Training Camp Stories: the 1950s

For the four years that Gene Ronzani was coach of the Packers, he took the team to Grand Rapids, Minnesota for training camp, 400 miles from Green Bay. One of the features of Ronzani’s camps was a series of intrasquad scrimmages played on the road prior to the start of each preseason. These intrasquad scrimmages, though, were different than ones of more recent vintage that pit the Pack’s offense against the defense. Instead Ronzani divided the team into two full squads of both offensive and defensive units and staged full games in Duluth, Minnesota and Grand Forks, ND. The two opposing squads were dubbed the Eskimos and the Packers.

In 1951, the Eskimos were coached by Butch Larson, a former star at the University of Minnesota and local high school coach who had also coached in Canada. The Eskimo quarterback was Tobin Rote, backed up by training camp arm, Doc West from Superior Teachers’ College. The Packers were led by quarterback Bobby Thomason, who was backed up by Bob McCraney of Dartmouth. A crowd of 8,500 watched the first “Fish Bowl” won by the Packers 22-21 on August 10.

In 1952, the Eskimos were coached by Minnesota legend Bernie Bierman and quarterbacked by versatile Bob Forte, since top draft pick Babe Parilli was in camp with the College All-Stars. Two games were actually scheduled that August. The Fish Bowl in Duluth on Friday, August 8 and the “Potato Bowl” in Grand Forks on Monday, August 11. Tobin Rote piloted the Packers this time, but again came up on the short end both times as the Eskimos won 34-7 in the Fish Bowl and 28-7 in the Potato Bowl. Although “quarterback” Forte had played halfback earlier in his career, he would hold down the left corner linebacker position, while serving as team captain, in 1952 and 1953. Respected throughout the league, the 6-foot 200-pound Forte was best in pass coverage and intercepted 23 passes in his tenure in Green Bay.

The final Fish Bowl took place on August 7, 1953, with Tobin Rote’s Packers upending Babe Parilli’s Eskimos 17-13 before a crowd of 5,000 in Duluth. Rote went all the way, but Parilli was spelled by Northwestern free agent rookie Dick Flowers. Flowers was traded to the Colts three weeks later; he appeared in one NFL game and was the first Colt to wear number 18, later made familiar by Peyton Manning.

In 1954, new coach Lisle Blackbourn moved training camp back to Stevens Point, Wisconsin and the Fish and Potato Bowls were pureed into the chowder of history.

1952bbforte

1952 Bowman-style custom card is colorized.

fish1a  fish3 fishbowl potatobowl

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