10. Curly Lambeau: Packers founder

Before stadium was named in his honor, NFL pioneer led Green Bay to six titles

Originally Published: June 1, 2013
ESPN.com

ESPN celebrates the 100th anniversary of Vince Lombardi's birth with the "Greatest Coaches in NFL History" series, saluting the finest innovators, motivators, tacticians, teachers and champions ever to stalk the sidelines. Follow along as we reveal our list of the top 20 coaches of all time and document the lineage of the league's most influential coaching trees.


It's only fitting that the Packers' famed stadium bears the name of Earl Louis Lambeau. After all, there probably wouldn't be an NFL team in Green Bay without him. Lambeau didn't just co-found the franchise -- he helped make it great.

Lambeau's Packers won a record six NFL titles, a total later matched only by fellow NFL pioneer George Halas with the Bears. Green Bay also advanced to two other championship games under Lambeau and had only one losing record in his first 27 seasons.

Lambeau's Packers were the first pro team to use the forward pass as an offensive weapon. Lambeau also is credited as the first coach to run daily practices and utilize pass patterns. He stands in fourth place in NFL history in games coached and victories.

Lambeau played football at Green Bay East High School and briefly at Notre Dame for Knute Rockne (although a severe case of tonsillitis led him to return to Green Bay). While working as a shipping clerk for a meat-packing company, Lambeau and George Calhoun, the Green Bay Press-Gazette sports editor, came up with the idea to start a semi-pro football team. Lambeau convinced his employer to pay for the team's jerseys and other expenses, hence the name Packers.

With Lambeau playing halfback (then the position for the primary runner/passer) and serving as captain, the team found success against local competition in 1919-20. In 1921, the Packers became an official pro team by joining the American Professional Football Association, which had started play the year before. In 1922, the APFA became the National Football League. Of the 18 franchises from that first NFL season, only the Packers, Bears and Cardinals remain in existence.

Lambeau played for the Packers in their first nine pro seasons while also working as head coach, a position he would hold for 29 seasons. Toward the end of Lambeau's tenure in Green Bay, an internal power struggle developed between him and the team's executive committee. The Packers were slipping on the field, too, with back-to-back losing seasons in 1948 and '49. In that atmosphere, Lambeau resigned from the team. He worked four more seasons as a head coach, with the Chicago Cardinals (1950-51) and Washington Redskins (1952-53), before retiring.

In 1963, Lambeau became a member of the inaugural class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He died of a heart attack in 1965 at age 67. Later that year, the Packers renamed City Stadium, which had opened in 1957, in his honor.

-- Kevin Stone


LAMBEAU THROUGH THE EYES OF A PLAYER: KEN KRANZ

Curly Lambeau's knowledge of the game helped make him great, but he also knew exactly what he wanted. He was as strict as they come. He wanted things done a certain way. He wanted you to be on time for everything. And he didn't want you out carousing in the evenings.

I was a rookie defensive halfback when I played for him in 1949, and I learned a lot about his expectations.

[+] Enlarge Earl Curly Lambeau
AP PhotoCurly Lambeau's offense relied on the forward pass, which was unusual during pro football's early days.

Three years earlier he convinced the Packers to buy a beautiful hotel outside of town, a place called the Rockwood Lodge, and it wasn't so we could have a nice spot to stay on the nights before games. It was housing for all the players on the team FOR THE ENTIRE SEASON. We slept there, ate our meals there and even had nightly bed checks. The players who already were married and had families had to stay there as well, which they didn't like one bit. They even complained about the practice fields out there because they were rough and hard on the feet.

As a newcomer, I didn't care about any of that stuff. I was just happy to be playing for a coach who won six NFL championships. But here's the funny thing -- the Rockwood Lodge burned down right after that season ended. I don't know what happened, but that also turned out to be Curly's last year in Green Bay. He went on to coach the Chicago Cardinals [and later the Washington Redskins], and I suspect money had something to do with his departure. I don't think the Packers owners were too crazy about Curly buying that hotel -- they used to hold intrasquad scrimmages on Thanksgiving to generate money because cash was so tight -- but that's the way he was. If Curly wanted to do something, he did it. That's probably another reason why he was such a great coach.

-- Former Green Bay Packer Ken Kranz, as told to Jeffri Chadiha


ESPN "Greatest Coaches in NFL History" voting panel: Chris Berman, Jeffri Chadiha, John Clayton, Colin Cowherd, Mike Ditka, Gregg Easterbrook, Herm Edwards, David Fleming, Ashley Fox, Greg Garber, Mike Golic, Suzy Kolber, Eric Mangini, Chris Mortensen, Sal Paolantonio, Bill Polian, Rick Reilly, Mike Sando, Adam Schefter, Ed Werder, Seth Wickersham, Trey Wingo.