFL have-nots have jumped all over venerabe haves.” The article does not focus on the Packers only, but on all the teams that were having trouble winning at the start of the 1999 season.

The article does state: “The 49ers aren’t the only aging power... Reggie White has left a big defensive hole in Green Bay, and Favre’s vital weapons are disappearing faster than they can be replaced.”

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Sports Illustrated: August 17, 1998

The Packers’ 24th appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated came in August of 1998, during the preseason following the Packers’ loss to Denver in Super Bowl XXXII. Quarterback Brett Favre is pictured on the cover of the “1998 NFL Preview Spectacular.” In addition to the usual football prognostications and articles, as well as scouting reports for all 30 teams, the cover promotes the feature “Brett Favre: One Play, One Hundred Decisions.”

The article begins: “Ever wonder what’s going on in the mind of a quarterback between snaps? Here are 40 heart-pounding Super Bowl seconds, as seen through the eyes of Brett Favre:

“In the meticulously time-managed world of the NFL, in which months of off-season preparation are followed by weeks of training camp and then a daily regimen leading up to each game, the culmination of all that planning is compressed into 40-second segments. That’s the amount of time allotted between the end of one play in the life of the Packers’ offense, as seen through the eyes of three-time league MVP Brett Favre. It’s Green Bay’s ball, first-and-10 at the Denver 22, with about 11 minutes left in the first quarter of a scoreless Super Bowl XXXII. The play clock behind each end zone resets to...

:40 — After landing hard at the end of a 13-yard catch, Packers wideout Antonio Freeman rises and shakes off the cobwebs. Green Bay coach Mike Holmgren stares at the field, looking to see where the ball will be spotted.

:38 — Favre strides upfield, looking to the sideline for quarterbacks coach Andy Reid. Reid, who’s wearing a headset, relays the plays from Holmgren to the quarterback by way of a tiny speaker in Favre’s helmet.

:37 — Once he knows the down and distance, Holmgren begins seven seconds of decision-making, determining which one of the 120 plays on his plastic-coated game plan is the best for this situation. All week he spoke to Favre about stretching the red zone a few yards; the Broncos have allowed a generous 65% completion rate between the 15 and 20 all season. Holmgren could also run Dorsey Levens, who has shredded the Denver defense for 28 yards on his first four carries. Even if Green Bay lines up three or four wideouts, Denver must respect the run.

:34 — Reid pushes the red button on his right hip, opening communications with Favre. “First-and-10 at the plus-22,” Reid says, “Think red zone.” Favre is excited. He thinks Holmgren is going to call a pass.

:30 — “Two Jet All Go,” Holmgren says, speaking into his microphone to Reid. The Packers will go for the touchdown. Four wideouts will spread across the field and streak towards the end zone.

:29 — The Packers make two substitutions: wide receivers Derrick Mayes and Terry Mickens for fullback William Henderson and tight end Mark Chmura.

:28 — “Two Jet All Go,” Favre hears in his helmet. Reid then tells him the formation — “Spread Right” — but Favre already knows it. It’s the only formation Holmgren would use with “Two Jet All Go.”

:25 — “Spread Right, Two Jet All Go, on one,” Favre says in the huddle. As the players break, Freeman looks to Mayes, who will line up outside him, on the far right, and says, “Remember to keep our spacing right.”

:24 — The four wide receivers move to their positions: Robert Brooks split wide left, a step off the line of scrimmage; Mickens on the line, three paces outside of left tackle Ross Verba; Freeman in the right slot; Mayes split wide. The only player in the backfield with Favre is Levens, who excels at picking up blitzes.

:19 — Favre cranes to see the play clock. Good, he thinks, plenty of time. Next he starts looking over at the defense as he settles in at the line.

:15 — Favre is on his own now. Electronic communication between the bench and the quarterback, introduced exclusively for play-calling, is cut at the 15-second mark by an NFL official in the press box.

:14 — Most quarterbacks check the safeties first for clues to the defense’s plans. Favre is no different. Broncos safeties Steve Atwater and Tyrone Braxton are 12 yards off the line. Even with the four-wideout set, neither appears to be cheating toward any receiver or to be thinking blitz. Zone coverage more than likely, Favre reasons.

:13 — The cornerbacks are five and 10 yards off the line. They’re giving up the underneath ball, Favre thinks, but there’s no reason to call an audible. He likes the play.

:12 — As he stands behind center Frank Winters, Favre guesses that the anxious-looking outside linebacker to his left, John Mobley, will blitz. That means Favre must change the blocking assignment for Levens, who in “Two Jet” was to have picked up any blitzer coming from the right side.

:11 — Favre turns and shouts to Levens, “Three Jet! Change to Three Jet!” Levens now knows to look for any blitzer coming from his left.

