Andrew from Jacksonville, FL
Glad this is happening and that you are on staff. Historical perspective and stories were needed on the site. Too much Packers lore that isn’t shared anymore! My question: There was a rumor that during the early 1970s when the Packers were experiencing some down years, a fan shot Coach Dan Devine’s dog due to too much losing. Is any part of the story true?
Yes, Dan Devine had a dog that was shot while he was head coach of the Packers. But it wasn’t a disgruntled fan that shot the dog and it had nothing to do with losing. Here’s some background: Devine lived west of Green Bay in an area that’s now part of Thornberry Creek Estates and Golf Course. Back then, it was mostly farmland. Anyway, in 1974, Devine’s last season, Time magazine did a piece on him titled, “Haunted in Green Bay.” The story claimed Devine had been the target of physical threats, personal insults and professional criticism. It went on to say, “He has been sabotaged by assistants, undermined by owners and harassed by hostile fans, who have literally pursued him and his family to their front door.” Devine told Philip Taubman, a Time staff writer, that two years earlier one of his dogs had been shot outside his house. “It’s been vulgar, malicious and ugly,” said Devine. As an aside, that was my first year covering the Packers beat on a full-time basis for the Green Bay Press-Gazette and the only season I covered Devine. But I’ll say this: When I retired from the newspaper business 30 some years later, he was still the strangest, most devious and most paranoid coach I covered. Years later, I looked into the dog story and interviewed a farmer who had lived in that same area for years. He told me the farmer just down the street from him shot Devine’s dog. His neighbor was the father of 14 kids and depended on his chickens to lay eggs to feed his family. The trouble was one of Devine’s dogs kept chasing his chickens and causing problems on his farm. So the farmer warned Devine; told him to keep his dogs tied up or else. But Devine ignored him and the farmer finally got fed up and shot one of his dogs. It wasn’t anything malicious, according to the other farmer. He said the farmer who shot Devine’s dog also had plowed Devine’s garden for him. He also explained it was an unwritten rule of life on a farm. If you had dogs that were chasing another farmer’s chickens or cattle, someone would likely shoot the dogs. The neighbor said there was even a dogcatcher to call who would carry out the act for you. But in this case, his neighbor handled it himself. The reaction in the neighborhood? “Not too much,” said the other farmer. “Everybody kind of smiled about it. Everybody knew the dogs were running around.”
Steve from Milwaukee, WI
Who was worse, Scooter McLean or Dan Devine? Hardly a choice between Ginger or Mary Ann. Young fans of the Packers live an unrealistic existence and have no clue about how bad things can get. The Packers' success since 1992 should not be taken for granted. My earliest memories are of the Phil Bengtson and Devine teams and I think today’s youngsters need to learn more about that disappointing era, not to mention the lost decade of the 1950s.
I guess what you’re asking me is: Who was the worst head coach in Packers history? My answer would be Devine. Subjective as this topic might be, I say that without hesitation. During my newspaper career, I covered to various degrees every coach from Phil Bengtson to Mike McCarthy. I’ve interviewed countless players about the other five. But back to your question: Gene Ronzani and Ray Rhodes might also be in the mix, but I agree with you. The choice comes down to Devine or McLean. Scooter was 1-10-1, worst record in Packers history. Players loved him and took advantage of him. On a 1 to 10 scale, he’d deserve a 1 as a disciplinarian. But from what I’ve been told by several players, Scooter was a good assistant coach. He knew football. He blew it when he cut rookie guard Ken Gray, but he did nothing that harmed the franchise long-term in his one year as coach. On the other hand, Devine, in an act of desperation to save his own neck, sabotaged the Packers’ rebuilding efforts for years by making the worst trade in the history of the NFL: five high draft picks for a washed up John Hadl. Devine also poisoned the atmosphere within the organization. The Time story was right to a degree: Devine was undermined by members of the executive committee and some of his own coaches, as well as players. But I think he brought that on himself. He had a few loyal assistants on his side, but most everyone else in the organization, including the team’s medical staff, front office staff, etc., had no use for him. It took me a long time to buy into this because he was such a successful college coach at Missouri and Notre Dame, but so many people have told me Devine knew almost nothing about football strategy and concepts that they’ve made me a believer. One of his loyal assistants once