Family Night: A tradition dating back to 1933

Posted by Cliff Christl on July 25, 2014 – 9:31 am

The Packers unveiled their new G logo at the 1961 intra-squad game played at old City Stadium while new City Stadium was unavailable. The Packers were waiting for new sod to take root at what is now Lambeau.
The Packers unveiled their new G logo at the 1961 intra-squad game played at old City Stadium while new City Stadium was unavailable. The Packers were waiting for new sod to take root at what is now Lambeau.

GREEN BAY—This might only be the 14th year of Packers Family Night, but like almost everything associated with pro football’s most storied franchise, it is much more deeply rooted in tradition than that.

The event has taken on different names and formats and evolved with the changes training camp has undergone over the years, but Family Night is an offshoot of what was once called the team’s annual intrasquad game and first played on Sept. 10, 1933.

Eighty-one years ago, Curly Lambeau matched his veterans against his rookies in a game played before a Sunday afternoon crowd of 2,500 at City Stadium. Adults paid 50 cents to watch, kids paid a quarter, and the Veterans, with future Hall of Fame back Arnie Herber going the distance, beat the Yearlings, 25-6.

Lambeau conceived the idea of playing an intrasquad game because the one exhibition game the Packers were playing back then was turning into an annual rout against the likes of Iron Mountain and Oshkosh and no longer serving a purpose. At the time, the Packers would typically report to Green Bay, practice for a week, usually in Joannes Park, play a non-league opponent from a nearby city and start their NFL schedule the following week.

Over the next 16 years, Lambeau would play six more intrasquad games, the highlight of which was the first American Legion benefit, which drew 14,000 fans to City Stadium in 1946 to see Don Hutson’s Army team beat Walt Kiesling’s Navy team, 14-10. Lambeau’s final intrasquad game was played in Marinette in 1949.

From 1950-57, the Packers trained in Grand Rapids, Minn., or Stevens Point for all but one year under coaches Gene Ronzani and Lisle Blackbourn, and they took their intrasquad games on the road, sometimes playing two a summer.

Under Ronzani, they played in Duluth, Minn., three times in what was billed as the Fish Bowl, and also in Iron Mountain, Elkhart, Ind., Grand Forks, N.D., and Hibbing, Minn. Under Blackbourn, they played in Stevens Point three times and also in Marshfield, Janesville and Menasha.

The first intrasquad game played in what is now Lambeau Field was held on Aug. 9, 1958, in Scooter McLean’s only season as coach. The Greens beat the Whites, 34-16, before 9,381 fans in what was really the last regulation game played between two complete teams of Packers offensive and defensive players.

Vince Lombardi scheduled an intrasquad game every year: offense vs. defense. Tickets were priced at $1 for adults and, in later years, proceeds went to the Police and Fire Benevolent Fund. In 1959, Lombardi’s first season, attendance was 11,566. In 1967, his last season, it was 33,546.

The 1961 game was played at old City Stadium because the sod was being replaced at the new one. The game drew 5,000 fans and unbeknownst to them beforehand, they were treated to a bit of history: The unveiling of the Packers G on the players’ helmets.

The intrasquad tradition continued under coaches Phil Bengtson and Dan Devine from 1968-’74 and actually flourished even more. Two games had to be canceled due to labor disputes: One in 1970 was replaced by a public practice and another one in 1974 by a game between Packers and Bears rookies for the most part.

In 1973, with tickets still priced at $1 for adults and 50 cents for kids, 56,263 fans filled Lambeau and a number of others had to be turned away at the gate. That crowd broke the previous attendance record of 41,137, set in Bengtson’s second season.

Bart Starr retained the same format when he became coach in 1975, but interest declined precipitously. The game before his first season drew 41,372. The next year, attendance dropped to 26,542. In 1977, a scrimmage replaced the intrasquad game and only 12,000 showed up.

Not only were the days of charging admission over, but the scrimmages were moved from Lambeau to either the Oneida Street practice field or homes of other NFL teams. The one exception was 1982 when an estimated 15,000 witnessed a scrimmage against Buffalo at Lambeau Field.

Forrest Gregg’s teams drew roughly 15,000 to two free scrimmages in Lambeau in the mid-1980s, but only 6,000 in 1987. Attendance in the Lindy Infante years plummeted to 2,000 or so.

The arrival of Ron Wolf and Mike Holmgren created enough excitement that nearly 22,000 fans attended a practice and controlled scrimmage in Lambeau in 1992. Two years later, the crowd was almost double that or close to 40,000.

Family Night started in 1999 and has created its own tradition. This year it will be strictly a practice for the first time and 73,000 fans will be on hand.

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