Original players and youthful shenanigans
The average fan, or even the avid fan, doesn’t know much about the original 1919 Packers team.
Sure, we know Curly hand-picked the team, after meeting with the Green Bay Press Gazette’s long-time editor George Calhoun back in 1919 to form a team sponsored by the Indian Packing Company.
After that, your best bet for additional information is the Packers Heritage Trail or the ever-present Wiki.
Behind a locked area in the Outagamie Court House – in a judge’s chamber, no less – among a fascinating memorabilia collection, are some clues to two of those early players.
John Arnold Des Jardins, grandfather of Judge John Arnold Des Jardins, was a center and guard for that original team, while his great uncle Pahl Davis lined up on the line in 1922.
Don’t expect extensive detail. When John spent time with his namesake, the Packers were embroiled in the greatest run in NFL history, so the two fans would spend their energy on the current team.
“When I was younger, had I thought about it, I would have asked him a lot of questions,” Des Jardins mused. “But you’re just a kid, you’re all excited about Vince Lombardi and what the team was doing at that moment. That’s what you talked about, not the past.”
But Des Jardins can fill in a few of the blanks.
“(He didn’t say) that much other than that one game they lost to the Beloit Fairies,” the judge stated. “He said it was just horrible. They scored touchdown after touchdown and they would call them back. It was a bunch of homers and there’s nothing they could do, they’re just not going to let them win the game. Because they had ‘em way overmatched. That’s the one he talked about.
“He also talked about (playing) Texas A & M (with his armed services team), he didn’t like them or that they threatened to shoot him. You know back then it was the local team that would get the referees. You’d really talk about homers.
“He wasn’t 6’ 4”, and 300 pounds, but he was every bit as tough as those guys today.
“And he was always proud of the fact that he broke Lambeau’s leg in high school, even though it cost him a game against (Green Bay) West. He thought that was pretty cool.”
Wait, he broke Lambeau’s leg?
The upshot is Des Jardins played for Green Bay East at the same time as Curly, and a big hit in practice snapped Curly’s leg.
“That happened in high school,” Des Jardins said. “They were undefeated and the next game they had to play their arch-rival, Green Bay West. In practice right before the game, grandpa hit him right in the leg and broke it. Then they lost the big game to West. Grandpa wasn’t the most popular guy after that, but Lambeau forgave him. That was a time when they really practiced tackling, not like no-pads today.”
Des Jardins remembers his grandfather discussing a couple of teammates:
“The Zoll brothers ….That barrel-chested guy right there and that one a little bit shorter, you can tell how stocky he is. He said they were tough as nails. They wrestled professionally. Their family still owns the stone business, I believe, and the Zoll brothers were masons.”
He doesn’t know much about his great-uncle Davis:
“He died when I was a little kid and I never even got to really meet him.”
How did teams treat their players in those days?
“The first year they played they didn’t sell tickets they just passed the hat, and the players split the money down the middle,” Des Jardins said. “My grandfather, for the whole season, made 16 dollars and 75 cents. I think that’s worth about $350 today. That’s pretty funny.
“That doesn’t get one week for a practice squad guy today. Practice squad actually makes pretty good money today. It used to be quite a bit lower.”
When it came to the re-naming of City Stadium to Lambeau Field, Lombardi wasn’t too thrilled according to the elder Des Jardins.
“Curly was wild, that’s what my grandfather said,” the judge said, backing up stories that the good Catholic Lombardi felt Lambeau was too much of a man-about-town.
Grandfather Des Jardins may not have talked a lot about his past, but his renown spilled over to grandson John.
“You don’t dwell on the past, although he was always at the Alumni Game and down on the field to get introduced, and that was really cool,” Des Jardins said. “You know, the next day, because my name was the same as his, at school everybody would say we heard you at the football game.
“I’d say, ‘Yeah that was my grandpa.’ It made me a bit of a celebrity at my school. Even my teachers would say, ‘Oh, we’ve got a celebrity here.’
“Packers’ historian Lee Remmel would never forget a name. He knew my grandfather.”
Des Jardins, the grandson, may not have a lot of stories about his grandfather’s playing days, but he credits him for stoking a young boy’s passion for all things Packers.
“I have been to every playoff game played by the Green Bay Packers in Green Bay,” he stated. “My grandfather would get free tickets from the Packers and occasionally he would take a grandchild. So that’s how my interest got whetted, really cemented. It didn’t take much.