told me he attended a high school clinic where Devine was a speaker and all Devine could talk about during a half-hour presentation was how to huddle. I’ve been told in one of his first meetings in Green Bay, Devine drew a play on the chalkboard and one of his assistants had to tell him he had 12 players on one of the teams. When the Packers hired Devine from Missouri, Bob Harlan was still working for the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team. He said someone with the Cardinals football team told him, “He better take Al Onofrio (one of his assistants) with him. Al Onofrio does all the coaching there.” Looking back, that was probably Devine’s biggest contribution to the Packers: Hiring Bob Harlan. Maybe there wouldn’t have been an extended famine in the ’70s and ’80s if not for Devine, but, then again, maybe the Packers’ success since 1992 wouldn’t have happened if not for Harlan. Devine’s supporters would argue that was his strength: Hiring good people. Then again, so many of the players wanted Devine fired by the end of the 1974 season that they discussed boycotting the final game in Atlanta. Club officials spent a nervous weekend wondering if the players were going to show up for the team flight on Saturday or come out of the tunnel before kickoff on Sunday. Can you imagine that? Do you think that storyline has unfolded before or since in the NFL? The Packers played the game, but lost, 10-3. Actually, they lost the last three games of the 1974 season, and it sure looked like the team took a dive.
Brian from Rockford, IL
I ran into you last fall at the “trailhead” of the Packers Heritage Trail and spoke with you for a few minutes. I took a friend through The Trail the day after the shareholders meeting, and we added one bonus stop: Jack Vainisi’s grave at Allouez. We began talking about how this grossly underappreciated man has been lost to history, or at least lost to everyone but those who dig deep into the Packers story. Is there any way the team could honor the talents and the impact Mr. Vainisi had on the franchise, especially for the talent he acquired that made “The Glory Years” possible?
I agree wholeheartedly about Jack’s contribution. Jack will be recognized in the new Packers Hall of Fame. He’s already an inductee. We included a picture of him at the Packers Heritage Trail Plaza. And I believe it’s in the works to put up a monument dedicated to him on the Walk of Legends. So it’s not like he hasn’t been recognized. Years back, when the Packers had one practice field and the media referred to it as simply the Oneida Street Practice Field, I wrote a column suggesting they name it after Jack Vainisi. That didn’t happen and there’s now a lot more people that might deserve recognition. But for someone who started out with the title of Scout in 1950 and was listed as Business Manager and Talent Scout when he died in 1960, Vainisi’s legacy has been lasting. And for good reason, although I suspect that if he had worked for any other NFL franchise he might be long forgotten. Thankfully, there are enough Packers fans like you that haven’t allowed that to happen. You and others like you get it -- that if not for people like Vainisi, players from the 1920s, community-minded citizens over the years and so many others, there’d be no Packers today. Vainisi was basically a one-man scouting department in the 1950s who uncovered most of the players Lombardi won with. He also had enough friends and contacts in the league that he probably had more insight into Lombardi than anyone else in the organization and banged the drum for his hiring in 1959. Then Vainisi might have been Lombardi’s closest confidant those first two years before he died of a heart attack in November, 1960, three weeks before the Packers won their first conference championship under Lombardi. Vainisi was 33. He suffered from a rheumatic heart condition contracted while he was serving his country in World War II. Jack still has family in the Green Bay area, and I’m sure they’ll appreciate that you paid your respects and have shared your visit with other packers.com readers.
Brad from Chicago, IL
When did the Packers start their waiting list for season tickets? I’m 23 years old and have been a diehard Packers fan since I was six. I’ve been on the waiting list for about 10 years now.
Sometime in the early 1960s. Mark Wagner, our director of ticket operations, tells me nobody recorded the exact date when the list was started. But I can tell you this: Vince Lombardi delivered the historic announcement that the Packers had sold out their stadium on a season-ticket basis for the first time at a Wisconsin Amateur Golf Association banquet prior to the 1961 season. And what is now Lambeau Field has been sold out on a season-ticket basis ever since. When Lombardi made his announcement, the Packers had just completed their first expansion of what was then new City Stadium, adding roughly 6,300 seats and increasing capacity to 38,000-plus.
