Monday, January 31, 2011

Watch This - 1929 Championship Watch

(Heritage Auctions)

Before rings became the standard reward, teams gave out other symbols of victory to their players. This stunning example, which was sold at auction in 2006 for $9,560.00, is a Hamilton watch given to members of the Packers' first World Championship team following the 1929 season.

(Heritage Auctions)

Signed out of Beloit College by Curly Lambeau, Bernard "Boob" Darling was an integral member of not only this championship team but the Packers' first three.

The contributions of the the 6'3", 215-pound Darling (seen here wearing the Packers' 1927-28 jersey) anchored the Packer offensive line and helped propel the club to greatness. With Darling at center, the Packers won three championships in a row, a feat only once equaled (by Lombardi's last three Packer squads) but never surpassed. Darling's career was brief, ending after the 1931 season. He went out a champion.

Darling remained active in the Packers organization long after his retirement, first becoming a member of the team's Board of Directors and later being elevated to the Executive Committee. It was during his tenure on the Committee that the Packers hired Vince Lombardi, setting the stage for one of the greatest dynasties in professional sports. He was elected to the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 1970.

Mike Michalske's pocket watch from 1929 is on display at the Packers Hall of Fame at Lambeau Field.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

One Ring to Rule Them All - 1966 (Super Bowl I)

This is it - the true Super Bowl prize. Jerry Kramer's ring from Super Bowl I, then officially if long-windedly known as the "AFL-NFL World Championship Game."

Salaries have risen to the point where a Super Bowl share isn't the windfall it once was. Players consider themselves bigger than the sport. But the ring endures.
"The ultimate goal for (your) legacy is everybody talks about us to get that Super Bowl ring. If you get that, then everything, you've accomplished everything."
–Donald Driver
The word has become a shorthand for the game itself. The phrase "doesn't have a ring" is a serious knock on the Hall of Fame hopes of all-too-many players.

The tradition of a football championship ring was borrowed, as were so many early team names, from baseball. The New York Giants were the first to issue them, after sweeping the Yankees (their Polo Grounds tenants) in the 1922 World Series.

Before a ring became the standard symbol of victory, players were rewarded with lapel pins, watch fobs, tie bars and pocket watches. Rings had been worn by triumphant NFL teams at least as far back as the 1950s, but with the advent of the Super Bowl rings began to take on a particular significance (not to mention heft).

The following four pictures are of a salesman's sample of the first Super Bowl ring, worn by Vince Lombardi and his World Champion 1966 Packers.

(photo credit: Heritage Auctions)

The story goes that Ken Westerlund of Jostens met with Lombardi to review sketches. Lombardi arrived knowing exactly what he wanted, and Westerlund had to borrow an airbrush from a Green Bay TV station to quickly rework the design based on the coach's notes.

(photo credit: Heritage Auctions)

The first shank features the iconic Packers helmet, while the other holds the results of both championship games above a very clever NFL/AFL combination logo.

(photo credit: Heritage Auctions)

The crown under the shield comes from the Lombardi family crest.

(photo credit: Heritage Auctions)

The 1966 ring (along with a pair of its older brothers) is also featured in this ad for Josten's, from a 1967 Packers game program:

(photo credit:

There's an interesting story behind Jerry Kramer's Super Bowl I ring. He wore it proudly for fifteen years before it was stolen on a United Airlines flight from Chicago to New York in 1981. Kramer, heartbroken, commissioned a replacement ring, which he continued to wear.

The original surfaced 25 years later in Mastro Auctions' April 2006 auction. The auction catalogue was noticed by Ray Nitchke's son, who didn't believe his father's teammate would sell the ring, and who subsequently called Kramer. Kramer in turn contacted the auction house, who removed the listing, but not before bidding had topped $20,000.

Once the original ring was returned to its rightful owner, Kramer let Mastro auction off the replacement. It sold for $22,000, which Kramer used as start-up capital for the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, which "provides hands-on assistance and financial aid to help retired NFL players deal with some of the hardships they may encounter after football."

Saturday, January 29, 2011

High Stakes

It's long been traditional for mayors to share symbolic bets when their cities' teams face off in big games. On the line in the NFC Championship Game (other than the Halas Trophy and spot in the Super Bowl) was an assortment of food products, from Chicago's pierogi and pretzels to New Glarus Spotted Cow beer (from the mayor of Green Bay, natch).

Now the Milwaukee Art Museum and Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Art are getting into the act. They have agreed to a bet in which the winning city's museum will loan the other, for an unspecified period, a work of art from its collection. The two paintings on the line are both important works from significant French impressionists.

If the Packers win, Renoir's Bathers with Crab will be on its way to the Cream City.

If the Steelers prevail, then Gustave Caillebotte's Boating on the Yerres will be taking up temporary residence in Pittsburgh.

