Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"Special Today - Ram Chops"

Fifty-three years ago today, the Packers faced off against the Los Angeles Rams. This was the program cover:

Oh, man. What a beauty.

We have Lombardi's Packers, represented by a hearty-looking butcher wearing the "G"-logo helmet introduced in that season. He stands next to a meat counter displaying the remains of their vanquished opponents: "Minnesota Mince Meat", "Roundly Ground Lion", and my favorite, "Brisket of Bear". Today's special is "Ram Chops", and he's ready with his cleaver to hack off a nice chunk for you.

But wait - check out the note in the upper-right corner: this program was for the Packers' annual visit to Los Angeles! I can't think of another time when a program proudly proclaimed that the home team was about to get slaughtered.

The clever cover illustration was done by Karl Hubenthal, who was then the editorial cartoonist for the Los Angeles Examiner. Hubenthal drew all the Rams' program covers that season, each featuring a ram (or Ram) taking on the opponent of the day:

Amazing design. I love the typography, and his use of bold imagery set against the varying opponents' colors.

What's also interesting is that on every other cover, Hubenthal portrayed the home club as prevailing, or at least holding its own; de-fanging the Bear, bowling over the Browns, or poking the Giant in the eye with the football. Even on the 49ers' program, where the ram is staring down the barrels of a shotgun, he's literally staring down the barrels, and the Niner is visibly nervous despite having his finger on the trigger. Only the program for the Lions game betrays any hint of danger, and even there the bandaged Ram player is brave enough to stick his head back into the cat's mouth. So what's up with the Packers cover?

Perhaps the answer can be found in the 1961 season. At the time they were preparing to face off against the Packers, the Rams were 4-9 and in sixth place in the NFL Western Division. Only the lowly expansion Minnesota Vikings were beneath them, and even that by just a single game. The Packers, on the other hand, came into LA that week with an impressive 10-3 record. They had already clinched the division and were just two weeks away from demolishing the Eastern Division-champion Giants 37-0 in the title game, bringing Green Bay their seventh championship (and first in nearly twenty years).

Given the disparity, Hubenthal's prediction doesn't really seem all that bold, and in fact the Packers did prevail 24–17 in the Coliseum that day. A solid win, if not the predicted slaughter. It's charming that the Rams would allow him to poke a little fun at their expense.

Hubenthal's covers are simply gorgeous, a marvelous product of their time. The groovy typography hints at the new decade, with the design revolution to come. This is highlighted when his efforts are contrasted with the generic football scene on the Packers' program from the previous month, when the same teams played in Green Bay.

The Packers were still using overlaid stock graphics in 1961, and save for a few minor changes in equipment that cover could have been found on a program back in the 1940s. Nobody even bothered to change the teams' colors.

The Packers' cover, sadly unsigned, is also trying to be whimsical—the punter's kick circles back behind him for a field goal, to the amazement of a bug-eyed ref—but the joke is labored, where Hubenthal's drawings are both whimsical and immediate.

The Rams might have been no match for the mighty Packers on the football field in 1961, but they sure knocked the stuffing out of them at the program stand.

(h/t: Todd Radom)

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