Thu, 01 Oct 2020

Who are those boys in the photo?  Cliff Christl

The above picture is proof that the bike tradition, one of the Packers' oldest and most uplifting, dates to at least the first year training camp was held at St. Norbert College and practices were conducted across the street from what is now Lambeau Field.

This 1958 photo is the oldest that I've found of Packers riding bikes from their locker room outside of what was then 2-year-old Green Bay City Stadium, through the east parking lot to the practice field along Oneida Street, just a short distance away.

The players are safety Bobby Dillon (in front or to the right) and halfback Don McIlhenny (in the back). The picture ran in the Green Bay Press-Gazette on Sept. 10, 1958, and the caption stated the photographer who took it was working on a feature for a national advertisement.

Now, does anyone know who the two boys are? If so, please let us know via email, history@packers.com, or in the comment section for this post, although we have two likely candidates.

"Before school started, young Packer fans used to wait outside the Packer dressing rooms to offer players a bike ride to the practice field," the Press-Gazette stated in its caption. It also noted, "The ride to practice is mostly downhill."

Between the photo and caption, we can determine the following:

One, the bike tradition pre-dates the Vince Lombardi era. Scooter McLean was coach in 1958. Two, this was the first training camp in Green Bay, at least, where some of the Packers rode kids' bikes to the practice field.

New Green Bay City Stadium - renamed Lambeau Field in 1965 - was dedicated Sept. 29, 1957. Twelve days earlier, on the afternoon of Sept. 17, the Packers practiced on their Oneida Street field for the first time. In fact, the Press-Gazette's Art Daley wrote the next day that it was the first time the Packers ever practiced on the West Side of Green Bay's Fox River.

With training camp being held that summer in Stevens Point, Wis., and basically all schools in the Green Bay area opening between Sept. 3, the day after Labor Day, and Sept. 5, there were only three days of practice before the Packers' final preseason game in Minneapolis against Pittsburgh and kids were in classes those days.

Here's one other note about the photo at the top of this post. It appears to have been shot at the south end of the stadium, where both the Packers' and visitors' locker rooms were located at the time in a small building that was later converted into a restroom. It wasn't until 1963 that the Packers built an office building at the stadium with a larger, plusher locker room.

In July 2014, I first wrote about the bike tradition for packers.com and asked fans to respond with evidence or memories of when it might have started. Keegan Wright of Greensboro, N.C., and grandson of former Packers safety John Symank, offered visual proof that the tradition dated to at least 1961. He submitted a photo of defensive halfback Hank Gremminger riding a bike in the parking lot with a young boy on the back, while defenders Jim Temp and Dan Currie scurried in front of the bike.

Other fans responded that they remembered Packers riding bikes as early as 1959 and '60, Lombardi's first two seasons.

That led to a second story I wrote for packers.com in July 2015. This time, David Goodner, who grew up in the 700 block of Ninth Street, not far from the stadium, responded that he and his brother, Dale, let players ride their bikes to the practice field starting in 1958. Goodner said he was 12 years old at the time.

He said their dad bought them new Schwinn Jaguar bicycles in advance of camp that summer.

"My brother and I rode our bikes to the stadium every morning and afternoon to wait for the team buses to arrive from St. Norbert College," David Goodner, who was living in Coppell, Texas, wrote in a 2015 email. "The players would go into the locker room of the stadium to change into their uniforms and we'd wait by the bus for them to come out."

David said he usually hooked up with Symank. He said his brother waited for defensive halfback Jesse Whittenton.

"I carried his helmet and sat on the back," Goodner said of Symank. "When he got off, I pedaled back up the hill and took whichever player wanted to ride."

The next year, Goodner said he sought Lombardi's permission before reconnecting with the players.

"I pedaled up to him and asked, 'Coach Lombardi would it be OK with you if we continue to ride the players down to the practice field on our bikes?'" said Goodner. "He said it would be OK if nobody got hurt."

When shown the above photo that appeared in the Press-Gazette, Goodner admitted it was too grainy for him to positively ID himself or the boy in front. But he said the back bike matched his, a Schwinn Jaguar. He also said the boy in the front might have been his friend, Richard Peppard, who had a Schwinn Corvette, which he said was the model of the front bike.

One caveat worth noting is that Steve Bassewitz and Dick Gast both sent me emails about how they let players ride their bikes to practice when the Packers trained in Stevens Point under coach Lisle Blackbourn from 1954-57.

The team stayed at Delzell Hall on the campus of what was then Central State Teachers College and primarily practiced on the fields near the college stadium in Goerke Park or at Bukolt Park, which was about two miles away along the Wisconsin River. Occasionally, the Packers also practiced inside the stadium and at Schmeekle Field, which was located behind Delzell Hall. Bassewitz said the players used the locker rooms in what was then P.J. Jacobs High School and he'd wait there. Gast remembered waiting at the dorm, which was about six blocks from the Goerke practice field.

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