Collectors’ Corner: Hall of Fame Sets First Standards In NFL
By Chris Wood
When Bill Brault sought and received Vince Lombardi’s blessing to display Packers artifacts in the Brown County Arena concourse in 1967, his idea was to tell the story of the Packers’ interesting and speckled past. As the executive director of the Green Bay Visitors and Convention Bureau, he was often asked by visitors how and where they could learn more about the Packers’ history. His idea was to use the arena concourse to display small exhibits of Packers artifacts that would serve that purpose but it would have to be limited to just the summer months because the Green Bay Bobcats Semi-Pro Hockey team used the facility in the fall and winter.
As the man in charge of the Green Bay Area Visitor and Convention Bureau, he wanted to promote the city and saw an opportunity to do so with the Packers’ uniqueness and history. The Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame Association was founded in 1967 and became a separate, tax-exempt 501 C-3 corporate entity in 1970.
In 1976, the Hall of Fame moved into a new facility that had been built expressly to house it as an addition to the arena. It was dedicated by President Gerald Ford and then Coach and General Manager of the Packers, Bart Starr. Many who were around at that time will undoubtedly remember the statue of the receiver outside the hall that was erected to honor the invention of the forward pass. The statue has been given new life today to honor Donald Driver with a home at the Titletown Brewing Company on the west side of Green Bay.
In the late 90’s, Brault was the executive director of the Hall of Fame. The Hall was in need of an archivist to work on a part-time basis at acquiring historical items, cataloging them and preparing them for display when they were going to be put out for the public to view.
He immediately thought of Tom Murphy, a Packers history buff and sports memorabilia collector. Tom had been a member of the Hall of Fame (HOF) Board of Directors for several years and had a good appreciation for sports history in general and the Packers’ history most specifically. Since then, he has co-authored ‘Green Bay: A City and Its Team‘ with Dr. James Hurly. As someone in the insurance profession, Murphy was able to set his own schedule and make appointments to work around the duties of the archivist position as required during the day, which is something most people who worked a regular 8 to 5 job couldn’t do.
He also had a good knowledge of what things were worth. “I’d been collecting memorabilia and such since I was a kid,” Murphy said, “from the time I stood outside the Milwaukee Braves’ locker room and had people like Eddie Mathews, Johnny Logan and Hank Aaron sign my program.”
All of that background made him a natural fit for the job. “I guess that’s what Bill Brault saw in me,” he said, “and why he thought it would be good to contact me first to see if we could work something out.”
Upon being approached, Tom said he “would be happy to do it” and they did, indeed, work something out that was mutually agreeable for the next 14 years. He served in the position until last year, when he decided to give it up as part of an effort to simplify his life.
Bill Brault was inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 1995 as its founder and deservedly so. As the one who had the idea in the first place and then made it happen, he was a visionary. The Packers were not only the first NFL team to have a museum exclusively devoted to them but the first team in any sport to do so! To see it go and grow from its very humble beginnings as a temporary summer display to becoming a major part of the city’s appeal as a national tourist destination as it is today, is nothing short of amazing or incredible! Today almost 60 years later, there are numerous teams in several sports that have their own halls of fame but the Packers were the first and foremost, and it was primarily because of Bill Brault.
Some of the highlights of Murphy’s service included accepting a “huge donation from a former player, that being Bart Starr” who donated Championship rings from the ’61, ’65 and ’66 seasons, the last was his Super Bowl I ring. This was in 2010 and is considered by many to be the most valuable donation to the Hall of Fame ever made. In addition, at the same time, Cherry Starr donated what had been her special charm bracelet.
“There’s a charm for each one of the accomplishments Bart had realized during his career,” Tom explained. “Calling them charms doesn’t really do them justice, because they were significantly valuable and impressive pieces.” The bracelet eventually had to be converted to a necklace because of the large number of pieces adorning it after many years.
He also was on board when fellow HOF Board Member Don Sipes discovered that the old goal post on the East High School practice field was actually the same one used by the Packers at Hagemeister Field back in 1923. “It’s a great story,” Tom said enthusiastically. “Don Sipes was the driving force on that acquisition and he’ll never get enough credit for what he pulled off on that one!”
