Lee Remmel, a man associated with the Green Bay Packers since the Curly Lambeau era, died Thursday. He was 90 years old.
A member of the Packers’ front office beginning in 1974, Remmel led the organization’s public relations and publicity efforts until 2004, when he became the Packers’ team historian, an honor bestowed upon him by then-Packers CEO Bob Harlan. Prior to joining the team’s front office, Remmel was a sportswriter and columnist for the Green Bay Press-Gazette for nearly 30 years, covering his first Packers game in 1945 in Milwaukee.
Upon his retirement on Dec. 31, 2007, Remmel celebrated a 62-year relationship with a franchise he came to know and adore perhaps more than any other individual.
“He had a tremendous love for the organization, a tremendous love,” Harlan said. “Everyone had great respect for his ability as a writer, and certainly if you wanted a quick point in history, there was not a better source than Lee.
“Many times he and I would sit and talk about old, old times -- the Curly Lambeau era and when Vince Lombardi first came to Green Bay. I was always fascinated with the stories he had about those times.”
Indeed, Remmel’s memory of feats he witnessed and his recall of facts and figures became nearly as legendary as his career itself.
While at the Press-Gazette, he was the only sportswriter in Wisconsin to have covered the Packers throughout all of the team's coaching regimes to that point, beginning with Packers founder Lambeau. He witnessed his 100th Packers-Bears game on Nov. 12, 1995, in the 150th regular-season meeting of the arch enemies, and attended 125 contests between the rivals in his lifetime.
"He's a Packers icon," then-Packers quarterback Brett Favre said upon Remmel’s retirement following the 2007 season. "There will never be another like him. His knowledge of the team and its history has always been impressive. He is sharp as a tack when it came to those things -- truly impressive. He's always had a great sense of humor, too."
Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue once said that “no one is more synonymous with the Packers than Lee Remmel.”
In the course of his two "careers," Remmel was involved in the staffing of the first 40 Super Bowls, the first eight representing the Press-Gazette, the next 22 as a member of the NFL's auxiliary media relations staff, the 1996-97 seasons with the Packers' front office and again the next eight years with the league. During the week leading up to Super Bowl XL, Remmel was recognized as one of 12 media contributors (print, photography, public relations) who had worked the first 40 Super Bowls; he was the lone representative in the public relations category.
Remmel also was a member of the NFL public relations directors' Professional Football Writers of America liaison, statistics and NFL Films committees.
Remmel's better than half-century of close association with the Packers was duly recognized on March 30, 1996, when he was inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame. An additional honor was bestowed upon him in August 2003 when the Packers' press box at the redeveloped Lambeau Field was named, "The Lee Remmel Press Box."
In between those honors, he continued his fervent support for the local community by lending his name to the inaugural Lee Remmel Sports Awards Banquet. Since 1998, the annual event has recognized Wisconsin professional, collegiate, amateur and prep athletes and has raised approximately $225,000 in scholarship funds at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, St. Norbert College and area high schools.
Harlan noted that Remmel wasn’t always comfortable when the spotlight found him in such instances, but those around him believed he was worthy of every honor that came his way.
“He had great humility,” Harlan said. “He was always concerned with how it might reflect on the organization. I always had to assure him, ‘You’re a legend around here Lee. The press box should be named after you, the dinner is a tremendous event, and you certainly deserve to be in the Packers Hall of Fame.’
“He always wanted that assurance, and it just showed the humility in the man. That’s a very nice trait.”
After having to miss the annual banquet for the first time in 2008 (due to health concerns), fittingly it was Remmel who was then honored at the 2009 event with the Distinguished Service Award. Harlan, who received that same award at the inaugural banquet in 1998 and was often consulted by Remmel to help select the annual honorees, presented Remmel with his award.
“I explained to the crowd how we always had a list and a debate over the potential winners, and a couple of times there were arguments,” Harlan said. “But this year there was no debate, no arguments, no list. This year the only choice was Lee Remmel.
“He didn’t know about it until he got there that night, and he was very touched.”
Just as many were touched by him.
As Remmel said himself upon retiring in 2007, “Through my work, I hopefully have allowed our fans to gain a better understanding of our franchise, our players and our outstanding game.
“It's been a long and satisfying career for the greatest sports franchise in the universe. The memories have been priceless, and so have been our fans.”
Remmel, a native of Shawano, Wis., began his career as the sports editor of a weekly newspaper while a Shawano High School freshman. In 1967, he was voted Wisconsin “Sports Writer of the Year.” He also is a past president of the former Wisconsin Pro Football Writers' Association.
He and his wife, Noreen, who passed away three years ago, celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in August 2008. They also served as honorary co-chairs of the annual Brown County Humane Society's 'Fur Ball' in 2000, 2001 and 2004, and were members of the executive committee of the Brown County Civic Music Association. Remmel additionally was on the executive board of the 65 Roses Sports Club (cystic fibrosis) and the board of directors of the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame, Inc.