The Green Bay Packers’ Chicago roots
By Paul Johnson
Yes, believe it or not, the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears are connected by more than just the oldest rivalry in the National Football League. The birth of the Green Bay Packers is due to a Chicago-based company and two Chicago-born brothers.
Emmett Clair and his brother, John, who was a vice president of the Chicago-based Acme Packing, were awarded the franchise membership for Green Bay. Managers of both the football organization and the Acme Packing Company, Emmett and John Clair changed the name from Acme Packers to Green Bay Packers after just a few months. The inaugural season for the Green Bay Packers was turbulent both on and off the field.
The team finished 3-2-1 that season but limped to the finish. Even worse, the organization was voted out of the league because the Packers used college players against Racine. Not only did the Clairs lose $3,800 that first season, but they had to come up the $1,000 the league officials demanded every team pay before the start of the 1922 season to offset rules violations.
Those losses paled in comparison to the losses Acme Packing suffered in 1921. Newspapers reported that Acme Packing had lost $3 million that year. By October 1921, banking officials were seized control of Acme Packing.
Emmett’s heart, like his money, was no longer in Green Bay either. He had fallen in love with a woman back in Chicago whom he would later marry and by December 1921 both Clair brothers had returned to Chicago, taking with them their franchise rights to the Green Bay football team.
While Acme Packing had fallen into the hands of creditors, the AFPA had given the franchise rights to Green Bay to the Clair brothers, not Acme. Even though they had lost their packing company, Emmett and John Clair considered moving their football team from Green Bay to Chicago.
On January 28, 1921, league officials voted to eject Green Bay from the league for using Notre Dame players in a game against Racine. League officials were also worried that the Clairs would insist on moving the team from Green Bay.
On June 24, 1921, league officials vote to officially change the league’s name to the National Football League and to sever all ties with Acme Packing and the Clair brothers. The league approved a four-man group of Green Bay businessmen – Curly Lambeau, George Whitney Calhoun, Joe Ordens and Nate Abrams – to keep the franchise in town under the name the Green Bay Football Club. Feelings were so negative for the bankrupt Acme Packing Company that the team tried to distance itself from the Packers moniker.
Even the letterhead of the organization read: “Green Bay Football Club (formerly Packer).”
Lambeau barely held the team together for the 1922 season with weather problems costing the organization more than usual that year.
On December 7, 1922, local boosters of the football team meet at an Elks Club to discuss a sale of stock to save the franchise. Local sportswriter Andrew Turnbull is appointed to head a committee to oversee the sale of stock.
On September 17, 1923, Turnbull is elected the first president of the Green Bay Football Corp. at the first meeting of the stockholders for the team.
The Packers and Bears have worked together several times in the past century to help each other’s organization during financial difficulties. However, the biggest assist either organization ever received was back when two Chicago natives helped Green Bay land an NFL franchise before they returned to the Windy City.
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