April 9, 1898|
Green Bay, Wisconsin
June 1, 1965 (aged 67)|
Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin
|High school:||Green Bay (WI) East|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Head coaching record|
|Regular season:||226–132–22 (.624)|
|Player stats at PFR|
|Coaching stats at PFR|
Earl Louis "Curly" Lambeau (April 9, 1898 – June 1, 1965) was a professional American football player and coach in the National Football League (NFL). Lambeau, along with his friend and fellow Green Bay, Wisconsin native George Whitney Calhoun, founded the Green Bay Packers in 1919. From 1919 to 1929, Lambeau served as a player-coach and maintained de facto control on the day-to-day operations of the team. As a player, Lambeau lined up as a halfback, which in the early years of the NFL was the premier position. He was the team's primary runner and passer, accounting for 35 touchdowns (eight as a rusher, three as a receiver, and 24 as a passer) in 77 games. He won his only NFL championship as a player in 1929.
From 1919 to 1949, Lambeau was the head coach and general manager of the Packers. He led his team to over 200 wins and six NFL championships, including three straight from 1929 to 1931. He shares the distinction with rival George Halas of the Chicago Bears of coaching his team to the most NFL championships. Lambeau also coached eight players who went on to be elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. With players such as quarterback Arnie Herber and split end Don Hutson, his teams revolutionized the use of the passing game in football. After a falling out with the Packers Board of Directors, Lambeau left the Packers to coach the Chicago Cardinals for two seasons and then Washington Redskins for two more. He retired from the NFL in 1953.
For his accomplishments, Lambeau has been widely recognized and honored. He was named to the NFL 1920s All-Decade Team as one of the top halfbacks in the league's first decade of existence. He was an inaugural inductee to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963 and the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 1970 in recognition for his role as founder, player, and coach of the Packers. Shortly after his death in 1965, the Packers home stadium, which is still in use today, was renamed to Lambeau Field in his honor.
Lambeau was a standout multi-sport athlete at Green Bay East High School, and captain of its football team as a senior, graduating in 1917. He attended University of Notre Dame in 1918 and played for legendary coach Knute Rockne, making the Irish's varsity squad, but a severe case of tonsillitis forced him to miss the Spring semester.
Founding the Packers
After returning to Green Bay, Lambeau went to work as a shipping clerk at the Indian Packing Company. Lambeau and George Whitney Calhoun founded the Green Bay Packers on August 11, 1919, after the packing company put up $500 for uniforms. That fall, the founders secured Willard "Big Bill" Ryan, former coach of Green Bay West High School, to coach the team. The team's name reportedly was offered to Curly by his girlfriend Agnes Aylward after a pickup game; Curly had wanted to call the team "The Green Bay Indians" to respect Indian Packing's purchase of uniforms for the team; so Agnes simply blurted, "Well, for heaven's sake, Curly, why don't you just call them the Green Bay Packers!" The team's naming rights were sold to the Acme Packing Company, and the team remained Packers.
The Packers initially played teams from Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula. However, the success of the team in 1919 and 1920 quickly led to its joining of the American Professional Football Association (now called the National Football League) in 1921. During that season the team was owned by the Acme Packing Company and John and Emmet Clair of Chicago.
Green Bay Packers
Following Willard Ryan's initial year with the Packers, Lambeau was the head coach of the Packers from 1920 to 1949, 1921 and after in the NFL. For the better part of that time, he had almost complete control over the team's day-to-day operations.
Lambeau was a player-captain at first. Playing halfback in the then-popular single wing offensive formation, he was both the primary runner and passer. Lambeau threw 24 touchdown passes, rushed for eight touchdowns, and caught three touchdowns in 77 games. Lambeau was the first Packer to throw a pass, throw a touchdown pass, and make a field goal in Green Bay Packer franchise history. He was also occasionally the team's kicker, kicking six field goals and 20 extra points. He won his only NFL championship as a player-coach in 1929, thereafter coaching only.
Before joining the NFL, the Packers achieved an overall 19–2–1 record in 1919 and 1920. Under Lambeau in the NFL, the Packers won six championships (1929, 1930, 1931, 1936, 1939, 1944). He compiled an NFL regular-season record of 209–104–21 (.657) with a playoff record of 3–2, 212–106–21 (.656) overall. Lambeau is still far and away the winningest coach in Packers history. His 104 losses are also the most by a Packers head coach.
The Packers' most successful period came in the 1930s, thanks to the additions of quarterback Arnie Herber and receiver Don Hutson. Herber and Hutson pioneered the passing game, which allowed the Packers to dominate their competitors throughout the 1930s.
