The roots of the Green Bay Packers
By Kris Leonhardt
UW-Green Bay began the inaugural session of its “History of the Green Bay Packers Certificate” program on Sept. 6. The virtual, eight-week, two-hour class allows participants to “uncover the team’s storied history and get an inside look at the Packers Hall of Fame.” Over the next eight weeks, we will provide a glimpse of the class experience through Titletown 101.
The program’s first meeting started with a get-to-know session, led by Hall of Fame Curator Brent Hensel.
The 88 members from across the country got to know a little about each other, including one member from overseas — Stephen O’Brien, co-founder of the UK and Irish Packers group.
After a dive into beginnings of football, Hensel brought in Tom Pigeon who has served as a tour guide for 20 years.
“Tom honestly knows more about Packers history than just about anyone I know,” Hensel said, adding that Pigeon had been there from the start.
Pigeon took the class back to the early days.
“It was on a scale of just amateurism and local teams, and communities had their own team. They played each other; and then of course, with the high school football with East and West, that’s where a lot of the players came from in the early Packer teams,” Pigeon recalled, “because (Curly) Lambeau knew a lot of these people.
“They had to go to a more national recruiting and he was very good at that. And that started bringing players in from around the country from other pro teams, and we just kept growing from that point on.”
Games were played at the East High School stadium — City Stadium — which was made mostly of wood at the time and held 25,000 people.
“Because they had the bigger stadium there. There were great teams and of course Lambeau was at East,” Pigeon explained.
Hensel and Pigeon credited Lambeau and George Whitney Calhoun, editor at the Green Bay Press-Gazette for founding the team, adding that Calhoun’s Whitney family had a history in establishing the city of Green Bay.
“He was a guy that knew Lambeau from his high school days, and the story goes that they just met by chance one day on the streets,” Pigeon said.
“They talked about starting their own football team and that’s really how it all started. And, Lambeau wasn’t playing football at the time because he had left another game, and he was missing football. So George, knowing how much he likes football, brought up the subject of ‘why don’t we start our own team.’ And that’s really how the Packers got started.
“They had a meeting on Aug. 11, 1919, at the editorial offices of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
“That’s considered the birth date of the team.”
They played at City Stadium for the first time on Sept. 13, 1925, in an exhibition game against the Iron Mountain All-Stars.
The stadium became the Packers’ home for 32 years.
Read more on the course next week.
For more on the program, visit www.uwgb.edu/certificate-programs/history-of-the-green-bay-packers.