New hall a toast to Titletown
There is no other team in the National Football League and few in sport that can boast the type of tradition and success of the Green Bay Packers’ organization.
Its frenzied adherents demand a sufficient sanctuary for homage.
So even they have to be pleased with the glory of the new Packers Hall of Fame, brought out of the basement onto the main floor of the Atrium of storied Lambeau Field.
The two-story, 15,000 square foot hall transfers a tradition spanning back to 1919 smoothly forward into the digital age, with interactive displays and HD presentations smartly offsetting rare relics of early greatness. Nine different galleries highlight the team’s history, commitment, pride and community.
“This grand opening culminates over two years of detailed work and collaboration,” Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy said at the official ribbon-cutting ceremony on August 17. “No other professional sports team has the same kind of rich history and tradition that we have, and it’s exciting to be able to celebrate that through the Hall of Fame.
“As I view it, our history and tradition is really our biggest advantage as an organization.”
And this new hall exploits that tradition.
“Everybody has been pretty amazed,” said Krissy Zegers, the Hall of Fame and Stadium Tours manager. “People have been very much in awe when they experience the space.”
How does it compare to the halls for other team?
“Why, of course, I’m going to say it’s the best,” Zegers stated. “That was our goal.”
Contrast it to Canton?
“I have not been there since they did their last round of updates, and it’s so new we haven’t gotten enough feedback from our visitors,” she noted, pointing to the Packer’s enhanced use of technology. “But we strived to set a new standard in sports museums. We really wanted to feel history was living and breathing, and to give people a completely different experience. Our goal was to have either high-tech or low-tech features to help people interact with the space.”
So just how much work did the project demand?
“A lot!” Zegers said with a laugh. “The former Hall of Fame closed November of 2013, but we had obviously started to work on this project before the old hall closed. Basically, we had three members of our full-time staff devoting many, many hours to working on it. We had different committees involved. We had a historical group researching the accuracy, along with the official Packers’ historian (Cliff Christl) and curator (Brent Hensel), and we relied on other locals. Definitely a lot of people were involved making this happen.”
The nearly a two-year project was commanded by the Rockwell Group out of New York.
“I think something most repeat visitors from the old Hall of Fame will find is more video stations and more informative text beside the impressive layout,,” Christl noted. “I wrote most of the historical text and invested a lot of hours, but there were others who were even more absorbed than I was. Jennifer Ark, director of stadium services; Krissy Zegers, Hall of Fame manager; and Brent Hensel, Hall of Fame curator. And that’s only to name the few I worked most closely with.”
Immediately upon entering, you can see timelines of all the teams in the league. A little scrutiny shows Green Bay is the only team with no change of location or identity. The Chicago Bears are the closest rival – imagine that – with two changes (Decatur Staleys, Chicago Staleys) in the first few years.
Across the way is the Great Moments movie theater with shorts of, well, great moments.
The interaction starts early with kids’ and adults’ vertical leap tests opposite large HD screens with your choice of the inside scoop on the Notre Dame Box, Power Sweep and West Coast Offense styles honed to perfection under Curly Lambeau, Vince Lombardi and Mike Holmgren, respectively.
After you pass full-size body-part comparisons, a unique exploded-view display of what each player wears, and a Week In The Life of a pro player display, it’s time to head up an escalator into another world. Before you even get there you are surrounded by mannequins sporting every type of Packers uniform and matching equipment, in stop-action form of making plays and scoring touchdowns.
The exhibits wrap around the stairwell, offering breakdowns of the four basic eras of Green Bay success. A special feature as you enter/leave the area is a Brett Favre touchdown touchscreen kiosk, where you call up highlights from any of a dozen games in his career.
Now take a step into Vince Lombardi’s office (and maybe answer his phone if it rings, with Vince on the other end), and dawdle over the separate touchscreen desk, perusing important papers and pictures at your leisure.
Wait, what’s that out the window? Oh, just a 50-foot model of the object of desire for every pro player, the championship trophy named for Vince, the greatest coach in NFL history. It’s not brand new, but the location shows the in-depth planning of this whole hall.
Oh, and there’s an Ice Bowl movie theater complete with bleachers and condensed-breath-exuding fans.
“My favorite area is on second floor where we tell the early history of the franchise,” Christl said. “Maybe that’s because I’m a history nut.
“But I truly believe that within the walls of this Hall of Fame we’re telling the greatest story in sports. It’s a miracle this franchise survived — through the 1920s, ‘30s, ‘40s, even ‘50s. And not only has it survived, it has been the most successful in the National Football League: A record 13 league titles. Think of the best of Hollywood’s sports undertakings: Pride of the Yankees, Knute Rockne All American, Hoosiers, Raging Bull, Seabiscuit. Nothing beats this story.”
Soon you’re heading back downstairs to the stock display under a carousal of bikes, near a Lambeau Field interactive map.
Just when you feel you’ve seen and done it all, you head down a long hallway. The best has definitely been saved for last.
Rows of engraved bronze footballs – one for each of the 154 current members of the Packers Hall of Fame, with room for a few dozen more – line the first stretch, and Curly watches you pass as you peruse.
Cross the halfway point and you enter another level of performance, under the gaze of Vince, although thankfully, it’s happy Vince, satisfied Vince, not withering glare Vince. The 23 members of Canton who made major contributions to Green Bay’s past success each have their own booth, with private video and key artifacts.
Then you pass Vince and enter the trophy room.
Wow! The four Lombardis are brilliantly displayed in clear acrylic hanging cases, the supports surrounded by dangling chains of confetti.
“We wanted that room to really have an impact,” Zegers said. “All of us were recollecting our experiences from Super Bowl XLV, and one thing that definitely stood out was the confetti. We tried to infuse that feeling into the space.
Also, that there’s a deep history behind all those championships.”
On the other side of the circular room are 11 championship trophies.
The last two Lombardis have a George Halas NFC trophy to go with them, and eight Ed Thorp Memorial trophies exist for the 4th-11th titles. But the hall doesn’t have any of the missing three Brunswick Balke Collender Cups for the titles from 1929-31, and can’t find a photo or detailed description to be able to make a reproduction.
And then you’re out the door, with a complete Packers experience behind you.
“We looked for a way for you to come in and actually feel it, to be part of it, not just view it,” said Perry Kidder, president of Hall of Fame Inc., in a Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel article. “And I believe that’s what’s been accomplished here.”
Christl wrapped up that feeling, “What I found most compelling was that the interior design not only befits the great tradition of the Green Bay Packers, but has a wow factor to it that dominates the two floors of space. You enter on the first floor and almost immediately you feel like the clock has been turned back to 1919; that you could be standing in a warehouse of the Indian Packing Co. or outside an entrance to Hagemeister Park. Upstairs there’s a re-creation of Vince Lombardi’s office with a distinct 1960s feel.
“Then there’s the trophy gallery where elegance radiates the room and the video and narrative of past championships leaves you with goose bumps. No matter how much or little history you absorb, I think it’s going to be an uplifting experience for just about everyone, other than maybe some crusty old Bears fans.”