Yellow roses in a wedding bouquet are not unusual, but dressing ushers in referee uniforms? That’s logical when the backdrop is Lambeau Field, as it was almost one year ago for Jeff and Julie Manning of Wausau.
The bride, a diehard Green Bay Packers fan, calls it a dream come true, despite wind and rain for her 48-degree wedding day on the Lambeau Atrium’s sixth floor deck. Jeff had proposed after a fish fry, six months earlier. The next day they headed to Green Bay to set a date and begin plans.
Within one week as an engaged couple, he sustained a brain injury in an auto accident that took him out of work 10 months. The other driver “blew through an intersection” at a high rate of speed, Julie says, and that’s the backstory of one wedding photograph – green-and-gold umbrella in hand – at the newly reopened Packers Hall of Fame.
We love our Packers, and many fans will be surprised to find a little part of themselves in the greatly enlarged, two-story Hall of Fame, which closed for renovation in November 2013. The new attraction adds a “you-are-there” factor: Take a seat in bleachers while watching Ice Bowl clips, get an introduction to the home team’s locker room, match your wingspan against Clay Matthews’.
The Packers in 1998 were the first pro football team to set up a Fan Hall of Fame, and now the attention expands into a flashy gallery labeled “Owners,” to acknowledge endearing traditions, unique characters and many personal stories of devotion. The people, anecdotes and loyalties are what separate this NFL operation from all others.
Video clips dissect the Lambeau Leap and tailgating rituals, show off the annual shareholders meeting and explain why players ride kids’ bicycles to training camp. We see fans proudly shoveling snow from stadium seats and marvel at how tickets to the annual Family Night summer scrimmage sell out in one day.
Touch-screen technology with the ability to sort and catalog will keep stat-happy fans and history buffs content for hours, but I also like seeing paper and read every word of Vince Lombardi’s 1969 letter of resignation, every comment on Paul Hornung’s talent report from the mid 1950s.
“He wants pro ball badly” and “will stand punishment,” the scout wrote about the handsome Heisman Trophy winner who would be known as “Golden Boy.” One weakness was underlined twice: Likes girls.
Those aren’t the only artifacts presented in an honest, unfiltered way. Consider the side-by-side display of certificates from each of the team’s five stock sales. The first, in 1923, cost $5 and included box-seat admission to each of the team’s home games that year.
Longtime sportswriter Cliff Christl of Green Bay, hired as team historian in 2014, is responsible for writing almost all of the historical text and helped select which parts of team history to feature. “I was given considerable latitude to pick the best stories as I wrote the text,” he says.
Timelines follow the Packers from their sputtering start in 1919, weave through major challenges and document the waves of championships.
A day-by-day breakdown reveals the team’s in-season routine: Wednesday is the players’ longest workday. You’ll learn history (like the backstory of the “G” logo) and trivia (there are three types of jersey and pant designs; what an athlete wears depends upon his playing position).
Some things don’t change: Coach Lombardi’s work desk, kitschy accessories and bright yellow chairs for visitors remain on exhibit. It is the same with a pair of his cleats, a personalized chairback and other Hall of Fame locker artifacts.
Online at packers.com, thanks to Cliff’s research and writing, is a growing archive of oral history articles. You’ll meet lesser-known Packers (like Rigs Dwyer, who played in 1919, then lost an arm and leg because of railroad work), Mary Jane Van Duyse (Curly Lambeau’s girlfriend), Ruth Canadeo (married to star halfback Tony for 60 years) and more.
Much of the team’s early history “is muddled, for a number of reasons,” Cliff says. “It’ll benefit the organization to have that on record. A lot of holes need to be filled in.”
Easy to miss in the two-story attraction is the actual Hall of Fame, whose 154 inductees are each saluted with a personalized bronze football. Add 23 Pro Football Hall of Fame tributes, four Lombardi trophies, Super Bowl rings and more.
The private area feels almost sacred: quiet, respectful and optimistic. What is left is room to grow many years beyond today, both in superstar players and team championships.
The Packers Hall of Fame in the Lambeau Field Atrium, 1265 Lombardi Ave., Green Bay, is open daily. Admission is $12 or $15, depending upon the date; less for children, senior citizens and military vets. packers.com, 920-569-7500
About 60 wedding events are booked at Lambeau per year. Learn about the possibilities at 920-569-7515.