The Packers Yearbook
Future Pro Football Hall of Fame head coach of the Green Bay Packers Vince Lombardi poses here as a student at Fordham University circa the mid-1930s. (Photo by Fordham University/Getty Images) Photo: Image by NFL
Before instant digital access, 24/7 Internet and pro-football-reference.com, there was the printed word, and it was good.
Or, good enough.
A change in the air, be it that first taste of spring or the first chilly tinge in August signaled both a chance in seasons and a realignment of sports priorities. Melting snow and a 50 degree high at the end of winter meant the start of baseball. Pulling on long pants for the first time after a summer spent in shorts called for football.
Sandlots reflected the changes, and so did the magazine racks at the neighborhood drug stores which, in my childhood, were your connections to reality. We didn't have ESPN to remind us about off-season trades, coaching changes and new uniforms. Street & Smith and a scad of knock-offs got you up to speed on baseball spring training or the upcoming NFL campaign. We'd memorize last year's stats. slobber over the pictures, and scour the pages for the section devoted to our teams--the Brewers each spring, the Packers each fall.
The printed word reigned supreme, and it came with pictures, too.
Something special happened in Packerland each summer when a special publication would appear, shiny and colorful and green and gold: the annual Green Bay Packers Yearbook, a locally produced tome devoted cover-to-cover to our favorite team.
It first appeared in 1960 as the team was on the cusp of it's first Lombardi-era championship and it's still around today. And, when it first came out, it was must-have reading for any kid of my age and a certain sign that pigskin was upon us.
Each summer my mom and I would do the routine at the grocery store checkout where The Yearbook would be nestled among more unsavory fare like The National Enquirer. Ray Nitschke or Donny Anderson would be staring down at me from the cover, and I'd return their unblinking gaze, a purposeful look of longing on my face in hopes that she'd see my desire and then finally say, "Okay, take one." Some days, mom wouldn't engage and I'd leave empty-handed, a reminder that things didn't come THAT easy in our household. As tight as our finances were, chances were very strong she didn't have the extra cash, not even the buck or two The Yearbook cost back in its infancy.
Once in hand, every story would be read, every photo studied, every statistic inhaled.
The Yearbook's tone would change over time, as articles about Lombardi, Bart Starr and Super Bowl I/II play-by-play game recaps gave way to missives about Jim Carter, Scott Hunter, and a new coach named Dan Devine. Each story was spun to give the most optimistic glow to the most woeful of seasons, giving the fan hope that the Pack, indeed, would be back. We'd believe it each August, too, because The Yearbook wouldn't lie, would it?
By early December, we'd know better.
I had quite a collection going as my mid to late teens approached, when I was caddying and stocking shelves and making enough of my own money that I didn't have to do the checkout-line routine with my mother any more yet I'd remember it each summer when I bought the newest edition. And, I still do today.
Life got more cluttered, girls came along, priorities changed and moves would happen. The stack of Yearbooks got tossed at some point, and that was a mistake. Sure, there's nostalgia but there's also the price of a collectible: that 1966 edition that was the first on my heap, the one that cost a dollar that summer?
A check on Ebay shows there's one out there selling for $60 some 48 seasons.
The Yearbook lives on, I'm glad to see, even in the digital age. Fantasy football geeks (hi, my name is Gene and I am one) who used to shell out a week's wages on all manner of the-true-lowdown-is-here magazines now get all they need on the business end of the digital pipe, especially if they're willing to pay a subscription fee or two. Info is just a keystroke away.
The football season is less than four weeks from starting. Temps this week struggled to get to 70. Sure, there's a lot of summer left--we aren't even past State Fair yet--but soon the Brewers will be sharing the sports pages with stories about St. Norbert's annual transition from quaint Midwest campus to temporary home of the Green Bay Packers. There'll be Family Night and packed bleachers for August workouts.
And, if they aren't there already, there'll be a spot on the grocery store magazine rack, a special place where Aaron Rodgers will be living side-by-side next to Kim Kardashian. The 2014 Packers Yearbook will have arrived, and an annual purchase will be made. A mom will be remembered and an ancient ritual recalled before the inner 12 year old who still lives inside a 57 year old man makes his presence felt, as pages get scoured and states get devoured and hope for an upcoming NFL season gets stoked.