The Green Bay Packers are a professional American football team that has played since 1919 and played professionally in the National Football League since 1921.
The Green Bay Packers were founded on August 14, 1919 by Curly Lambeau and George Whitney Calhoun. Lambeau solicited funds for uniforms from his employer, the Indian Packing Company. He was given $500 for uniforms and equipment, on the condition that the team be named for its sponsor. Today, “Green Bay Packers” is the oldest team name still in use in the NFL.
The Packers became a professional franchise when they joined the newly formed American Professional Football Association on August 27, 1921. However, financial troubles plagued the team and the franchise had to be forfeited at the end of the season. Curly Lambeau found new backers the next year and regained the franchise for $250. Further troubles threatened to add more debt to the team, but local businessmen, known as the “Hungry Five,” got behind the team and formed the Green Bay Football Corporation.
The Packers are now the only publicly owned company with a board of directors in American professional sports (although other teams, such as the Atlanta Braves [Liberty Media, previously Time Warner], New York Rangers [Cablevision], the Carolina Hurricanes [Compuware], the Seattle Mariners [Nintendo of America], and the Toronto Blue Jays [Rogers Communications] are directly owned by publicly traded companies; the Chicago Cubs are currently owned by Tribune Company, previously a publicly-traded company but now private, the Cubs are up for sale). Typically, a team is owned by one person, partnership, or corporate entity; thus, a “team owner.” It has been speculated that this is one of the reasons the Green Bay Packers have never been moved from the city of Green Bay, a city of only 102,313 people in the 2000 census.
By comparison, the typical NFL football city’s population is in the millions. The Packers, however, have long had a large following throughout Wisconsin and the Midwest; in fact, for decades, the Packers played four (one pre-season, three regular-season) home games each year in Milwaukee, first at the State Fair Park fairgrounds, then at Milwaukee County Stadium. The Packers did not move their entire home schedule to Green Bay until 1995.
The reason for ending the series of Milwaukee games, according to team president Robert Harlan, was the larger capacity of Lambeau Field and the availability of luxury boxes, which were not available at Milwaukee County Stadium. County Stadium’s replacement, Miller Park, then being planned, was always intended to be a baseball-only stadium instead of a multipurpose stadium.
Based on the original “Articles of Incorporation for the (then) Green Bay Football Corporation” put into place in 1923, if the Packers franchise was sold, after the payment of all expenses, any remaining monies would go to the Sullivan-Wallen Post of the American Legion in order to build “a proper soldier’s memorial.” This stipulation was enacted to ensure the club remained in Green Bay and that there could never be any financial enhancement for the shareholders. At the November 1997 annual meeting, shareholders voted to change the beneficiary from the Sullivan-Wallen Post to the Green Bay Packers Foundation.
In 1950, the Packers held a stock sale to again raise money to support the team. In 1956, area voters approved the construction of a new stadium, owned by the city. As with its predecessor, the new field was named City Stadium, but after the death of founder Lambeau in 1965, on September 11, 1965, the stadium was renamed Lambeau Field.
Another stock sale occurred late in 1997 and early in 1998. It added 105,989 new shareholders and raised over $24 million, money used for the Lambeau Field redevelopment project. Priced at $200 per share, fans bought 120,010 shares during the 17-week sale, which ended March 16, 1998. As of June 8, 2005, 111,921 people (representing 4,749,925 shares) can lay claim to a franchise ownership interest. Shares of stock include voting rights, but the redemption price is minimal, no dividends are ever paid, the stock cannot appreciate in value, and stock ownership brings no season ticket privileges.
No shareholder may own over 200,000 shares, a safeguard to ensure that no individual can assume control of the club. To run the corporation, a board of directors is elected by the stockholders. The board of directors in turn elect a seven-member Executive Committee (officers) of the corporation, consisting of a president, vice president, treasurer, secretary and three members-at-large. The president is the only officer to draw compensation; The balance of the committee is sitting “gratis.”
The team’s elected president represents the Packers in NFL owners meetings unless someone else is designated. During his time as coach, Vince Lombardi generally represented the team at league meetings in his role as general manager, except at owners-only meetings.
The Packers have won 12 league championships, more than any other American professional football team. They have also won 3 Super Bowls. Their arch-rivals the Chicago Bears are second, with nine NFL championships (including one Super Bowl). The historical rivalry with Chicago extends to the Hall of Fame – the Packers have the second most Hall of Famers (21, behind the Bears’ 26). The Packers are also the only team to win three straight NFL titles, which they did twice (1929–1931 and 1965–67).
