Sunday, March 31, 2013

1959 Vince Lombardi Photo

This 1959 photograph of Vince Lombardi recently sold at auction. It depicts the new coach overseeing his first training camp.

Heritage Auctions
I'm struck by the very simple attire, his solid pullover and cap (without the later the "GB" logo). In just a few seasons, he would introduce the team's first helmet logo and change the Packers' branding forever.

Looking past the Coach, you can see two players walking in the background.

They appear to be wearing the dark blue-green and gold uniforms of Vince's predecessor:

The Packers had a 1-10-1 record in 1958, their last year in those uniforms. 1959 brought a new coach, who brought a new attitude and new uniforms to boot.

Standing next to Lombardi on that late-summer day in 1959, I don't think any Packer Backer could have conceived of the changes in store for the once-proud franchise.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Success Has Another Father

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting that the designer of the Packers' iconic helmet logo has come forward.

The story behind the 'G'

John Gordon, now an adjunct assistant professor of art at St. Norbert College, spoke Sunday on his involvement in the design of the Packers iconic "G" logo.

Gordon, 72, was an assistant equipment manager under "Dad" Braisher from 1960-'68, including working the majority of his tenure with Vince Lombardi. While he couldn't recall the exact date, Gordon said just before the start of the 1961 training camp that Braisher told him he had an art project for him.

The afternoon before, Lombardi had chosen Braisher to come up with a logo design for the Packers helmet. In a letter to Tom Murphy of the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame in June 2010, Gordon explained his role.

"Since Dad was not an artist, he gave me the job and told me that he wanted the logo to consist of a letter "G" on a football-shaped background," Gordon wrote. "My response to his G on an oval idea went something like this: 'That's not a very creative idea, Dad. Why don't you let me do some experimenting?' "

Braisher was not interested in swaying from his original concept.

"Dad was very conservative and not much interested in the ideas of a young art student in the 1960s," Gordon wrote. "I have a clear sense that the concept was Dad's alone. But the actual configuration of the original image was mine."

Gordon said he had doubts about the shape of the "G" and the design, but the drawing he brought into the equipment room the next day pleased Braisher, was promptly approved by Lombardi and was sent to the printer to be made into decals.

"At the time, I was very nervous for Coach Lombardi to see it," Gordon said. "I don't want to diminish Dad's contribution, but the fact remains that Dad and I were both involved, and I'm proud to have been a part of it. I look at it as a collaborative effort."
Very interesting.

Longtime Packers equipment manager "Dad" Braisher is commonly given credit for the logo, but it makes sense that he would farm out the actual design to an assistant with the appropriate background.

"Dad" Braisher

Jeff Ash of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, points out that others have made this claim in the past.
Two Green Bay advertising guys, Ray Antil and Bill Moutrie, both now deceased, also said they helped Braisher design the logo.

One of Dad Braisher’s old friends came forward in 1998 and said none of those guys helped design the G logo. He said Braisher used to teach industrial arts and certainly would have been skilled enough to sketch the G after Vince Lombardi asked him to do so.
Ash also reports that he has "two solid sources" that tell him Gordon's claim is "the most credible of any of them." And, as he says, "Curious that he never said anything about it until now."

I agree. I'm going to reach out to Mr. Gordon – as might imagine, I have many questions for him.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

"The Monday Night Miracle", or "He did WHAT?!" is currently holding a vote for "Greatest Play of All Time", and one up for discussion comes from Green Bay Packers history.

That play is the "Monday Night Miracle". November 6, 2000, the Packers hosting the Vikings on a cold and rainy evening. The game was 20-20 at the end of regulation and went into overtime. On their first possession in overtime, Brett Favre's pass to Antonio Freeman was deflected off Minnesota defender Chris Dishman and then again off Freeman's shoulder before he snagged it with a fingertip catch. Freeman had the presence of mind to realize that the ball was live, and he hopped up and sprinted into the endzone to seal the victory before most of the Vikings realized what happened.

Ah, that magical year of 2000. The teams were identified as "VIKES" and "PACK" in ABC's scorebug, and Dennis Miller was a color commentator on Monday Night Football.

The call by Al Michaels still resonates with Packer fans: "He did WHAT?!" worked up this infographic commemorating the moment:

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Purple Packer Eaters

Well, another Packer has gone over the purple wall.

Last year, Greg Jennings turned down a multiyear extension worth $11 million per year, asking $15M per from the Packers. This year, the wide receiver was looking for $11M, and the Packers were only offering $8M. His contract with the Vikings averages about nine million over each of five years, with a $10M signing bonus.

He joins a group of notable former Packers who have switched green jerseys for purple (even though the Vikings will no longer be using the Packers' shade of gold starting next season).