“But going with my grandfather, sitting with all the Packer alumni, was so cool, even for a nine- or 10-year-old. He took me to the Giants’ playoff game, and that was the first playoff game ever played by the Packers in Green Bay. That was in 1961.
“(For the Ice Bowl,) what happened was again my grandfather was taking my brother and I begged to go along. They were starting to give away tickets because it was so cold. My grandfather said I’m not going to wait until someone gives you a free ticket, I’ll just offer a buck. So the ticket was in the south end zone and I got to see a perfect view of the quarterback sneak.”
Where there’s a will, there’s a way
Once whetted, that appetite had to be sated at all costs, starting the judge on a career of petty trespassing.
“So, I went to that Colts playoff game and I went to the Browns game as well. I had developed a habit that if my grandfather wouldn’t take me to the game, I would sneak in,” he confessed. “But there’d usually be a pack of about 50 kids that would go over to the field, and I lived fairly close to the (City Stadium) field. We’d try to out-smart the security guards every which way we could.
“There would be times when we’d send a group down one end and get all their attention, and a few guys would go up and over. And they had barbed wire, so we’d get cut up sometimes, but we’d still do that. Or try to get on the roof of the bathroom and get over and slide down the drainpipe, stuff like that. I even one time saw that they had a real heavyset man taking tickets and I thought if I could pretend I had a ticket, walk up there, dive under the turnstile, there’s no way he could catch me if I ran away quick enough, so I did that.
“I remember one time, you know they put hooks on the bottom of the fence to keep you from lifting it up. Well, somehow one had come out. I lifted it up and yelled to a guy, ‘Hey can you hold this up for me,’ and I rolled right under.
“I remember one time I was walking around and one guy said to me, ‘Don’t I know you from somewhere?’ Well, he had seen me sneaking in, and I said, ‘Oh no, sir!’ I thought that he was going to ask to see my ticket stub, and I recognized the guy, and he said, ‘Oh, okay,’ and let me go.
“I got a lot of stories like that. It was always an adventure, but you loved the Packers, which you know we all did, you got to know some of the kids that were packing around there, trying to get in. Test their defenses, every game. “
The 1965 championship game with the Cleveland Browns had to be the pinnacle of experience for Des Jardins, from the break-in to the knock-down.
“When it came to the Browns championship game, my grandfather was taking my brother,” he said. “So I told my mom, ‘Hey, I’m going to the game a little bit early, because I think it’s going to be really hard this time. They’re going to have more security.’
“I went to the game early and I noticed the surface trucks were coming in. And lo and behold, there was only one security guard watching the gate. So I thought to myself, ‘The next truck that comes up, I’m going to run right on the bumper, see if I can evade him.’ So, I ran right on the bumper and he never saw me. As soon as the truck turned when it got into the field, I went the other way. So now I’m in the stadium, but I’m the only person there. I was going to go to the bathroom and hide, but what happened was I went down and looked on the field; we’d had about 10 inches of snow that morning. There were a bunch of guys shoveling snow down there. So I ran down onto the field, grabbed a shovel, and started shoveling the snow, and that ate up a whole bunch of time.
“When we got done, the groundskeeper said, ‘Oh, you guys can stay down on the field.’ So I got to stay down on the field, it was (legendary running back) Jim Brown’s last game, we completely man-handled the Browns. It was like a mud-bowl kind of game.
“At the end of the game, I ran over to the end zone and snatched an end-zone flag, which is this. They used to have flags on wires instead of pylons back in the day. So I grabbed that, we tore down the goalposts. I was just a kid and they were cutting out nice, big pieces and they tossed me this tiny little piece, but I still got a piece of goalpost (laughs). Cause I was only like 10 years old at the time.
“Now, at the end of the Browns’ game, I was so excited, I was jumping up and down. I’d grabbed an end-zone flag a little bit earlier, the game wasn’t quite over, but I wanted it so bad, I took it. So I had that and I went out in the middle of the field. I was jumping up and down, and all of a sudden I got blasted by a player and I landed flat on my back in the mud. I looked up and I saw it was Ross Fichtner, was his name, a defensive back for the Browns. I got so excited, I’d finally been hit by an NFL player, this is so great. I got to go home and tell my parents, ‘Hey, I got hit!’
“I think he was frustrated and I was in his way and he wanted to get off the field. It was no big deal to me. In fact, I enjoyed it.”
Once inside, it was a pretty sweet deal for these cunning kids.
“When you would sneak in that’s a temporary stand, but all along here in both end zones you could stand and watch the game,” he said. “So when you snuck in you actually had good seats. You’d just stand there. It was only about 25 rows up. You’d pay big bucks for those today. It was great for the kids to get in, and if you were tenacious enough, you could always get in.
