The Green Bay Packers have a history that goes back more than a century and the franchise has won more championships than any team in NFL history. While there are many glorious moments in the century plus of Packers history, one of the lowlights had to be the time the team had 15 of their own players arrested before a scrimmage between the Packers and the Chicago Bears.
The incident took place on July 25, 1974, outside of Lambeau Field. The team was originally scheduled to hold the intrasquad scrimmage that day, but they changed it to a scrimmage between the Packers rookies and the Bears rookies because for the first time in NFL history, the veteran players were on strike.
The issue for the players was the league’s decision to pass The Rozelle Rule, named after then commissioner Pete Rozelle. The rule stated that if an NFL team signed a player as a free agent, the commissioner would have the right to determine what compensation the player’s previous team would receive. It was designed to prevent players from switching teams and driving up player salaries.
The players went on strike when training camps opened and carried signs that said, “No Freedom, No Football.”
The teams, including the Packers, decided to open training camps with rookies and free agents who were willing to cross the picket lines.
On the day of the scrimmage between the Packers and the Bears, the players were picketing in the parking lot led by union player representative and center Ken Bowman who was also an attorney. A total of 14 Packers, five Bears players and one former Bear who was now with Washington were in the parking lot and peacefully holding up signs.
A little less than two hours before the scrimmage was scheduled to start, the players were handed a restraining order by the police telling them they had to leave the property.
Bowman was told that the players could picket in the parking lot by police chief Elmer Madson. The parking lot was then owned by the city of Green Bay which leased it to the Packers.
Packers counsel Fred N. Trowbridge asked for the restraining order over concerns that the picketing players would keep fans away. “The restraining order was to keep them strikers from deep penetration onto the property,” Trowbridge said later.
After the restraining order was issued, the police approached the players and ordered them to disperse.
Bears kicker Mac Percival was Chicago’s player representative. Eight years after the incident, he recalled what happened. “A guy walked up and handed us a 10-page letter. Bowman, being the lawyer, stepped forward and said, ‘Let me handle this, I’m a lawyer.’ By the time he read the 10-page letter, we were in the paddy wagon. The wagon is rolling away and Bowman is still saying, ‘Let me handle this, let me handle this, you can’t arrest us.’”
The police were almost apologetic towards the players who all cooperated with the officers. One of arresting officers later said if the players had resisted, they would have still been out there in the parking lot.
“We’re all Packers fans,” said Deputy Police Chief Harold Compton after the arrests. “We are proud of how they handled themselves.”
The players were all arrested, fingerprinted and had mug shots taken.
The 14 Packers players who were taken down to the police station were Bowman, quarterback Scott Hunter, guard Bill Lueck, defensive tackle Aaron Brown, guard Gale Gillingham, defensive end Clarence Williams, offensive tackle Dick Himes, center Cal Withrow, linebacker Tom MacLeod, running back Larry Krause, tight end Rich McGeorge, offensive tackle Bill Hayhoe, defensive lineman Carleton Oats, wide receiver Paul Staroba and running back MacArthur Lane.
After being photographed and fingerprinted, the Packers players were released on their own recognizance and the other six players posted $100 bonds to be released. They were ordered to appear in court on August 7.
After the incident, Packers head coach and general manager Dan Devine said he had no idea the players would be arrested.
“I had no idea this was in the works,” Devine told reporters. “The first I knew of it was after the game. A matter like this is strictly in the hands of the corporation counsel. I work for the corporation and do the best job that I can under the circumstances given me many of which are certainly less than ideal.”
Oh, by the way, the Packers won the scrimmage 17-0 before a crowd of more than 30,000 fans which was a little more than half of capacity at that time.
The strike lasted 41 days and the veterans returned in time to play the final preseason game and start the regular season on time but there was certainly bad blood between the players and the organization as a result of the strike and the way it was handled.
Bowman recalled playing in that final exhibition game which happened to be the Bishop’s Charity Game with all the money raised going to the local archdiocese. “I was in the tunnel waiting to be introduced when I heard the bishop mention my name and make some unkind comments. I thought, ‘Why is a man of the cloth saying things like that?’ It was crazy.”
The Packers placed Bowman on the injured reserve before the season started with what he called a phantom back injury. He never played for the Packers again. He held a press conference to announce his back was fine, but it didn’t go any good. He played in the World Football League in 1975, in part to prove to the Packers his back was fine, and he could still play. He then retired from football and practiced law full time.
Bowman wasn’t the only player representative to be retaliated against by the owners. That year, three other union representatives were cut and three were traded. The following year, three more were cut by their teams and three more were traded.
The pressure on Bowman and the other union reps was intense. “You felt a little like a guy with a hood over his head with a guillotine about ready to fall,” Bowman said later.
The Packers finished the 1974 season with a 6-8 record, but it was a year of unbelievable turmoil and the team never really recovered from this incident or the bad relationship between Devine and many of his players.
This was likely the only season that started off with the Packers arresting 14 of their own players.
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