In a few weeks much of the world will be glued to images of men in helmets and tight pants kicking around an egg-shaped ball. You may know a ton of Super Bowl trivia, as well as all of the arcane rules of football, but how about this word right in front of you: Packers. “Packers” doesn’t inspire the same associations of strength or speed as Steelers. The origin of the Green Bay team’s name reveals quite a bit about the history of the sport.
“Steelers” not only evokes the strength of steel and inadvertently summons up associations of stealing the ball, but describes Pittsburgh’s former industrial core and identity as a steel-producing behemoth. “Packers” actually serves the same function for the livelihood of Green Bay, Wisconsin that “Steelers” does for Pittsburgh. Instead of steel, we’re talking cattle and meat packing.
In 1919, the founders of the Green Bay team secured funding for their uniforms from the Indian Packing Company, a business specializing in canned meat. Even after the company was bought by another meat processor, the team title remained. It is the oldest team name still used in the NFL.
“Pack” probably derives from pac, ”bundle,” a word used by Flemish wool traders in the 11th century. Some early instances of the term suggest a connection to “pact,” as in a secret arrangement. Considering that a football team could be considered a “bundle” (of players) engaging in a secret arrangement (of strategy on the field), perhaps the implicit associations of “packers” aren’t so strange after all.