Gene J. Puskar, Associated Press, Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images, photo illustration by Heidi perry, deseretnews/shutterstock.com, Morry Gash, Associated Press
Seriously, America, what's not to like about the Green Bay Packers?
What's not to like about a small-town team that is not only surviving, but thriving in the billion-dollar business of professional football.
There is nothing like them in professional sports. Think about what an oddity they are. Teams have come and gone in the NFL in a continuous game of musical chairs — the Baltimore Colts moved to Indianapolis, the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore, the Oakland Raiders to L.A. and back to Oakland, the St. Louis Cardinals to Phoenix, the Los Angeles Rams to St. Louis.
But the Packers have stayed in tiny Green Bay, Wis., since their birth in 1919. Los Angeles, with a population of 4 million, doesn't even have a franchise, but Green Bay, with a population of 101,000, does. It's like plunking down a team in the middle of Sandy, Utah.
They are the smallest market in pro sports. Green Bay's metro area — if you stretch the definition of "metro" — is 283,000. Buffalo, the next smallest, has 1.1 million. New York City has 8.5 million in the city limits alone, 19 million in the metro area.
What's not to like about a team that was dreamed up during a street-corner conversation one day. Curly Lambeau, a former Green Bay prep star and Notre Dame player, hatched the idea and convinced his employer, the Indian Packing Company, to buy uniforms and provide a practice field. In turn, the team called itself the Packers. Lambeau was the team's first star player (for 11 years) and its first coach (for 30 years) and — you've got to like this — he pioneered the forward pass in the NFL.
What's not to like about the last small-town survivor of the National Football League? In the early '20s, the fledgling NFL consisted almost entirely of small-town teams like Green Bay — the Decatur Staleys, Akron Pros, Canton Bulldogs, Muncie Flyers, Rochester Jeffersons, Rock Island Independents. But as the league turned fully to professionalism, those teams either folded or moved to big cities for bigger profits. Green Bay found a way to keep the Packers — the community bought them.
What's not to like about a team that is owned by fans? The Packers are the only publicly owned team in professional sports. The other teams have one owner; the Packers by 12,000 shareholders — or 12,000 Monday-morning quarterbacks. They've rescued the team from financial hardship four times — in 1923, '35, '50 and '97.
What's not to like about this team? Apparently, not much. Despite their small-town roots — or perhaps because of it — they have courted a world-wide following. According to a 2010 Harris poll, the Packers are still the third most popular team in the country, 40 years after their glory years. Someone once asked the late former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle to name the best football city in America. "Green Bay," he replied. "A small town. People owning their own football team. Rabid supporters."
The Packers have one of the longest waiting lists for season tickets in pro sports, some 80,000 deep (Lambeau Field seats only 78,000). The average wait for season tickets is estimated to be 30 years, but if you added your name to the list now you probably wouldn't get tickets in your lifetime. Packer fans are known to leave season tickets in their wills or to place newborn babies on the waiting list. Packer games have been sold out since 1960.
"I'm a 'green and gold' season ticket holder and have some voting stock in the team," explains Walt Mehr, a Sandy resident who grew up in Eagle River, Wis., just north of Green Bay. "It took me 23 years to get season tickets. We have a big shareholders meeting in July and vote. We were involved with remodeling of the stadium. As season-ticket holders we had to put up money for that — $5,000. My tickets are in my will."
It's every fan's dream — they get to help run the team. You've got to like that.
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