Today's take: St. Norbert art prof lays claim to famed Packers 'G'
by Paul Srubas
Local artist and art teacher John Gordon was killing time in a bookstore a few years ago when he found himself idling through a book on the history of the Green Bay Packers.
He came upon an old photograph of the team’s Lombardi-era equipment manager, Gerald “Dad” Braisher, tinkering with a helmet. The photo caption explained how Braisher was responsible for creating the famed Packers “G” logo emblazoned on the sides of the team’s helmets since 1961.>
“I looked at it, and I said, ‘I designed that,’” the 73-year-old Gordon told me last week.
The Packers, as you may have heard, have developed some mystique in their 90-some year history. They’re kind of like a boulder rolling down a mountainside, picking up debris and snow and getting bigger and bigger along the way, until pretty soon you have a million people attending one little Ice Bowl.
But in this case, even though Gordon can’t prove it, his claim smacks of legitimacy.
The Packers G, along with maybe the Nike swoosh, might be among the most recognized logos in sports history, but it’s not like Gordon is standing in front of the Mona Lisa and saying, “You know, a lot of people think Leonardo did this, but in fact …”
In the end, it’s just a squashed G inside an oval. Gordon, an adjunct professor of art at St. Norbert College and a man who counts Cezanne and Velazquez as major artistic influences, is a serious enough painter that an NFL logo would hardly serve as a needed feather in his helmet.
“My 15 minutes, wasted on an oval,” Gordon says with a smile.
But still, the record needs to be set straight.
As an art student at St. Norbert in the early 1960s, Gordon worked part time for Braisher. It wasn’t his artistic aspirations that got him the job; he spent a lot of his time rolling up jock straps, T-shirts and towels and putting them in the players’ lockers each day. Ars gratia artis.
But as a sideline, Gordon also painted portraits of the players and their families and even did a nice one of Braisher himself, which can be seen in a photograph now in the Neville Museum’s collection.
Braisher came to him one morning and assigned an artistic task: Draw a team logo, to go on the sides of the helmets.
Gordon doesn’t know if it was Braisher’s idea, or if it came directly from on high. He suspects the latter, because “Lombardi was a micro-manager,” Gordon says.
In those days, helmets — in college and the pros — didn’t have logos.
“It was remarkable that the idea itself came to be,” Gordon says.
Brimming with youthful enthusiasm, Gordon instantly wanted to embark on a creative brainstorming session, but Braisher cut him off at the knees: The logo shalt be a football shape, with a football-shaped G inside.
“I said, ‘C’mon, Dad, that’s boring,’” Gordon recalls.
No dice. Football shape. Football-shaped G inside. End of discussion.
Gordon set to it. He agonized. He worried about having the great and powerful Lombardi scrutinize his work. It’s also a lot harder than you think to free-hand draw a nice little tapered football-shaped G inside the matching taper of a football.
The next morning, he turned in his work.
Touchdown. Braisher and Lombardi gave it their blessing.
Gordon also remembers getting the finished silk-screen decals back from the printer, and working with Braisher to stick them on the helmets.It's commonly reported that the University of Georgia first modified the logo to make it rounder, but I've never seen anything to support it. I'd like to hear more from him.
After that, Gordon put the whole episode out of his mind. It was no big deal, just another task that Braisher had assigned him. It wasn’t until 50 years later, that Gordon saw the photograph in the Packers history book attributing the design to Braisher that it dawned on him: “I designed that.”
Gordon has contacted historians at the Packers Hall of Fame to tell his story, and while no one has dismissed it out of hand, the Packers’ official web site continues to credit Braisher with creating the original design.
Elsewhere, some are beginning to acknowledge that Gordon at least helped.
Wikipedia admittedly isn’t the last word on the topic but relates the story as Gordon tells it: “Lombardi asked Packers equipment manager Gerald ‘Dad’ Braisher to design a logo for the team's helmets. Braisher then had his assistant, St. Norbert College art student John Gordon, come up with potential designs. After Braisher and Gordon were satisfied with the design, a football-shaped letter ‘G’, they presented it to Lombardi who then approved it.”
Epilogue: The logos you’ll see on the helmets during the game today are not as Gordon says he designed them. His was a simple line drawing of the letter G enclosed in a line drawing of a football. The colors were added later, at the printers.
Also, the design morphed over the years. Gordon remembers his original as being pointier on the ends, an actual football shape, but the logo grew into more of a straightforward oval. He thinks that happened in 1964, when the Georgia Bulldogs asked for and received Lombardi’s permission to use the same logo on their helmets. The Bulldogs’ ended up with a rounder shaped logo, and the Packers soon moved in that direction, too.
“I don’t like this,” Gordon says of the newer design. “It lacks the symbolism of the football shape.”
I agree with Gordon that the original shape is better.
It's funny; we think of the Packers' logo and uniforms as having been frozen in place since Lombardi's era. In reality, the original designs have been chipped away, bit by bit, until real differences emerge. This is one element that could easily be reclaimed; let the universities have the rounded logo, and bring back Gordon's original design.