Green Bay Packers: The 5 Greatest Packers You Have Never Heard Of
The Green Bay Packers are the most successful franchise in football history.
But the Packers' sustained success has required the creativity and hard work of everyone involved with the team, not just players, coaches and high profile executives. Green Bay would not still have a professional football team if not for the tireless efforts of many people who knew that they would never be recognized with a Pro Bowl invitation, Associated Press award, or chance to lift the Lombardi Trophy on national television.
Here are five people who have made invaluable contributions to the Packers, but still remain in relative obscurity.
(An honorable mention goes to all 112,158 owners of the only nonprofit professional sports franchise in the country. Unfortunately the owners could not all be on the list because The 112,163 Greatest Packers You Have Never Heard Of is a terrible title.)
5. Ralph Bruno
While Ralph Bruno may not be world famous, the hat he created in 1987 out of excess foam from his mother's couch most certainly is.
Bruno is the design genius behind the Cheesehead. His invention was a literal take on the term which was made popular by Chicago sports fans who used it to demean their northern neighbors.
The Cheesehead made its debut when Bruno wore it to a baseball game in Milwaukee between the Brewers and White Sox. Fans at the game were fascinated by the new headgear, and Bruno knew he was on to something.
His next move was to start Foamation out of his parents' house. Today the company makes everything from a cheese Fez, to a cheese bowtie, to products for other NFL teams and pulls in over a million dollars in annual sales.
Packer fans have long been considered one of the most unique and devoted groups of supporters anywhere in the world, but Bruno created a recognizable symbol that people could unite behind.
The Cheesehead hat turned an insult into a proud moniker for a proud fanbase, and Bruno, while having no official connection with the Packer franchise, can consider himself a great Packer because of his invention.
4. Jim Becker
Jim Becker is the 12th inductee into the Packers Fan Hall of Fame, but he may be the only person who can say that the Packers saved his life.
Becker, now in his 80s, saw his first Packer game in 1941, regularly attended games from 1952-2008 and held season tickets for much of that period. He is also a proud father to 11 Packer fans.
Raising 11 children can be an expensive endeavor, and Becker was forced to think outside the box to afford season tickets without compromising his commitment to his kids. He began selling his blood for $15 a pint and was able to earn enough money to keep attending games.
In 1975, doctors informed Becker that his commitment to his team may have prevented his own death. Becker's father died at 43 from a condition called hemochromatosis, which causes a dangerously high accumulation of iron in one's blood.
The disease often has no early symptoms, and because of this, doctors missed Becker's case for much of his life. He tested positive for hemochromatosis, sometimes called "Celtic Disease," after a routine physical, but was assured that treatment was very simple. All he had to do was give blood regularly.
Years of selling his own blood to afford season tickets had prevented iron from accumulating in his blood and likely saved his life.
His inspiring story is a reaffirmation for Packer fans everywhere that there is no better sports franchise to root for.
3. Marge Switzer
Marge Switzer owns and operates Marge's Pro Sewing out of her Green Bay home but spends most of her time on site with her biggest client: the Green Bay Packers.
Switzer is a 64-year-old grandmother of four and is in charge of all uniforms for the team.
In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, she was eager to point out the two biggest misconceptions about NFL jerseys. First, the players do not wear a new jersey every game. Second, the jerseys do not arrive ready for the player to wear.
Switzer and her team keep meticulous logs in order to ensure that the necessary repairs and resizing is completed for every jersey for every player on the 55-man roster.
The task becomes even more difficult during training camp, when the roster will almost double. Every season, Switzer and her associates will apply more than 6,000 name tags onto jerseys.
The sewing team's job is not limited to players, and they are also in charge of making coaches and guests of honor look good on national television.
The countless hours she puts in may go unnoticed to the layperson's eye, but Switzer watches every game and takes note of any imperfections she catches in order to fix them for the next week.
Switzer's tireless effort shows that on every level of Lambeau Field, there are people committed to working hard and doing their job the right way.
2. Jack Vainisi
Packer fans suffered through two stretches on irrelevance during the team's storied history. The first lasted between the departure of Don Hutson and the arrival of Vince Lombardi. The second period started with Lombardi leaving and did not end until Mike Holmgren's arrival.
Ron Wolf is largely credited with pulling the Packers out of the second dark age by hiring Holmgren, trading for Brett Favre and signing Reggie White.
Jack Vainisi gave Green Bay its first taste of success after Hutson's retirement by hiring Lombardi and drafting six Hall of Famers including Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor and Ray Nitschke. Vainisi drafted those four players before Lombardi arrived, yet his name has been buried in football history.
Vaisini was hired as a talent scout in 1950 at the age of 23. He started as a freshman at Notre Dame, but his playing career was cut short after contracting rheumatic fever while on military duty in Japan.
He was the first scout to use modern techniques to evaluate players, and his handwritten notes had nearly 4,000 players' statistics ranked and filed. Vainisi's innovative techniques gained him a reputation around the league, and David Maraniss wrote in his biography on Lombardi that the coach never would have gone to Green Bay if Vainisi had not been there.
But Vainisi's story is ultimately a tragedy. He never fully recovered from his bout with rheumatic fever because of an early misdiagnosis. In 1960, at the age of 33, he died due to heart complications caused by the disease.
Vainisi did not live to see the players he drafted come together to dominate the entire 1960s under Lombardi, and his name sunk into obscurity under the championships that the team he built would go on to win.
1. Bob Wieland
Bob Wieland is the only double amputee to ever finish the Hawaiian Ironman triathlon without a wheelchair, meaning he should be No. 1 on every sports ranking ever made.
What is even more remarkable is that Wieland's Ironman race is pretty ordinary when viewed in comparison with the rest on his accomplishments. He has completed both the Los Angeles and New York marathons without a wheelchair, and has walked across America on his hands to raise money for Vietnam veterans. He set the world record in his weight division for the bench press, lifting 507 pounds, but his record was not counted because he was not wearing shoes. Now in his 60s, he will soon embark on another journey across America, this time using a bicycle he can pedal with his hands.
Wieland grew up in Wisconsin and attended the University of Wisconsin. After college, he was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies but was also drafted by the United States Army to fight in the Vietnam War. While on duty, he activated a land mine and lost both his legs.
After returning from war, Wieland enrolled at Cal State Los Angeles and earned a degree in physical education.
Upon graduating, Wieland returned home to Wisconsin when a friend asked him to speak to several Packer players before a Week 10 matchup with the Raiders during the 1990 season.
The players he addressed were enthralled, and he was asked to talk to the entire team. Then head coach Lindy Infante hired him as a strength and motivational coach.
His presence lit a fire in a struggling team, and the Packers rattled off a three game win streak, which would account for half of the their wins that season.
Wieland coached for just two years, and never took a job with another NFL team. He continues to do bigger and better things.