The first 100 years of Green Bay Packers football began with a young, first time head coach born with a French surname.
The second 100 years of Green Bay Packers football began the exact same way.
From Curly Lambeau to Matt LaFleur, and all coaches in between, the Packers have reached a concise century of symmetry. Time, it seems, may be a flat circle after all (say like a strung out Matthew McConaughey). For this franchise’s oldest fans, it’s true that if you wait long enough you’ll end up right where you began.
LaFleur became the Packers’ 15th all-time head coach, made official on Bart Starr’s 85th birthday — Vince Lombardi’s quarterback who famously wore No. 15.
It was during the 15th season of Packers football following Lambeau’s death that LaFleur was born. The Packers’ head coach that year, 1979, was none other than Bart Starr.
Now LaFleur’s Packers will wear a No. 15 decal on their helmets for the entire first season that he coaches the team at Lambeau Field.
Bart Starr passed away on May 26th, 2019. Rest in peace to a legendary player and man.
It was just six days into the Green Bay Packers’ 2019 Official Team Activities, which was LaFleur’s first real stint actually coaching the Packers, that Starr passed away.
So it was merely days into LaFleur first walking Green Bay’s sidelines patrolling practice that Starr was “united” with Lambeau for the first time. Despite the fact that Starr was the team’s starting quarterback when City Stadium (2) was renamed Lambeau Field in 1965.
The nexus of these three men and their paths toward this team is unmistakable. And yes, we realize how silly all of this is. But still… it’s undeniable.
The first Packers game following Starr’s death, also LaFleur’s first game as head coach, was a 10-3 win against the Chicago Bears. LaFleur was the first coach to win his Packers coaching debut against the Bears since Lombardi accomplished the feat 60 years ago — also winning by one score.
It should be mentioned that Lambeau’s first NFL victory was also against Chicago (albeit, the “Boosters” not the Bears).
The first regular season game since Starr’s passing was the game that kicked off the NFL’s 100th season. Perhaps the intersection of these four men is actually the story here.
However the Packers’ first home game following Starr’s death, and also LaFleur’s first game at Lambeau Field, was on the 15th (fitting) of September, 2019. LaFleur’s Packers beat the rival Vikings, the team that was created the year that Starr and Lombardi won their first World Championship. Bart Starr was honored pregame and at halftime of the joyous day. Cherry, Bart’s wife, hugged LaFleur right before the second half began.
The connection could not have been any more on display.
But this story began long before the game of football was first created.
Green Bay was, after Native Americans of course, first settled as a post by French explorers and fur traders in 1634. It was one of the oldest European settlements in the what would become the United States. Seventeenth Century names like Samuel de Champlain, Jean Nicolet, Nicolas Perrot and others still hold relevance in the city, and region’s, history.
Fittingly, this French influence has remained strong within Green Bay’s improbable professional football team.
The French connection to the Fox River cities was made stronger within the Packers, the pride of the region, heading into the 2019 season — if in name only. The genesis came 100 years ago as Lambeau built Titletown USA; LaFleur will be tasked with building upon that legacy. The expectations are nothing short of adding to the collection of Lombardi Trophies (the Super Bowl trophy named for the Packers’ most famous coach).
Unfair to hold LaFleur to the standards of the six World Championships, 209 wins and Pro Football Hall of Fame status of Lambeau — or Lombardi for that matter. But such is life for a Green Bay Packers coach. Every coach is held to the championship standard within this franchise.
As Lambeau eventually had his future Hall of Fame quarterback Arnie Herber and LaFleur has his in Aaron Rodgers.
With debuts separated by 100 years, both coaches led a team onto the field that’s owned by the fans. LaFleur, debuting in 2019, is the youngest head coach in Green Bay since Lambeau, who debuted in 1919. Both are Upper-Midwest born with their hometowns separated by a straight shot of just 210 miles — including a 60 mile ferry across Lake Michigan.
Lambeau, appropriately from Green Bay and LaFleur from Mount Pleasant, Michigan, grew up in similar small-town cultures. Albeit separated by generations.
Interestingly, and sadly, less than two weeks after LaFleur was named Green Bay’s head coach former Packer Dan Orlich died.
Orlich was the oldest living former Packer and the last surviving “Lambeau Era” player. Orlich’s first year in the NFL, 1949, was Lambeau’s final season as Green Bay’s head coach. Orlich’s final year of life, at the age of 94, overlapped with LaFleur be named head coach of the Packers. He was the final living connection to Lambeau’s coaching days in Green Bay and his life, appropriately and just barely, intersected with LaFleur taking over that same position.
It’s as if the interconnection between the two distant eras of Packers football had been made complete, and he could pass away in peace — even if completely unaware of his integral role in the story.
Now LaFleur is head coach the team that plays in the stadium named for Lambeau; that is the uniqueness that comes with the Green Bay Packers. But no coach since has had as appropriate of a name as LaFleur.
Remember, French names were integral in the region’s development for centuries before Lambeau patrolled the Packers’ sideline. Now, once again, a French name is at the helm of the team that encompasses the self-esteem of the entire region. As LaFleur becomes a Packer, Starr leaves the Packers family.
For the Packers’ oldest fans, all they had to do was wait around long enough, to see the century-long prophecy fulfilled. But will LaFleur’s Packers live up to the seemingly supernatural, and completely unfair, expectations?
Time will tell.
Lafleur did join Lambeau and Lombardi as the only men in Packers history to win their first three games as head coach.
Now, if LaFleur can win two titles in Green Bay, he’ll join Lambeau and Lombardi as the only head coaches to win multiple titles for the Packers. Lambeau, Lombardi, LaFleur.
Now that has a nice ring to it. If he does that (against all odds, yes, we admit) he’ll bring Titletown its 15th World Championship.
Wouldn’t that be appropriate?