When you look at a list of the teams in the big five sports leagues in North America - NFL, MLB, MLS (their attendance rates have officially surpassed those of the NBA and NHL so yes, they count now), NBA, and NHL - you notice that most of them are naturally clustered around the big metropolitan areas like San Francisco, Atlanta, Dallas, Boston, and Miami. You'll take notice of certain odd men: Jacksonville is considered a small market, but as it is actually a consolidated city merged with its county and has over 800,000 people, it's surprising there aren't more franchises there. New Orleans and Buffalo are considered small markets, but they thrived in the past as huge centers of culture, industry, and commerce, so they have teams too. And then there's... Well, Green Bay.
Green Bay is the smallest market anywhere in North America to have a major league professional sports franchise. It's located at the head of a small sub-basin on Lake Superior, also called Green Bay, and has a population which didn't hit the six-digit mark until the 2000 census. The city defines flyover Americana as it sits tucked into its little niche in northern Wisconsin, known only to knowledgeable Wisconsinites who have a real passion for their state and aren't just hipsters who are in Milwaukee because they got roughed up by Chicago or whitebread college students hanging out in Madison. Most people have no desire to know what or where this Green Bay is or, if they do, have no reason to visit. It probably has its pleasantries and attractions, but it mostly sits on Lake Superior, content with its corner of the world. Except....
Green Bay has one nationally known attraction. And if you're an NFL fan, Green Bay forces this attraction on you whether you like it or not. From September to December - and in many cases, January the following year - the citizens of Green Bay unleash their army of yellow and green-clad gladiators on the rest of the country. Little Green Bay has an NFL team, and this NFL team isn't just a forget-me-not bone thrown to appease people in a small market and be brought up in discussions of how unfair pro sports can be to smaller markets. They don't exist as cannon fodder for the glamor city teams to keep creaming them, allowing them to fatten already obscene winning percentages. If anything it's the other way around - Green Bay's team, the Packers, is going to take your favorite team and stomp, grind, tenderize, and process them into sausages. If your favorite team is a big city team, they're going to get stomped by the Packers. If your favorite team is a small market team, they're going to get stomped by the Packers.
The Packers have the titles to prove it, too. The puny little city is the one staring down the NFL mountain at every other team trying to catch up to them at the summit. They've won 13 so far, including four Super Bowls, more than any other team in the NFL. As if to rub the point in, the two teams who are most closely trailing the Packers in titles are the Chicago Bears - playing in the third-largest city in America - with nine, and representing America's largest major metropolis, the New York Giants have seven. They're not a case like, say, the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs either, who did all their damage in the past and are now lucky to steal wins from infighting rivals. The Pack's titles have a good spread between them, and title 13 came just last season. Granted, they had a quarter-century of down years after Lombardi, but you can't feel too bad for them in that period now knowing that dark tunnel opened at the beginning of Brett Favre's era.
How important have the Packers been? The Super Bowl trophy is named after Vince Lombardi, who coached their 1960's dynasty. Their stadium, Lambeau Field, is named after the team's founder and first coach, Curly Lambeau, and even McDonald's and Wal-Mart aren't greedy enough to try to buy the rights to that name. How popular are the Packers? Well,the waiting list for a Packers game is literally decades long. Literally every game played at Lambeau Field has been sold out since 1960. That says everything. The Packers consistently rank among the top teams on the NFL's popularity list, and so every season NFL fans are going to be seeing nationally televised Sunday night and Monday night games featuring the Pack. Packers fans are known as cheeseheads and, in honor of the moniker - which was actually bestowed on them in 1987 by some Chicago White Sox fans who were at a Milwaukee Brewers game - can frequently be seen wearing foam hats shaped like hunks of cheese.
The Packers are collectively owned by fans who buy shares of stock in the team, and this is a large part of the reason they still live in Green Bay. They are the only professional sports team in North America that does this. While the team is run by an executive committee of seven members, the fans buy stock in the team for $200, and there are currently about 112,000 people who can claim an ownership stake in the Packers, representing them through over 4 million shares. The stock shares include voting rights! The team really seems to go out of its way to appeal to its fanbase: Every year they hold an intra-squad scrimmage called Family Night which regularly sells over 60,000 seats at Lambeau. In an old tradition dating back to about 1957, young kids can take their bikes up to the locker room and ask their favorite players to ride them to the practice field.
