Playing for the Title in Milwaukee

After joining the American Professional Football Association in 1921, Green Bay played their first game in Milwaukee that year, but it was a non-league contest, and the Packers were the visiting team. On December 4, 1921, Green Bay met the Racine Legion in a contest billed as the professional state championship following the conclusion of the league season.

The Packers dominated the game. The Legion would never cross the Packers’ 30 although the Packers twice got into Milwaukee’s red zone, reaching the 6 and 12 yard lines. However, Green Bay only scored once on a placement field goal by Curly Lambeau in the second quarter. In the fourth quarter, the Press Gazette noted that Racine came out in a “split formation” and began to move ball. With roughly two minutes to play, The Press Gazette describes the action:

Time was nearly over and Gillo attempted a drop kick. The ball went wide but the head linesman called an offside on the Packers and it was first down again for Racine five yards nearer the Packer goal. Three rushed netted four yards and then Gillo made his kick which tied the score.

Here’s the Press Gazette’s lead to the game recap:

With but two minutes to go and defeat staring them in the face, the Racine Legion team lined up on the Packers’ 30 yard marker and Hank Gillo dropped back 12 yards further and made ready for a field goal. The result of the game hinged on this kick. Irv Langhoff, former Marquette star, squatted to take the ball from center. Bohte’s pass was good. Racine’s line held tight, and Gillo toe connected squarely with the oval. The ball sailed true between the uprights and joy broke loose in the Racine rooting section.

Grillo was a local hero I profiled in NFL Head Coaches:

Milwaukee’s Hank Gillo was a pile-driving fullback for Colgate at 5’10” and 195-pounds. Gillo captained the 1918 squad and was a third team Walter Camp All-American prior to serving as a flyer in World War I. With the formation of the APFA in 1920, Hank was hired as player-coach of the Hammond Pros, but the team was more like a semipro team in quality and was outscored 22-7 per game. Gillo spent five more years in the league with three other teams, but only as a player. He played in just one league game with Hammond in 1921 before jumping to the independent Racine Legion, closer to home. Perhaps the biggest highlight of Hank’s career came on December 4, 1921 when Racine met Green Bay in a non-league game billed as the Wisconsin professional championship. The Packers held a 3-0 lead for the whole game until Gillo tied the game with a 40-yard drop-kick field goal with three minutes to play.

The next year, Racine joined the NFL, and Hank unofficially led the league with 52 points scored. He also became the first NFL kicker to boot three field goals in a game that year against Rochester. In October of the next year against Akron, he became the first to kick a 50-yard field goal in a league game. Once his football career ended, Gillo became a high school biology teacher and football coach in Milwaukee for the next 20 years until he died from a heart attack at the age of 53. There was an odd postscript to his life 11 years later. Hank’s 29-year old son Robert H. Gillo went to court in 1959 to legally change his name to Paul V. Banner because his long-deceased father was so well known that Robert did not want to live in his shadow.

In 1922, the Milwaukee Badgers joined the league, and the Packers would go 9-0-1 against Milwaukee through the 1927 season, after which the Cream City dropped out of the NFL. Six seasons later on October 1, 1933, the Packers played their first home game in Milwaukee, losing 10-7 to the New York Giants, but starting a home game tradition that would last for 60 years.

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Custom cards are colorized.



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