End of the Lambeau era in Green Bay
In 1946, Lambeau purchased Rockwood Lodge, a former Norbertine retreat, creating the first self-contained training facility in professional football. The purchase was controversial among the Packers' board of directors, many of whom balked at the $32,000 purchase price and $8,000 spent on renovations. Two of the directors nearly resigned. Lambeau's players grew to hate the facility as well, partly because they were severely battered by the brick-hard limestone under the fields.
In addition, the Packers had begun noticeably slipping on the field after Hutson's retirement in 1945. Still, the Packers remained competitive until 1948, when they suffered their first losing season since 1933, and only the second losing season in franchise history. The bottom fell out in 1949, when the Packers won only two games—at the time, their worst season ever.
The Packers were also suffering financially, mainly due to the Rockwood Lodge purchase. Early in the 1949 season, Lambeau largely turned over control of the team to his assistants to devote his attention to the team's financial situation. Even reducing the payroll and his own salary were not enough to stanch the bleeding. By the end of the season, the Packers were on what seemed to be an irreversible slide toward bankruptcy. Desperate for cash, Lambeau found investors willing to pump money into the team if it abolished its then-unique public ownership structure. This proposal was considered rank heresy in Green Bay, and led to rumors that the NFL was pressuring Lambeau to move the team. Team officials responded by offering him a revised contract that stripped him of nearly all control over non-football matters. Lambeau rejected this offer almost out of hand. For all intents and purposes, this was the end of his 31-year tenure at the helm of the team he founded. However, he didn't formally resign until February 1, 1950, seven days after his beloved Rockwood Lodge burned down in a fire that remains unsolved to this day. The insurance money relieved the Packers' financial woes at one stroke, and ensured they would stay in Green Bay.
After Green Bay
Lambeau coached the Chicago Cardinals in 1950 and 1951 and the Washington Redskins in 1952 and 1953 but was nowhere near as successful as he had been in Green Bay, winning only 12 games total in these four seasons. In August 1954, Lambeau got into a heated argument with Redskins owner George Preston Marshall in the lobby of Sacramento's Senator Hotel and was promptly fired.
Lambeau completed his 33-year NFL coaching career with an official overall record of 229–134–22 (.623).
Lambeau was married three times: first to Marguerite Van Kessel from 1919 to 1934, ending in divorce with one son. His second wife, Susan Johnson, was a former Miss California, and they were married from 1935 to 1940. He married Grace Garland in 1945 and was divorced in 1955.
Lambeau died on June 1, 1965, at age 67, in Sturgeon Bay from a sudden heart attack. While waiting for his girlfriend, Mary Jane Van Duyse to get ready for a date, he had stepped out of his new red Cadillac convertible and helped her father cut the grass and collapsed. Mary Jane was the Green Bay Packers Champion Majorette, and was a Packer Golden Girl.
Without Curly Lambeau, there would be no professional football in Green Bay. With help from co-founder George Whitney Calhoun and the Hungry Five, Lambeau helped keep the NFL in Green Bay and prevented the Packers from going bankrupt on multiple occasions. There may be no stronger expression of his impact on the Packers than the name of their current home stadium, Lambeau Field. The venue opened in 1957 as the second City Stadium and was informally called "New" City Stadium for its first eight years. Just two months after his death, the stadium was renamed prior to the 1965 Green Bay Packers season to honor his contributions as founder, player, and coach. Lambeau Field has become such an iconic facility that the Green Bay Packers and surrounding community have continued to remodel the stadium, instead of building a new one. This has made Lambeau Field the oldest continually operating NFL stadium. The name Lambeau is so strongly tied to the stadium, that the Packers have never sold naming rights to the stadium, instead choosing to sell naming rights to the various entrance gates. During the 2003 renovation, the Packers erected a 14-foot (4.3 m) statue of Lambeau in front of the new Atrium entrance. Lambeau Street, in Green Bay's Packerland Industrial Park, is also named in his honor.
As a player and coach, Lambeau is credited with pioneering daily practices, the forward pass in the NFL, implementing pass patterns, and having teams fly to road games. He was a second-team All-Pro for three season (1922–1924) and was named to the NFL 1920s All-Decade Team. As one of the last player-coaches, he also led the Packers to over 200 wins, won six NFL Championships, and coached eight future Pro Football Hall of Fame players on the Packers. He became the first coach to lead an NFL team to three consecutive NFL Championships (1929–31), a feat that has only been matched once by Packers coach Vince Lombardi (1965–67). For his contributions to football and athletics, Lambeau has been honored by multiple organizations. In 1961 he was elected to the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame. He was part of the inaugural class of Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963, and the inaugural class of the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 1970.
- List of National Football League head coaches with 50 wins
- List of professional gridiron football coaches with 200 wins
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