In April, the all-sports network launched what it calls an "interactive, multimedia initiative to determine which town or city in the country will be declared by fans as ‘Title Town USA' – the town or city that shares a unique affinity with its title-winning professional, college or amateur sports teams." In a sense, it is providing a forum for cases to be argued among fans and media in a most comprehensive manner like never before.
Applaud ESPN for creating a great concept. The idea is fun and interesting, though the title of the "contest" feels so wrong. Because as everyone should already know, there is, and always will be, only one true Titletown.
Even using the Title Town USA moniker is like stealing a brand from Green Bay (notice how ESPN uses Title Town as two words whereas in Green Bay it is one). After all, the term was born, and all but patented, in Green Bay.
According to the Packers media guide, Jack Yuenger first coined Green Bay "Titletown" after the team's 1961 NFL championship victory, 37-0 over the New York Giants. As the advertising manager for the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Yuenger printed the city's new nickname on celebratory signs distributed to fans. The championship was the Packers' sixth of 12 and was the first played in Green Bay. Vince Lombardi was in just his third year as head coach.
Lombardi had a chip on his shoulder from the day he flew to Green Bay in 1959 to become the Packers head coach. He was driven to show that his small-town bunch could not only compete, but beat all the big-town teams. The Packers last posted a winning season in 1947, near the end of Curly Lambeau's tenure.
After the Packers lost the 1960 Championship game in Philadelphia, a game that stuck with Lombardi, they would not let a similar fate happen again. Lombardi, for one, made sure of that.
In 1961, the Packers went 11-3, and when they got another shot at the NFL Championship game, they hammered the Giants into submission. Lombardi and Green Bay earned what remains today as arguably their most important championship. They would win four more championships together in the next six years.
Titletown became more than just championships, though, after that historical game. It became a sense of pride in Green Bay. The city still embraces the nickname and is reminded of it every day (at least 17 businesses use Titletown as part of their name). Outside of Wisconsin, everyone in the country associates Green Bay with one thing – the Packers.
Other cities nominated in ESPN's series may have more total titles, more sports teams, and other great stories, but to call those cities "Title Town" is a poor fit. Only Green Bay can combine the intimacy, multiple big-time championships, and unconditional love that a term like Titletown captures.
The Packers are one of the greatest stories in sports at any level. When they easily could have folded as a small fish in a big pond their fans always stepped up. That they remain publicly-owned today and yet thrive on and off the field in the nation's top sports league is almost a miracle.
The nation of sports fans is a strong force – almost too strong for its own good. Whichever city wins this SportsCenter battle will likely boast that it is Title Town from now on. If it is Green Bay, okay, all is well. If not, it will be awfully tough to handle for those that bleed green and gold.
Note: The SportsCenter "Title Town USA" Tour, with segments broadcasted live from the 20 cities nominated as finalists, will begin in Green Bay on July 4)