“You know, now you can’t even go run down on the field. There were big games and you could all rush the field. That was a ball. Ripping down the goalposts, that was just phenomenal. I wasn’t old enough or big enough to get up on the crossbar like some of the guys. But it was just so much fun to rip down a goalpost, and we’ve lost all of that. There’s reasons for it, but those are great memories, for me anyway.
“Seeing those goalpoats come down, it made us part of the team, it seemed like. Especially when you’re a kid.“
My personal experience backs that up. We all rushed the field – my three friends and I along with a fraternity of young, excited, possibly inebriated fanatics – following the 41-16 playoff triumph over the St. Louis Cardinals at the end of the ‘82 season.
Maybe a little more headstrong than my buddies, I rushed to the goalpost, scaled it to the top and let out a victory yell as I crested the crossbar with both arms and locked on. My elation turned to fear as I was pitched backward while hearing the groaning of over-stressed metal. The goalpost shot backward, but halted a mere foot-and-a half from the ground. I lowered myself a few inches, slid out sideways and breathed a grateful prayer for safety when it could have gone all too wrong.
Talk about strong doses of the dichotomy between fans feeling a part of the team and teams needing to enforce their distance.
Des Jardins, similar to most kids and many adults of the day, was always on the look-out for Packers connections.
“My grandfather’s farm bordered the Oneida Golf and Riding Club,” he noted. “I was a caddie out there, too, and always wanted to caddie for Lombardi, but he never selected me. Anyway, despite that, I caddied for all of Lombardi’s buddies.
“My dad (Arnold John Des Jardins) and I would go down and hunt golf balls. But one day we had cleaned out hole 16, which was down below our farm. And we saw some guys teeing off, ‘Well, let’s just wait and see what these guys do.’ They knocked two golf balls into the creek. Well, great, we’re going to wait for them to go by. Well, they’re going by and Vince Lombardi’s with them. Wow! I wonder if he knocked those balls in. We went out after he went past and we got two Vince Lombardi golf balls, with his name on them. And my dad let me keep one of them.
“I’ve had it all these years. I must have had it since I was like 14, that’s when I started caddying. It’s even misspelled. Isn’t that funny. The guy he hired got his name wrong, and he still used them. Today, they would just junk them.
“Lombardi loved Jack Nicklaus. Nicklaus had come out to Oneida for a charity event – I got to go because I caddied out there – Don Hutson was there, Lombardi. (Bill) Ferrari was there because he was the club pro. Kenny Burnett, Jake Stathes. Jack Keppler, three of them.
“Then Lombardi might golf with (former Packer defensive back) Jesse Whittenton from time to time. Whittenton was a really good player. He was practically a pro golfer. (Ed. note – Whittenton did play on the Senior PGA Tour in the late ‘80’s.)
“I would say that Lombardi did his best round ever when Jack Nicklaus was there. He played great that day. He didn’t embarrass himself at all. That would have been ‘64 or ‘65 when that happened, when I was 14 or 15. I caddied because (kids) couldn’t get any other job in those days.”
Another option to interact came with Fuzzy Thurston’s special gathering.
“They used to have that 1,000 Yard Club in Menasha, sponsored by Fuzzy Thurston,” the judge said. “It used to be a real big deal, because they only played 12 games to gain 1,000 yards in a season. This was the menu, the mat at your table and it was pretty easy to get autographs.
“Today, I don’t think it’s quite as open because people sell everything on ebay. You’ve got all these greats signing this. Two guys were not there, (Steve) Van Buren and Rick Casares. The rest of them were all 1,000 rushers and put on by (Bill) Martine, a partner with Fuzzy and Max McGee. I think on the back of this they had a menu. Jim Brown’s here and Vince Lombardi signed right on the trophy. Chris Schenkel was the host. Let me see what is says – third annual enshrinement and awards dinner, 1966, Menasha, Wis.”
Hero pilot uncles
Completely unrelated to the Packers, but providing an interesting facet to the life of The Judge were his uncles who died during exemplary service in WWII in 1944.
“Those are my uncles,” Des Jardins noted, pointing to a separate display in his office. “They were pilots in World War II, Earl and James. They were killed within 10 weeks of each other. (James) was a Mustang pilot and (Earl) was a P24 Liberator pilot. They were the ones that played football.
