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Green Bay Packers Legends of the Past: Earl L. “Curly” Lambeau

July 3rd, 2013 at 7:03 PM
By Sean Tehan

Earl Louis “Curly” Lambeau was one of three Green Bay Packers to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963. When NFL fans here the name “Lambeau”, the namesake is best known for the Packers’ home stadium, “Lambeau Field”. Lambeau though is more than a stadium name to the entire NFL and Green Bay, Wisconsin.

E.L. “Curly” Lambeau, who was born (1898) and raised in Green Bay, was a standout halfback at Green Bay East High School. After shining as a football player in high school, Lambeau played football for first-year head coach Knute Rockne at Notre Dame and made the varsity team as a freshman. Under the direction of the legendary coach, Lambeau scored the first touchdown ever for Rockne’s Fighting Irish.

After one successful season with the Irish, Lambeau left school in the spring semester due to a serious case of tonsillitis. Lambeau did not return to Notre Dame, and became a clerk at Indian Packing Company, a Green Bay meat-packing industry.

Green Bay Press-Gazette sports editor George Calhoun remembered Lambeau from his time at Green Bay East High School, and the two met to put together a football team in Green Bay. The Indian Packing Company agreed to pay for the player jerseys, and the nickname “Packers” had arrived. Two years in though, Indian Packing Company was bought out by Acme Packing Company. The future of the team was in serious jeopardy.

For Green Bay to keep a professional football team, Lambeau had to persuade Acme owners John and Emmitt Clair to support the franchise to become a professional football team. Lambeau convinced the Clairs to keep the football team together, and the Green Bay Packers officially joined the American Professional Football Association in 1921, which became the National Football League one year later.

At 23-years-old, Lambeau became the first player and coach of the Green Bay Packer franchise. To this day, Lambeau is the reason why professional football remains in Green Bay.

As a player, Lambeau played halfback (and quarterback, in a way) for the Packers. In his playing career, Lambeau threw 24 touchdown passes, rushed for eight touchdowns, and caught three touchdowns in 77 games. Lambeau was the first Packer to throw a pass, throw a touchdown pass, and make a field goal in franchise history.

While Lambeau made his mark as a player, he did even more as a coach. Lambeau coached the Packers from 1921-1949, and coached seven future Pro Football Hall of Famers. Lambeau was the first coach to make passing an important part of an NFL offense, and was one of the first coaches to install daily practices and passing patterns for wide receivers.

In his 29 seasons as head coach, Lambeau compiled 209 wins, 104 losses, and 21 ties. Under Lambeau’s watch, the Packers won six NFL Championships, and remain the lone franchise to win three consecutive NFL titles. Despite his great success, it wasn’t quite an iconic ending for the man who created and saved the Packers.

After the 1949 season, Lambeau was forced to resign as Packers head coach after the team had won only two games, their lowest win total in franchise history. Lambeau coached for four more seasons in the NFL with the Chicago (now Arizona) Cardinals and the Washington Redskins. In 1953, Lambeau and Redskins team owner George Marshall had a heated argument in a hotel lobby. Marshall fired Lambeau immediately, and Lambeau’s coaching career came to an end.

Two years after he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Lambeau died in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin in June 1965 after suffering a fatal heart attack. The Packers’ home stadium, which opened in 1957 as “New City Stadium”, was renamed “Lambeau Field” in September of 1965, three months after Lambeau had passed.

Lambeau’s time in Green Bay didn’t end in legendary fashion, but in 33 years as an NFL head coach, he compiled a 229-134-22 record. Lambeau’s 229 wins stands for 4th-most in NFL history (trails Don Shula, George Halas, and Tom Landry), and his six NFL championships are tied for the most all-time (Halas).

Besides Lambeau field, Lambeau’s name is honored outside of the “old” city stadium, all around Green Bay. In 2003, the Packers built a 14-foot statue of Lambeau just outside of the Lambeau Field Atrium. In Green Bay’s Packerland Industrial Park, a small sliver of road, “Lambeau Street” lies off of Highway 41, intersecting with (Bart) Starr Court and (Don) Hutson Road.

Lambeau is more than the name of a field. It’s the identity of the Green Bay Packers and it always will be.

Information from profootballhof.com, lambeauhouse.com, and packers.com was used in this article

Tags: Football, George Calhoun, Green Bay, Green Bay Packers, Knute Rockne, Lambeau Field, NFL, Notre Dame

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One Response to “Green Bay Packers Legends of the Past: Earl L. “Curly” Lambeau”

  1.  TedTrusiak says:

    Sean! I’m joining the conversation. So nice to see a piece about the patriarch of Green Bay Packers football. I honestly don’t think he gets enough time in the limelight, and I am hard pressed to believe that he is well known among casual NFL fans.

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