Placekicker Ryan Longwell was already the Packers' all-time leading scorer with 1,054 points (a title he wrestled from legend Don Hutson) before defecting to Minnesota in 2006. He played nine seasons in Green Bay and six with the Vikings before wrapping up his career as a replacement with his hometown Seattle Seahawks.

The year before, Packers safety Darren Sharper had traded Lambeau Field for the Metrodome, signing with the Vikings after playing eight years in Green Bay.

I'm sure there was another guy who made the same move...

Oh, yeah.

Seriously though, guys? Those purple uniforms are hideous. You'd have to throw a ton of extra money at me.

Speaking of which, I rather like Grantland writer Steven Hayden's take on the situation:

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Photo Gallery - Dr. Eugene Brusky

Green Bay Press-Gazette Assistant online editor Jeff Ash brings us a marvelous photo gallery of team physician Dr. Eugene Brusky, who passed away last week.

Brusky was hired by Vince Lombardi in 1962 and served the club until 1990. He had been inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame three years earlier.

Brusky was apparently known as "Dr. B"; at least, that was chainstiched on the watch cap he wore on the sidelines.

Dr. Eugene Brusky, the Green Bay Packers' team physician, in an undated photo. Vernon and Jim Biever photo
Brusky was on the sidelines for one of the Packers' dynasties, the greatest single decade any team has had in the NFL.

Dr. Eugene Brusky, the Green Bay Packers' team physician, works with quarterback Bart Starr in this undated photo. Green Bay Packers photo
Note the 1966 World Championship ring on the doctor's finger. He also saw the team through some less-than-glamorous times:

Dr. Eugene Brusky, the Green Bay Packers' team physician, examines quarterback Lynn Dickey during a game in the mid-1980s. Vernon and Jim Biever photo
Lynn Dickey's uniform helps us narrow down the date for that particular photo, at least to a three-year period; numbers on the pants were introduced as part of head coach Forrest Gregg's general re-design for 1984 and eliminated after the 1987 season. Dickey himself retired after 1985, which leaves us with a two-year window.

Brusky appears to be wearing the same outfit in this photo with quarterback Randy Wright, who wore the green and gold from 1984-88. If the two photos are from the same season, that would make it 1984.

Dr. Eugene Brusky, the Green Bay Packers' team physician, left, helps quarterback Randy Wright from the field in this photo from the 1980s. Packers trainer Dominic Gentile is at right. Green Bay Packers photo
In warmer weather, it would seem that Dr. Brusky spent much of his time on the sidelines in a gold sport shirt, either on its own:

Dr. Eugene Brusky, the Green Bay Packers' team physician, left, talks to linebacker Mike Hunt in this undated photo. Vernon and Jim Biever photo
or under a green jacket:

Dr. Eugene Brusky, left, the Green Bay Packers' team physician, talks with injured linebacker John Anderson during a game at Milwaukee County Stadium in an undated photo. Vernon and Jim Biever photo
In this photo, the gold shirt is paired with a mesh-back gold cap.

Dr. Eugene Brusky, center, the Green Bay Packers team physician, looks at medical supplies on the sideline before a game at Milwaukee County Stadium in this undated photo. Packers trainer Dominic Gentile is at left. Vernon and Jim Biever photo
I love the helmet graphic on those caps, with its single-bar gray facemask. The Packers switched to green facemasks in 1980, but continued to use a gray-masked logo as late as 1993.

When Dr. B retired after the 1990 season, the Packers presented him with a bronze medical bag.

Dr. Eugene Brusky is honored for his 29 years of service as the Green Bay Packers' team physician before the game between the Packers and the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field on Dec. 15, 1991. Press-Gazette Media archives
There's the "Dr. B" cap again.

The full gallery is here. Once again, the Press-Gazette illuminates a chapter in the Packers' history that could easily have gone ignored.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A New Take on an Old Classic

New York-based designer Matt McInerney is currently publishing his concept to re-design logos for all 32 NFL teams.

Here's his take on our favorite club:

Green Bay Packers

A little explanation:
This interlocking G & B, set in chamfered type, is a nod to one of the early Green Bay Packers logos.
He is of course referring to this logo, the beautiful interlocking "GB" worn on caps from Vince Lombardi through the 1970s.

I rather like it. I can't see the Packers ever ditching Dad Braisher's "G" helmet logo, but but as a "what if?" exercise I like McInerney's design a lot more than I do some of the others which have been proposed.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Arts and Letter(head)s, Part VI

Previously, I featured this correspondence on team letterhead from former team president Lee Joannes to staff members working on the Packers' third stock drive:

Wisconsin Historical Society

     As you know I am layed up and haven't been able to get around as much as I would like to follow through on the Packer Drive, following the kick-off of our group at the Beaumont Hotel.

