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"Titletown USA" eager for Packers' next Super Bowl title


Greenbay Packers' wide receiver Donald Driver (80) scores a touchdown against the St. Louis Rams' Jonathan wade (20) in second quarter NFL football action in St. Louis September 27, 2009. REUTERS/Peter Newcomb
Greenbay Packers' wide receiver Donald Driver (80) scores a touchdown against the St. Louis Rams' Jonathan wade (20) in second quarter NFL football action in St. Louis September 27, 2009. REUTERS/Peter Newcomb

By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Curly Lambeau raised money from his Wisconsin meat packing plant employers in 1919 to start a pro football team and 92 years later the Green Bay Packers are looking to add to the lore of "Titletown USA".

The last vestige of small town teams that made up the National Football League in the rough and tumble early years of professional football, the Packers established a tradition of excellence that has produced an NFL-record 12 championships.

Vince Lombardi coached them to extraordinary heights in the 1960s, receiver Don Hutson revolutionized the passing game in the mid '30s, and coach Lambeau set the tone with three straight titles from 1929 for the team that put a small, Midwest industrial city on the sports map.

No other community is so closely tied to their professional team in an age where leagues look to big markets such as New York and Chicago to enrich their business.

The Packers are the only non-profit, community-owned U.S. major league pro sports team, and the city of 100,000 (triple the population when the team was formed) has embraced its "Titletown USA" nickname by using the name on the city seal.

Lambeau's Packers joined teams like the Canton (Ohio) Bulldogs, Muncie (Indiana) Flyers and Rock Island (Illinois) Independents in 1921 in the one-year-old American Professional Football Association, which one year later became the NFL.

Over the decades, small market teams gave way to big city franchises but the Packers, beloved by their 'Cheesehead' fans who celebrate Wisconsin's well-known dairy industry, won a national following for their gridiron success.

Hutson's arrival after an All-American college career at Alabama revolutionized the pro game as he was credited with creating a variety of pass patterns that gave the Packers an aerial attack that led to three more championships.

After Hall of Famer Hutson's run of success, the Packers went into decline and coach Lambeau eventually was forced out.

LOMBARDI YEARS

Fifteen barren years followed before the next phase of Green Bay greatness came with the hiring of New York Giants offensive assistant Lombardi in 1959 following a 1-10-1 mark.

In his first season, Lombardi went 7-5. In 1960, the Packers won a division title only to fall to the Philadelphia Eagles 17-13 in the championship game.

That was the only postseason game Lombardi's teams would ever lose as they pounded their way NFL titles in 1961, '62, '65, '66, and '67.

The demanding Lombardi had solid quarterback Bart Starr directing the attack, but the bread-and-butter play of those teams was the power sweep, run by backs Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor and blocked by pulling guards Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston and tackle Forrest Gregg, who became familiar names.

"Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing," was the battle cry of Lombardi, whose teams also featured a hard-hitting defense led by middle linebacker Ray Nitschke.

Lombardi's last two triumphs of his 9-1 postseason record came in the first two clashes between champions of the NFL and the upstart American Football League (AFL), which later merged together with the grand title game called the Super Bowl.

The frenzy over winning never got old-hat for the Pack.

More than 3,300 text messages a second sent were sent from the Green Bay area as the Packers completed a 21-14 win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday to reach this Super Bowl, leading to delays of 45 minutes, a local provider said.

Beefy defensive tackle B.J. Raji scored the winning points in Chicago when he rambled 18 yards into the end zone after intercepting a fourth-quarter pass.

"We've talked about it, we've heard about it, we see those old veterans hanging up on the wall every day when we go to work," the 337-pound (153 kg) Raji said about living up to the Packers legend. "It's a remarkable feeling."

Now quarterback Aaron Rodgers tries to end a 14-year title drought when he leads the Packers against the Pittsburgh Steelers February 6 in Dallas, taking aim to become the first Green Bay signal caller since Brett Favre -- the man he replaced -- to raise the Super Bowl's Lombardi Trophy.

(Editing by Steve Ginsburg)

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