The post was removed from the practice field and became the centerpiece of the ‘Touchdown! Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame‘ at the Neville Public Museum exhibit, which was on display at the Neville from April, 2014, until March, 2015. During that time, the Atrium was being renovated and the Hall of Fame was being moved from the basement up to the second floor. Individual pieces of the goal post uprights were sold as collectibles in return for a $300 donation to the Hall of Fame, which still has the “H” goalpost in the archives.
“It’s a great piece for any collector,” Tom said, adding, “and there are still a very limited number of them remaining.”
A handout at the new Hall of Fame invites visitors to “immerse themselves in Packers history.” Being the archivist there has offered Tom some opportunities to become immersed in Packers history in a more literal fashion than he ever could have imagined otherwise. There have been some exciting times on the job, discovering and finding things stored in the extensive archives dating back to almost a hundred years ago.
“When I first got the job, I had the privilege of going through boxes of memorabilia and seeing things that were not on display,” he continued. “Like finding the original manuscript to ‘Run To Daylight‘ with the notes in the margins, where Bill Heinz was clarifying things based on what Vince Lombardi had told him or Vince was writing things in the margins clarifying questions that Bill had. I thought that was interesting,” he said. “And finding literally boxes of Vince Lombardi’s hand-written speeches and talks; his notes in training camp to the team; his playbooks and some of his diagrammed plays on legal pads. Just in storage boxes and not even marked. But to be able to go through those on a weekend during the winter and find these things!” It was also very gratifying when they were able to make laser copies of them and put them on display for the public.
Additionally, there were scrapbooks Marie (Mrs. Lombardi) had kept with numerous pictures, plane tickets, menus and items from when Vince was an assistant coach at West Point touring military bases in the Pacific.
“She kept wonderful scrapbooks with lots of photography,” he said, adding it felt great to find them and in some cases, being able to come up with a way to make them available so others could see them.
Some of the other major acquisitions included Don Hutson’s jersey and Vince Lombardi’s shoes.
“A lady in Oshkosh had an uncle who worked for the Packers on the grounds crew and the shoes were going to be thrown out,” Tom explained. “He had asked if he could have the shoes and Vince gave them to him, and she donated them to the Hall of Fame.” That was in 2003.
“Both of those were pretty significant donations,” he went on. “If you had Vince Lombardi’s shoes or Don Hutson’s jersey and you could document that they were, imagine what you could make in the major sports auctions of today.”
“People are passing up tremendous amounts of money for the honor of having these items donated to the Hall of Fame, so all Packers fans can share in them and enjoy them for many, many years,” he said, adding, “It’s a great thing!”
Another donation that was very significant in a different way was made by Gail Fischer and consisted of the personal papers she had inherited from her husband upon his passing.
Her husband, Emil Fischer was the son of Emil Robert Fischer, Sr. who had been President of the Packers in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s during a very tumultuous time at the end of the Lambeau era. The senior Fischer had bequeathed the papers to his son when he died in 1958 and they offered an inside and interesting look at what had transpired in the period leading up to Lambeau’s departure.
Tom Murphy shared them with the Packers faithful who were interested through this writer. We did a feature a year ago [ed. note- Packerland Pride issue Nov. 2014] on the events of the period leading up to Lambeau’s departure, which has proven to be the most highly-regarded piece we’ve done to date. We’ve been told that it’s because most people had not been aware of the information until we presented it in the story. Thus, this interesting look at some of the most tumultuous times in the Packers’ long and storied history was made available to the fans who were interested in reading about it, which seems appropriate given that the team is publicly-owned by the people.
So what lies ahead for Tom Murphy? His departure from the archivist position does not mean he’ll no longer be involved. To the contrary, he will still be on the Hall of Fame Board of Directors and a member of the Executive Committee. More importantly, he’ll still work with the acquisition committee to discuss acquisitions when they become available, while letting other members “take more of the lead.”
We’ve certainly enjoyed working with him on this column and appreciate the guidance, information, counsel and wisdom he has offered in collectibles generally, but more importantly, in Packers collectibles. After having done such an exemplary job for the last 14 years, we can do nothing but say, ‘Thank you’ to Tom and wish him well in his new endeavors, whatever they may be!