Lee Remmel and me, digging into history
"Public relations, Lee Remmel,"
That greeting, spoken in a slightly gruff baritone, was heard by thousands who called the Green Bay Packers during the 30 years (1974-2004) that Remmel served in the Packers public relations department. I encountered it often enough that I can still muster a passable impression to this day.
Remmel's association with the Packers started in the mid-1940s as a reporter for the Press-Gazette. "Lambeau's Reaction Is 'Nothing to Say,'" headlined his column following the Bears' 30-7 dismantling of Green Bay to start the 1946 season.
While Curly Lambeau, the Packers coach at the time, was rendered silent, Remmel never lacked for words. First with the newspaper and then with the team, Remmel painted vivid images with prose, a Picasso of pen and paper.
When reading Remmel, the 6-foot-5 Boyd Dowler became more than just an end for the Packers. He was an "elongated end." Jim Del Gaizo, who played eight games for the team in 1973, was "the mustachioed ex-Miami Dolphin."
Head coaches, from Vince Lombardi to Mike Holmgren, were "major domos." Win or lose, they retreated to their "inner sanctums" where they sometimes fielded questions from reporters.
My favorite: "antediluvian," a term Remmel used to describe the Packers-Bears longstanding rivalry.
But Remmel was more than a walking dictionary. He was the ultimate Packers authority, a living, breathing font of history that would put Wikipedia to shame.
For all his knowledge and expertise, though, Remmel may best be remembered for the kindness he extended to others and to me in particular. If I was a pest conducting research for my book in the late 1980s, he didn't let on.
For weeks, I set up shop in a makeshift workstation next to the desk of the late Shirley Leonard, the team's public relations secretary. Neither Lee nor Shirley complained, at least not to me, as I copied by hand vast amounts of information from oversized scoresheets.
Having been told by a colleague that the team had such documents dating to the 1940s but unable to locate them, I asked to visit the basement. Remmel gave the OK, and there in the bowels of the old administration building, I found the missing items.
But I wanted more. I wanted to visit the Elias Sports Bureau in New York, keeper of all numbers NFL.
After some give and take, I got my wish. Remmel handed me a check for $500 and I spent three days on Fifth Avenue in the summer of 1989 gathering all I could.
It was during those visits with Remmel that I discovered "The Quiet Man" was his favorite John Wayne film. He and his wife, Noreen, loved Ireland, the setting for the movie, and the two traveled there when they could.
In the early 1990s, I asked Remmel to look over a draft of my book. As busy as he was, he had little time to read, but some of the information I had compiled on Packers drafts made its way into the team's media guide.
That clandestine borrowing troubled me at first. But, I reasoned, I must be doing something right for Remmel to put it into print.
Years later, he referred to me as an "eminent historian." Perhaps he had sneaked a peek at my manuscript after all.
One of my last encounters with Remmel occurred after he had become team historian. The stadium had been renovated, and team employees were housed in spacious offices tucked inside a multimillion dollar fortress, the crown jewel of Lombardi Avenue.
I signed in at the Atrium. I was given a card that allowed the elevator to reach the third floor. Remmel emerged from behind a locked door to usher me into the team's library.
There, game programs and media guides rested on shelves that seemed to touch the ceiling. File cabinets filled with photos, newspaper clippings and more stretched from one side of the room to the other.
I had been there before, but familiarity did nothing to dampen my amazement.
After a brief conversation, I told Remmel I was looking for a couple of headshots. He pointed to a file cabinet, told me to take what I needed and then left with a close of the door.
Alone among that vast collection of Packers paraphernalia, I quickly realized I could pocket far more than I came for. After all, getting out of the building was easier than getting in.
But I dismissed the thought as quickly as it had arrived. I wasn't going to jeopardize a nearly 20-year relationship with a man I respected and admired.
"Public relations, Lee Remmel."
The words still ring in my ears.
Eric Goska is a Packers historian, perhaps even an "eminent historian."