Could Milwaukee have made it to the Super Bowl? Thanks to Vince Lombardi, we'll never know.
Founded in 1960, the American Football League by the mid-1960s had become a threat to the National Football League — and was looking to grow.
On Jan. 15, 1965, The Milwaukee Journal reported that several groups from Milwaukee, including one led by Realtor Marvin L. Fishman, were bidding for an AFL franchise.
If his group won a franchise for Milwaukee, Fishman planned to have the team play in County Stadium.
But he had competition, on two fronts.
Francis J. Schroedel — a developer whose townhouse apartments in Whitefish Bay were known as "Schroedel's Cradles" — told the County Board on June 24, 1965, he was planning his own bid for an AFL team.
"We would try to get County Stadium or Marquette Stadium before we built anything on our own," Schroedel said, according to a June 26 Journal story.
Fishman's tougher competition was Lombardi, the Packers' head coach and general manager, whose team for several years had played three games each season at County Stadium.
And he was in no mood to share.
"We have an exclusive contract there, and we're certainly not going to surrender our rights," Lombardi said in an interview taped at WTMJ-TV (Channel 4) on July 10, 1965, and reported the next day in The Journal. "Let me say this: I think Milwaukee is a one-team city."
Still, AFL Commissioner Joe Foss said, Milwaukee had a "good" chance of winning a franchise. On a different sports show airing on WTMJ, the Milwaukee Sentinel's Bud Lea asked the commissioner if Lombardi's objections would hurt Milwaukee's chances.
"The stadium is up to the people getting a franchise," Foss said, according to a June 22 Journal story. "We award a franchise, and if after a reasonable time the holders are unable to get a place to play, the franchise goes elsewhere."
For the 1966 season, the eight-team AFL expanded to Miami, adding the Dolphins, and vowed to add two more teams in 1967.
To bolster his case for Milwaukee in that round, Fishman — whose group had sent $900,000 in earnest money to the league as part of its bid — approached a Milwaukee County commission to get permission for an exhibition charity game at County Stadium that August between the Dolphins and the New York Jets.
The county's reply: Ask Vince.
"I wouldn't do anything that would hurt the Packers down here," County Board Chairman Eugene Grobschmidt told the Sentinel in an April 19 story. "Unless Vince Lombardi OKs it, I won't go along with it."
Lombardi didn't go along with it, and the game didn't materialize.
Two months later, on June 8, the NFL and AFL announced plans to merge, with the leagues playing separately until the 1970 season.
The merger seemingly scotched Fishman's plans for an AFL franchise, but then his group was approached by another rival outfit: the Continental Football League.
Fishman vowed to bring the new league to Milwaukee and play in County Stadium. But on Sept. 1, 1966, one hour after Fishman's group met with county officials about using the stadium, Lombardi flew into town and signed a seven-year extension of the Packers' lease, giving Green Bay exclusive pro-football rights there through March 1976.
"The county officials and the park commissioner by this action are fostering the same type of monopoly that they were so critical of in the case of the Milwaukee Braves and the rest of the baseball people," Fishman told The Journal in a Sept. 2 story.
Fishman's group was awarded a CFL franchise in January 1967, only to hold off until another Midwest franchise could join the league. It never materialized, and the CFL effectively folded before the start of the 1970 season.
Fishman ended up going in a different direction: In January 1968, Fishman was part of a different group that was awarded an expansion franchise in the National Basketball Association. The new team, the Milwaukee Bucks, would play in a different publicly owned sports venue: the Milwaukee Arena.
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About This Feature
Each Wednesday, Our Back Pages dips into the Journal Sentinel archives, sharing photos and stories from the past that connect, reflect and sometimes contradict the Milwaukee we know today.
Special thanks and kudos go to senior multimedia designer Bill Schulz for finding many of the gems in the Journal Sentinel photo archives.