I can't wait to see how the work is displayed in its temporary home. The Milwaukee Art Museum has long had a relationship with the Brewers, nice to see them getting into the football spirit.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Playing the Field

Crews are working to re-brand Cowboys Stadium in Super Bowl livery. This gives us our first look at the field:

The Packers' colors will decorate the right endzone, gold stencil wordmark against a dark green field.

The NFL's logo replaces the Cowboys' star at midfield, flanked by Super Bowl XLV logos at either 25-yard line.

The logos are a combination of press-on decals and paint applied with stencils.

As the home team, the Packers will use the Cowboys' locker room and sideline:

The Steelers are getting gold, the Packers dark green.

It's not just the field. The stadium's exterior is being covered in Super Bowl livery, including a slightly larger-than-life photo of Aaron Rodgers.

When completed, the field will look something like this:

Almost ready for the coin toss.

Photo credit: Mackie Morris
Field rendering: Puckguy14

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Patch a Rising Star

The Packers have just given us our first look at the jerseys to be worn in the Super Bowl, as Marge Switzer and her team prepare the uniforms for the game.

That's a great sweater.

I particularly like her "G" logo earrings:

These little number patches find their way on to sideline gear, caps and jackets.

The Super Bowl logo looks pretty good; silver's a nice accent color with the green and gold. One of the things I like about the new Super Bowl "logo system" is that the Lombardi Trophy patch will look good on just about every uniform. We won't have the color clashes we've seen in the past.

Are those patches heat-applied?

Photo credit: Duke Bobber/

UPDATE 1/28: Paul Lukas has confirmed with the NFL that the patches will be heat-sealed to the jerseys, not sewn. This appears to be a departure from NFL norm, although baseball has done this for years, which has led to some interesting "wardrobe malfunctions":

Hope they don't end up scattering little silver patches across the Cowboys Stadium turf.

Video: 1962 NFL Title Game

As we lead up to the Super Bowl, we'll be looking back, in no particular order, at some of the Packers' previous title games.

From YouTube comes this 2-part video of the 1962 NFL title game which was played on December 30, 1962 at Yankee Stadium. The Green Bay Packers defeated the New York Football Giants, 16-7, to claim their eighth (and Lombardi's second) World Championship. The Packers wore their road whites, only the second time (after 1960) they had done so in a championship tilt.

"I think it was about as fine a football game as I’ve ever seen," commented Packers legendary coach Vince Lombardi after the game. "I think we saw football as it should be played."

Check out the team jacket Bart Starr is wearing in the opening segment. I'm not familiar with this one:

It appears to be pretty simple, a dark green wool jacket with single gold stripe on the collar, waist and cuffs.

Odd placement for the team name - across the shoulders, it's about where player names would be at the end of the decade.

A very sharp look.

Later on, when Willie Wood is ejected from the game for arguing a flag, he takes to the sidelines and dons a cape and knit cap.

The cap is interesting; it should bear his #24, but instead it appears to be #17, a number which was unissued between 1960 and 1967:

I wonder if it was common for players to wear other numbers on their sideline gear.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Black and Blue in '41

One of the best things about the NFC Conference Championship game against the Bears (excepting the final score, of course) is the rare look backward it inspired in the press.

The NFL has a particular myopia when it comes to the pre-Super Bowl era. It's rare to see much coverage of those games, but the fact that the Packers and Bears haven't met in the postseason since November 14, 1941 is a compelling enough story to overcome that.

On that day, a mere week after Pearl Harbor, Curly Lambeau and his Packers journeyed south to Wrigley Field for the Western Division playoff.

The Packers would take a long train ride back to Green Bay after the game, falling to the Bears 33-14. The Chicago Bears' site provides us a six-minute highlight film of the loss on their site.

The New York Times offers a retrospective of the era through the eyes of the last two surviving players from that game, John Siegal of the Bears and Ed Frutig of the Packers.

Frutig can be seen far left in second row of this team photo, one of the only pieces of memorabilia he still has:

The Green Bay Press-Gazette offers us a great photo gallery of that 1941 postseason game.

