By Colin Salt
Green Bay, Wisconsin, has a population of only around 100,000 people. Yet it somehow has a National Football League team that has thrived throughout the years. In the not-too-distant past, there was a time when Green Bay had an NFL franchise play in it but Los Angeles did not. The Packers are an oddball in everything from location to ownership style (they have a collective "shareholder" ownership comparable to Germany's "50+1" model, grandfathered in after the rest of the NFL switched to a more conventional structure) to success (every Packers game since the 1960s has sold out, and they have more NFL championships, including pre-Super Bowl ones, than any other team).
So how does the team of Bart Starr, Brett Favre, and Aaron Rodgers matter for alternate history? Well, I can think of a few ways. First, oddballs like them will inevitably arise in some fashion. Some online alternate history, for understandable plausibility reasons, plays it so "safe" that it actually feels less probable. If the Packers did not exist, they would be considered "ASB" by casual observers. "The most successful American football team of all time isn't even in Milwaukee, but some city comparable in size of Erie, Pennsylvania or Lafayette, Louisiana?" (To say nothing of "they lucked into two all-time great quarterbacks in a row)?
But a closer look at their history has it make more sense. In the early days of the NFL, almost every team was some fly-by-night operation in a small team, in places like Duluth, Minnesota, Rock Island, Illinois, and Hammond, Indiana. Does it make sense to have all or most of these teams survive the turmoil of the 1920s and 30s before the sport gained (pro) popularity? No. Is it possible that one or maybe two could slip through and get in the door before it shut? Yes. And in our history, the Packers were that team.
Meanwhile, a look at times when the Packers were successful obscures when they weren't. After winning the first two Super Bowls, it would be a long drought for Green Bay. This got particularly worse after they made the 1974 trade for washed-up quarterback John Hadl. Tiny, cold, isolated Green Bay became known as "NFL Siberia." What turned this around was not just the Atlanta Falcons giving up Brett Favre, but also something that leveled the playing field for everyone else after 1993: Unrestricted free agency. The first really high-profile free agent was defensive end Reggie White. His destination? Green Bay.
And one cannot exclude luck. The Packers have consistently contended since Favre, but have only won two Super Bowls. With a few bounces in the wrong direction, they could have easily ended up like OTLs Buffalo Bills, always close but never over the line. (Similarly, the Bills could have easily been a super-dynasty).
The point is: History can be strange. And there is no reason why alternate history shouldn't be strange as well.