Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame: the archives

A $7,500 pair of shoes caught the eye of Tom Murphy last April, and he got them – for free. That kind of thing is pretty special, but not unprecedented, in his line of work.

Tom is chief archivist for the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame, and the shoes were donated by Judy Russell of Oshkosh. They used to belong to Judy’s uncle, Norbert “Mac” McHugh, a Packer groundskeeper and gateman who worked there long enough to see Curly Lambeau to Mike Holmgren coach.

Turn over the shoes, and you’ll find a “V” on the back of one, an “L” on the other. These field shoes used to be Vince Lombardi’s, and that is what makes them of high value. Now they are a part of Lombardi’s locker, which is among the Hall of Fame’s 77 exhibits.

About 99 percent of the more than $2 million in acquisitions have been donated, Tom estimates, and about 75 percent are on display at any given time.

He gets several calls a week from Packer fans, regarding items they have inherited or otherwise may want to donate. When something sounds of interest, Tom will solicit several opinions and then judge the value – monetary as well as historical significance. One of the people he relies upon is Red Cochran, who was an assistant coach under Lombardi.

Somebody called this month, to say they had padding that was around a goalpost during the legendary Ice Bowl championship of 1967. That wasn’t deemed to be of great value.

More recently, a call was fielded from a new widower. His wife had been a huge Packers fan who used a wheelchair that was a customized tribute to the team. It has good potential of being added to an exhibit that is devoted to fan memorabilia.

Although they’re not as valuable as a one-of-a-kind championship trophy, Tom calls the Lombardi shoes “a real prize” because they are the only pair known to still exist.

It took Judy Russell a while to decide that the shoes should go to Green Bay instead of Canton, Ohio, home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“More Packer fans would be able to see them in Green Bay,” she finally surmised. She is a meticulous and razor-sharp journalist who retired two years ago. We both worked at the Oshkosh Northwestern in the 1970s.

Judy’s memorabilia and knowledge of Packer trivia are vast. She has pieces of the Ice Bowl goalposts, bobbleheads of the players in the 1950s, game programs that go back to the 1920s.

She also has the ticket stubs for every game that she has attended. Her first was with her uncle on Nov. 23, 1952. “It was my first game, and Tony Canadeo’s last,” she says, noting that years later she was able to meet and chat with the star halfback. He died less than two months ago, at age 84.

What did she add to her Packer collection this year? A pewter, limited edition and autographed statue of Brett Favre, created by Colorado artist Michael Ricker.

The Packers’ archivist calls Judy a serious fan – one who will slowly read her way through the Hall of Fame displays. She was, in fact, one of the 10 finalists in the Packers’ 1998 search for the team’s biggest fan.

As a teen, she says she buried a penny in the north end zone of Lambeau Field, “for good luck.” She recalls riding a train to see Packer-Bear games, when they were played at Wrigley Field, and heading to games against the Vikings at the then-new Metropolitan Stadium in the Bloomington, Minn. (now the site of Mall of America).

Her favorite player? Bobby Dillon in the 1950s, she says, noting that he still holds the team record (52) for interceptions. Put it all together, and it seems fitting that a piece of Judy Russell’s history as a Packer fan now is a part of her beloved team’s home.

It’s also a nice reminder of what fan loyalty means, which is particularly fitting as another Packer season comes to an end.

What would the Packer archivist consider a rare find these days? “It’s difficult to find vintage equipment and uniforms used prior to the 1960s,” Tom says. Team-autographed footballs, particularly from the 1960s, also will turn his head – but they need to contain the players’ original signatures.

Some people who think they have the real thing, really don’t

“About four out of five (autographed footballs) from that time are stamped signatures,” Tom says, which drops the value from “the thousands” to “a couple of hundred” dollars.

To talk to him about making a donation to the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame, call (920) 965-6982. It’s tax-deductible.

For more about visiting the Hall of Fame, go to www.packers.com or call (920) 499-4281. It is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily; holiday hours vary. Admission depends on your age: It’s $10 per adult, free for ages 5 and younger.