:09 — Now Favre barks the count, “Three 19! Three 19! Set Hut!”

:08 — The ball is snapped. Favre’s right leg drives backward as he begins a five-step drop. (The play clock is turned off at the snap, but here is a second-by-second account as the play unfolds).

:07 — Two steps into his drop, Favre glances left and sees Brooks and Mickens running into traffic. Mobley drops to cover Mickens, so Favre thinks that Freeman or Mayes might be open on the right before Atwater, lined up on the left, can get across the field. On the third step, Favre’s head swivels slightly right. Mayday!

:06 — Out of the corner of his right eye, Favre sees number 39, cornerback Ray Crockett, steaming in. Four steps into his drop all Favre can see is that 39 is getting bigger and bigger. Favre knows he’ll get hit, because Levens is helping Winters pick up blitzing linebacker Bill Romanowski. (“I blew it,” Favre thinks of his changing Levens’s blocking assignment.)

:05 — As he takes the fifth step and plants, Favre looks past Crockett while cocking his arm. He sees Braxton crouch, as though he’s expecting Freeman to run a quick hook or out. Bad move, Favre thinks. But it makes sense: Braxton knows Crockett is blitzing. That leaves an open area in the middle of the field, so Braxton figures that Favre will surely dump the ball there before he gets smacked.

:04 — Get rid of it quick, is all Favre is thinking now. Freeman accelerates past Braxton. Favre figures Freeman will beat Braxton to the back of the end zone, so he aims for the end line. Standing on the Denver 29, he throws a perfect 39-yard spiral.

:03 — Crockett gives Favre a shove, not the jarring shot the quarterback expected to receive.

:02 — Behind Braxton now, Freeman looks over his left shoulder and sees the pass coming. Out of the corner of his eye he also sees Atwater closing fast from the left. “Like a freight train,” Freeman says later.

:01 — The ball nestles into Freeman’s hands, and as he plants his right foot just inside the end line, Atwater delivers a wicked shot with his right forearm to Freeman’s left shoulder. Too late. For the 38th time in five months, Favre thrusts two fists into the air to celebrate a touchdown pass. “No feeling in the world like it,” he says later.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Sports Illustrated: January 19, 1998

It wasn’t until the next “Super Bowl Preview” issue that the Packers adorned the SI cover — for the 23rd time. Receiver Antonio Freeman is depicted being tackled by a San Francisco player during the rainy NFC Championship game victory (23-10) played on the West Coast. Ominously on the cover is the text: “Denver’s Defense: Better than you think.”

Inside, the magazine stated in the headline to open the article, “As the 49ers found out in the NFC title game, the NFL’s best team and its best quarterback reside in Green Bay.” The article reviews the game mostly, and plays a bit on the differences between Holmgren and Favre. Then there‘s this quote: “But as much as some Green Bay players (complain) about Holmgren’s overbearing authority, they love having him on their sideline come Sunday. ‘Mike is the smartest coach in the League,’ safety LeRoy Butler says, ‘The only coach who should be compared with him is dead, and that‘s Lombardi.’ ”

Although the article is brimming with confidence about the Packers’ prospects of repeating as Super Bowl champs (“One dose of Favre might be all the Broncos can take”), it appears that the Sports Illustrated cover “jinx” finally caught up to them, as the Denver Broncos won Super Bowl XXXII 31-24 in San Diego.

Very few Packer fans will discuss that game today.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Sports Illustrated: February 1997

When you’re a champion, you get special treament. So, when the Packers won Super Bowl XXXI over the Patriots 35-21, they not only got their third cover appearance in a row (see yesterday’s posting), they got a whole “Special Commemorative Edition” devoted solely to them.

This special publication was in addition to the weekly Sports Illustrated issue. Among the many special features it has are: an article summarizing the history of the Packers, a Reggie White story, a Brett Favre milk ad (Favre complete with a “milk mustache”), a review of the 1996 season, spotlights on various players, a Keith Jackson article, summaries of both NFC playoff games, a Mike Holmgren feature, a story on Lambeau Field, a summary of Super Bowl XXXI, a Brett Favre story, and several ads promoting Packers’ Super Bowl champion merchandise.

A few interestring quotes from the issue:

“In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth and the Green Bay Packers. At least that’s what the true believers think, given their team’s storied past. But the genesis of the franchise that begat Lombardi, Lofton, and the Leap was not quite that divine. Truth is, the Packers — the only pro football team that plays in the same city it did 75 years ago, the team that has sent 20 players to the Hall of Fame and won more championships (12) than any other — came into being because a guy named Curly had an awful case of tonsillitis.” (Lambeau was home on Christmas break from Notre Dame, got sick, and decided to stay rather than go back to school. He then, with others, founded the Packers the next year in 1919).

