The Green Bay Packers will travel to Winnipeg, Manitoba, this week to face the Oakland Raiders in a preseason game on Thursday night. This is not the Pack’s first trip to Canada for a preseason game nor is it the most unusual place they’ve played an exhibition game. In fact, until midway through Vince Lombardi’s tenure, playing preseason games in neutral and unusual locations was quite typical for the franchise.
The Packers first trip to Canada for a preseason game took place on August 16, 1997, when the defending Super Bowl champion Packers faced the Buffalo Bills in Toronto. The Packers improved to 4-0 on the preseason with an easy 35-3 thrashing of the Bills before 53,896 fans in what was billed as part of the America Bowl series.
Brett Favre threw two touchdown passes to Antonio Freeman to pace the Packers offense while Doug Pederson added a touchdown toss to Derrick Mayes in the second half. Dorsey Levens and Aaron Hayden ran for scores as the Packers breezed past the Bills.
The longest distance the Pack ever travelled for a preseason game came in 1998 when more than 42,000 fans saw Green Bay edge the Kansas City Chiefs 27-24 in Tokyo, Japan. The Pack won in overtime on a 27-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell. It was a mistake-filled contest for the Packers who committed three turnovers and missed two field goals. Favre made a cameo appearance, going 1-for-5 for just two yards before giving way to Doug Pederson, Matt Hasselbeck and David Klingler.
Travis Jervey paced the rushing attack with 72 yards on just five carries. Wide receiver Bill Schroeder had a big game, catching seven catches for 155 yards and a second quarter touchdown from Pederson.
This was the Pack’s first preseason overtime win after going 0-4-1 in their previous extra sessions.
The Packers used to travel to non-NFL cities annually for preseason games until the mid-1960s. In 1959, Lombardi’s first year as coach, the Pack played six preseason games, one in Milwaukee, one in San Francisco and four at neutral sites. First the Packers crushed the Eagles 45-28 in Portland, Oregon. A week later, it was off to Bangor, Maine, to face the Giants, followed by a game in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, against the Redskins and then a game against the Steelers in Minneapolis (before the Vikings came into existence).
Attendance at these games was not typically large (usually around 20,000), but it helped grow the game in cities that didn’t have a team. Some of these cities eventually received franchises like Minneapolis, Miami and Buffalo.
The Packers also played in some smaller, more obscure cities. In 1945, the Packers beat the Steelers 38-12 before 14,521 fans in Hersey, Pennsylvania. Four years later, the Pack beat the New York Bulldogs 7-3 in Rock Island, Illinois.
Other games in the were played in Latrobe, Pennsylvania; Akron, Ohio; Charleston, West Virginia; and Jersey City, New Jersey.
The tradition stopped after the 1964 preseason. The Pack opened their schedule with a 20-7 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in New Orleans before 63,000 fans. Bart Starr’s second quarter touchdown pass to Ron Kramer gave Green Bay a 7-6 lead but they couldn’t hold it. This contest marked the first game action for halfback Paul Hornung after “The Golden Boy” sat out the 1963 season after being suspended for gambling.
After that, the Pack settled down to playing preseason home games in Green Bay and Milwaukee including the annual Bishop’s Charity Game and the Midwest Shrine Game. The Packers played one home exhibition game in Madison from 1986-1995 and again in 1997 before that tradition ended.
Overall, while the trip to Winnipeg is a new location for a Packers preseason game, it is a part of a long tradition that goes back to the early days of the franchise.