The Packers of the 1960s were one of the most dominant NFL teams of all time. Coach Vince Lombardi took over a last-place team in 1959 and built it into a juggernaut, winning five league championships over a seven-year span culminating with victories in the first two Super Bowls. During the Lombardi era, The Packers had a group of legendary stars: the offense was led by quarterback Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, Carroll Dale, Paul Hornung and Jerry Kramer; the defense was led by the likes of Willie Wood, Ray Nitschke, Dave Robinson, and Herb Adderley.
The greatness of the Packers of the ’60s really began one year earlier with the hiring of head coach Vince Lombardi. In their first game under Lombardi on September 27, 1959, the Packers shut out the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field. The Packers got off to a 3–0 start but lost the next five and then won their last four games to achieve their first winning season since 1947.
The next year, the Packers, led by Paul Hornung’s 176 points, won the NFL West Title and played in the NFL Championship against the Philadelphia Eagles at Philadelphia. In a see-saw game the Packers trailed the Eagles by four points late in the game. The Packers began their final drive, aiming for glory, but it was not to be as Chuck Bednarik tackled Jim Taylor just nine yards short of the goal line as time ran out. In the locker room after the game, Lombardi told his men that this would be the last time the Packers would lose the championship game with him at the helm. That prediction became fact, as the Packers would never again lose the NFL Championship game under Lombardi.
The Packers returned to the NFL Championship game the following season, as they faced the New York Giants. This time the game was no contest as the Packers exploded for 24 2nd quarter points as Paul Hornung, having recently returned from the Army, scored an NFL Championship record 19 points as the Packers beat the Giants to win their first NFL Championship since 1944.
Not resting on their 1961 Championship, the Packers stormed back the following season, jumping out to a 10–0 start en route to an amazing 13–1 season. The Packers faced the Giants in a much more brutal championship game than the previous year, but the Packers prevailed on the surprising foot of Jerry Kramer and the determined running of Jim Taylor. The Packers beat the Giants 16–7 and Titletown U.S.A. reigned supreme.
After a two-year absence from championship football, the Pack was back in 1965. They won some crucial games, including a 42–27 win over the Baltimore Colts, a contest in which Paul Hornung (coming back from a betting scandal and injuries) scored five touchdowns. The Packers would again beat the Colts in a playoff for the Western Conference title. The game would be remembered for Don Chandler’s controversial field goal in which the ball possibly went wide right, but the official raised his arms to grant the three points. That disputed win earned the Packers a trip to the NFL Championship game, where Hornung and Taylor ran through the Cleveland Browns, helping the Packers defeat the Browns to earn their 3rd NFL Championship under Lombardi.
The 1966 season was the best ever for the Packers, as the team was a well-balanced group led by National Football League MVP Bart Starr. The Packers went 12–2 and in the NFL Championship, they rose to the occasion to seal victory: with the Packers leading 34–27, the Dallas Cowboys had the ball on the Packers’ 2-yard line, threatening to tie the ball game. But on 4th down, the Packers’ Tom Brown intercepted a Don Meredith pass in the end zone to preserve a memorable victory. The Packers went on to win Super Bowl I 35–10 over the Kansas City Chiefs.
The 1967 season was the last season for Vince Lombardi as the Packers’ head coach. His team was aging quickly and they lost four games in the regular season. One of those losses was against the Minnesota Vikings and the other was against the Los Angeles Rams, but the Packers still won the Western Division Title. In the playoffs, they gained revenge on the Rams by beating them at home 28–7. Then came the 1967 NFL Championship game, known universally as the Ice Bowl, perhaps the most famous football game (college or professional) in the history of the sport. With 16 seconds left, Bart Starr’s touchdown on a quarterback sneak brought the Packers their third straight NFL Championship – a feat no other team has matched since. Super Bowl II was no contest as the Packers delivered a parting gift to Lombardi with a 33–14 victory over the Oakland Raiders. That game marked the end of the Lombardi coaching era in Green Bay and one of the most consistently dominant teams in National Football League history.
After the death of Vince Lombardi in 1970, the Super Bowl trophy was renamed the Vince Lombardi Trophy in recognition of his and his team’s accomplishments. The road that goes by Lambeau Field, which is also one of Green Bay’s major thoroughfares, was named Lombardi Avenue in honor of the coach.
