Lambeau, Earl

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Earl Lambeau


American football coach

Earl "Curly" Lambeau was the founder and first coach of the Green Bay Packers football team. He led the team to six world titles in the 1930s and 1940s, and had a

winning percentage of .657. The Packers' stadium in Green Bay, Lambeau Field, is named in his honor.

Founds Green Bay Packers

In 1898, when Lambeau was born, Green Bay, Wisconsin was a busy commercial center, populated largely by northern European immigrants, and was noted for its breweries, cheese factories, and paper mills. Although it only had 30,000 residents, the town also had a symphony orchestra, street lamps, and trolley cars. What it did not have was a football team. Lambeau, who was a hero on his high school football team as well as during his freshman year at Notre Dame University, returned to Green Bay after a year at Notre Dame and took a job at a local meat company, the Indian Packing Company, but he never lost his desire to play football.

Each morning before going to work, Lambeau stopped at the home of his high school sweetheart, Marguerite Van Kessel and threw a pebble against her window; then they talked until his ride to work showed up. Van Kessel urged Lambeau to go back to school at Notre Dame, but he wanted to stay in Green Bay and marry her. In 1919, he did.

In that same year Lambeau and several friends decided that Green Bay needed an official football team. Lambeau convinced his employer to buy the team jerseys and equipment and let the team use the company's athletic field for practice, and in exchange, they named the team after the company.

Lambeau, who had played under famed coach Knute Rockne at Notre Dame, ran three practice sessions each week and taught the players what Rockne had taught him. In addition to being the team's coach, he was also its star player. Newspaperman George Calhoun was the team's business manager and publicist.

For their first season, the Packers played eleven other small-town Wisconsin and Michigan teams. They won the first ten games, then lost 6-0 to the Beloit Fairies; the Packers later claimed the game was rigged. For pay, the players passed a hat among the spectators at halftime, and split the proceeds. In that first season, they made $16.75 each. From this money, or their own funds, they had to pay any doctor bills resulting from injuries on the field.

During the team's second season, Lambeau introduced a new play: throwing the ball to other players instead of running with it and crashing through a line of opponents. Opposing teams hated this move, saying passing was for sissies, and when the Packers played a passing game against a team of miners in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Lambeau "had to run for his life," according to Jim Doherty in Smithsonian. Lambeau later remarked, "Those miners were tough."

Joins the NFL

In 1921 the Packers joined the new National Football League, a move that cost $50. Lambeau got into trouble by playing college students under assumed names, and the team's franchise was revoked. However, when Lambeau apologized and paid $250, it was returned.

Financially, the team struggled just to stay afloat, and throughout the 1920s, the team made enough to scrape by through holding dances at the Green Bay Elks Club and raffles at the local American Legion post. During this period, Lambeau realized that he could not simply rely on local talent, and began scouting for players, convincing them that despite its harsh winters, Green Bay was a great place to play and live. He acquired several superstar players, including Verne Llewellen, Lavvie Dilweg, and Red Dunn. When the team played the young Giants in New York, they won, 7-0.

In 1929, 1930, and 1931, Lambeau led the team to championship victories. In the next thirteen years, they won four division titles and three more NFL championships. Green Bay celebrated with parades, torchlight parties, and near-worship of Lambeau. But although fans loved Lambeau, the players had a difficult relationship with him. When he won, he would buy drinks for everyone; when he lost, he had seething tantrums.

Despite their success, the Packers went through bouts of financial trouble and were only bailed out by the efforts of their fans, who held benefits and raised enough to keep the team barely afloat.

During these hard times, Lambeau began to slip out of favor with fans and players alike. Local fans believed he was too extravagant, arrogant, and flashy; they questioned his management methods, and argued about the merits of his coaching. Committees were set up to over-see Lambeau's work.

Lambeau had also alienated himself from his wife, and on May 23, 1934, he and Van Kessel divorced. He moved to California, bought a house and a ranch, married twice more, and divorced both times. He was married to his second wife, Sue, from 1935 until their divorce in 1940; his third marriage, to Grace Nichols, lasted from 1945 to 1955.

After World War II, many of Lambeau's players were ex-servicemen who would not put up with his attitude. His relations with players and fans came to a final showdown when he tried to arrange a takeover of the team, and it failed. He left the team in 1949.

Career Statistics

GB: Green Bay Packers.

In the early 1950s, Lambeau coached for the Chicago Cardinals and Washington Redskins; his coaching career ended in 1954. In 1963, Lambeau was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Lambeau died from a heart attack on June 1, 1965, in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.

Lambeau's Legacy

Lambeau's legacy, the Packers football team, is still going strong. Lambeau took the team from playing in front of crowds of 4,000 to 5,000 in its early days to playing for almost 25,000 fans in the mid-1930s; today, because of television, millions of fans watch every game.


1898Born April 9, in Green Bay, Wisconsin
1919Marries Marguerite Van Kessel
1919Founds Green Bay Packers football team
1920Introduces passing game
1921Packers join new National Football League (NFL)
1929-31Packers win NFL championship
1934Lambeau and Marguerite Van Kessel divorce
1935Marries second wife, Sue
1936Packers win NFL West Division title, win NFL championship
1938Packers win NFL West Division title, lose NFL championship
1939Packers win NFL West Division title, win NFL championship
1940Divorced from second wife
1944Packers win NFL West Division title, win NFL championship
1945Marries Grace Nichols
1949Lambeau is fired from Green Bay Packers team.
1950-51Coaches for Chicago Cardinals
1952-53Coaches for Washington Redskins
1955Divorced from Nichols
1963Inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame
1965Dies from a heart attack in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin

Awards and Accomplishments

1929-31, 1936, 1939, 1944Packers win NFL championship
1938Packers win NFL West Division title
1949Lambeau is fired from Green Bay Packers team.
1963Inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame

The team is famed not only for winning division championships and Super Bowls, but also for the intense loyalty of its fans. The Packers are completely owned by their fans and by the Green Bay community, and the team is run as a nonprofit venture. Team bylaws, beloved and supported by fans, prevent the team from being moved to any other town. Season tickets are passed on through families as cherished legacies, and all home games are sold out. And when the outdoor stadium at Lambeau Field, known as "The Frozen Tundra," fills up with snow after winter storms, an army of fans arrives to cheerfully shovel it out.



Berghaus, Bob. "The Coach of the Century." Green Bay Press-Gazette (December 31, 1999): MP9.

Christl, Cliff. "Lambeau: More Than a Name." UW Green Bay Voyageur (Winter-Spring, 2001): 10.

Doherty, Jim. "In Chilly Green Bay, Curly's Old Team is Still Packing Them In." Smithsonian (August, 1991): 80.

"Hall of Fame Members." Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO) (February 3, 2002): SP15.

"Lambeau's Ex-Wife Dies." Capital Times (Madison, WI) (July 5, 2001): 2C.

Sullivan, Paul. "Green Bay's Affair with Pack Dates to '19." Boston Herald (January 15, 1997): 6.


"Earl L. (Curly) Lambeau,", (November 8, 2002).

Sketch by Kelly Winters

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Lambeau, Earl

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