This is the kind of history that makes the Green Bay Packers unique and the greatest story in sports.
For 96 years, it has been recorded that the Packers played the Menominee North End Athletic Club in their first game as a semipro football team, and it will forever be that way.
But if you were living in the twin cities of Marinette, Wis., or Menominee, Mich., at the time, you’d have sworn it was an undermanned neighborhood team from Marinette with a different name that traveled to Green Bay to play the Packers.
That’s because the Green Bay Press-Gazette went to much further extremes than most anyone realizes in an effort to get local fans to back the team. In essence, it was selling snake oil football in 1919.
There were no bylines on the stories, so we’ll never know if they were written by Val Schneider, the paper’s sports columnist that fall, or copies of press releases penned by George Whitney Calhoun, the paper’s city editor at the time and co-founder of the Packers. Or if the stories were a mixed bag from both men.
Whatever the case, since day one, the tacit motto in Green Bay has been: “Whatever It Takes to Keep the Packers Alive, Do It.”
Here’s how the Press-Gazette built up the Packers’ 1919 foes compared to the newspapers in the cities of the opposing teams.
Sept. 14 – Packers 53, Menominee North End Athletic Club 0
Press-Gazette: Announced on Sept. 5, after nearly a month of negotiations with several town teams, that the East Ends from North Menominee would be the Packers’ first opponent. Previously, the paper reported De Pere, Oconto and Wausau had declined offers to play. Efforts to schedule the Oneida Indians also didn’t pan out. Reported on Sept. 6 that Menominee “is composed of former college and high school stars” and “looks like a championship machine.” The hype in the Sept. 9 edition read: “Menominee will bring a husky aggregation here” and “has a collection of all-stars… confident of turning the tables over Captain Lambeau’s team.” The buildup continued the day before the game when the paper reported “a record turnout was expected” and Menominee was “second to none in the Upper Peninsula.”
Menominee Herald-Leader: In its brief story on Monday, following the game, it reported Leannah’s Colts of Marinette had lost to the Packers, 53-0. Further, it said the team was outweighed 15 pounds per man and had lost two of its backfield men moments before the train left for Green Bay. Three days earlier, prior to the game, the Herald-Leader declared the city’s first big football game of the season would be played the next day and pit Menominee High School against an Alumni team that would feature “some of the greatest stars who ever wore a Menominee uniform.” Menominee’s population was roughly 9,000. None of the Alumni stars listed in the Herald-Leader in its Sept. 12 edition played against the Packers.
Marinette Eagle-Star: Reported the day before the game that the Second Ward team of Marinette would play the Packers the next day. The day after the game, the Eagle-Star reported that the Second Ward team – also referred to as the Marinette All-Stars – lost to the Packers, 52-0 (rather than 53-0) in its first game.
Footnote: There were no future references to Leannah’s Colts or the Second Ward team in the Eagle-Star that fall. A team called the Marinette All-Stars lost to Stambaugh, 55-3, on Oct. 19, but the Eagle-Star suggested it was a different team organized specifically for that game. Bottom line: The team that played the Packers in their first game was likely from Marinette, not Menominee, and it might have been the only game it ever played.
Sept. 21 – Packers 61, Marinette Northerners 0
Press-Gazette: Announced on Sept. 3 that the Packers had scheduled their first opponent, the Twin City team of Marinette. Reported the day before the game, “the Northerners are coming here with a team that has been ‘loaded’ to secure a victory.”
Marinette Eagle-Star: First, not once did the paper refer to the team as the Northerners. The Eagle-Star usually referred to it as the Twin City team and the Herald-Leader called it the Twin City All-Stars. The Marinette paper, in its first story about the game on Sept. 3, revealed a team was being organized that would be “one of the strongest… in the history of the city,” and it had scheduled a game against Green Bay. Five days later, the paper stated, “some misunderstanding has arisen” over the makeup of the Twin City team and urged players from both cities to ignore rumors and try out. Reported on Sept. 16 that a number of players had quit the Twin City team “leaving rather a weak lineup” for the game against Green Bay. “It was first proposed to cancel the game,” the Eagle-Star disclosed, “but the manager feeling that Green Bay would think Marinette had taken on a ‘yellow streak’ has decided to go ahead… with even a crippled aggregation.” Over the next two days, the Eagle-Star reported the East End Badgers, representing Marinette’s First Ward and champions of Northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula in 1915 and ’16, were reorganizing and would play Appleton the same day the Twin City team was scheduled to play in Green Bay. Thereafter, the East End Badgers were the focus of the Eagle-Star’s semipro football coverage. Still, on Sept. 20, the day before the game, the paper reported the Twin City team was heading to Green Bay, although it was “in badly crippled condition because of the loss of five men this week.” On Monday following the game, the Eagle-Star said the Twin City Athletic Club had endured a 53-0 (rather than 61-0) “manslaughter” at the hands of the Indian Packing Co. It also reported Appleton failed to show for its game against the East End Badgers.
