‘Like many things, good things do come to an end’

By Jeff Kurowski | The Compass | August 12, 2021

The Bishop’s Charities Game started with Bishop Bona and Vince Lombardi

Denis Hogan, general chair of the Bishop’s Charities Game, and Bishop David Ricken gather on the sidelines at Lambeau Field before the 54th annual Charities Game on Aug. 29, 2014. (Jill Hogan | For The Compass)

ALLOUEZ — Game programs, photos, advertisements, financial statements, the original game contract … Denis Hogan and Jerry Pigeon reminisced as they looked over these and other archived items from the long history of the Bishop’s Charities Game. They served as the last two general chairpersons for the annual preseason game that provided support for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay.

“That cover is my favorite,” said Pigeon, admiring the 1975 Bishop’s Charities Game program featuring a photo of Bart Starr in his 1265 Lombardi Ave. office when he served as both head coach and general manager of the Packers.

“Dad started doing publicity for the game in 1966, according to this,” said Hogan, referencing a document he came across about his father, Jim Hogan, who served as coordinator of the Bishop’s Charities Game for 48 years, until his death in 2013.

Due to the new three-game preseason schedule, the Packers will alternate between hosting one and two preseason games each year. In conjunction with the new schedule, the team is transitioning the charity component of its preseason games. In seasons with one preseason game, the matchup will be deemed the Green Bay Packers Give Back Game. This year, the Packers will continue to support Bishop’s Charities and Midwest Shrine Association, traditional recipients of preseason game support, through the Packers Give Back Game, but the game now also will feature new benefiting charities from Green Bay and Southeastern Wisconsin. In seasons that feature two preseason home games, such as this year, the second home preseason game will be the USA Football Game, which will celebrate youth football.

“What a very special and unique opportunity this game was, going back to (Vince) Lombardi and the Packers organization continuing it for 60 years,” said Hogan, who became general chair in 2010. “Like many things, good things do come to an end. While it’s a little bittersweet, we would have loved to have played the actual 60th game. The Packers were super generous, providing their 60th annual gift. We are ever grateful for the financial support by the team for the Catholic Diocese and Catholic Charities. It’s hard to imagine what might not have been done through Catholic Charities if they had not received $4 million over the last 60 years.”

While Vince Lombardi, then coach and general manager of the Packers, gave approval for the game, Ed Gagnon, a Green Bay insurance agent for Northwestern National Life, is credited for the idea of an annual charity gridiron contest. Gagnon presented the idea to Fr. Orville Janssen, editor of The Register (the diocesan newspaper at the time), and Fr. William Spalding, director of the Bishop’s Charity Program. The trio then brought the idea to Bishop Stanislaus Bona, who was bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay from 1945 to 1967.

Gagnon was named the first general chair for the game. Gene Sladky of Kellogg Citizens National Bank (now Associated Bank) was appointed the first ticket director and later succeeded Gagnon as game chair.

The original agreement involved the Diocese of Green Bay selling game tickets and coordinating the game program, including selling advertising in the program, in exchange for proceeds from both efforts.

The inaugural Bishop’s Charities Game was played on Monday evening, Sept. 4, 1961. The Packers defeated the New York Giants 20-17 in front of a crowd of 33,451. The diocese earned $28,500 from ticket sales and an additional $2,750 from program advertising sales.

“One-third of the ticket money was for the Packers, one-third for the opponent and one-third for the Bishop’s Charities people,” explained Jim Hogan in a 2010 interview with The Compass. “You had to make at least enough to take care of the Packers and the opposing team.”

Pigeon, who served as general chair from 1988 to 2009, not only attended the first Charities Game, but caught a football in his lap in the stands, an extra point kicked by Don Chandler of the Giants (Chandler would become a Packer in 1965). Pigeon credits Jim for recruiting him to the Bishop’s Charities Game team in the 1970s.

“For me, working my way up from selling ads, I gained an appreciation of what goes into the program,” he said. “It was a neat experience, all the people you get to meet.”

Area teams of Bishop’s Charities Game workers/volunteers were formed in Calumet County, Green Bay east and west, Kaukauna, Crivitz, Shawano, Manitowoc-Two Rivers, Oshkosh, Sturgeon Bay-Algoma-Kewaunee, Appleton, Peshtigo, New London and Pulaski-Seymour-Gillett-Krakow.

