Imagining a Better Future by Re-imagining the Past

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Dieselpunk Sports: Green Bay Packers

In the summer of 1919, two men by the names of Curly Lambeau and George Calhoun in a small town in Wisconsin got together and decided that they would start a football team. Little did they know that they had started something that would lead to one of the greatest football franchises in history: the Green Bay Packers.

George Calhoun and Curly Lambeau

Shortly after their meeting, Lambeau and Calhoun went looking for a sponsor for their young team. The Indian Packing Company, who employed Lambeau at the time, agreed to provide the team with jerseys and a football field. The football team quickly became associated with the company and the name "Packers" stuck.

1919 Green Bay Packers Team

The Packers came out of the gate like a bulldozer on their competition. In their first season, they won ten out of eleven games. Since they played in an open field with no bleachers, they collected payment by passing the hat among the fans. By 1921, they were so successful that they were able to become a franchised team with the new National Football League that had formed just a year earlier. They quickly ran into financial problems as the fans donations weren’t enough to cover their costs and the company dropped their support of the team.

Eventually, Lambeau was able to buy back the team though they continued to struggle financially. A major breakthrough happened when local businessmen, known as "The Hungry Five," formed the Green Bay Football Corporation due to lobbying by the manager of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, A.B. Turnbull.

Certainly, its origin at the very beginning of the Diesel Era as well as continued existence are important components to consider when describing something as 'Dieselpunk' that's not enough. There are other football teams in the NFL, such as the Chicago Bears, that were founded at the same time and continue today. The Packers are unique because they’re the only team in the NFL organized as a non-profit and community-owned team. The Green Bay Football Corporation established this public ownership structure back in 1922. In contrast, the NFL requires that all of the other teams to be privately owned. This team structure and the fact that it's outside the mainstream adds the Punk to the Green Bay Packers.

This alternative form of ownership gives the Packers some unique features. Because of this, it prevented the team from moving to a big city. Green Bay, in contrast to the other cities with major league football teams, has a population of only a little more than 102,000 people. In addition, the loyalty of the fans, known as cheeseheads, is legendary. ranked the Packer fans as the second-best fans in the NFL in August 2008. At the end of each touchdown by a Packer at Lambeau Field, the player rushes to the sideline and does the "Lambeau Leap," in which he leaps into the adoring arms of the fans. During training camp young fans bring their bicycles to the Don Hutson Center where they can have their favorite player ride their bike. Recently, after an ice storm in February of 2011 the fans arrived to a call for help from the team to help clear the snow from the stadium.

I’m certainly not saying that to be a Dieselpunk a person has to be a Packer fan. However, I am saying that the Packers are unique in that when you combine all of the factors it’s safe to classify them as being Dieselpunk. I believe that the sportscaster, and host of the program Countdown on the cable channel Current, Keith Olbermann said it best back during the October 7, 2007 broadcast of NBC’s Football Night in America:

When we stop and extol the renaissance of Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers we forget something about them more astonishing still, THEY EXIST! In this time in sports when bigger isn't just better, it's mandatory. When it's all about small markets and large markets and revenue streams, there is a pro football franchise in Green Bay, Wisconsin...

How does Favre get to cavort in Green Bay when Green Bay is a vestige of a time when the NFL was made up of the Duluth Eskimos, and the Staten Island Stapletons and the Pottsville Maroons? The Packers have survived since football's Stone Age because of non-profit community investment. The fans, in essence, own that team. TV revenue sharing saved that team in the '60s and limiting free agency saved it again in the '80s. Green Bay, Wisconsin, population 102,313... should be the model for sports franchises in this country, instead it's an anachronism.

So root for the Bears tonight if you want but cherish the Packers. If only their template had been copied, the Dodgers might still be in Brooklyn and the Syracuse Nationals might still be playing in the NBA and Canada would have more than six hockey teams.
Therefore, now that football season is here again it’s time for me to ask my readers... ARE YOU READY FOR SOME DIESELPUNK FOOTBALL?

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