Jerry Kramer did not have real good memories of playing games at Milwaukee County Stadium at the beginning of his career. In 1958, Kramer’s rookie year, the Packers were 0-2 at County Stadium, as the team finished a woeful 1-10-1 under head coach Ray “Scooter” McLean.
In 1959, which was the first year that Vince Lombardi became head coach (and general manager), the team also went 0-2 at the home of the Milwaukee Braves, although the team vastly improved it’s season record to 7-5.
In 1960, the Packers did split the two games the team played in Milwaukee, plus went 8-4 for the season and won the Western Conference title. But the Packers lost the 1960 NFL title game to the Philadelphia Eagles, 17-13, which turned out to be the only postseason loss in the Lombardi era in Green Bay.
The Packers only played two games in Milwaukee per season when the schedule was just 12 games. But in 1961, the NFL started a 14-game schedule, which meant that now three homes games would be played in Beertown, while the other four would be played at City Stadium (now Lambeau Field) in Green Bay.
The Packers first started playing some of their home games in Milwaukee, starting in 1933. The first location was Borchert Field in 1933, followed by State Fair Park from 1934 through 1951 and then Marquette Stadium in 1952.
The Packers started playing in the then new County Stadium starting in 1953 and that continued through the 1994 season. Starting in 1995, the Packers started playing all eight of their homes games at Lambeau Field, although they still allot two games per year for Milwaukee season ticket holders.
Going back now to 1961, Kramer had another bad experience at Milwaukee County Stadium, as the Packers lost the season opener there (making the Packers 1-4 at MCS at that point under Lombardi). If that wasn’t bad enough, Kramer broke his ankle in the next game in Milwaukee versus the Minnesota Vikings covering a kickoff.
“I remember that play pretty well,” Kramer told me recently. “I decided I was going to break the wedge. I was going to go right in the middle of it and make something happen. I don’t know if I slipped or they just knocked me on my ass, but the injury turned out to be pretty serious.
“I broke my leg below the knee and separated the bones in the ankle. It was really painful because the bones were separated. A week or so after the injury, the doctors decided to put a pin in the ankle to pull the bones back together.
“When you think of a pin, you think of something small and delicate, but this was a stone bolt. It had a screw head, a square nut on the opposite side of my leg and it had washers on it. I didn’t think about it at the time, but the washers pulled the bones back together.”
In another story that I wrote about the 1962 Packers, Kramer talked about how arduous and difficult it was to rehab from that injury, not to mention feeling like he didn’t play a big part in the NFL title that the Packers won in 1961.
“I really didn’t feel like I was a part of the championship team in ’61,” Kramer said. “There’s something about a team, a tight team, that once you are no longer making a contribution, you don’t feel like you are part of things.
“You still go to the meetings. You still hang out in the locker room. But you aren’t contributing. I just felt like I wasn’t part of that tight-knit group. I missed that. That’s why I was looking forward to having a great season in ’62.”
Getting over the ankle injury was the first step.
“I wasn’t told how serious my ankle injury was,” Kramer said. “But there was some concern. I separated the bones in the ankle and the doctors had to put a pin in to hold it together. I had a significant amount of pain for about 10 days due to the pressure by the washer on the bolt they put in my ankle.
“For my rehab, I tried to run a little bit. I had a buddy who played in the Canadian Football League and he and I would chase rabbits in the desert in the Boise area. We didn’t catch any, but it helped us occupy our minds while we were running for about an hour.
“When training camp opened, my ankle was still a little stiff. I found that skipping before warmups was very helpful. Skipping helped to put more pressure on the tendons and the ligaments in the ankle. I sure got quite a few interesting looks while I was doing my skipping exercise!”
Even though Kramer had broken his ankle, the Packers went on nine-game winning streak at County Stadium starting with that game against the Vikings.
And as it turned out, even with the Packers starting out 1-4 at County Stadium with Lombardi as their head coach, the team eventually ended up 20-6 overall under Lombardi at the stadium right off of I-94.
One of those victories was the 1967 Western Conference title game versus the Los Angeles Rams. More on that game later.
Kramer talked about why playing Milwaukee became a very pleasant experience for the team.
“It really wasn’t that difficult playing in Milwaukee,” Kramer said. “It was a couple hours by bus. And we enjoyed the trips down there, as we would BS with each other, listen to music or play cards.