The ball bounces free after the Packers' Baby Ray fumbles on a kickoff return during the first quarter of a 33-14 loss to the Bears in the Western Division playoff game at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Dec. 14, 1941. Bears lineman Ray Bray (82) is on the ground in front of Packers lineman George Svendsen, whose legs are showing, but the Beras' Dan Fortmann (21) and John Siegel (6) are among those eyeing the ball. The Bears' Ray McLean -- who in 1958 was the Packers' coach -- recovered the ball.
Chicago fullback Norm Standlee (22) heads upfield during the first quarter of the Bears' 33-14 victory over the Packers in the Western Division playoff game at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Dec. 14, 1941. Packers defenders Cecil Isbell (17) and Don Hutson (14) are among those closing in on Standlee.
Chicago defensive end George Wilson clotheslines Packers quarterback Cecil Isbell after he makes a throw during a 33-14 loss to the Bears in the Western Division playoff game at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Dec. 14, 1941.
Fullback Norm Standlee scores the Bears' second touchdown of the second quarter on a 2-yard run in a 33-14 victory over the Packers in the Western Division playoff game at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Dec. 14, 1941. The Packers' Herman Rohrig (8) stands between the officials and Charley Brock (29) is at right.
Packers end Hal Van Every hands the ball to an official after scoring on a 10-yard pass from Cecil Isbell in the third quarter of a 33-14 loss to the Bears in the Western Division playoff game at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Dec. 14, 1941. Packers end Carl Mullineaux (19) is at left, next to the Bears' George McAfee (5). Bears defensive end Hampton Pool (76) is at right.
The Green Bay Packers defense takes down a Chicago Bears ball carrier during the Western Division championship game at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Dec. 14, 1941. Among the Packers in the photo are Charles Schultz (60), Clarke Hinkle (30) and Cecil Isbell (17).
Action from the Western Division championship game between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Dec. 14, 1941. The next photo shows the play in close-up detail.
The ball comes loose during the Western Division championship game between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Dec. 14, 1941. Clockwise from lower left are Bears guard Dan Fortmann (21), Packers guard Bill Kuusisto (45), Bears end John Siegal (6), Packers tackle Bill Lee (40) and Packers end Larry Craig (54).
The Chicago Tribune offers up a sharper look at the first photo:

Chicago Bears Hall of Fame guard Danny Fortmann (21) and Bears end John Siegel (6, far right) reacts to the ball in the air after a tackle by Bears guard Ray Bray (82) in the Western Division Playoff game against the Green Pay Packers played at Wrigley Field on Dec. 14, 1941. Other players are unidentified.
Not wanting to miss the party, the Chicago Sun-Times gives us a few of the same photos and two more:

This image from the December 14, 1941 NFC Championship game featuring the Green bay Packers against the Chicago Bears, Bears Norm Standlee runs the ball during the game at Wrigley Field in Chicago.
Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame running back Clarke Hinkle runs around Chicago Bears end Hampton Pool on a 12-yard run in a 33-14 loss on 12/14/1941.
While that is indeed Clarke Hinkle, it's not from the game in question (unless Hamp Pool was the only Bear wearing white). I don't know exactly when the photo was taken, but from the two gold sock stripes I'm guessing late 1930s, as the Packers had abandoned them in favor of solid blue socks by 1941. It would have to be 1940, Pool's first year in the league, if that is indeed him.

Still, that's an awful lot of black and white to find in the press.

It's a rare and wonderful treat for sportswriters to remember the game's pre-Super Bowl past. Even more to do so in the context of a Packer win, avenging the playoff loss from seven decades ago.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

In Which We (Ought to) Gain a New Reader

Peter King of Sports Illustrated opens his post-NFC Championship Game Monday Morning Quarterback column with this:
Interesting little-known factoid I got from my postgame conversation with Aaron Rodgers: After being twice-concussed this season, he changed helmets to one of the new, safer, high-tech models the league has been urging players to use.
Far be it from me to quibble with Mr. King, but he's well behind the curve on this one. I discussed it at some length back in December, when the new helmet made its first appearance against the Giants.

Now I understand that The Wearing of the Green (and Gold) is probably not on his regular reading list (although it should be!), but the new helmet was pretty big news at the time. It was featured in the New York Times, not to mention King's own Sports Illustrated. It was indeed interesting, but far from a "little-known factoid". King's followup was better:
Remember the big helmet-to-helmet hit he took early in the fourth quarter from Chicago defensive end Julius Peppers, the one that drew a 15-yard penalty on Peppers? Well, Rodgers feels that hit could well have led to concussion number three had he not been wearing the new helmet.

"That was lucky," Rodgers told me. "As much as the new helmet feels uncomfortable and I'm still getting used to it, I'm really happy I was wearing it on that hit."
I'm still wary of trying to tech our way out of this problem; the bigger issue for me is that Peppers appeared to be aiming deliberately high on the hit in hopes of forcing a turnover.

Extra padding has allowed players a false sense of security, allowing them to think (or pretend) that they can do so without consequences. Or, as NPR's Scott Simon put it, "Modern polycarbonate helmets have let players weaponize their heads." It's time to rethink this particular arms race.

Having a Ball

We first got our look at the Super Bowl game ball during the logo unveiling almost a year ago. Now Uni Watch prexy Paul Lukas, recently returned from a tour of the Wilson plant for an upcoming Page 2 article, has a photo of the reverse:

Interesting positioning - the home team is traditionally listed second.

ESPN's Sunday Countdown had mockups of all the various combinations during the two championship games, but the Packers/Steelers version is now officially in production. Lukas is raffling off this ball, one of the first off the assembly line. See his blog for details.