Staying home: Green Bay-born Glen Christensen makes his own Titletown, in Texas
Like a lot of boys growing up in Green Bay in the 1960s, Glen Christensen loved football, everything about it, but especially Vince Lombardi’s Packers. Christensen grew up around the team. Closer than most. For example, his father worked at a car dealership in town owned by Don Hutson, the revolutionary Hall of Fame Packers wide receiver from 1935-45.
When Christensen’s younger brother was born on April 20, 1950, Hutson signed a football and brought it to the hospital for his mother and newborn brother. That football would live on his brother’s dresser for years.
Eventually it was joined by a football signed by the 1960 Packers team (the only one to ever lose a championship game under Lombardi). One day Christensen and a friend wanted to play catch. It was winter, so they had to play in the basement. And they needed a ball.
“I went up and took the football with all the signatures on it, not knowing what that was,” Christensen said. He and his friend played catch. “And of course the only signature I ended up smearing was Vince Lombardi.
“Out of guilt, I’ve decided to, well, I own 14 signed footballs from the 60s. I’m making it up. I screwed up big, so I’m going to keep these safe.”
He’s made up for the smudged signature with those 14 footballs and then some. They’re now part of a collection of over 4,000 pieces of rare and in some cases one-of-a-kind Packers memorabilia that Christensen owns in what is considered to be the largest privately held collection in the country. He shares it with whomever shows up, and they show up. People visit the second floor of his Texas home to see what amounts to an in-house museum for Green Bay football.
But it’s more than a collection – though it’s certainly that, too. It’s more than sepia-toned nostalgia, because it’s about the future too. It’s not some big stockpile of Packers stuff in a basement, there for the sake of having it – for one, it’s upstairs – but more importantly Christensen’s doors are open. He’s building a bridge over land and through time to the places he loves the most, and he wants people to join him. He’s also still on the hunt for his brother’s ball signed by Hutson, which was sold over 20 years ago.
“I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that I find myself saying, ‘Thank God I was born a Packers fan.’”
He wants you to see why, exactly, he absolutely means it when he says that.
TEXAS FOREVER (WELL, FOR AWHILE)
“I figured either I’m going to be miserable with a miserable wife or I’ll be happy with a happy wife,” Glen Christensen said when faced with leaving Green Bay for Texas 30 years ago.
He was helping the parents of his wife, Gayle, move to the Fort Worth, Texas, area when the picture started to become clear: it might be time to make a move. He put out job feelers while getting them unpacked. A few offers came in and that was that. “I was like, ‘Well okay, we’re doing this,’” he said. They moved in 1984.
They live in Grapevine now, a suburb of Fort Worth in the northeast portion of the state. They’ve made their lives here. Christensen now owns several of his own Fort Worth-based screen printing companies, producing various types of industrial signs, decals, and tags. This has given him the resources necessary to feed his hunger for collecting. As he says, the collection maybe doesn’t happen if he hadn’t moved, took a new job, and eventually started his own company. In many ways, the collection could only have come by way of Texas.
Still, when he’s back in Green Bay for Packers games – he usually attends five to six a season – Christensen drives up and down the neighborhood streets surrounding Lambeau Field, the quiet blocks on most days that transform eight times a year into living breathing ecosystems of fandom. When he’s driving he’s keeping an eye out for any new “For Sale” signs. His childhood is always pulling at him to come back home.
“I go through a period of depression when I go back. I love Green Bay to death,” Christensen said.
“I miss the people. It’s so warming, it’s inviting, and everyone’s just so friendly … We miss the apples in the fall; there’s just so much. We vacationed in Door County two times a year at least when we were there, so every time I’m back in Green Bay I’ll take a drive up there and I’ll stop at Renard’s Cheese and I go up to Baileys Harbor or Fish Creek. There’s nothing like it. There just isn’t.
“I think that’s where my deep interest in my Packers collection comes from: it gives me part of home in my home. Even though I’m 1,117 miles from Green Bay, I just have to go up in my Packers collection and I just sit there and feel like I’m on Ninth Street again at my grandpa’s store.”
