Fall means football across the country, especially here in little Green Bay. The storied history of the Packer franchise includes many odd tales. The fact that professional football is thriving in this community is a minor miracle; it nearly dissolved on several occasions. One of the more intriguing stories involves a mysterious fire at Rockwood Lodge and how the subsequent insurance money saved the franchise in 1950. (). After Lombardi had transformed the franchise a decade later, another story fraught with mystery entered Packer lore – the origin for the iconic “G”.
It’s hard to think of the Packers without a logo. Yet in the early 60’s, they didn’t have one. Coach Lombardi wanted one. Lombardi always got what he wanted. And that’s where the story begins.
The late 50’s brought tremendous change to the Packers. Lambeau Field (then called City Stadium) opened in 1957. It was built for just under $1 million in 9 months. It was the first stadium intended only for a professional football franchise. The roster, loaded with future Hall of Famers, was in the beginning stages of writing NFL history. The center of it all was Coach Lombardi.
From 1949 to 1963, the Packers called 321 S. Washington St. home. You can stay there. It’s now a Quality Inn. Romo was located two blocks north on the corner of Washington and Doty streets. Due to the proximity, Romo founders Les Rose and Bill Motrie formed a close relationship with the Packers, especially Gerald “Dad” Braisher, long-time equipment manager of the team. Part of Dad’s team duties included facility maintenance. He made sure each player had a placard above their locker with their name on it. Those were hand stenciled by Bill Motrie.
Romo Durable Graphics produced most things graphics for the Packers at the time, among them bumper stickers. The team used them to promote the passage of a referendum to fund City Stadium in 1956 Romo produced signage for the new stadium. When Lombardi wanted a logo, it first took form as a “bumper sticker” on the side of the helmet in 1961. Where it originated and how it got there has been the subject of conjecture for many years. Some claim the Union Hotel is the birthplace of the “G”. Others claim it was designed by a St. Norbert’s College intern named John Gordon. Then there’s Romo’s role in the development.
All these stories seem to conflict. In reality, there’s some truth in each. Dad Brashier stayed at the Union Hotel in De Pere. Conceptually at least, it’s easy to image that part of the idea was developed in the Union Hotel bar before a nice steak dinner. John Gordon was Dad Brasier’s right hand man that summer. He was an art student at St. Norbert’s located right across the river from the Union. Dad was many things, but an artist was not among them. It would have made sense that he handed off the logo concept- a “G” in the shape of a football- to an art student for initial rendering.
Forgive me for digressing into another popular Packer myth- that the “G” stands for Greatness as opposed to Green Bay. By most accounts, the “G” does in fact stand for the city. While the “greatness” story sounds plausible (not to mention a nice compliment to the Lombardi legend), the Packers literally belong to the people of Green Bay. The Packers are more than beloved. They are part of the city. The logo represents that inseparable connection.
John Gordon contacted Romo a few years ago. He remembers working into the night on a tight deadline. He brought his initial sketch into Dad, and as he said, that’s the last he saw of it until the decals showed up from Romo.
What happened in between remains somewhat of a mystery, and with age, will likely remain that way. We know that artwork and the films necessary to reproduce it were created freehand at the time. Bill Motrie would have been the one to turn John’s initial drawing into “live” artwork. John remembers the “G” coming back shorter, less oblong than what he had done. The curiosity got the better of him not long ago. He called me and asked if I knew why. I wish I had an intriguing tale to tell, but I passed along my suspicion that it was done for practical reasons. There’s no way to know how much design considerations played a part. If I were to guess, it was just as likely that they figured out that by making it an inch smaller, they could get another row on the sheet. Never doubt good old Midwestern frugality.
The Packers moved headquarters to the new stadium shortly thereafter. Romo moved to De Pere in 1992. There have been repeated, unsuccessful attempts to find the original artwork, both the sketch and final approved artwork. Because artwork was considered commissioned at the time, most often it was returned to the client, as if it were an original painting. Had it been found at Romo, I’d be writing this from a beachfront villa sipping fruity drinks.
Instead we got 4 season tickets out of it, which we still have- Section 114, Row 46, seats 1-4 if you’d ever like to stop and say hello. Word has it that Vince Lombardi also sent Romo a letter allowing the company to reproduce the logo without paying the NFL licensing fee. Because Romo has never been in the apparel business or sought to capitalize on it (not to mention the inability to find the letter), it’s remained an interesting footnote in the company’s history.
The way the events transpired aren’t as important as the feel good story surrounding it- the fact that individuals and businesses in the community could contribute so much to the development of one of the most iconic brands in the world in such a humble way. The Packer story is the Green Bay story. It’s a special franchise and a special place. We’re proud to be a part of it…only in Green Bay.