Footnote: There were no future stories or game reports in the Eagle-Star about the Twin City team following its loss to Green Bay. Like the Menominee North Ends, its game against the Packers might have been the only one it ever played. The East End Badgers finished with a 5-1-2 record, including their forfeit victory over Appleton. The Badgers attempted to schedule a game against the Packers later in the season, according to two Eagle-Star stories, but the teams couldn’t agree on a site or whether there should be a $500 or $200 side bet on the game.
Sept. 28 – Packers 54, New London 0
Press-Gazette: Announced on Sept. 23, only five days before kickoff, that Appleton would play Green Bay Sunday. The Appleton Crescent also reported the game had been scheduled. Three days later, the Press-Gazette broke the news that the New London Athletic Club would play the Packers instead. “The New London squad is a husky aggregation,” the paper praised. It also stated several of its members had played for the New London Edisons basketball team, which had competed in the national AAU tournament in Chicago earlier that year.
New London Press: Revealed only three days before the game that the Edisons were “just getting out for practice.” On Oct. 2, the weekly paper reported the Edisons had lost to Indian Packing, 52-0 (rather than 54-0), in what was “sort of a frolic.” Coach Schallberg of the Edisons said of the Green Bay game, “We just picked up a bunch, had a few hours practice, went to Green Bay, had a hard game, had a good time and came home.”
Footnote: There was no further mention of the team in the New London paper that fall. It was likely the only game it played, at least that season. That said, at least three starters for New London in its game against the Packers also played the day before for the New London Alumni in its game against New London High.
Oct. 5 – Packers 87, Sheboygan Company C 0
Press-Gazette: Reported on Sept. 23, the Packers would play the Company C team in two weeks. On Oct. 1, the Press-Gazette described the Company C team as “one of the best elevens in Badger semipro circles,” and referred to it as the state runner-up in 1916. Schneider wrote in his Oct. 3 sports column, “Looking ‘Em Over,” that Sheboygan had a fullback the equal of Elmer Oliphant, a two-time All-American who had scored 435 points in six years of college football at Purdue and Army. The day before the game, the Press-Gazette noted that every member of the Company C team was a war veteran who had played in France in 1918 and in Waco, Texas, in 1917. The paper added that Sunday’s contest would “go a long way toward deciding the semipro championship of the state.”
Sheboygan Press: Reported on Sept. 30, Company C would play Indian Packing that Sunday, but the paper never printed the results of the game.
Footnote: The Press carried the results of only one other Company C game that fall, a 20-0 loss to the Sheboygan Falls Motors on Oct. 20. A week prior to that game, the Press reported Sheboygan Falls had four players who had played for the Carlisle Indian School, including one of Jim Thorpe’s former teammates. The Press-Gazette reported Sheboygan Falls had scheduled games with the Packers on Sept. 28 and Oct. 26, but backed out.
Oct. 12 – Packers 76, Racine 6
Press-Gazette: Announced in a headline on Oct. 4 that the Packers had scheduled a game against Racine. Four days later, the paper said Racine had won the Southern Wisconsin semipro championship the previous year and averaged 165 pounds per man. The day before the game, the Press-Gazette declared, “This is the greatest semipro gridiron attraction that has ever been booked for a local field.”
The Racine Journal-News: Announced on Oct. 11, the local Iroquois team had scheduled a game in Green Bay, but also declared the biggest football game of the season would be played the same day between two other Racine teams, the Horlicks and the Rubbers. On Oct. 13, the Journal-News noted in a one-paragraph story that the Iroquois had lost to Green Bay, 66-6 (rather than 76-6). The paper gave more extensive coverage to the Horlicks’ 47-6 victory over the Rubbers. A day later, the Journal-News said the Packers had outweighed the Iroquois 40 pounds per man.
Footnote: On Nov. 24, the Horlicks beat the Iroquois, 10-2, and claimed the Racine city championship. The previous week, the Horlicks had beaten the Chicago Athletic Club, 31-6, while the Iroquois had lost to Fort Sheridan, Ill., 19-0. Racine’s 32nd Division team also claimed the city title after beating the Horlicks, 13-6, in an Armistice Day battle. But the Horlicks claimed the 32nd Division team wasn’t eligible for the title because it had used five ringers from Marquette University. Two weeks after the Beloit Athletic Club edged the 32nd Division, 7-0, on Nov. 7, the Beloit Daily News noted the Packers had beaten the Racine Lightweights, not a team the caliber of the 32nd Division.
