Curly Lambeau’s Time in Green Bay and His Exodus to the Chicago Cardinals

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The Green Bay Packers play at Lambeau Field. There is a reason why the legendary stadium is named after Earl Louis “Curly” Lambeau.

Lambeau first showed his football prowess at Green Bay East High School, where he graduated in 1917.

After high school, Lambeau went to Notre Dame, where he started as a freshman at fullback on Knute Rockne’s first team in South Bend. Shortly after the season ended, Lambeau fell ill with tonsillitis and dropped out of school.

Back in Green Bay, Lambeau found work at the Indian Packing Company (later the Acme Packing Company). Then in 1919, Lambeau, along with George Whitney Calhoun, an editor for the Green Bay Press-Gazette, founded the Packers.

In 1919 and 1920, the Packers played on a semipro basis with the packing company as a sponsor.

In 1921, the Packers (backed by the Acme Packing Company) joined the American Professional Football Association, which became the National Football League in 1922.

Lambeau coached the Packers from 1921 to 1949, as the team won 209 games (a .656 winning percentage) and six NFL championships. Lambeau also only had one losing season in all those years leading up until 1948.

Besides being a the head coach, Lambeau was also a player through 1929.  He rushed for eight scores and also caught three touchdown passes in his career. In addition to that, Lambeau also threw 24 touchdown passes.

The multi-talented Lambeau was also a kicker (19 extra points and six field goals) and he scored a total of 110 points as a Packer. He also led the Packers in interceptions twice and returned one of those picks for a touchdown.

Lambeau is the only player in team history to wear No. 1 with the Packers, when he wore that number in 1925 and 1926. He also wore No. 14  in 1927, No. 42 in 1928 and finally No. 20 in 1929.

Lambeau had a number of very talented players who excelled on the field under his guidance. Six of those players were later inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They were Cal Hubbard, Mike Michalske, Johnny “Blood” McNally, Arnie Herber, Don Hutson and Tony Canadeo.

Don Hutson and Curly Lambeau

Don Hutson and Curly Lambeau

Things started to unravel for Lambeau and the Packers after World War II ended. Hutson retired after the 1945 season and that was a huge loss for the team. The Packers and the rest of the NFL were also competing with All-American Football Conference for players.

That meant that draft picks and veterans cost a lot more to bring in.

Add to that, Lambeau ticked off members of the executive committee by purchasing the Rockwood Lodge north of Green Bay for $25,000 for the Packers to practice at from 1946 to 1949.

There were a number of people who were not that enamored with Lambeau anyway, as he spent his offseasons in California. The word in Green Bay was that “Lambeau’s gone Hollywood”, especially among committee members.

Then the team went 3-9 in 1948 and then 2-10 in 1949.

Then the Rockwood Lodge burned down on January 24, 1950, and Lambeau ended up resigning a week later to coach the Chicago Cardinals (later the St. Louis Cardinals, the Phoenix Cardinals and now the Arizona Cardinals).

The Cardinals were considered a very talented team when Lambeau arrived there.  The Cardinals had won the NFL championship in 1947 and had played in the NFL title game in 1948, and next to the Chicago Bears, were clearly the next-biggest rival to the Packers at the time.

Needless to say, people in Green Bay were not real happy when Lambeau joined forces with the Cardinals. Sort of like the feeling Packer Nation had when Brett Favre went to play for the Minnesota Vikings.

Lambeau did not fare well with the Cardinals, as in two seasons there, his teams were just 7-15.

In 1952, Lambeau became the coach of the Washington Redskins. In two seasons in the nation’s capital, his teams went 10-13-1.

Only once did a team coached by Lambeau get to play the Packers after he left Green Bay.

The game was played at old Marquette Stadium in Milwaukee in 1952, when the Packers beat Lambeau and the Redskins 35-20.

In 1963, Lambeau became a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame when he was inducted into the hallowed halls in Canton.

Lambeau died of a heart attack on June 1, 1965 at the age of 67. Shortly thereafter, City Stadium was renamed Lambeau Field on September 11, 1965.

Yes, if not for Curly Lambeau, the Green Bay Packers and their storied history, would never have taken place.

15 thoughts on “Curly Lambeau’s Time in Green Bay and His Exodus to the Chicago Cardinals

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