Lean years after Lombardi
For about a quarter century after Lombardi left the Packers, they had little success. Poor drafting of players was a key reason. To cite a few examples, in the first round of the 1972 draft, when future Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris was still available, the Packers instead chose mediocre quarterback Jerry Tagge. In 1981, when no fewer than three future Hall of Fame defenders were still available — Ronnie Lott, Mike Singletary, and Howie Long, the Packers chose another mediocre quarterback, Rich Campbell. Finally, in 1989, when such future legends as Barry Sanders, Deion Sanders, and Derrick Thomas were available, the Packers chose offensive lineman Tony Mandarich. Though rated highly by nearly every professional scout at the time, Mandarich’s performance failed to meet expectations.
Although the Packers would not have winning success until 1992, there were moments when the Packers at times resembled the old Packer days of the 1960s. In 1972, led by workhorse running backs John Brockington and new Packer MacArthur Lane, and a sturdy defense that featured rookie Willie Buchanon, the Packers clinched the NFC Central Division Title with 10–4 record. In 1975 under new head coach Bart Starr the Packers won only 4 games, but one of those wins came at home, as the Packers beat the eventual 1975 NFC Champions Dallas Cowboys 19–17 on October 19.
1976 was another losing campaign, with the Packers only achieving a 5-9 record, the lowest in their division. The team dropped back to a 4-10 season in 1977. The frequent changes of quarterbacks during this period was indicative of Green Bay’s troubles. When the NFL expanded the regular season to 16 games the following year, the team won six of its first seven matches, but largely due to an easy schedule. After the Packers began facing tougher opponents, the wins dried up and the final record for 1978 was 8-7-1.
The Packers had another 1,000 yard rusher in Terdell Middleton: he rushed for 1,116 yards. In the early 1980s, the Packers had a star-studded aerial attack led by quarterback Lynn Dickey and wide receivers James Lofton and John Jefferson.
While the 1978 season had raised the morale of Packers fans, it did not last, for 1979 saw the team finish with a 5-11 record, and a 5-10-1 showing during the injury-plagued 1980 season. In 1981, the Packers came close to the playoffs, but lost the final game of the season, a road match against the New York Jets, and ending up with an 8-8 record.
After the 1982 season was reduced to nine games by a players’ strike, the NFL held a special playoff tournament with the eight best teams in each conference. The 5-3-1 Packers qualified for this, routing the Cardinals 41-16, but in the next round lost to the Cowboys 36-27. Another 8-8 season the following year led to the dismissal of Bart Starr as head coach. Forrest Gregg succeeded him, but after two more 8-8 seasons, he decided to cut several aging players and start over with fresh rookies. The rejuvenated Packers produced a 4-12 record in 1986, as was typical of a rebuilding period.
Another strike affected the NFL in 1987, resulting in a 15-game season. During the strike, the league used substitute players. The Packers fill-ins won one game and lost two before the regulars returned, but in the end the struggling team managed only a 5-9-1 record. Afterwards, Forrest Gregg resigned and was replaced by Lindy Infante. Still did the team struggle, going 4-12 in 1988.
With such a weak record, the Packers gained the privilege of first-round draft picks during the 1989 off-season. They selected Michigan State offensive tackle Tony Mandarich, who was getting considerable publicity due to his huge 325-pound frame. Mandarich (who later admitted to using steroids in college) proved a poor choice in the end, and after three seasons of mediocre performance was cut. The 1989 campaign was the best in 17 years, with the Packers compiling a 10-6 record, but still missing the playoffs. There followed another two losing seasons, with 6-10 and 4-12 records. A general overhaul took place during the 1992 off-season, with Mike Holmgren replacing Lindy Infante. Most importantly however, the Packers acquired second-year quarterback Brett Favre from the Atlanta Falcons.
A new golden era
Favre would get off to a slow start, losing five of his first seven games, but afterwards won six in a row. The Packers finished 1992 with a 9-7 record. In the 1993 off-season, the team signed free-agent defensive end Reggie White. After another slow start, the Packers swept ahead for a 9-7 record, reaching the playoffs for the first time in eleven years. In the NFC wild card round, they faced the Detroit Lions, who had beaten them earlier in the season. In a close game, Favre led the team to a 24-28 victory, but in the divisional playoff round Green Bay was overwhelmed 27-17 by the Dallas Cowboys, the eventual Super Bowl winner.
