I was stumbling around online today and found an article listing the “50 greatest rivalries in the NFL,” and to my severe disappointment, the rivalry between the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers was left out all together.
If you ask anyone in the Midwest, they’ll tell you that this rivalry is second only to the Packers/Chicago Bears rivalry–the oldest in league history. While the Sota/Sconnie Border-Battle has only seen real notoriety since the Vikings first season in 1961, the NFL has seen a rivalry between the two states since the 1920’s, the same as the Bears.
One of the original NFL teams, the Duluth Eskimos, was based in the NFL’s northernmost city from 1923-1927. The Eskimos shared battles with the then Acme Packers and Decatur Staleys–who would eventually become the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears–since the league’s inception. Though they are no longer a team (officially… Yeah I’ll get to that), they were vital in the formation of the NFL and without them, pro football would be nothing like it is today.
Back in the day, professional football players generally worked in factories and shipyards. This was especially true of the Eskimos and Packers who were heavily made up of workers in Superior, Wisc. and Duluth shipyards. The two teams both featured graduates of Duluth Central High School and Superior High School, one of the better high school rivalries of the time.
In a sense, this was the original battle of the bay. The Eskimos/Packers games were always tightly contested and one of such match-ups resulted in the league’s only ever-recorded 0-0 tie.
The Eskimos were one of the struggling league’s poorest teams and were not able to play home games after the month of October because of Minnesota’s severe winters. This ultimately led to the team failing to stay afloat financially and they disbanded after the 1927 season. The rights to the team were shuffled around in business transactions through New Jersey, and then Boston, where they eventually became what is today’s Washington Redskins, but the history and rivalries of the Eskimos lived and died in Minnesota.
Where am I going with this?
The Eskimos are loosely related to today’s Minnesota Vikings–very loosely.
When the Eskimos were disbanded, team owner Ole Haugsrud sold the team back to the league in 1927. Once the NFL returned to Minnesota in 1961, Haugsrud was given priority to invest in a franchise–he eventually became a 10% owner of the Vikings. I’m not certain if Haugsrud’s family still owns that 10%, but the ties between the Eskimos and Vikings are there.
If that is not proof enough, according to Chuck Frederick who wrote Leatherheads of the North: The True Story of Ernie Nevers and the Duluth Eskimos, Vikings great and former head coach Bud Grant’s father played for the Eskimos briefly while working in a Duluth shipyard.
Now that the history lesson is over, here is my proposal: the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers should honor the memory of the 1920’s rivalry by wearing the 20’s uniforms that the Packers already have as a throwback, and the Vikings, much like the Pittsburgh Steelers, should team up with Nike to create a “heritage throwback” to commemorate the Eskimos.
The two teams could put these uniforms on display in both match-ups to give fans of both teams an opportunity to experience the heritage of one of the league’s oldest rivalries and truly show why the NFC North has the best rivalries in the NFL.
This would add another spark to one of the league’s already-most heated rivalries, and add a historic aspect to a match-up that would surprise the casual NFL fan.
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(Much of the information listed in this article can be attributed to Chuck Frederick’s book that I listed above.)