“That whole initial history of assembling an incredible number of volunteers to get ads, build the program, sell tickets, distribute tickets is unbelievable,” said Hogan. “They didn’t have cell phones and didn’t have email. Here (on a statement), it shows that they were allocated 26,000 tickets in 1979 and sold 21,000. Those were $9, $8 and $6.50 tickets.”

“There was a lot of trial and error,” said Pigeon with a laugh. “Somehow it got done.”

Pigeon, who worked at Associated Bank for 46 years, recalled a near ticket mishap. He intended to give Bishop’s Charities Game tickets to a bank in Fond du Lac, so they could bring two buses of people.

“I sent them to the president. He called me the next day,” said Pigeon. “He said, ‘I’m coming to Green Bay. Do you want to have breakfast or lunch?’ We met and he said, ‘I got your tickets. I think you want this group of tickets back.’ They were for the Chicago Bears game. I got into the season tickets somehow. We sold actual game tickets at the bank.”

Hogan’s first memory associated with the Bishop’s Charities Game is from his father Jim’s  office, then located at the diocesan offices on Madison Street in Green Bay.

“We would go there on Saturday mornings,” said the oldest of Jim and Joan Hogan’s six children. “He would take, at the time, five of us, because Claire wasn’t born yet. We would be down there all Saturday morning running around playing with the telephones and the intercom, the typewriters. (My dad) would sit in that room counting and stacking tickets, rubber banding them to send off to wherever. All the area chairs would get them and disperse them.”

Beginning in 1995, preseason tickets were made part of the season ticket packages, so the diocese no longer sold tickets. Instead, the Packers began providing an annual gift.

The pregame ceremony, featuring the bishop, was one of the game’s traditions. In addition to offering words of thanks to the Packers and highlighting the services of Catholic Charities, the Most Valuable Player from the previous year’s Charities Game was honored and the bishop threw a ceremonial first pass or did a ceremonial coin toss.

“I knew Donald Driver. I remember telling him, ‘This is going to be the easiest catch you are going to make at Lambeau Field, so don’t drop it,’” said Pigeon with a laugh.

In their roles as game general chairs, both Pigeon and Hogan served as master of ceremony for the pregame.

“Those first couple years, I was so nervous,” said Hogan. “Then, after a few years, there are all these people, you are looking at them, but you don’t see anyone. I have said a few times, ‘I can stand on the field in front of 70,000 people and be less nervous than sitting in front of a smaller group.’ The biggest challenge was staying focused on what you are saying and not listening. If you hear yourself, and there’s that delay, it’s difficult. Bishop (David) Ricken was really good at focusing on his words.”

For the last eight years of the game, clients who received services from Catholic Charities were recognized on the field during pregame, were featured in a story in the game program (also in The Compass) and watched the game with the bishop in a suite.

“I really liked those last few years,” said Hogan. “How do we help people? Let’s help people understand who we are helping and serving, and what a great opportunity for them. Associated Bank and Bellin were both so generous in donating their suites to entertain.”

The 2013 Bishop’s Charities Game featured an added special moment. The Packers paid tribute to Jim Hogan for his Bishop’s Charities Game work on the Lambeau Field video display scoreboard.

“That was really nice of the Packers,” recalled his son.

The final Bishop’s Charities Game was played on Aug. 29, 2019. The game shared something in common with the inaugural game. Paul Hornung — a graduate of Notre Dame who had won the Heisman Trophy and was the first-overall draft pick in the 1957 draft, fortunately, by the Packers — kicked a late field goal for the victory in 1961. The last touchdown in the game’s history was also scored by a Notre Dame standout, running back Dexter Williams on a fourth-quarter run. 

With that three-yard touchdown, the 2019 Packers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 27-20 for one more win in a six-decade series that was a win-win both on and off the field for Catholic Charities. 

“The Packers are proud to have partnered for 60 years with the Diocese of Green Bay for the Bishop’s Charities Game,” said Mark Murphy, Packers president and CEO. “We appreciated its support over the years, from promoting the game and helping sell tickets in the initial decades to continuing to participate in the game’s festivities and highlighting its continued community charity work in recent decades. We thank the diocese and look forward to continuing to support its worthwhile efforts.”

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