Brian from Kaukauna, WI
I grew up on Liberty Street, five blocks from Lambeau. I was one of the first kids in Green Bay to apply for and get seats in the “Children’s Section.” Section 7 - Row 5 - Seat - 4. I got to see all those great games in the 1960s when I was just a kid. I remember the tickets were $1.98 + 2 cents tax. I passed the tickets to my little sister when I turned 16 and she kept them until she turned 16. Just wondering if you know what year they opened the Children’s Section and what year they discontinued the Children’s Section?
Brian, you weren't the only one to ask about Section 7 (and also Section 5, as I recall). Jonathan, who grew up in Green Bay and now lives in Citrus Heights, Calif., also asked. When new City Stadium opened in 1957, tickets in the northeast corner were designated for what the Packers first called the “Student Section.” My recollection was that everybody simply called it the “Kids Section.” A season ticket there was $2.25 or 75 cents per game. Don’t know what year you bought your tickets, but those were also my first seats. I remember going to games in ’57 with my 75-cent ticket in hand. Mark Wagner, who has saved records during his time as ticket director and has a real appreciation for Packers history, tells me 1984 was the last year of the Kids Section. He said those tickets were priced at $6 per game that year. My recollection is that when the stadium opened, authorities were somewhat strict about enforcing what I remember as a 12-year old age limit (although maybe it was 16). But as time passed, ushers and fans alike paid less and less attention to that. If fans bought the tickets as kids, they kept them and continued to sit there as young adults. But that’s all based on memory.
Leonardo from Las Vegas, NV
Did Green Bay hold a parade in 1957 to celebrate the inauguration of City Stadium? Is it true the Bears entered a float in that parade?
Great memory. Yes, the Bears sponsored one of about 40 floats in the parade. The New York Giants and Detroit Lions also entered floats. The parade was held Saturday before the game and drew an estimated 70,000 to 80,000 people, the biggest and most spectacular in Green Bay’s history until an estimated 200,000 fans crowded the streets to welcome back the Super Bowl XXXI champions in January, 1997. It started on the near west side, crossed the Walnut Street Bridge, passed through downtown and ended at old City Stadium, where there was a farewell program featuring Matt Dillon of Gunsmoke fame and Miss America. There were 18,000 people at the old stadium, about 12,000 of them kids who converged on Matt Dillon. And I remember being one of them.
Dick from Plainwell, MI
Your history columns are terrific. My question is a little off-beat, but here goes: As city editor of the De Pere Journal-Democrat, I was fortunate to be able to use the season pass the Packers gave the newspaper to attend the first game played in new City Stadium in 1957. It was a great day, but I experienced one problem. Pregame traffic was hopelessly snarled and I, and many others, had to park in a farmer’s field and walk a fair distance to the stadium. Were there reports of a serious problem in having access roads ready for the opener, or did I just choose a bad route?
The Press-Gazette ran a story on the Thursday before the game outlining plans formulated by city and county traffic authorities. Among the suggestions was that people living in De Pere use the bridge there rather than one of three in Green Bay. On Monday, the day following the game, the paper said traffic problems were worse after the game than before. It mentioned that was particularly true in De Pere. But there must have been some problems before kickoff because the person in charge of stadium parking said he hoped to hire an additional 15 to 20 parkers before the next game. He also said the number of people who used Potts Avenue to get to the stadium caught him off guard. Maybe that’s your answer. You got stuck on Potts Avenue. In the end, did you manage to get inside the stadium on time? The Press-Gazette reported only a few stragglers missed the 1:06 kickoff. The stadium seated 32,154 and the stadium lot was large enough for 6,500 cars. Look at this way: By parking in a farmer’s field, you saved 50 cents – that was the parking fee back then.
Kent from Springfield, MO
Some in my family use Packers jersey numbers to remember or communicate numbers of other types. For example, my brother’s phone number is Reggie-Timmerman (9263). It would be fun to have a listing from 0-99 with a few of the more noteworthy players associated each number. Is there a list like that?
You can find all the numbers in this link to the Packers’ 2014 Media Guide: Check pages 564-576.