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Curly Lambeau
Black and white portrait of Curly Lambeau
Lambeau at Notre Dame, 1918
No. 1
Position: Back
Personal information
Born: (1898-04-09)April 9, 1898
Green Bay, Wisconsin
Died: June 1, 1965(1965-06-01) (aged 67)
Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin
Career information
High school:
College: Notre Dame
Career history
As player:
As coach:
Career highlights and awards
  • 6× NFL champion (1929–1931, 1936, 1939, 1944)
  • 3× Second-team All-Pro (1922–1924)
  • NFL 1920s All-Decade Team
  • NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team
  • Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame
  • Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame
Head coaching record
Regular season: .624
Postseason: .600
Career: .623
Player stats at PFR
Coaching stats at PFR
Pro Football Hall of Fame

Earl Louis "Curly" Lambeau (April 9, 1898 – June 1, 1965) was an American professional 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 and later, Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots 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 and Washington Redskins, each for two seasons, before retiring 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.

Early life

Curly Lambeau was born April 9, 1898 in Green Bay, Wisconsin, to Marcelin Lambeau and Mary LaTour, both of Belgian descent. Lambeau attended Green Bay East High School, where he was identified as a standout athlete. He played for the football team all four years of high school and was named captain in 1917 as a senior. Green Bay Press-Gazette sportswriter George Whitney Calhoun noted in September 1917 that Lambeau was trying out for the University of Wisconsin freshmen football team as "one of the best gridiron prospects that has ever been turned out of a high school". However, Lambeau never ended up enrolling at Wisconsin. After graduating from high school, he worked for his father in the construction business and participated in different local football teams. In 1918, Lambeau attended the University of Notre Dame and played for legendary college coach Knute Rockne, making the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team's varsity squad. However a severe case of tonsillitis forced him to miss the 1919 spring semester. He never returned to Notre Dame. After a long recovery from tonsillitis, Lambeau went to work as a shipping clerk at the Indian Packing Company for $250 a month.

Founding the Packers

Lambeau 1919 poster
Lambeau with the Packers, 1919

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.

Professional career

Lambeau was a player-captain at first. He played for the Packers for ten seasons, including the first eight seasons after the team joined the NFL in 1921. 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.

Coaching career

Lambeau coached three NFL teams over his 33-year career: the Green Bay Packers, the Chicago Cardinals, and the Washington Redskins. He completed his coaching career with an official overall record of 229–134–22 (.623).

Green Bay Packers

Lambeau 1940
Lambeau in 1940

Ryan left the Packers after only one season, and Lambeau became player-coach. However, during the team's first season, Lambeau, as team captain, handled many of the duties associated with a head coach in modern times. In the early days of pro football, the head coach was not allowed to talk to the players during the game. Thus, Lambeau was the team's on-field leader during games, including play calling. He was also responsible for signing players and running practices. For these reasons, the Packers recognize Lambeau as the team's first head coach.

In 1921, he led the team into the one-year-old American Professional Football Association, which became the NFL in 1922. After retiring as a player in 1929, he remained as head coach and general manager until 1949. For the better part of that time, he had near-complete control over the team's day-to-day operations and represented the Packers at owners' meetings.

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.

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. Some members of the financial committee almost resigned in protest. Lambeau's players grew to hate the facility as well, partly because they were severely battered by the brick-hard limestone under the fields. On some days, Lambeau had to move practices to fields near City Stadium due to the severe beating his players took at the Lodge.

At the same time, 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. This was at least in part due to Lambeau's refusal to abandon the Notre Dame Box that he'd learned during his brief time in South Bend. The Packers continued to run this variation of the single wing long after most teams began running the T formation.

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 using the pending merger with the All-America Football Conference as an excuse to pressure Lambeau to move the Packers to the West Coast or fold them altogether. 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 did not 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.

Chicago Cardinals

After resigning from the Packers, Lambeau filled the open head coach position of the Chicago Cardinals. In addition to the position of head coach, Lambeau also was named vice president and was given complete control of personnel choices. The 1950 season was Lambeau's first in Chicago. The team ended the season 5–7, failing to improve upon its record in the previous season and missing out on the postseason. The 1951 season went even worse for Lambeau and the Cardinals; the team ended the season 3–9 and again failed to reach the postseason.

Washington Redskins

Lambeau coached the Washington Redskins in 1952 and 1953. 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.

Personal life

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.

While a player-coach for the Packers, Lambeau also coached his alma mater Green Bay East High School's football team from 1919 to 1921, compiling a 14–4–3 record.

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.


A statue of Lambeau stands near the main entrance to Lambeau Field.

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 Lambeau Field 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 not 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 seasons (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.

Head coaching record

Team Year Regular season Postseason
Won Lost Ties Win % Finish Won Lost Win % Result
GB 1921 3 2 1 .600 6th in NFL
GB 1922 4 3 3 .571 7th in NFL
GB 1923 7 2 1 .778 3rd in NFL
GB 1924 7 4 0 .636 6th in NFL
GB 1925 8 5 0 .615 9th in NFL
GB 1926 7 3 3 .700 5th in NFL
GB 1927 7 2 1 .778 2nd in NFL
GB 1928 6 4 3 .600 4th in NFL
GB 1929 12 0 1 1.000 1st in NFL NFL Champions
GB 1930 10 3 1 .769 1st in NFL NFL Champions
GB 1931 12 2 0 .857 1st in NFL NFL Champions
GB 1932 10 3 1 .769 2nd in NFL
GB 1933 5 7 1 .417 3rd in Western Division
GB 1934 7 6 0 .538 3rd in Western Division
GB 1935 8 4 0 .667 2nd in Western Division
GB 1936 10 1 1 .909 1st in Western Division 1 0 1.000 Defeated the Boston Redskins in 1936 NFL Championship.
GB 1937 7 4 0 .636 2nd in Western Division
GB 1938 8 3 0 .727 1st in Western Division 0 1 .000 Lost to the New York Giants in 1938 NFL Championship.
GB 1939 9 2 0 .818 1st in Western Division 1 0 1.000 Defeated the New York Giants in 1939 NFL Championship.
GB 1940 6 4 1 .600 2nd in Western Division
GB 1941 10 1 0 .919 T-1st in Western Division 0 1 Lost to the Chicago Bears in Western Conference playoff game.
GB 1942 8 2 1 .800 2nd in Western Division
GB 1943 7 2 1 .778 2nd in Western Division
GB 1944 8 2 0 .800 1st in Western Division 1 0 1.000 Defeated the New York Giants in 1944 NFL Championship.
GB 1945 6 4 0 .600 3rd in Western Division
GB 1946 6 5 0 .545 3rd in Western Division
GB 1947 6 5 1 .545 3rd in Western Division
GB 1948 3 9 0 .250 4th in Western Division
GB 1949 2 10 0 .167 5th in Western Division
GB Total 209 104 21 .631 3 2 .600
CHI 1950 5 7 0 .417 5th in American Conference
CHI 1951 2 8 0 .200 5th in American Conference
CHI Total 7 15 0 .318
WAS 1952 4 8 0 .333 5th in American Conference
WAS 1953 6 5 1 .545 3rd in American Conference
WAS Total 10 13 1 .435
Total 226 132 22 .631 3 2 .600
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