“Before Super Bowl XXXI, Brett Favre remarked, ‘I’ve always said that until we win a Super Bowl we’ll hear [about the Lombardi years], although I think we’ve done a lot in the last couple of years to offset the old talk. I don‘t think we’ll have to live in that shadow very much anymore.’ ”

“Less than two months after arriving in Green Bay, (Ron) Wolf tabbed San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Holmgren as his coach. No one took much notice of the first trade pulled off by the Packers’ new regime: Green Bay sent a first-round draft pick to the Atlanta Falcons for a strong-armed backup quarterback from Southern Mississippi named Brett Favre, who had been the Falcons’ second-round selection in 1991. Four Pro Bowls, two (later three) league MVP awards, and one Super Bowl title later, the deal is considered the steal of the decade.”

“Despite the meat-grinder nature of his position, Reggie White hasn’t missed a non-strike NFL game until last season (with a hamstring injury). Before the Packers’ 1995 NFC divisional upset of the 49ers, White told his teammates that he would hand out cash bonuses for big plays such as interceptions, fumble recoveries, and bone-jarring hits. ‘I wound up paying out almost $9,000,’ White says with a comical grin. ‘You’d be amazed how guys who are making hundreds of thousands of dollars will get up and go after $100.’ ”

“Brett Favre’s party of 14 — extended family, mostly — dined at the Oneida Country Club two nights before the NFC Championship Game. They left in two vehicles for the 15-minute drive to the quarterback’s west Green Bay home, a long Favre aerial from the Vincent T. Lombardi Middle School. Favre crammed eight folks into his Land Cruiser. He gave the keys to the Blazer to a reporter out with the clan. With a 90-second head start, the reporter began racing toward Favre’s house, a good 15 miles per hour over the speed limit, trying to beat Favre home. ‘You’re not much for the speed limit, are you?’ Irvin Favre, the player’s dad, asked the reporter. Nearing Favre’s home, everyone in the Blazer got a good chuckle out of how Brett wouldn’t be happy to finish second, even on a trip home from dinner. The Blazer was now turning into Favre’s new development, and 100 yards ahead, on a looming cross street, the Land Cruiser jetted by. ‘I knew it!’ Irvin Favre said. ‘That boy don’t like finishing second in anything!’ Irvin Favre’s son later admitted he was out for blood. “I wanted to kill you,’ he told the writer. ‘I’m really weird that way. Even in the car ride home, I want to win.’ ”

We wouldn‘t want it any other way.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Sports Illustrated: February 3, 1997

CHAMPIONS! The 22nd appearance of the Green Bay Packers on the cover of Sports Illustrated came after the event we fans had waited 29 years for — a Super Bowl victory. Green Bay beat New England 35-21 in Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans on January 26, 1997.

Pictured on the magazine’s cover is receiver/kick returner Desmond Howard during his kickoff return for a touchdown with the headline: “SPECIAL TEAM... Super Bowl MVP Desmond Howard.” Inside, the two-page photo spread of quarterback Brett Fave heaving a long one features the text: “Return to Glory... after suffering through a week of Patriots blather, the Packers got on with the business of winning their first NFL title in 29 years.”

The “blather” that the previous sentence mentioned was the media’s attention all week on the future of Patriots’ coach Bill Parcells. “ ‘What really (ticks) me off is that no one gave Coach [Mike] Holmgren his due,’ Green Bay strong safety LeRoy Butler said Sunday night. ‘Everything was Parcells, Parcells, Parcells.’ ”

Much of the Super Bowl coverage article in the issue, interestingly, focuses on Desmond Howard, the game’s MVP. But other tidbits in the text are:

“This is a team that plays together, and for that reason we deserve this,’ said Packers tight end Keith Jackson. ‘Nobody is more important than anybody else, whether you’re Reggie White or Brett Favre or a guy blocking on special teams. We don’t get down on anyone else for making mistakes, and for that reason people don’t worry about messing up. That’s rare. I wish every junior high school and high school team could be around this and sniff this and sense what it’s like to be a champion.’ ”

“The flu-plagued Brett Favre could barely keep down chicken soup this week. He spent last Thursday night in his hotel room shivering under the covers with a 101-degree temperature. ‘I was worried,’ he admitted late Sunday, ‘I’d waited my whole life to play in this game, and now I wasn‘t going to be healthy. But the night before the game, I slept great. I fell asleep at 9:30 with the TV clicker in my hand, and I felt pretty good when I woke up. But I was nervous before kickoff, and I kept dry-heaving all game.’ ”

