In the early 1900s there was a multitude of semi-pro and professional football teams scattered across the United States. The states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York saw the highest concentration of clubs and fan interest, along with the Pacific Northwest.
Curly Lambeau and George Calhoun worked for the Acme Packing Company in Green Bay, Wisc. — a meat processing plant. The two men were high school rivals and later good friends. They got the idea to start a professional football squad and play other teams within the Midwest. At the time there was an abundance of nearby teams to gather a schedule.
The pair approached their employer about a sponsorship to which they were given $500 for uniforms, equipment and a practice field behind the factory (which would double as a game field). As part of the fund allocations the team would be named for the sponsor. In 1919, the Green Bay Packers were born.
Back then most football teams were owned by sponsors, small businessmen or civic leaders trying to garner their city some national exposure.
The National Football League (NFL) began in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association (APFA). The first commissioner was the legendary Jim Thorpe. There were several goals in forming a new league such as to eliminate players jumping from one team to another during a season. Another was to stop the process of college players suiting up for their squad on Saturday and then playing professionally on Sundays under an assumed name. With this new league, both of those situations became league policy.
Most of the original Packers played for one of the local high schools in past years. The rest of the roster had players that did have college or past pro experience. That first season the club went 7-2-2; five of those contests were against non-league opponents and in the official standings they compiled a 3-2-1 record.
In 1921, the APFA appointed a new commissioner in Joe Carr. Among the league goals, Carr felt that if the league was to become known as a major organization and earn national media recognition, the franchises located in small-to-medium cities would have to be weeded out. The owners gave Carr exclusive power to enforce regulations set up by the league, and to fine or suspend any player, owner or team as he saw fit. As the commissioner, he did not govern with an even hand and showed favoritism to the franchises located in the larger cities. His aspirations were for the small city teams to relocate to more metropolitan surroundings.
For example, any ownership group that wished to apply for a league spot would have to pay an entrance fee. To prospects in vast cities Carr charged $500 (what Tim Mara of the Giants paid) while for medium-to-small towns the fee was a disproportionate $2,500. Often he would tack on an additional “territorial fee” if the new small city team was in close proximity of an existing club.
Back then it fell upon each franchise to make their season’s schedule with as many (or as few) games needed. Also, the league was devoid of any college player draft so clubs put together teams in any means possible. During the first APFA season, teams would play college players consistently under a false name. Carr let it be known that this practice was no longer tolerable.
The Packers played a game against the Racine Legion on December 4, 1921. It was billed as the “state championship” and moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin for an expected large crowd. After a 3-3 tie, the next day the Racine Journal-News reported that Green Bay had used three undergraduate college players from Notre Dame. On the lineup cards published in three local papers, there were three positions with three new starters. Eight days later the South Bend Tribune reported that the three players were indeed all Notre Dame players with eligibility left.
For the three players, the result was that each was stripped of their football letters. For the Packers, it would be much worse.
At the January annual meeting at league offices in Canton, Ohio, George Halas of the Decatur Staleys (later renamed the Chicago Staleys then the Chicago Bears) informed the other owners and Carr about Green Bay’s incident and demanded action. Carr handed the Packers a $50 fine and expelled them from the league.
Lambeau, then player/head coach, had the money for the fine and wanted his team to be reinstated. The problem was he didn’t have any travel funds. His friend, Don Murphy, said he could come up with the money if Lambeau would allow him to play in a game. Murphy sold his car, and then he and Lambeau traveled by train to Canton and bought back the franchise.
But Carr delayed the action. Still operating under the belief that the league would be better off with franchises in larger cities and the need to scale down the small-town teams, he used the college eligibility player rule as a motive to delay reinstatement and help a large city team. Lambeau had been a teammate of one of college football’s best players and the Packers were a lock to sign him. Since the college season was completed, players were free to sign with any team that offered contracts. Halas had just moved the Staleys to Chicago - a major plum for the league. He asked Carr to delay Green Bay’s reinstatement so that he could approach the player. Carr did just that and informed Lambeau that the Packers new application for admission into the league was “pending further consideration.” Halas then signed the player.
At this same meeting the APFA changed its name to the National Football League for the 1922 season. The Packers got their franchise back and proceeded to go 4-3-3 playing only league squads.
And in the first game of the season in a 19-14 loss to the Rock Island Independents, Murphy played the first minute at tackle.
Something else to know
Green Bay Packers, Inc. That is the name of the non-profit outfit that owns the Packers. The club is the only publicly-owned franchise in the NFL and has 360,584 stockholders. This came about when the club was in dire straits in 1923 and needed to raise $5,000. 1,000 shares were available for $5 each. In 1935 another stock offering was sold to raise $15,000 after the corporation had gone into receivership. The third offering occurred in 1950 to raise money so that the franchise would not relocate to a larger city. A single share cost $25. During 1997, $24 million was raised for improvements to Lambeau Field during the fourth stock offering. Finally, to raise money to expand the stadium the team offered more stock in 2011. 269,000 shares were sold at $250 each.