History of Green Bay Packers Training Camp
Ray (Scooter) McLean got it right.
McLean, the fourth head coach in Green Bay Packers history, is known for having presided over a club that stumbled to a 1-10-1 record in 1958. From a won-loss standpoint, the season remains the lowest of lows for a franchise that has won more NFL championships than any other.
But before the losses mounted and optimism was still afoot, McLean made a pronouncement that ensured he’d be remembered for something other than futility. On the day he accepted a one-year pact to lead the Packers, McLean announced he would bring the team back to Green Bay for training camp.
“I think that if the people at home can watch the team train,” he said, “it will do wonders for building the morale of the team and the fans.”
Eventually, St. Norbert College, located a few miles south of Green Bay in De Pere, was chosen to house the team during training camp. Practices took place on fields that ran along Oneida Street across from the new stadium, which had opened a year earlier on the west side of the city. On that final Saturday in July of McLean’s one season as coach, players helped themselves to equipment and were given physicals as the team assembled.
More than half a century later, the Green and Gold continues to gather in much the same manner each summer. In fact, 2012 will mark the 55th consecutive year in which St. Norbert and the Packers have joined forces.
Such was not always the case. No fewer than five other locations have served as tune-up spots for the Packers prior to their association with St. Norbert College. Four of them were located outside the city of Green Bay.
During the early days of the Packers, the team trained on the east side of Green Bay. Securing a place to live was left up to the individual players. Practices were held near Green Bay East High School.
In 1935, coach Curly Lambeau moved camp. Twenty-four players packed their bags and headed to Pinewood Lodge on Lake Thompson near Rhinelander. Lambeau settled on an out-of-town location to foster team unity and to build interest in the team.
“It was a lot better place to train than Green Bay,” former receiver Milt Gantenbein told the Press-Gazette in 1980. “There wasn’t much to do. I guess that’s why he (Lambeau) did it.”
Pitching camp at such a distance was still relatively new to the NFL in the mid-1930s. The Chicago Cardinals are recognized as the first to have done so when they convened in Coldwater, Michigan in 1929.
Lambeau’s Pinewood Lodge experiment lasted a year. In 1936 the Packers returned to Green Bay, and for the next decade they again practiced near East High School.
But Lambeau wasn’t satisfied. In 1946, the Packers purchased Rockwood Lodge, a facility located 16 miles northeast of the city along the bay. Lambeau moved training camp there in 1947.
The lodge boasted 53 acres, but the practice field, sitting on top of a granite formation, was a mess. Rocks and stones lying just below the surface caused innumerable injuries to the players in the three years the team trained there.
In January 1950, Rockwood Lodge burned to the ground. A month later, Lambeau resigned. His replacement, Gene Ronzani, returned practice to Green Bay, but only for a year.
During the final three seasons of Ronzani’s tenure (1951-53), the Packers trained in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Ronzani remarked that he could “keep the squad together better,” and that the team could “concentrate more on practice.” Furthermore, Packers president Emil R. Fischer claimed the cost to train out of state was cheaper than doing so in front of the hometown fans.
When Lisle Blackbourn arrived in 1954, he considered at least four training sites, including St. Norbert College. When summer school and other activities prevented the club from working out at the small college, Blackbourn chose Stevens Point State College. For four seasons (1954-57), the Packers held their preseason workouts at that location.
Blackbourn was let go in 1958, and in came McLean armed with his simple, yet logical idea. For the generations of railbirds who have lined the practice fields in the years since, McLean’s St. Norbert/Green Bay setup has been a winner.
Training camp begins Thursday, July 26 at 8:15 a.m.