     You have undoubtedly seen the score board that we have on the Court House lawn, and, of course, we want to keep old No. 14 moving up. In order to do that it is necessary that you complete your pledges and turn them into the Packer Ticket Office.

     I sincerely hope that the "Special Commitee" will be able to complete its calls this week and have them all turned in so that when the general committee has their report meeting next Monday night we will be able to report that the Special Committee has completed their work. I would greatly appreciate hearing from you. If you have any problems you would like to discuss with me call my home De Pere 554.

Very truly yours,

Lee Joannes, Chairman
Packer Stock Drive
At the time, I found it interesting that Joannes was using old stationary (as indicated by the "Five Times World's Champions" banner, placing this post-1939 and pre-1944). Recently, I've come across two more letters Joannes wrote during this period, and the story they tell together is an interesting one.

The first of the new letters is dated nearly one month earlier, a boilerplate invitation to a meeting about that same stock drive, then in its planning stages:

Wisconsin Historical Society
March 15, 1950

     I would appreciate very much if you would attend a little get-together dinner meeting of the businessmen of this community at 6:00 P. M., Wednesday, March 22nd, at the Beaumont Hotel.

     The purpose of this get-together is to explain to you fully the aims and purposes of the stock drive of the Packers. ALSO, to get some help and advice from you as to the most expedient way of handling the sale of Packer stock. The purpose of the meeting is not to sell Packer stock, but to get the feelings of the leaders of our community on this matter.

Sincerely yours,

Lee Johannes, Chairman
Packer Stock Drive


P.S.:   Because the Packer organization is trying to cut corners in all ways in their "economy program" this will be a Dutch treat affair ------- okay?
This letterhead style was used by the team in the period immediately after the departure of founder/head coach Curly Lambeau. It's the same style from the last several years of his tenure, with a solid line obscuring the space where Lambeau's name used to appear.

The next letter, also boilerplate, is written on a new style of letterhead. It was written after that March 22nd get-together, and Joannes comes armed with a plan:

Wisconsin Historical Society
March 30, 1950

     I would appreciate very much if you would consent to assist me in making the solicitation next week of the larger companies in Green Bay. We have set this group up as a special department of the drive and we hope that it will be possible to complete this drive prior to the start of the general canvas. I am calling a meeting to be held at the Beaumont Hotel, Monday, April 3rd, at 6:00 P. M..

     I know you fully realize the importance of our getting together to work out these plans and I sincerely hope you will make every effort to be with me.

Sincerely yours,

Lee Johannes, Chairman
Packer Stock Drive

That April 3rd meeting must also have been productive, because nine days after that Joannes wrote our original letter to his "fellow workers" on the drive, with public sales in full swing.

So there you have it. Three letters, written by the same man in the span of about a month, all about the same project but all on different letterhead.

The first letter is on altered Lambeau-era (but Lambeau-less) letterhead. Curly's colors, with big bold graphics across the top and at the bottom.

I've never seen the second one before. It could be an example of the new style for 1950. That would fit; not only is the single-color ink appropriate for a suddenly-thrify franchise, it reflects the team color change made by new head coach Gene Ronzani. Out with the old blue and gold, in with the green. Lots and lots of green. Although the ticket office—319 E. Walnut—is for the first time listed on the letterhead, the head coach is not, indicating that the Packers might not have expected Ronzani to have the extensive tenure of his predecessor.

The final letter is clearly old stock. The first two were external correspondence, hat-in-hand outreach to Green Bay's business community, and represented the best face the Packers could put forward. Internal communications don't have the same needs, and so Joannes could be excused for re-using old letterhead he might have had lying around. The Packers were, as he said, in an "economy program".

Sixty-two years later, the letters tell us a story. Even if it's not quite the one Mr. Joannes intended when he wrote them.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

President Obama: "Those of Us Who Love the Sport"

Spring is coming, the swallows are returning to Capistrano, and those of us with kids have to start looking at the sports they'll play during the summer.

It got me thinking about an interview President Obama gave in January to Franklin Foer and Chris Hughes of the New Republic. Of all the subjects covered in the wide-ranging discussion, perhaps none received more press in that Super Bowl week than his comments on football and player safety.

When asked if the recent discussion of player injuries impacts his enjoyment of the game, the President responded:
"I'm a big football fan, but I have to tell you if I had a son, I'd have to think long and hard before I let him play football. And I think that those of us who love the sport are going to have to wrestle with the fact that it will probably change gradually to try to reduce some of the violence. In some cases, that may make it a little bit less exciting, but it will be a whole lot better for the players, and those of us who are fans maybe won't have to examine our consciences quite as much."
He goes on to make a distinction between professionals, who are adults, represented by a union and (for the most part) well-compensated for the risks they take, and college players. I'm less interested in that distinction, since I gave up on college football years ago, but his remarks as a whole struck me.

