Courtesy of the Green Bay Packers Media Guide
The 14 head coaches of the Green Bay Packers are shown in this media guide. 
Courtesy of the Green Bay Packers Media Guide

The 14 head coaches of the Green Bay Packers are shown in this media guide. 

When the Green Bay Packers were searching for a new head coach to succeed Mike McCarthy, I went thumbing through the records of past franchise coaches and discovered something I was unaware of all of my sports-loving years. The Packers are spreading their 100 years as a football team over 2018 and 2019. Come to find out I have seen every team play under every coach in franchise history.

Earl Louis “Curly” Lambeau, the man who started the fire of passion Packer Nation has experienced since 1919, was still at the helm in 1944 when the club was a member of the National Football League. It was the year I saw my first Packer game.

My buddy Dick “Mike” Michaels and I boarded the sleek Peninsula 400 passenger train at the Menominee train station on State Street (7th Street) across the street from Esser Glass. We went to see the unbeaten Packers (3-0) clash with a merged team from the Chicago Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers. World War II was in session and the acute shortage of players in a much smaller league than the present-day 32-team circuit forced some teams in professional sports to share players.

Team rosters were set at 28 players in 1943 and 1944. Rosters were increased to a 33-player limit in 1945 when the war ended.

Mike used his earnings from his part-time job at Schmidt’s Bakery to buy his train fare and game ticket. I dug into my earnings as a newspaper carrier and pinsetter at Bay View Bowling Alley. We walked from the Green Bay depot to old City Stadium on the east side of Green Bay. It was a long walk but two friends can find a lot of conversation when it comes to football.

Green Bay remained undefeated with a 34-7 win before 16,535 fans. The Packers went on to capture the Western Division title that year and nudged the New York Giants 14-7 at the Polo Grounds in the nation’s largest city to claim the NFL championship.

We watched in awe as the great Don Hutson and his teammates powered over their opponent. Irv Comp, from tiny St. Bendict’s College, played tailback in the single wing. He played 69 games for Green Bay from 1943-49. Fan favorite Ted Fritsch played fullback and linebacker. Like Comp, he was a product of small college football (Stevens Point State Teachers, now UW-Stevens Point).

Hutson finished the season as the team’s leading scorer with nine touchdowns and 31 of 33 extra points. Fritsch notched five touchdowns, including one while on defense.

I had followed the Packers since boyhood when playing touch football on the graveled playground at old Epiphany School and the streets in West End. Michaels was a Packer fan in his younger days but switched to the Detroit Lions during the days of quarterback Bobby Layne.

My string of Packer teams under all 14 head coaches was threatened during the Korean War (1950-53). Gene Ronzani succeeded Lambeau as head coach in 1950, but I managed to see the team play before going overseas. Ronzani was a native of Iron Mountain, Mich., and played for the rival Chicago Bears. He was dismissed by the Packers after a 14-31-1 record in four seasons.

As the years rolled on and I continued to attend Packer games with my wife, two sons, my brothers and brothers-in-law, and friends, the coaches came and went. I never paid much attention to the fact that I had seen Packers field teams under all 14 coaches. When you consider the organization is celebrating a century of football the mystification of this unique saga unfolds.

After Lambeau and Ronzani came Lisle Blackbourn, Ray “Scooter” McLean, Vince Lombardi, Phil Bengtson, Dan Devine, Bart Starr, Forrest Gregg, Lindy Infante, Mike Holmgren, Ray Rhodes, Mike Sherman and McCarthy.

I witnessed some good years and bad years in team history. There was a chain of lackluster seasons in Green Bay before Lombardi arrived on the scene in 1959 and changed things in dramatic fashion with a phenomenal turnaround.

There were times in earlier years when the team struggled on the field and at the gate. Ticket sales were so bad the Packers were unable to fill a rickety 24,000-seat stadium. The club’s public relations director would drive the state of Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to promote the team. He would visit sports editors and sport announcers to help drum up support. Players would visit small towns and large cities without a fee and sign autographs for free.

The Ice Bowl game on Dec. 31, 1967, stands tail among the memorable games on my list. The Packers beating the Dallas Cowboys 21-17 on Bart Starr’s quarterback sneak on an icy gridiron is frozen in memory. The NFL championship game on Dec. 31, 1961, was another dandy. The Packers slashed the New York Giants 37-0 on a cold and wind-biting afternoon at Lambeau Field. I avoided the miserable weather by covering the game in the press box.

Watching the over-confident New York sports writers with stunned expressions on their faces as the Packers methodically tore up the Giants was special. It was the third year of Lombardi’s spectacular rebuilding program.

While all of the coaches contributed to the storied history of the Packers, the foundation was laid by Curly Lambeau. His father, Marcel, helped the construction of both the Indian Packing Co. and the fence and bleachers at historic Hagemeister Park. 

In the fall of 1917, the 19-year-old Lambeau planned to play at the University of Wisconsin and the school was anticipating that he would be a key member of the freshman squad, but he never practiced or enrolled at the school. In his one season at the University of Notre Dame, the former Green Bay East High School athlete started in the same backfield as the immortal George Gipp.  

A twist to the Lambeau story is that at the time he was rounding up players for the early Packers of 1919-1921, he was the coach at Green Bay East. One of his star players was Jimmy Crowley, who became one of the famous “Four Horsemen” at Notre Dame. Crowley then went on to become head coach at Fordham University. One of Crowley’s top lineman was Vince Lombardi. 

A big welcome to the 15th head coach in Packer history — I might even get a chance to see his team play.