The 1994 season was a near-rerun of the previous year. Again the Packers went 9-7, beat the Lions 16-12 in the NFC wild card round, and lost the divisional game 35-7 to the Cowboys. In 1995, Favre continued to cement his reputation as one of the NFL’s finest quarterbacks, passing for 4,413 yards and scoring 38 touchdown passes during the team’s 11-5 regular season. The Packers reached the top of the NFC Central division for the first time since 1971. However, they still had to go through the wildcard round, overpowering Atlanta 27-10. The divisional round saw them knock out the defending Super Bowl champion 49ers 27-17, but were once again frustrated by the Cowboys, who beat them 38-27 in the NFC Championship game and went on to win another Super Bowl title.
As the 1996 season began, the Packers were more determined than ever to reach the Super Bowl. Beginning with an eight-game winning streak, they faced the hated Cowboys during Week 11 on a Monday Night game. The Packers suffered a smarting loss, the score being 21-6. After this, they won the last five regular season games, finishing with a record of 13-3. Reaching the top of the NFC Central division, they were able to skip the wild card round this time. In the divisional playoff, they easily defeated San Francisco at Lambeau, with a score of 35-14. Meanwhile, the Cowboys had lost to the Carolina Panthers, and so the Packers would have to face this two-year old expansion team in the NFC Championship match. Carolina was no Dallas, and the Packers easily beat them 30-13 to advance to Super Bowl XXXI.
Super Bowl XXXI
Facing Green Bay in the New Orleans Superdome were the AFC champion New England Patriots. In a see-saw game, the Packers gained a 27-14 lead at halftime, which they never lost despite a valiant effort by their opponent. The final score was 35-21, and Green Bay had won its first championship since 1967.
The defending champions would have an easy go of the 1997 season, which saw a record of 13-3. Brett Favre passed for 3,867 yards and was named the league’s MVP third year in a row. In their fifth consecutive playoff appearance, the Packers rolled over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27-7 in the divisional round, then beat the 49ers 23-10 in the NFC Championship to make the Super Bowl for the second year in a row.
Super Bowl XXXII
Playing in San Diego, the Packers would this time engage the Denver Broncos, who had lost in all their previous Super Bowl appearances. In a game that was even more see-saw than SB XXXI, Denver had taken the lead in the fourth quarter, with a score of 24-17. In the final minute of the game, Brett Favre threw a desperate pass at wide receiver Mark Chumra, but it failed and the Broncos walked home with the Lombardi Trophy.
Still playing strong football, the Packers compiled an 11-5 record in 1998, but suffered several key injuries. They made the playoffs for the sixth year in a row, but this time as a wild card. Once again, Green Bay faced its perennial foe the San Francisco 49ers, but luck would not be on their side this time, as they lost a close game, the score being 30-27. Afterwards, Mike Holmgren stepped down as head coach and was succeeded by Ray Rhodes. The Packers only managed an 8-8 showing in 1999 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1992. Rhodes was quickly dumped and replaced by Mike Sherman, but 2000 produced a weak 7-9 record.
Green Bay rebounded nicely in 2001, going 12-4 and returning to the playoffs as a wild card. Per established practice, they challenged the 49ers and beat them 25-15, avenging their playoff loss three years earlier. There would be no Super Bowl appearance though, as Green Bay was crushed by the St. Louis Rams in the NFC Championship game 45-17. The following year began strongly, with the Packers starting 8-1. Divisional realignment had placed them along with Minnesota, Chicago, and Detroit in the new NFC North. Being the only team in their division to achieve a record above .500 in 2002, the Packers seemed a virtual shoe-in for the first-round bye. However, the final game of the season was lost at home to the New York Jets, reducing them to wild card status. The playoffs would have a humiliating end, as the Packers were routed 27-7 by the Atlanta Falcons on a snow-covered Lambeau Field.
2003 began on a bad note. Lambeau Field had been renovated that year, but in the season opener, the Packers lost to the Vikings in an embarrassing 30-25 game. Brett Favre suffered injuries during the season as well as the death of his father on the eve of a Monday Night trip to Oakland which he won in impressive fashion, trouncing the Raiders 41-7. Despite an 11-5 record, Green Bay was again at the top of a weak division and had no trouble making the playoffs. The wild card round saw a fierce struggle with the Seattle Seahawks, which tied 27-27 and went into overtime. Defensive back Al Harris caught a pass from Seattle and ran for a 52-yard touchdown, boosting the team to 33 points. In the divisional round however, the Packers lost 20-17 to Philadelphia.