“The Packers victory party was a raucous affair from which Favre sought temporary refuge in a nearby stairwell. There Favre reflected upon his tumultuous off-season, which included treatment for pain-killer addiction and the death of his best friend in a car accident in which his brother, Scott, was driving. ‘Through everything,’ Brett said, ‘I really believed I’d be here today.’ He laughed and continued, ‘Right here in this stairwell, talking about being world champions. My best friend’s gone forever. Trouble never seems to be far away, and the future won’t always be rosy, but they can’t take this away from me. Thirty years from now, the kids will be getting ready for Super Bowl LXI, and NFL Films will drag out Steve Sabol — he’ll be around 102 then — and he’ll talk about how Brett Favre fought through such adversity. But I know this: We etched our place in history today.’ ”

And what a great ride it all was.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Sports Illustrated: January 27, 1997

The Packers’ made their twenty-first appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated in the “Super Bowl XXXI Preview Issue” — only one week after being on the cover before. Shown on the front are quarterback Brett Favre and head coach Mike Holmgren “dining” together at Kroll’s Restaurant (a Green Bay landmark), across Ridge Avenue on the West side of Lambeau Field. The cover states: “The Missing Links... Brett Favre and Mike Holmgren... Green Bay was going nowhere until they arrived in ’92.” How true that is.

Inside, in the “Super Bowl XXXI Preview” section of the magazine, a two-page spread photo of Holmgren and Favre is accompanied by the text: “Warmed Up... After getting off to a chilly start, Packers coach Mike Holmgren and quarterback Brett Favre have found their comfort zone.” The article starts off by describing the low point of their relationship. “Brett Favre sat on the end of the bench, stewing. It was the night of October 20, 1994, during a game against the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome, and Favre seemed close to losing his starting quarterback job. He had been sidelined after the first quarter by a bruised left hip, but the way he figured it, the injury gave Green Bay coaches what they wanted: a convenient excuse to begin the Mark Brunell era... Minnesota won the game 13-10 in overtime. ‘Good,’ Favre recalls thinking, ‘we lose the rest of the games this year, that’s fine with me.’ ”

“I struggled and I struggled for a long time,’ Favre says. ‘But think about it. I got thrown into the toughest offense in the game as a starter at 22. Every other guy who’s played it (the 49ers offense) sat for a year or two and learned. Joe Montana sat behind Steve DeBerg. Steve Young sat behind Joe. Steve Bono sat behind both of them. Ty Detmer and Mark Brunell sat behind me. That’s why it was so frustrating when people would get on me.’ ”

“The next few days were dicey around Packers headquarters. Favre was frustrated in trying to master the complex offense. ‘The lowest point of his Packers career,’ former quarterbacks coach Steve Mariucci says. At the coaches meeting that week, Holmgren polled each member of the coaching staff on who should be the starting quarterback. Brunell won the vote. So what did Holmgren do? Later, he called Favre into his office and told him, ‘Buddy, it’s your job.’ Holmgren’s decision was based largely on his belief that Favre was close to mastering the offense and that the only thing holding him back — a tendency to force situations — was correctable. ‘We’re joined at the hip,’ Holmgren told Favre. ‘Either we’re going to the Super Bowl together, or we’re going down together.’ ”

Well, they were going to Super Bowl XXXI together, and that story will be covered next — the Packers’ third consecutive week on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Sports Illustrated: January 20, 1997

The Packers’ twentieth appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated was due to their NFC Championship game victory over the Carolina Panthers in January 1997, which propelled them into Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans. On the cover, receiver Antonio Freeman is depicted making a catch along with the headline: “Green Bay All the Way... Antonio Freeman and the Packers look unstoppable.”

The article opens with a two-page spread showing running back Dorsey Levens breaking a tackle, with the headline: “Super Again... Evoking memories of their title-winning forbears, the Packers overpowered the Panthers and advanced to their first Super Bowl in 29 years.” The article went on to state, “In a season marred by drug suspensions, trash talk, and nine coaching casualties, the Packers restored sentiment to the game. With their 30-13 thumping of the Carolina Panthers, they extended one of the most compelling feel-good sports stories of recent years for another two weeks. On January 26... they will face the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI...”

“Less than three minutes remained in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday when Packers’ quarterback Brett Favre jogged triumphantly to the sidelines, his first trip to the Super Bowl a done deal. As 60,790 fans shook Lambeau Field to its icy core, Favre received a wool cap, a 1996 NFC Champions hat, and a bear hug from defensive end Reggie White, whose smile could have melted the most frozen tundra. ‘Congratulations, you deserve this,’ Favre whispered into White’s ear, and the big man lost it. Steam rising from his head and tears running down his cheeks, the 35-year-old, 300-pound White turned into a bundle of mush.”

Many in the Packers’ organization, including team president and general manager Ron Wolf, said years later that this game was the most satisfying moment — even more so than winning the Super Bowl two weeks later, because it signified just how far the Packers had come in five seasons. Their rebirth was complete and had brought them to the pinnacle. Now they had one more game to prove to the world that they were championship material.