Even the team's name is a last vestige of small-town America. When Curly Lambeau began building his team, he solicited funding from his employer, the Indian Packing Company, on the condition that the team be named after it. Early accounts call them the Indians, but they had adopted the name Packers before their first game. They were called the Bays and the Blues back then sometimes, but at some point the name Packers just stuck.
The Packers were founded in 1919, playing a year independently before the National Football League was even founded in 1920. That makes them the third-oldest team in the league, just behind the Chicago Bears and (believe it or not) the Arizona Cardinals. You can bet your ass they've built up a sturdy all-time roster, and they have 21 names in the Hall of Fame to show it: Don Hutson at wideout, Ray Nitschke at linebacker, and Reggie White at defensive end are guys NFL pundits often place on their all-time teams, placing Hutson opposite Jerry Rice, Nietschke with Dick Butkus and Lawrence Taylor, and White with Bruce Smith and Joe Greene. Actually, that may be understating White - he's considered the best to ever play his position, period. On a tier ranked ever-so-slightly lower, the Packers played Bart Starr at quarterback and Paul Hornung at running back. (No, I'm not forgetting Brett Favre. He's not in the Hall of Fame just yet.) Vince Lombardi is talked about as the greatest coach in NFL history. They named the championship trophy after him... And he's not even the team's winningest coach! That's actually Lambeau, with 202 victories under his belt. The team has played in many memorable games, including the legendary Ice Bowl in 1967, the 1998 Super Bowl (which they lost) and the 2008 NFC Championship (which they also lost). They have a series of storied rivalries with their NFC North divisional opponents. Their rivalries with the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings are fierce but fairly one-sided and mellow. The rivalry that really gets Packer blood boiling is with their foes just south of the Wisconsin border, the Chicago Bears. The Bears lead the all-time series and have won more games than any other NFL team, but the Packers have more titles. Despite the history between the two teams, they've only met twice in the postseason, including last year's NFC Championship. The record is tied at 1-1 apiece.
Lambeau Field is reputed to have some of the best tailgating in the NFL. Packers fans have a wonderful tradition of grilling bratwurst sausages at games instead of hot dogs. They're a weathered bunch too - playing in a place nicknamed the Frozen Tundra, they would have to be. A good snapshot would be the Ice Bowl, in which Lambeau Field's newly-installed heating system failed, exposing the players to the -34 degree weather and snow. Michael McCambridge, author of America's Game (a history of the NFL), describes a few telling details of the game: An announcer telling the TV audience that he was going to take another bite of his coffee, one player saying they must be crazy to be there while another points out that the fans had paid to be there, and the fact that the famous sneak play which won the game at the last second was the result of Lombardi just wanting to finish the game and get the hell out of Lambeau.
The Packers today are the defending champions of the NFL. As I write this, they're 9-0 having just come off a 37-16 drubbing of the Minnesota Vikings. They're led by a quarterback named Aaron Rodgers, whose arm is apparently a laser-guided rocket launcher, and a powerful linebacker named Clay Matthews. Their defense has been a disappointment but leads the league in takeaways, and Rodgers has been giving defensive coordinators nightmares. The offense in general is otherworldly.
The Pack is an Americana holdout, a representative of all the people who get overlooked because they don't live in glamor centers. Let the overblown, egotistical, high-payroll, insufferable Dallas Cowboys have their little ESPN-bestowed nickname. America's REAL team is the one fighting the Frozen Tundra on Lake Superior, in northern Wisconsin every year.
The Green Bay Packers participate in the National Football League (NFL) and are based in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Green Bay plays its games in the North of the NFC. The Green Bay Packers, founded in 1919, play home games at Lambeau Field and have won twelve NFL Titles (1929, 1930, 1931, 1936, 1939, 1944, 1961, 1962, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1996).