In 2004, Green Bay compiled a 10-6 season and reached the playoffs as a wildcard, but lost to the Vikings 31-17. During the 2005 off-season, the team drafted QB Aaron Rodgers from UC Berkeley. Rodgers was intended to be the eventual successor to Brett Favre, by now 36 and showing his age by turning in a poor performance that year. Despite a devastating 52-3 win over New Orleans in Week 5, Favre threw a record 29 interceptions. Injuries caused the team further problems, and the season ended with a 4-12 record, the worst since 1991.
It was widely expected that Brett Favre would retire in the 2006 off-season, but he eventually decided to continue playing. In addition, the team got a new coach, Mike McCarthy. The regular season started badly, with the Packers being shut out at home by the Bears. An uneven stretch followed, and again Green Bay would not reach the playoffs, going 8-8.
2007 witnessed a remarkable resurgence of the Packers. Brett Favre began pushing hard to make up for his failures during the past two years. Getting the team off to a four-game winning streak, he would see a loss to the Bears in Week 5, six straight wins afterwards, a loss to the Dallas Cowboys, and a heavy 35-7 defeat in Chicago. With a 13-3 record, Green Bay emerged at the top of the NFC North and gained a first-round bye in the playoffs. In the divisional round, they rolled over the Seattle Seahawks 42-20 in a snowy home game, then advanced to the NFC Championship. Also played at Lambeau, this game pitted Green Bay against the New York Giants. With below zero temperatures, it was one of the coldest in NFL history, and undoubtedly affected the 38-year old Favre’s performance. The game was tied 20-20 at the end of the fourth quarter and went into overtime. After two failed attempts, the Giants managed a field goal, bringing the final score to 23-20 and going on to win the Super Bowl.
In March 2008, Brett Favre announced his retirement, and as planned, Aaron Rodgers stepped up as starting quarterback. But as the summer approached, Favre suddenly decided that he wasn’t ready to retire after all, and petitioned NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for a comeback. Goodell granted his request, but the Packers were ready to begin anew with Aaron Rodgers and had no interest in taking Favre back. They went so far as to offer him $25 million to stay in retirement, but he rejected it. There followed a three-week war of words between Favre and the Packers management until he threatened to sign with the Minnesota Vikings. The thought of that caused Green Bay’s front office to panic, and they decided that he could join the New York Jets in exchange for a conditional draft pick. Favre complied, whereupon the Packers breathed a sigh of relief and prepared to inaugurate the Aaron Rodgers era.
The new quarterback got off to a slow start, winning his first two games as starter over Minnesota and Detroit, then losing the next three. Then Green Bay won two against the Seahawks and Colts, afterwards losing to the Titans and Vikings. Aside from a 37-3 victory over Chicago, the rest of the season was one of losses, with a final 6-10 record. Green Bay closed the year on an upbeat note, winning a 31-21 victory over the Lions on a clear, freezing day at Lambeau and giving Detroit a 0-16 winless season.
In August 2009, the very thing Green Bay’s front office had tried to prevent happened. Brett Favre, after his stint with the Jets, signed with Minnesota, provoking outrage among Packers fans. The regular season got off to a poor start, as the Packers were unable to defeat any opponents with a winning record. In Week 4, the team traveled to the Metrodome to face their former quarterback, losing 30-23. Following easy wins over Detroit and Cleveland, they hosted the Vikings in Week 8. Packers fans burned effigies of Favre, who was greeted by a chorus of boos and obscenities as he stepped onto Lambeau Field in the uniform of Green Bay’s hated rival. Minnesota won the game handsomely, the final score being 38-26. The lowest point came a week later, when the Packers lost to the then winless Buccaneers 38-28. After that however, they recovered and swept through the next five games. Following a one-point loss to Pittsburgh, they defeated the Seahawks and Cardinals to secure a wild card in the playoffs. Having to face Arizona again in the wild card round, the Packers waged a monumental struggle and managed to tie 45-45 at the end of the fourth quarter, sending the game into overtime. Two minutes in, the Cardinals scored a touchdown and ended Green Bay’s playoff hopes. With a final score of 51-45, the game set a record for the highest-scoring playoff game in NFL history.