Janesville29.8°

Coach’s son has fond memories

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KENNETH M. VELOSKEY
November 16, 2010
— Charlie Blackbourn’s dad, Lisle “Liz” Blackbourn, held one of the best jobs in the state.

From 1954 through 1957, Charlie’s father was the third head coach of the Green Bay Packers. Nice work, if you can get it.


Liz followed Curly Lambeau and Gene Ronzani to the Green Bay sidelines.


At 75, Charlie’s memories of Green Bay have faded a bit, but he had a front-row seat when his father brought Paul Hornung, Bart Starr and a host of future Packer legends to Green Bay. Blackbourn’s core of draft picks would go on to make NFL history with coach Vince Lombardi.


“He went to the Packers in the winter of 1954,” said Charlie, who is a retired veterinarian living in Edgerton.


Blackbourn’s father was a well-


respected football coach in Milwaukee. He made his mark as Washington High School’s head coach for 22 seasons, compiling a 141-30-6 record. Blackbourn coached the Marquette University football team from 1950 to 1953.


Liz, a Lancaster native, was the only Packer coach who was a Wisconsin native. In fact, Charlie said his father played for the Packers in the 1920s.


“The Packers would go around to the local colleges if they needed a couple players,” Charlie said. “He played offensive tackle for Lawrence College.’’


Moving from Milwaukee to Green Bay was an eye-opener for Blackbourn. Charlie was a senior at Washington High when his father went to Green Bay.


“Green Bay was a pretty small town then, about the size of Janesville,” Blackbourn said. “The Packers were pretty popular.”


Charlie finished high school at Green Bay East, which was behind City Stadium, where the Packers played their home games.


“It was bizarre,” Blackbourn said. “It was a wooden stick-built structure that had decades of beer cans under it.


“It’s funny that’s how I remember it,” Blackbourn said. “The high school track and football field was there, so going out to the track for practice, you would see piles of beer cans that were higher than your head.’’


Blackbourn met the players, but sometimes they didn’t want to meet him.


“I can remember my dad had me go down to (Chicago) to the college all-star game to pick up some players, and one of them was Hornung,” Blackbourn said. “Hornung and John Symank, a defensive back that my dad drafted that year. They didn’t want to come. They wanted to party, and he wanted them at Stevens Point the next day.’’


The Packers’ summer camp was held in Stevens Point. The area was more secluded than even Green Bay in the mid-1950s.


“They wanted the players in an isolated situation where they weren’t carousing around town,” Blackbourn said. “They put them in a dorm and locked the door, pretty much.’’


Even in Stevens Point, though, the locals paid attention to the Packers.


“There were women crawling over the fences at Stevens Point trying to get to Hornung,” Blackbourn said. “It was bizarre.’’


Charlie’s dad wasn’t happy with his Heisman Trophy-winning No. 1 draft pick, who had been a quarterback at Notre Dame.


“He couldn’t throw the football, and my dad converted him to a running back,” Blackbourn said. “It made (Hornung) very unhappy.’’


While Hornung stewed over losing his quarterback spot, Starr was making progress after a slow start.


“He was actually drafted as a punter,” Blackbourn said. “He was injured in his senior year at Alabama, and my dad drafted him knowing that he had a lot of potential at quarterback, but he was a punter. But as time went along, he started blossoming at quarterback, and (the Packers) traded Tobin Rote to Detroit.’’


While Starr made progress, Max McGee’s football future was put on hold.


“Max was a running back at Tulane,” Blackbourn said. “He got drafted in the military, and my dad was very disappointed because he lost him for two years.’’


Charlie’s father compiled a 17-31-0 record in three seasons as the Packers’ coach.


“I’m sure he was disappointed,” Blackbourn said. “I’m sure he was thinking he was on the way to building a rather successful team.”


When Blackbourn took control from Ronzani, the Packers’ roster was a mess, and the team was struggling financially.


“They were really in trouble when my dad went there,” Blackbourn said. “It was a big building process, and you really couldn’t build in three years.’’


Charlie’s father died in 1983 in his hometown of Lancaster.


“He was a big hero football coach in Milwaukee,” Charlie said. “He is in the high school football coaches Hall of Fame and the state Hall of Fame.”


Although his father was a respected football figure in the state before he went to Green Bay, Charlie thinks his father never gained the respect he deserved from the Packers.


“I tell you what. They treated him kinda like crap,” Blackbourn said.


Lisle Blackbourn left Green Bay with little fanfare, but he remains the only Wisconsin native to hold the best job in the state.



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