I do have a son. Two of them, in fact, active boys who are in organized sports and love every minute of it. And there is no way in hell I'd ever sign a permission slip to let them play football.

I'm not against them playing tough, physical sports. I've already signed the slip for soccer, and I'd be glad to do so for rugby or hockey. But there's something about football, and the equipment they wear, that encourages reckless and dangerous contact. So long as my consent is required, it's not happening.

Now, does that make me a hypocrite? I love watching others play the game, I dissect and revel and blog at length about watching them play the game, but I won't let me own kids near it. I hope not, largely because I really don't want anybody playing the game in its current state.

One of the touchstones I return to again and again in my writing on football is how added safety equipment has ironically made the game less safe for its players. In calling helmets "the NFL's WMDs", NPR's Scott Simon said "(m)odern polycarbonate helmets have let players weaponize their heads." I couldn't agree more. Players have been granted the dubious gift of short-term thinking, extending their playing careers and their ability to collide while simultaneously passing the consequences down the road. These young men, perhaps more so than most, are understandably disinterested in their lives at forty or fifty. I'd like to see padding of all kind reduced.

Ironically, this was the objection first raised in the 1940s when plastic shells were being developed. One physician who opposed their introduction was Dr. George Bennett, an orthopedic surgeon who specialized in sports medicine at Johns Hopkins. In his practice, Dr. Bennett treated the nation's greatest athletes, from Joe Dimaggio to Johnny Unitas, and he was aghast at what he saw as the destructive power of the helmet. Instead of serving "as a protection against head injury and shock, now it serves as an offensive piece of armor." Worse yet, it was creating an arms race of padding. "In order to protect himself against the jar and injury of the helmet, the underneath equipment has been toughened and increased until every player goes on the field covered in armor, all of it carrying potential injury on every play."

In response to the concerns of Dr. Bennett and others, the NFL actually banned plastic shells over these concerns in 1948, but the ban only survived one year before being lifted. It's time to reconsider that ban again; although they were principally concerned with the damage a player's helmet could do to others, we are now painfully aware that repeated collisions, the kind encouraged by modern padding, do real damage to the man wearing the helmet. Not just concussions, although those are the most dramatic form of injury and focusing on those allows journalists and league executives to avoid the underlying problem, but the small hits that add up, in too many cases, to brain damage, early dementia and worse.

There isn't a soul alive who can claim rugby is a boring game, or a game played by sissies, or whatever objections are currently being raised to safety standards. The biggest difference is that rugby players don't wear body armor. They play a violent, physical game, but have to face the consequences immediately. They can't pretend that their sport is safer than it is, and therefore they don't make it any more dangerous. It's an attitude I think we should bring to the gridiron, instead of kidding ourselves that we need better helmets and higher technology.

There's another issue raised by the President that I think merits serious discussion: his contention that reducing contact "may make (the game) a little bit less exciting". I'm not sure that I can agree with him here.

Defenders of the status quo love to talk about how hard hits are an essential part of the game; indeed, the essential part of the game, and the most popular element to boot. Fans love the big hits, they say. You can't legislate them out of football without destroying the sport's popularity. But where's the evidence for that? Certainly not on the field. The game is more popular than ever, despite the NFL's increasing focus on player safety and despite all the rule changes designed to eliminate those collisions (and despite all the whinging former jocks who moan about "skirts" or "flag football" on ESPN). If violent contact is the point of football, then you wouldn't know it from the fans.

On the contrary, I think the essential spirit of the NFL today lies in the long pass and diving catch. It lies in the quarterback scrambling out of the pocket to find a receiver, not the tackle eventually made to bring him down. It's a passing league, we are told, and most of the excitement in a game comes from a quarterback's arm. It seems pretty clear to me that the NFL could outlaw the most destructive hits without any serious loss of interest or viewership.

I'm glad the President has weighed in, and I'm glad that his words have attracted so much attention. He's right that those of us who love the sport have to keep pressure on the NFL to continue to do the right thing. We can make the sport better for all, and soon we may indeed be able to watch with our consciences clear.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

1950s Packer Home Movie

This amazing home movie on YouTube gives us a (very blurry) look at a 1950s Packer team in action.

The video quality is poor, but it's well worth watching for a glimpse of head-to-toe gold uniforms.

This is about the best screengrab I could get, of three unidentified Packers on the sideline:


The opponent could be the Detroit Lions - looks like silver helmets/pants with blue jerseys. I have a photograph of a game against Detroit on October 26, 1952.

Very hard to tell, but that could be the same game.

The gold jerseys were introduced in 1950 by incoming head coach Gene Ronzani. I don't know how common the all-gold combination was, but they gold jerseys were scrapped in 1954 when Lisle Blackbourn took over the team.