Oct. 19 – Packers 33, Ishpeming, Mich. 0
Press-Gazette: At noon, Oct. 15, the manager of the Reuping Leather Co. of Fond du Lac informed Packers management that due to injuries and illness his team wasn’t going to show for Sunday’s game in Green Bay. With only four days to go, the Packers scheduled their first road game at Ishpeming, Mich. The Press-Gazette noted, “The Michiganders haven’t tasted defeat in two years.”
Ishpeming Iron Ore: In its Oct. 4 edition, it noted Ishpeming hadn’t fielded a team since 1916. In 1919, Ishpeming was 2-0-1 heading into the Packers game. The weekly paper referred to its team as the Twin City team or the Ishpeming-Negaunee team.
Footnote: Ishpeming was considered a worthy opponent, the toughest the Packers played to that point, but it would lose its next three games to Lake Linden, Mich., Marinette’s East End Badgers and Marquette’s Northern State Normal School.
Oct. 26 – Packers 85, Oshkosh Professionals 0
Press-Gazette: On Oct. 21, the paper lamented that teams were “getting cold feet” and backing out of agreements to play the Packers. It also revealed “wires are being burned up” with teams in Rockford, Ill., Kenosha, Beloit, Oshkosh and Waukesha in an effort to find an opponent for the Packers to play this coming Sunday. The next day, four days before kickoff, the Press-Gazette announced Oshkosh had agreed to play. On the eve of the game, the paper described Oshkosh as “a team composed of former high school and college stars” and “a scrappy outfit… right at home on the gridiron.”
Oshkosh Daily Northwestern: Twenty-four hours before kickoff, it announced that a newly organized football team would play the Packers the next day. On Monday, the day after the game, the paper reported the results in one paragraph at the bottom of an area football roundup.
Footnote: The Daily Northwestern reported only one more score for the city team that fall. On Nov. 24, it stated Oshkosh had beaten Reuping Leather of Fond du Lac, 13-9. On Oct. 31, the paper reported Horicon had challenged Oshkosh to a game, but there was no further mention of it. It also announced two weeks later that Oshkosh would play Appleton, but never printed any results.
Nov. 2 – Packers 53, Milwaukee Maple Leaf Athletic Club 0
Press-Gazette: The day before the game, the Press-Gazette’s subhead over its preview read, “Crack Cream City Professionals Aggregation Expects to Wallop Green Bay.”
The Milwaukee Journal: Maple Leaf A.C., based on Milwaukee’s south side, was not one of the eight teams in the Major League of the Milwaukee Amateur Football Association.
Footnote: Maple Leaf lost two previous games to Rockford, Ill., and Racine Horlicks and finished 0-3, according to The Pro Football Archives.
Nov. 9 – Packers 46, Chicago Chilar Athletic Club 0
Press-Gazette: Reported on Nov. 3, the Chilar A.C., “one of the strongest ‘pro’ teams in the Middle West,” would play in Green Bay the next Sunday. The next day, the paper said Chilar ranked with the best teams in Chicago.
Footnote: Neither the Chicago Tribune nor The Chicago Daily News printed anything about the game before or after. Chilar finished the season 0-4-1, according to The Pro Football Archives.
Nov. 16 – Packers 17, Stambaugh Miners 0
Press-Gazette: Reported on Nov. 11, the Packers would play the Stambaugh Professionals in Stambaugh, Mich., on Sunday. Two days before the game, the paper claimed Stambaugh was lining up ringers to face the Packers, including recruits from Chicago.
Iron County Reporter: Editions published in the fall of 1919 were destroyed by fire.
Footnote: The Stambaugh All-Stars, according to the Iron County Historical Museum Collection at Caspian, Mich., were champions of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in 1908 and compiled a 5-1 record in 1919, losing only to the Packers.
Nov. 23 – Beloit Professionals 6, Packers 0
Press-Gazette: Reported on Nov. 12, the Packers would play in Beloit against the Fairbanks-Morse team to “decide the professional football championship of the state.”
The Beloit Daily News: Referred to the team as the Beloit A.A.C. throughout the season and credited it with a 5-1-1 record heading into the game against Green Bay.
Footnote: According to a story in the Daily News in 1998, the Fairbanks-Morse Co. sponsored a football team from 1919-22, a baseball team from 1914-27 and a basketball team from 1915-42. All were state powers. In fact, the baseball team employed more than 12 former major leaguers over its 14-year existence. The basketball team played the Original Celtics. The company teams were nicknamed the Fairies. The Packers would play the Fairies twice in 1920 and once in 1921.
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