“And on the way home, Coach Lombardi stopped a number of times at a liquor store and would get three or four cases of beer for the team. We sure as hell appreciated that gesture.”
Kramer also talked about the accommodations in Milwaukee.
“We stayed at a nice hotel,” Kramer said. “The Pfister was an old hotel, but it was a classy hotel. That was pleasant. The whole trip was good, as people were always nice, just like in Green Bay.”
In another story I previously wrote about Emlen Tunnell, Kramer talked about a great time he and some of his teammates had at the Pfister thanks to Tunnell’s connections in the entertainment business.
“Then another time we were in Milwaukee one night and Ray Charles was performing in this hotel (the Pfister),” Kramer said. “We went in to watch him during his second session, as he had already done an early show.
“Fuzzy [Thurston], myself and some other players quietly found a table near the back. Emlen saw us and he told us to follow him. Ray was sitting at the piano getting ready to start his set, while Emlen had the help get us a bunch of chairs and then put them around the piano. We were sitting six feet away from Ray having a beer while he was performing. It was a priceless moment.”
When the players went out to dinner in Milwaukee during their stay there, more times than not, the destination was Frenchy’s Restaurant on North Avenue on the east side of Milwaukee.
“We went to Frenchy’s quite a bit,” Kramer said. “It was our favorite spot. One time a bunch of us went there and all of us had lobster, while Bob Long had a hamburger. Then we split the bill evenly. You should have seen the look on Bob’s face after that!”
From 1959 through 1967, the Packers played a lot of memorable games at County Stadium.
Or the 1966 season opener, when the Packers beat the Colts again 24-3, which was highlighted by two pick 6’s, as both linebacker Lee Roy Caffey and cornerback Bob Jeter returned interceptions for touchdowns versus Johnny Unitas.
Or how about the 55-7 blowout of the Cleveland Browns in 1967, when Travis Williams of the Packers returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in the same quarter.
But the best victory for the Packers under Lombardi in Milwaukee had to be the 1967 Western Conference title game, which was held eight days before the legendary “Ice Bowl” game.
I also wrote about that game previously, and Kramer will never forget the pre-game pep talk by his coach.
“We really got fired up in the locker room when Coach Lombardi gave us his Run to Win speech,” Kramer said. “That got us pretty high. The ring I wear, from Super Bowl II, has Run to Win on the side of it.
“He gave us this wonderful speech of St. Paul’s epistle, about when all the runners are running the race, only one can win, and we run, not just to be in the race, but we run to win. That got us pumped up pretty good.”
There were a number of factors as to why the Packers were 28-7 victors over the Rams that day. Kramer talked about three of them.
“I think one of the big things that we did in that game was to put Marv Fleming next to Forrest Gregg to help control the effectiveness of Deacon Jones,” Kramer said. “They just neutralized him. Bart [Starr] had a big game and so did our running game.
“I also remember that Henry Jordan had a hell of a day. Henry had 3.5 sacks and seemed to be on top of Roman Gabriel all game long.
“Plus, Travis [Williams] was the X-factor in the game. I remember blocking on Merlin [Olsen] and I looked outside and Travis was about even with us, but near the sideline running towards the end zone. And I knew that this play was over. He was gone.”
Williams ended up gaining 88 yards in the game and scored two touchdowns.
In the 61 years that the Packers played in Milwaukee at the various venues, the team usually played quite well in the regular season. The overall record for the Packers in Milwaukee was 105-61-3, which adds up to a .631 winning percentage.
Again, the team was 19-6 under Lombardi in the regular season at County Stadium, which was even better than that, as the team had a .760 winning percentage.
The Packers also won the 1939 NFL title game at State Fair Park by beating the New York Giants 27-0.
And speaking of the postseason, the Packers put an exclamation point on their years of playing at County Stadium under Lombardi by beating the Rams 28-7 on December 23, 1967. Eight days later, the team won it’s third straight NFL title in the “Ice Bowl” versus the Dallas Cowboys and then won Super Bowl II a couple of weeks after that, defeating the Oakland Raiders 33-14.
You can be absolutely sure that Lombardi had some beer brought on the bus on the happy ride back to Green Bay after the Packers beat the Rams on that very memorable late December day in 1967 at Milwaukee County Stadium.