Max McGee of the Green Bay Packers attempts to pull in a pass against the Los Angeles Rams in 1954, the year the Packers made their first prime time television appearance.
The Green Bay Packers and the National Football League have been on the cutting edge of American milestones and have joined hand-in-hand with everything that is America – starting with their debut back in the Roaring ’20s, through the 1950s and 60 and into the 21st century.
But let’s take a look at 1954. World War II had been over for just less than a decade, the country was involved in Korea and the Baby Boom was under way – so, too, was the boom that would become television. The first national color cast – the 1954 Tournament of Roses Parade – occurred on Jan. 1, 1954, though color television was an expensive and rare experience for the majority of Americans.
That said, it was on this date in history, March 9, 1954, that Green Bay Packers General Manager Verne Lewellen announced that the first nationally televised Packers home game would be broadcast Nov. 13 against the Baltimore Colts at Milwaukee County Stadium. The contest was a Saturday night affair with the kickoff at 7:05 p.m. The game, won by the Packers 24-13, was blacked out in the Green Bay and Milwaukee markets. Today’s important date was announced by the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame.
But as we know, that was just the beginning of the television boom. The National Football League, the Green Bay Packers and their affiliation with television and exposure to a whole new generation of fans was born in the early 1950s, grew up in the 1960s, and became the American symbol of excellence and prosperity the past 30 years. But to consider what the NFL was dealing with so long ago in jumpstarting what is now a game worth billions, you have to consider some of the history from which it grew.
Here are some of the people born that year of 1954:
January 12 – Howard Stern, radio and television host.
February 18 – John Travolta, actor.
April 29 – Jerry Seinfeld, actor and comedian.
June 15 – James Belushi, actor.
December 28 – Denzel Washington, actor.
Here are some of the television programs that made their debut that year:
September 27 – The Tonight Show is first broadcasted by the NBC network (1954–present).
Face the Nation premieres on CBS (1954–present).
The politics of the time were also changing the America of the past: On this very day, March 9, 1954, Edward R. Murrow narrated a report on McCarthy, exposing the senator’s shoddy tactics. Of McCarthy, Murrow observed, “His mistake has been to confuse dissent with disloyalty.”
And, of course, the number of televisions in homes – mostly black and white televisions at this time because the cost of a color television in 1954 was $1,000 – the equivalent of $8,000 in today’s money – increased from 0.4 percent in 1948 to 55.7 percent in 1954 and to 83.2 percent four years later.
Vern Lewellen, the Green Bay Packers general manager in 1954.
Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame photograph
So, what Lewellen was doing on this day in 1954 for the Green Bay Packer was helping to lift them to a new level of national and international prominence.
When the Vince Lombardi Packers dominated the 1960s, the team’s fan base grew by leaps and bounds, the NFL grew exponentially and the game itself became the iconic semblance of American culture.
That’s why today’s date in Packers history is so important.