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To keep the Packers alive and at home, another sale of stock was held. Each share was pegged at $25, and nobody could buy more than 200 shares. "Most of our 1,699 stockholders own only one share," says Dominic Olejniczak, a real estate man who is currently president of the Packers (and who owns one share). In effect, buying a $25 share meant giving $25 to the Packers. "Everybody knows there's never been a dividend and probably never will be," says President Olejniczak. The stockholders and the 39-man executive committee and the officers don't even get free tickets, according to Olejniczak. '"That's the way it has to be in a small town," he says.
The refinancing didn't end the Packers' problems. In the next nine years they ran through three coaches—Gene Ronzani, Lisle Blackbourn and McLean. Attendance continued to fall off, and clubs began to refuse to play in Green Bay. "The Giants used to offer us 50% of the gate [instead of the customary 40%] if we'd play them in New York," says Lambeau. By 1955 the Packers were drawing more for the three "home games" they played in Milwaukee every year than for their games in Green Bay. Published figures reported that the Packers were averaging about 22,000 a game at home, but the Packer books show that average paid attendance was actually 11,051 in 1955 and 12,117 in 1956. "They had to sit mighty loose out there in City Stadium to make the place look filled," says one newsman dryly.
The ultimate solution demanded a risk: abandoning the old wooden City Stadium, hard on the side of a high school, in favor of a new stadium. The city passed a bond issue—"this was when we had a losing team, not a winning team," says Lewellen—and the new million-dollar stadium was opened on the outskirts of town in 1957. Attendance doubled (to 23,064 average paid in 1957), and business picked up swiftly. Last year the club set two financial records: it grossed more than a million dollars and it netted more than $100,000 for the first time in history. This year ticket prices—already the highest in the league—were raised about a dollar (to $4.20 average after taxes). All four Green Bay games were promptly sold out. In the days when the Packers were filling City Stadium, a visiting club could expect a maximum cut of $27,000; today they leave Green Bay with $45,000. "And that's better than three or four other towns in this league can do," says Lewellen.
The instrument of prosperity was principally Vince Lombardi. "He took the job when nobody else would," says Olejniczak. Almost everything Lombardi did was instantly right. With his players Lombardi was correct and uncompromising. (Some of the Packers nicknamed him Mr. K.) He traded away troublesome if talented players ("One player came here, got into trouble and was in Pittsburgh the next week") and put a premium on every job on the team. When one exceptionally gifted end went to General Manager Lombardi for an advance on his salary, Coach Lombardi said, "I'd be glad to help—but I don't know if you can make this football team." But he was generous in helping those who helped the team, and his coaching techniques evoked admiration and great loyalty from his players. The result was the renaissance of the Packers.
The glories of the past died slowly. George Calhoun sits alone in his little house across the Fox River, virtually forgotten in the new enthusiasm, with only a few old cronies to help him keep in touch with the Packers. Even George Halas of the Chicago Bears, who used to make a point of visiting Calhoun on every trip to Green Bay, now dismisses the duty with a phone call. In Holzer's drugstore pictures of the old Packers are taped to the mirror, and the atmosphere is filled with the lore of the past. The conversation swings compulsively back to the old names—Johnny Blood ("We had to lock him up every Saturday night") and Cal Hubbard and Mike Michalske and Jug Earp. "They played their hearts out for $35 or $50 a game," says John Holzer, a trifle hyperbolically. "They had a fierce desire, an almost animal desire for contact."
The success of the early part of this season aroused new expectations in Green Bay, but good fortune cannot be pressed too hard for fear that it will crumble, like a crisp leaf, under the pressure. In a hotel elevator a bellhop asked, "Are we goin' east or are we goin' south?" Goin' east meant playing for the championship of the National Football League. Goin' south meant playing in the second-place game in Miami. He was told not to get his hopes up. The Packers might be goin' south. He nodded. It would be enough.
It is enough—for the moment. Nothing that happens now can wipe out the rising sense of pride and accomplishment—or the disgust of the last decade and a half. "It wasn't just that we lost in those days," says Bob Houle. "It was the way we lost—we weren't in the game after the first five minutes." Today the Packers are in every game, whether they win or lose. That is enough to renew civic pride. "You can't realize how much joy there is in this team," says Holzer, "until you know the heartaches and despair of the last few years."