“Anyway, the Liberator pilot was found about three years ago. I gave DNA at the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Pearl Harbor after they got his remains back. It was a pretty big deal. They flew me in, gave me a complete tour of the facility. They had a dozen tables, all sealed off with glass. They didn’t want any contamination of the DNA.
“Some of those remains go way back, even to World War I. They treat them with such dignity and respect. It’s humbling to see everything they’re doing to restore those men to their families.”
The backstory for the pair fits right in with the heroic deeds so many others attempted in WWII.
“Earl was flying Africa into France dropping supplies to the French underground, munitions and explosives, and on a real rainy, stormy night – you know they didn’t have the navigation – and they ended up hitting a mountain and everybody was killed. The French – you can see the Liberator monument – left the plane there for over 40 years and then built that monument to honor the plane and the crew.
“James was bombing targets in Germany, and they would hit targets of opportunity on the way home. They were attacking trains and railroads, and that day they had blown up five locomotives. The fifth one was the last one because they were just about out of ammunition when he was hit. He crashed into a pond (in Einhausen). He was right down on the deck when he was hit so he didn’t have a chance to get out.”
Des Jardins has a little fame of his own, on top of being a respected judge for 21 years.
“I’ve run in every Bellin Run since 1977,” he noted of his 39 finishes in the 10K event. “I’m one of their Legends. They call us the Legends. I think there’s less than 20 of us left.”
The Judge. The grandson. The nephew. The Legend. The curator of Packers Hall of Fame South. They all fit.
The Judge has a one-of-a-kind framed display from the Ice Bowl:
“This is the program from the Ice Bowl, the ticket stub, and I got (trading cards of) all the players that were on the field with Bart Starr on that quarterback sneak, with their autographs.
“Many say that’s the greatest play in NFL history. ESPN did something on it and they called it the greatest play. When I was putting this together, I called the Packers Hall of Fame and asked if I got this right, and they said, ‘Yes, I did.’ Jim Taylor was not on the field at the time. He got hurt and that’s when Chuck Mercein made all those phenomenal plays in that last drive.
“I had all these things from the Ice Bowl and I thought, ‘This is just too cool to keep in a file.’ “
Remember the Dan Devine story where he pretended angry, poor-sport fans shot his dog for Devine’s losing ways, only to recant in his autobiography to the true story of how a distraught farmer did it to save his stock?
Des Jardins had a little twist on that one, too.
“My grandfather had land out there, and my grandfather raised sheep,” he stated. “There was a time when people were letting their dogs run all over and they were killing the sheep left and right.
“They advised everybody out there, if you let them run, they’ll shoot them on sight. Dan Devine came later, a city boy, and he let his dog run. They didn’t shoot (the dog) the first time. He was a schnook.
“They made a big deal about it when I was in law school in Atlanta. I wrote a big letter to the editor about it and you know what they put on the headline of the editorial section was ‘Dan Devine’s dogs were rustlers.’ That was pretty funny.”
I played just in high school for Green Bay Southwest. Our home field was City Stadium. I’ll tell you this, the grass was about 3 or 4 times longer than it is today and there was a crown that would go up I’d estimate 18 inches. Because when you were standing on the field you couldn’t see the ankles of someone on the opposite side of the field.
“And the field was soft compared to today. The field is very firm, practically hard. And the grass is short like the grass in a fairway. When you got tackled on it it was really quite soft. Now there’s not much give; I don’t think there’s any give with the sand they pack in there.
“In high school (Green Bay Southwest), I didn’t do too much, but I was down there and I enjoyed it.”
As a fine collector in his own right, Des Jardins is quite impressed with the new Packers Hall of Fame, thinking it surpasses its national branch.
“I was a little disappointed when I went to the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” he stated. “They don’t do nearly as good a job and they do up here.”
“When I was a kid, you’d go to the game and a bunch of ladies would be in minks and furs and everybody was dressed up like for church and people used to really dress up for church. A good percentage of the men had fedoras. Especially like around 1960 or so.
Des Jardins wears a Vince fedora when he is in character for ‘The Judge.’ He tops off the look with the exact specs.
“I got these frames from the same company Vince ordered them from. It’s pretty funny, I went on their website, they had a big picture of Vince Lombardi and Malcolm X. They wore the same glasses. Quite a difference in political philosophy. I get a lot of compliments on these frames. People don’t even know they’re Lombardi’s frames.
The oufit is complete with shoes hand decorated with 4,000 sequins.
“It took 40 hours to finish,” he noted. “It was a labor of love.”
More basic info on the Packers’ start can be found at: