My wife and I attended our first Packers game, catching a good one against the Saints. We also took the stadium and trolley tours on Friday. Our trolley tour guide said Vince Lombardi was responsible for the Packers wearing green, and that Lombardi said something to the effect of “what part of GREEN Bay don’t you understand?” The Packers wore green at times before Lombardi’s arrival, though a different shade. Can you clarify Lombardi’s role in the Packers’ green history?
You’re right, the Packers wore green during the 1930s and for most of the 1950s. In fact, teams of the three coaches who preceded Lombardi – Gene Ronzani, Lisle Blackbourn and Scooter McLean – all wore green.
So let’s start with the 1950s.
Here are segments of what the Press-Gazette’s Art Daley and Lee Remmel reported that decade as far as uniform colors.
“If you still don’t believe the 1950 Green Bay Packers are ‘new,’ come out to City stadium(sic) Sunday afternoon … Our boys will be wearing Kelly Green uniforms for the first time this year, thus officially adopting their new colors, Green and Gold, and discarding the old Blue and Gold. The jerseys will be in green with large gold numbers and the pants will have a one-inch gold stripe down the sides … The Packers also have a set of solid gold uniforms, with green numbers and green stripes. This will permit the club to wear combinations – green jerseys with gold pants or gold jerseys with green pants. The helmets will be in gold.”
“The Packers baptized their new uniforms (in their season opener vs. Pittsburgh), which represent something of a departure from their garb of recent years. Though the trousers still are gold, the jerseys are deep navy blue with two gold stripes encircling the upper arm.”
“The Packers baptized their new uniforms in this one (the season opener vs. Detroit). They include dark Green(sic) jerseys with white arm bands, green sox, white trousers and white helmets with a single green stripe down the center.”
The Packers also wore green in 1958, McLean’s only season as head coach. Thus, Lombardi simply changed the shade of it and switched some of the trim from white to gold, and the color of the helmet and pants from white to gold.
Here’s how the Press-Gazette described the 1959 uniforms when they were unveiled in July: “The home jersey is myrtle green with white letters and gold and white arm band. … Both the pants and helmets have green and white stripes.”
What I’d be curious to know is if Lombardi could even tell the difference between green and blue?
According to assistant coach Phil Bengtson, the uniform colors were strictly Lombardi’s decision. Bengtson wrote in his 1969 book, “Packer Dynasty,” that Lombardi took immediate control of everything (in 1959), including instructions to the janitor about where to place the water cooler in the office.” Bengtson added, “(Lombardi) decided how many stripes of what width and color he wanted on the jersies(sic).”
But Lombardi was color blind.
According to the National Eye Institute website, the most common deficiency of color-blindness makes it difficult to tell the difference between red and green. The less common type makes it difficult, if not impossible, to tell the difference between blue and green.
In the 1930s, there’s some conflicting information about what years the Packers wore green. Clarke Hinkle, who played from 1932-41, said in an interview for the 1983 documentary, “Grandstand Franchise:” “After about ’36, why, Lambeau started buying the equipment. And then we went to the green and gold, and we stuck with that.”
Actually, there’s a Milwaukee Journal color photo of the 1935 Packers team wearing green. The Journal was one of the first newspapers in the country to publish color photos, starting in 1927, and published the Packers’ team pictures in color in a special Sunday section, starting as early as 1930.
Also, before the 1935 season, the Press-Gazette’s John Walter, who was sports editor and covering the team at the time, announced that the Packers would be wearing new uniforms. “The jerseys are old gold on arms and shoulders, with a body of Kelly green, and old gold numerals fore and aft. The trousers are of old gold silk.”
The Journal also took color photos of the 1931 and ’33 Packers, wearing what is a plain, very dark jersey. The reason for the no-frills jersey might have been because of their dire financial straits due to the Great Depression and a lawsuit. As for the color, it could be a dark blue or perhaps myrtle green, which was a dark, bluish green color.
According to the July 8, 1933, NFL meeting minutes, the Packers registered navy blue as their uniform color. By 1936, however, they may have been wearing myrtle green; and, a year later, they listed myrtle green and gold as their uniform colors. On March 18, 1937, there also was a picture of Lambeau in the Press-Gazette, holding what was described as a new jersey, “featuring a myrtle green body and 10-inch gold letters.”
Did the Packers ever wear blue game jerseys? I have seen some old Topps football cards from the 1950s in which the jerseys appear blue rather than green.
As noted in my first answer, they wore blue in 1954 and ’55. They also wore blue in the 1920s and, I believe, throughout the 1940s.
The first reference I’ve found to the Packers wearing blue was in the Oct. 11, 1920, Press-Gazette story about the previous day’s victory over the Stambaugh Miners. But the note was brief: “Both teams wore blue sweaters and the mud covering added to the confusion in spotting out the contestants.”
(Note to readers: If anyone knows of an earlier mention, please let me know or any reference, for that matter to their uniforms from 1919-21.)
Surprisingly, over the Packers’ first three, four seasons, I’ve found very few references to their jersey or even uniform colors. That said, I have no reason to doubt at this point that they wore blue from 1919-22.
The first detailed explanation of their uniforms that I’ve found was published in the Press-Gazette on Sept. 17, 1923. It read: “The Bay eleven resplendent in their new jerseys, dark blue with gold striped arms, made an imposing appearance.” I also found references to them wearing blue and gold from 1925-28.
Then, there’s a Journal color picture of the Packers wearing gold jerseys in 1930, and numerous newspaper references in Green Bay and other NFL cities, starting in 1929, about gold being their predominant color. The Press-Gazette announced the change on July 24, 1929: “The Packers will have new jerseys this season with a color scheme of blue trimming on a gold background instead of blue with background with gold trimming of last year.” Ten days before the season opener, the Press-Gazette again reported: “The color scheme of last year has been reversed and the players will wear gold jerseys with blue numerals.”
Other than the dark blue – maybe closer to myrtle green – jerseys of the early 1930s, the Packers went back to blue and gold in 1940. On Sept. 17, 1940, the Press-Gazette ran a picture of Hinkle wearing the new uniforms described this way: “The shirt is of navy blue, trimmed in gold, and the pants are gold. The socks are navy blue, while the helmet is gold.” And, I believe, they wore mostly blue and gold through the decade.
It should be noted that the Packers also wore white jerseys on occasion as early as at least 1938.
And one final note. Daley wrote on Jan. 25, 1947, that Lambeau had taken a break from the league meeting in Chicago to purchase new, nylon jerseys to lighten the load on the players. “The jersey pants and helmets will be gold and numerals will be in blue,” Daley wrote. “The old jersey was blue but the numbers were in gold.”
Close to 10 months later, Daley wrote that the Packers would wear those jerseys for the first time in a regular-season game against Pittsburgh at Milwaukee as a contrast to the Steelers’ black and gold jerseys. “The Packers will wear their new gold jerseys (with dark blue numerals) Sunday,” Daley wrote on Nov. 1, 1947. “Anyhow the Pack wore its gold jerseys just once this year and lost to Pittsburgh (in a preseason game in Pittsburgh).”