When Green Bay takes on Oakland in Winnipeg (Aug. 22, 7 p.m., Packers TV Network), it will be the third time the Packers have played a game outside of the United States. It will also be the latest in a long line of neutral-site games in franchise history.
The Oakland game will be the second in Canada for the Packers, who played for the first time outside American borders on Aug. 16, 1997 in Toronto against the Buffalo Bills. Green Bay, which was coming off a championship in Super Bowl XXXI the season before, won 35-3.
The Packers also traveled outside the U.S. the next season, edging Kansas City 27-24 in overtime in Tokyo on Aug. 2, 1998.
While NFL teams occasionally play neutral-site games in the preseason today, such practice was common in the league in earlier eras. The Packers played least one neutral-site NFL exhibition game in all but three years between 1938-64. Five of Green Bay’s six pre-season contests in 1957 were at neutral sites, while four such games were played in both 1959 and 1960.
In the infancy of the NFL in the 1920s and early-to-mid-1930s, it was also common for teams to play non-league exhibition games even in the midst of the season. Though neutral-sites were used mainly in pre-season in later decades, the thinking was much the same.
“The rationale was sort of the same as the 1920s and 1930s,” said Chris Willis, head of the research library at NFL Films. “The NFL was trying to grow the game, and reach different markets.
“But while teams would barnstorm in the early days, in many cases in the 1950s and 1960s, it was due to connections of players or coaches,” continued Willis. “Sometimes a team would have a player who went to college in a certain region, and they tried to capitalize on that. They weren’t always expecting huge crowds, even in the 1960s. If 10,000 or 15,000 showed up, that was fine for them.”
In several instances, the Packers played in cities that would later be home to NFL franchises. Green Bay played eight times in Minneapolis between 1951-60, including meetings there with the Chicago Cardinals in both 1954 and 1958.
It was one of three future NFL cities where the Packers and Cardinals took the field, as they also played in Miami in 1957, a year after meeting in St. Louis, where Chicago would move four years later. Green Bay took on St. Louis in the future NFL homes of Jacksonville in 1962 and New Orleans in 1964, where they had also played Pittsburgh four years earlier.
Other contests were in out-of-the-way locales. Green Bay played twice in the chocolate capital of Hershey, Pa., facing Pittsburgh there in 1945 and Philadelphia in 1954. The Pack also played Pittsburgh in Latrobe, Pa, in 1952.
Washington was a frequent opponent in Packer preseasons, as games were scheduled in all but two years from 1940-63. Many of them were in unexpected places. From 1955-60, the site was Winston-Salem, N.C., but the last meeting there proved the most memorable.
The 1960 season was Vince Lombardi’s second in Green Bay, and he vocally spoke out against racism to his team, endearing him to players. Prior to the Winston-Salem game that year, the last of the pre-season slate, Lombardi sported a deep tan from hours spent under the sunlight in practice. The night before the game, a waitress in a local restaurant refused him service, believing he was African-American.
Enraged, Lombardi reportedly promised to run up the score, and never to return with the Packers to Winston-Salem. Green Bay won 41-7 against an all-white Washington squad, and the episode became part of Lombardi lore.
Green Bay played Washington in Columbus, Ga. the next two seasons before a meeting with in Cedar Rapids in 1963. Other neutral-site games with the Redskins included Denver (1946), Baltimore (1947), Birmingham (1948), Alexandria, Va. (1951), and Kansas City (1952).
At various times, the Packers also appeared in Boston (twice), Spokane, Wash. (twice), Buffalo, Raleigh, Akron, Austin, Portland, Ore., Bangor, Me., Jersey City, Toledo, Syracuse, Rock Island, Ill., and Charleston, W.V.
More recently, the Packers played at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison each pre-season from 1986-95, as well as games in both 1997 and 1999.
The game in Winnipeg will be on the home field of the Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League, though another franchise may have been a better match, in least in terms of color. The Edmonton Eskimoes of the CFL wear a green-and-gold scheme that closely resembles the famous Packer uniforms.
Tom Emery is a freelance writer and historical researcher from Carlinville, Ill. He may be reached at 217-710-8392 or firstname.lastname@example.org.