Birthday parties usually last a day, unless you’re the Green Bay Packers, which turns 100 years old in 2019—and the Pack is already celebrating.
Football fans watched a free game on September 14, 1919, as their new home team competed on a vacant lot next to the future high school. Players were paid from pass-the-hat donations. A $500 donation covered uniforms and equipment. The donor was the Indian Packing Company, and the star was coach/halfback Earl “Curly” Lambeau. The season record ended at 10-1. And the impact? Titletown USA is born.
Today the Packers are one of 32 National Football League teams, yet it’s unique. It’s the smallest city that has an NFL team. No other major, professional sports team in the United States remains notfor-profit and publicly owned like the Packers.
Each home game during the 2018-19 season is devoted to a different decade of team history. On display at the Packers Hall of Fame is “The Origins of Glory,” which explores the team’s first year and how the NFL franchise was born. Coming in 2019 is “100 Seasons,” a definitive book about the team.
The team’s evolving Titletown District gives football fans new reasons to linger near Lambeau. The complex includes a plaza with outdoor shuffleboard, ping pong tables, horseshoes, cornhole and foosball play stations. On a roomy, cushy playground is gridiron-inspired equipment, next to a 40-yard-dash track and full-sized football field. Come winter, ice skating and a hill for tubing appear.
Among Titletown’s anchors is Hinterland, a craft brewery with restaurants, and LODGE KOHLER, upscale accommodations with water-inspired spa treatments and the fifth-floor Taverne in the Sky with a lengthy wine list. The restaurant has a wall of windows that faces the stadium, a mere 100 yards away.
Catch the Green and Gold Fever
It’s all good, but Green Bay has long loved, lived and breathed football, regardless of reason or season. Here’s a little bit of where to tour and toast the team outside of the stadium.
Allouez Catholic Cemetery
At rest here since 1965 is Curly Lambeau—his modest grave marker is near the Webster Street entrance. Much easier to find is an elevated bronze statue of this legendary team founder, star and coach—at Lambeau Field’s main entrance.
Children’s Museum of Green Bay
Kids have a place to practice their Lambeau Leap, learn about football gear and get a hands-on introduction to tailgating. Inside little lockers is oversized clothing to turn youngsters into a sports announcer, football coach or player.
This popular restaurant on the Fox River downtown is named after the team’s first playing field and has 20-plus TVs and old-time team photos, inside and out. On the meaty menu is chili (ladled over noodles), pierogi stroganoff and lots of pub fare.
Neville Public Museum
A permanent exhibit at the local history repository is “Hometown Advantage: The Community and The Packers,” which documents personal relationships between the community, team and players throughout Packers history.
Packers Heritage Trail
Historical markers at 20-plus sites identify significant points in team history. Walk and drive at your own pace. Other options include Segway and trolley tours, as weather permits.
packersheritagetrail.com, candmpresents.com, glidenew.com
Count Johnny Blood Red, an Irish red ale, among the year-round go-to brews made by the downtown craft brewer. It’s a longtime tribute to Johnny “Blood” McNally, the early time Pro Football Hall of Fame halfback.
The favorite haunt of long-ago football greats is one year older than the team, and a longtime equipment manager lived upstairs for 40 years. Venture over for a retro setting and supper-club-style dinner. Order before 9 p.m.
All About Appleton
Just 30 miles from Green Bay, Appleton also boasts attractions with Packers ties, too.
Relive pro football highlights at “Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame” until January 6 at the History Museum at the Castle in downtown Appleton, 30 miles southwest of Green Bay. This is the only Wisconsin stop for the 6,000-square-foot, traveling exhibition from Canton, Ohio.
Expect an unusual blend of championship remnants here (examples: a Jim Taylor jersey, a 1929 championship football, a 1967 Ice Bowl failed heating coil), cultural influences (Brian Piccolo’s jacket, a nod to the 1971 “Brian’s Song” movie), interactive things (ways for you to referee), lessons on science (helmet-radio communication evolution) and racism (obstacles to equality). myhistorymuseum.org
Open year-round and five blocks away from the History Museum is Vince Lombardi’s Steakhouse, whose décor is all about artifacts from the legendary Packer coach’s estate. Count fan mail from U.S. presidents, family photos, high school yearbooks, handwritten game plays, trophies and personal possessions among the 400-plus treasures. vincelombardisteakhouse.com
This article originally appeared in the 2018 fall/winter issue of Experience Wisconsin magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.
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