The iconic Green Bay Packers football franchise is responsible for a number of professional football innovations, including the forward pass. What is now a staple of the game is originally credited to Packers founder, coach and player Earl “Curly” Lambeau, for whom the Packers’ National Football League (NFL) stadium is named. This month marks the 83rd anniversary of a lesser-known milestone for an NFL team, but of particular interest to aviation fans.
As related in a 2018 article published by the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), near the end of their 1940 season, the green and gold faced a daunting stretch of five road games, centered by a Nov. 17 contest with the New York Giants to be played at their then-Manhattan-located stadium. Lambeau decided that the team’s best chance for a victory would be enhanced by the emerging phenomenon, commercial air travel. The players left Green Bay by rail on Nov. 14 for Chicago, where a pair of United Airlines Douglas DC-3s were waiting to bring the athletes to New York for the game. The trip marked the first time an NFL team would travel by air, and the milestone caused a media frenzy, with photographers in attendance at the departure airport as well as on board for the flight.
But things did not go completely according to plan. Unfortunately, the first leg of the flight—a fuel stop in Cleveland—was as far as the team was to get by air. Thick fog covered the New York area, and since the story long-predates precision approach technology, the team was forced to revert to railways rather than airways for the rest of the journey. They finally arrived in New York early on the morning of Nov. 15 and subsequently lost the game two days later.
But the Packers’ place in aviation history was sealed. What has become standard procedure for sports teams, at least at the major league level, was set in motion that November day 83 years ago.