Top five: books for Green Bay Packers fans

Though they only joined the NFL in 1921, the Green Bay Packers were able to mark their centenary along with the league in 2019. Founded in 1919 by Earl Curly Lambeau, after whom the team’s stadium is named, the Packers played local teams for two seasons before joining the nascent NFL, then known as the American Professional Football Association.

They remain the oldest franchise to still play in its original location and are second only to the Bears in number of Hall of Famers, with 30. The Packers also have the most NFL Championships, with 13 – nine titles from before the Super Bowl era and four Super Bowls, including the first two. Vince Lombardi, who coached the team to victories in Super Bowls I and II gave his name to the trophy.

Despite all that history, perhaps the most distinctive thing about the team is that it is community-owned, making the Packers unique among the USA’s big four professional sports leagues. That ownership model is why the team has been able to play for a century in a city with a population of just over 100,000 and the smallest TV market.

Boiling this list down to five books is virtually impossible because so many great titles have to be excluded. Expect another ‘top’ five to follow in due course.

1Instant Replay (1968) by Jerry Kramer, with Dick Schaap

Let’s start with a classic of football writing, Jerry Kramer’s diary of the Packers’ pursuit of their second Super Bowl title – and their fourth straight NFL Championship. In an era when player confessionals were rare, Kramer and his co-writer Dick Schaap took fans inside the team to reveal just how tough life as a professional footballer can be. In doing so he painted a nuanced portrait of Lombardi and chronicled an exceptional season.
Full review
Buy the book: Amazon US

2When Pride Still Mattered (2000) by David Maraniss

Devoting two of the top five to Lombardi-era books does limit space to cover the rest of the team’s long history but, like Instant Replay, Maraniss’s biography of Lombardi is one of the greatest football books ever written. Setting Lombardi in the context of a time of change not just in football, but in America, Maraniss produces an essential biography. Check out the Pigskin Books Essentials and you will see that interviewees regularly choose it as one of their favourites.
Buy the book: Amazon US | Amazon UK

3The History of the Green Bay Packers, parts 1-4 (1987-1995) by Larry Names

If you really want to dig into the history of the Packers then this four-volume history does a pretty thorough job of covering the early years. After a 25-year hiatus, Names resumed his history with the publication of volume five, covering 1958-1962, in November 2019. This is a series that could run for some time.
Buy the book: Amazon US | Amazon UK

4Curly Lambeau (2003) by David Zimmerman

Such was the dominance of the Packers of the 1960s, that founder Curly Lambeau has been somewhat overlooked by authors. Zimmerman’s biography was the first in-depth examination of a man who grew his team from nothing but was ultimately forced out when performances slipped and financial woes and off-field indiscretions became too much to ignore.
Out of print: available secondhand

5Gunslinger (2016) by Jeff Pearlman

After winning Super Bowl II, the Packers went 25 years with just one playoff win. The arrival of quartback Brett Favre and head coach Mike Holmgren, in the early 1990s, was the beginning of a turnaround. Favre was the league MVP for three consecutive seasons between 1995 and 1997. Jeff Pearlman is well-known for his warts-and-all biographies and this study of Favre is no exception. Though the man himself wouldn’t cooperate for the book, Pearlman interviewed around 500 people, including many in Favre’s family.
Buy the book: Amazon US | Amazon UK

Photo: Mike Morbeck

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