Town team brought football to Green Bay
You have to go way back to 1919 to get to the roots of the greatest team in sport, but what if you wanted to delve even deeper? How about another two decades to a team that helped set the stage for that inaugural Packers team?
The 1897 Green Bay town team will be celebrated in the Second Annual Green Bay Football History Event on Saturday, November 14, at Hagemeister Park Restaurant in downtown Green Bay.
Local author and football historian Denis Gullickson has extensively researched the town teams.
“Football in Green Bay began in 1895 when a sandlot team organized by Fred Hulbert took to the gridiron to defend the city’s honor against other ‘elevens’ from towns across Northeastern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. ‘Town team’ football continued in Green Bay for the next twenty-three seasons until, in 1919, that year’s town team became the Packers. In 1921, the Packers joined what would become the NFL.
“Titletown is nothing without titles. Add to the 1897 banner, town team titles in 1898, 1903, 1911, 1913, 1915, 1917, 1919 and 1920 and the Packers 13 NFL championships and you’ve got something to crow about.
“Fred Hulbert warrants the appreciation of every Green Bay football fan. After all, Fred’s the guy who brought organized football here in 1895. As athletic trainer for the YMCA — located on the city’s west side at the time — Hulbert was the very first to organize the young men of the city for a public display of the young sport.
“Fred came to GB via Beaver Dam’s Wayland Academy where he learned to play the bone-busting game of football and was a popular member of the school’s 1894 squad. He also shined in inter-collegiate track and field days and was widely-celebrated for the skills he displayed.
“ ‘It is safe to say that once the game is introduced it will be one of the most popular amusements ever seen in Green Bay,’ said the Sunday Gazette of Hulbert’s efforts.
“Hulbert’s role in GB was replicated across the nation: Guys would go off to college, learn football and carry the game and their passion for it with them when they returned home or headed off for parts unknown.
“Once settled, they’d get up a team and challenge the guys up and down the railroad line. A football network was created that would evolve into sundry leagues and, eventually, into the NFL.
“In 1897, they brought home Titletown’s first title — amassing 142 points while surrendering just 6 points over 5 games. To be sure, championships back then weren’t what they are today; neither was the game of football.
“Guys died playing football (between 1901 and 1907, 101 guys died playing football) and declaring that you were ‘Champions’ was something akin to claiming that you were the fastest gun in town. If you’d won most or all of your games against the best teams in your area, then you posted notice in the local newspaper that you were “The Champions” and you waited to see who said you weren’t.
“Not to worry. While Facebook wasn’t around — the newspapers kept the vitriol flowing and if some other town’s team thought they were better than you or objected to you claiming the crown, then the “defi” was sure to come. Often, via their newspaper.
“No such counter came for the 1897 Green Bay team, however, as they’d whipped the opposition — their final contest a Thanksgiving-Day flogging of a Fond du Lac eleven, 62-0.
“Two key figures on Green Bay’s 1897 town team were Tom “T.P.” Silverwood and Tom Skenandore. Indeed, they sat next to one another — prominently positioned in the center of the team’s proud photograph.
“Silverwood had come to GB on a bicycle prior to the 1896 season — a mustachioed, recent grad of the UW-Madison law school where he’d also played football.
“At the onset of the 1896 football season, Silverwood was coaching the Oconto town team. A few games in, he’d end up playing with Green Bay. By the conclusion of the season, Hulbert had stepped back and Silverwood had become team captain — a post he’d hold through the 1898 campaign.
“Skenandore’s journey to the Green Bay lineup had taken a decidedly different course. Like other Native kids of the era, he’d been shipped off to Carlisle Indian boarding school and force-fed the white man’s ways. He’d also learned the game of football. Carlisle would later become much-celebrated as the football home of Pop Warner and Jim Thorpe.
“Skenandore was such a powerhouse at running back that his teammates determined to pay him $20 a game — making him the only paid player and the first professional football player in GB history.”
The Green Bay Football History Event will honor members of that 1897 Town Team. Descendants of that team’s members will be on hand to receive recognition for the seminal role their ancestors played in starting a winning tradition in the city.
The event is hosted by Gullickson. He has produced books on Johnny Blood (Vagabond Halfback) and the town team (Before They Were Packers) and is currently working to bring the Vagabond Halfback to the stage as a play.
Presentations at the event include those of two nationally-recognized authors: Green Bay native Jim Lefebvre and Chris Havel, host of “SportsLine” on local radio stations. Lefebvre will talk on the legendary football connections between Green Bay and the U. of Notre Dame. As keynote speaker, Havel will discuss the run-up to the 1996-97 victory in Super Bowl XXXI.
The four-course meal will feature items from the vintage Hotel Northland menu. Steve Frantz and Dennis Doucette, who are overseeing the $35-million renovation of the historic hotel, will show attendees the astounding aspects of that renovation and tie those to Packers history.
Other presenters include authors and football historians Carl Hanson and Jim Rice, as well as filmmaker John Mitchell, who is set to debut his film “Cheeseheads: The Documentary” in Green Bay on December 1. There is a 1 p.m. matinee and a 6 p.m. evening performance of a trailer of his film and he will discuss its production. Between presentations, Packers and sports memorabilia expert Chris Nerat will be appraising historic football, Packers, and other sports items. People are encouraged to bring such items to the restaurant. There is no cost for the appraisals.
Signed, personalized books on football, Packers and Notre Dame football history will also be available from the various authors for holiday gift-giving.
The cost is $30 per person which includes the meal and the presentations. Tickets can be ordered by calling Hagemeister Park, 325 North Washington Street, at 920-884-9909.