From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, December 12, 1960
GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN, IS A SMALL, INDUSTRIAL MIDWESTERN CITY set in a region of wheat and corn and dairy farms. More important this autumn, it is the home of the long-dormant Packers, who rose to defeat the world champion Baltimore Colts and surged into contention for the title in the Western Division of the National Football League this season. This, in the view of Green Bay, is the "climax of civilization."
"We've survived a long time being the smallest pig in a big barn," says George Whitney Calhoun in less exalted language. Calhoun, sitting in his room among his memories of the past, more than anybody else (with the exception of Curly Lambeau) was responsible for the early survival of the Packers. "Now," he says with some satisfaction, "we're going to see how loud the other pigs can squeal."
He speaks in the idiom of the people of Green Bay. For 15 years they labored under the brooding fear of losing their identity in an increasingly corporate era. Pro football had come of age, and a few teams were reluctant to play in Green Bay. Larger cities (Buffalo, Dallas, Miami, even New York, Chicago, Baltimore and Boston) had lost one pro team or another, and to many in Green Bay it seemed it could be only a matter of time before their community followed suit.
The passing of Green Bay would mean a severance from the romantic yesterdays when the game was the product and the possession of Canton and Massillon, of Muncie and Hammond, of Decatur and Rock Island. Green Bay is the last of the "town teams." Whether it could survive in the high-pressure era of modern sports, seemed, to its own citizens, plaguingly doubtful.
The man who turned doubt to affirmation is Vince Lombardi, a moody, hoarse-voiced individual of great enthusiasms and lofty contempts. ("If you're within that circle of people important to him and his team," says a man etching circles on a white tablecloth in the Elks club, "there is nothing, absolutely nothing, he won't do for you. If you're not"—his fingers scratch with an executioner's precision—"he doesn't give a damn about you.") In less than two years as general manager and coach, Lombardi has taken a team that gave Green Bay its worst record in history (1-10-1 in 1958) and prodded it into distinction.
"All those years of lookin' for somethin' and someone," says a man in a service station, "and this New Yorker"—the phrase was almost a profanity—"comes along and does it."
To Lombardi the changes of the last two years have been no less stunning. He has had to adjust from the frenetic, impersonal pace of New York City to the more languid, intensely personal pace of Green Bay. "Everything is closer here," he says. "You're just another number in New York."
Green Bay has an acute sense of status. "We have our symphony and antiquarian society and Newcomers' Club and the Shakespeare Society and the Garden Club," says John Borgenson of the chamber of commerce. Green Bay also has the Packers, and it tends to appraise its athletes in highly personal, rather than professional, terms. One man says of fullback Jim Taylor: "He don't say yes and he don't say no. He lives within himself." Another says of halfback Paul Hornung: "Some people say he's overbearing, but me, I think he's got an inferiority complex. You hear some pretty wild stories about him, but listen, I know he's a decent kid. I'd let my daughter go out with him."
Green Bay, as Taylor and Hornung have found, exerts a powerful hold on the people who live there. "When they're first drafted, a lot of college players seem reluctant to come to Green Bay," said the late Jack Vainisi, who for 10 years was chief scout for the Packers. "Once they get here, most of them don't want to leave."