The former home of Christensen’s Cash Grocery, the store his grandparents ran from 1915 to 1978, sits on Ninth Street where the road approaches Ashland Avenue in Green Bay. Years ago, the store went up for sale. “I almost pulled the trigger on that one,” Christensen said. “I thought it’d be cool to own my grandparent’s property and keep it in the family.
“But it was just a little further away from Lambeau than I’d like.”
Christensen’s father worked for Don Hutson, but that wasn’t his only, or strongest, tie to the Packers. In the late 1930s, head coach Curly Lambeau noticed a baton twirler performing during halftime of a game at City Stadium on the grounds of Green Bay East High School. Lambeau wanted to add females to the Lumberjack Band, the team’s marching band since 1921, and asked the band’s director, Wilner Burke, to see if the twirler who caught his eye would like to join.
Christensen’s mother agreed. She performed with the band as a majorette for about three years.
“She passed on so many neat stories through the years that I couldn’t help but be a bleeding green and gold guy,” Christensen said.
One story involves her own almost literal run-in with Don Hutson on the field. As a head majorette, Christensen’s mother wore all white. The other majorettes wore a different color. Leather was scarce during World War II, but an Army base in Illinois had provided the team with brand new leather boots. In his mother’s case, white ones.
“It was one of those muddy old City Stadium days,” Christensen said.
His mother was preparing to take the field for the halftime performance.
“The ball’s coming towards the sideline and this guy grabs it, slides out of bounds, and this wave of muddy water goes all over my mom,” Christensen said. “She was just devastated because it was going to be halftime and she was going to be out there looking like she was rolling with the pigs.
“So I said, ‘Did you get upset with them?’ And she said, ‘Glen, it was Don Hutson. What was I supposed to say?’”
THE COLLECTING SYNDROME
After he’d already moved to Texas and was back visiting Wisconsin, Christensen’s mother triggered, as he later called it, his “collecting syndrome,” giving him programs from her years with the band, field passes she wore on her uniform, batons, official letters from the Packers organization.
Christensen brought everything back with him. But there are no basements in Texas, and attics become sweltering hot boxes in the summer – no place for valuable items. So Christensen began decorating his office walls with the memorabilia.
“I put it all up on the walls and displayed it and I thought, ‘Shoot, I’ve got stuff from when I was a kid,’” he said. “So I got out my electric football set and I got my old Packers helmets from when I was a kid. Just all the stuff I had – those old Coke bottlecaps that had the Packers pictures inside of them from the 60s, my old trading cards. So that’s what started my collection. Little by little I was like, ‘Well I’ve got to add this,’ or, ‘I’ve got to look for this.’”
Christensen scours auctions and shops and keeps up with other collectors of Packers memorabilia. More people – both Packers fans and those in the memorabilia industry – have come to know his collection in recent years thanks to one fortuitous game in particular: Super Bowl XLV on Feb. 6, 2011. Green Bay’s trip to North Texas brought a championship up to Titletown and extensive media coverage and fans down to Christensen’s backyard. It was a major lift, publicity-wise. A spike in a sea of rising attention.
He’s always looking, and that pays off. People hear about him and just by being out there, by people knowing that he’s probably interested, Christensen has landed some of his favorite items.
“I’ve had people leave me things after they died. I had a doctor in upper Wisconsin leave several great things – signed jerseys and helmets. I never knew the guy,” Christensen said. “He saw me in a Southwest Airlines magazine a number of years ago, and before he died he asked his wife to find me and send me these boxes of all this stuff. I was like, ‘Are you joking?’”
But people don’t joke with this stuff. Which is why they send it down to Christensen. They know, as he says, that he has no intention of turning around and selling any of it. It’s for the collection, and that’s all.
An insurance man in Green Bay saw Christensen on television once and contacted the story’s reporter. He had an authentic bench from the Ice Bowl, the 1967 NFL Championship between the Packers and Dallas Cowboys. The only other known remaining bench from the game is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and its owner verified the one now in Christensen’s collection as legitimate. As the Green Bay man explained to Christensen, after the game he ran onto the field, grabbed the bench, and carried it over his head out of the stadium. (That’s how easy it was back in the day.) And now the man wanted Christensen to have the bench. To keep it safe.
“I was on that one like lightning,” Christensen said. “I was like, ‘Oh, an Ice Bowl bench? I’ll take care of that right now.’” He hired a company to put the bench in a crate and ship it south.
“As my collection grows and people know of it a little bit more I get a lot of phone calls from people: ‘Hey, I got this, it’s been in the family for awhile.’ They know I’m going to take care of it.”
He’s got a sideline cape worn by Jim Taylor, the rugged Hall of Fame Packers rusher from 1958-66. Two game-used footballs from Super Bowl II – “Those things are priceless and I’d like to tell you how I got both of them, but I don’t want to,” Christensen laughed. “They were both in different places, and it was just amazing.” He’s got a helmet worn by Carroll Dale in both the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl, the traditional yellow helmet spraypainted over in gold and an NFL decal slapped over the trademark “G” in order for Dale to use it in the Pro Bowl.
His newest passion-within-the-passion is pennants. Some go back to the 1920s. Some are rarer than that.
“The history – they’ve got leather helmets at one point and no helmets in some pictures – it’s so incredible to have those and keep them safe,” Christensen said. “I’ve got several that I have the only one in existence. It’s kind of scary.
“A lot of my stuff is like that. My sideline cape from Jim Taylor from 1965 – sometimes I look at that and think, ‘Man, that should be in the Hall of Fame, it shouldn’t be in my room.’”
Christensen’s collection started in 1992 and now takes up nearly 500 square feet of climate-controlled, artificially-lit space on the second floor of his two-story Texas house.
Texas house. That has to be tossed in somewhere with his family’s history in Green Bay and his upbringing: the factors that led to this gigantic collection. They are plain to see on the surface but needed to be jostled a bit, shook up, to really come alive.
It is in Texas where this happened. But it is in Texas, where, well, a majority of Packers fans usually aren’t. In the absence of them Christensen has taken to making sure people, fans of whomever, see the light.
“I get a lot of visitors. It’s kind of silly, I really get more visitors than I thought I would being in Texas, but if you love football you love the history of the Packers,” Christensen said. “It’s funny, I’ve got Bengals fans that are a matter of fact coming back this weekend with friends because they were just so taken back by the history of the Packers. I’ve got Cowboys fan friends that love it.
“I’ll always hear from those people, ‘Well now I have a second favorite team.’ Because they look at it and they’re looking at, you know, my Indian Packing Corporation stock that’s from 1919 with the first Packers team picture above it and it’s like, that’s really old.
“So they look at that and go, ‘Wow, now I’m starting to get the whole idea as to what the Packers history is and why these people are so crazy about the Packers up there.’ … I am converting them. That is my goal in life. I’ve got 49ers fans that love the room, every team – Colts, you name it – they come here and they love it.”
The collection in the house in Texas has mass appeal. People call about getting group rates. Christensen laughs about this. He’d never charge admission. “I love showing it off.”
But he wishes he could get more Packers fans down to Texas and up into his museum. And that’s the rub. He’s in Texas. That ever-too-brief surge of traffic during Super Bowl XLV, when 9-10 TV stations and an “unbelievable” amount of fans visited, was great. Traffic stays steady, too, but it’s hard not to wonder “What if?”
“If I had this collection, well let’s just be easy and say in Green Bay, I bet I’d get all sorts of people stopping in,” Christensen said. “But being down here, it’s like, man, it’s the toughest thing in the world because no one ever comes here.” By “no one,” he means Packers fans.
That could be the trade-off. The collection is the result of a series of events, starting somewhere with his parents, and his grandparent’s grocery store, then the eventual decision to move, to start a new job. Nostalgia is a form of tension. Nostalgia moves moments further away all the time but you can loosen its pull, give it some slack until it’s comfortable and until it’s at a length far enough away to miss the moments but close enough to remember them in