Eau Claire man's design for first Super Bowl shirts in Packers Hall of FameA chance conversation, a new job continuing a family tradition and a Green Bay Packers playoff run combined to land an Eau Claire man's handiwork a place in the Packers Hall of Fame.
By: By Julian Emerson, The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis., Superior Telegram
A chance conversation, a new job continuing a family tradition and a Green Bay Packers playoff run combined to land an Eau Claire man's handiwork a place in the Packers Hall of Fame.
Forty-five years ago Russell Prell, 3925 Nimitz St., helped design and market T-shirts and sweatshirts celebrating the Packers playing in Super Bowl I, a game in which they defeated the Kansas City Chiefs, 35-10. They are believed to be the first official Super Bowl T-shirts and sweatshirts celebrating the National Football League title game.
On Friday, Prell, 89, found himself at the Packers corporate office at Lambeau Field in Green Bay at a ceremony in which the Packers Hall of Fame accepted the donation of one of the sweatshirts Prell designed and marketed before Green Bay's first Super Bowl victory. The shirt will be exhibited along with other team memorabilia as part of a celebration of Packers history.
The event attracted media coverage from multiple newspapers and TV stations. Prell was surprised at the attention.
"It was really something," Prell said of the interest from Packers team officials in a shirt he designed and sold that depicts former Packers quarterback Bart Starr standing next to a globe and the words "Green Bay Packers. World Champs. Super Bowl 1967." "I never dreamed a T-shirt design would turn into all this."
Tom Murphy, a member of the Packers Hall of Fame executive committee and archivist for the organization, said the shirt makes an interesting addition to the Hall of Fame's collection.
"They did a wonderful job framing it, and the newspaper advertisement they included with it is really nice," Murphy said. "This is a piece of memorabilia a lot of Packers fans will enjoy."
The story of Prell's shirt logo making its way to Titletown is a mix of luck and persistence.
At the end of 2010 Mike Prell, Russell's grandson, quit his job selling cars in Fond du Lac and decided to start his own T-shirt-selling business, following in his grandfather's footsteps.
Russell had operated a T-shirt business during the 1960s. He quit his job as an agriculture teacher in Wabeno and joined two friends to run the business full time. The trio came up with the Packers T-shirts and sweatshirts before Super Bowl I and marketed them to JC Penney stores. Russell and his friends were taking a chance. They paid to have the shirts made and would only receive money for them if the Packers won the title game. The Packers came through, and Russell and his business partners sold thousands of the shirts. They had even more success the following year, when the Packers topped the Oakland Raiders 33-14 to win Super Bowl II.
Now, as Mike started his own T-shirt business, Russell wrote his grandson a letter encouraging him with his venture. He described the T-shirt he had marketed when the Packers won the first two Super Bowls and sent a copy of the newspaper ad for the Packers shirt he designed in 1966. Proud of his grandfather's accomplishment, Mike posted the ad on Facebook.
Kevin Eggebeen has been a die-hard Packers fan since childhood. Among his cherished Packers-related memories is receiving a sweatshirt from his mother celebrating the Packers' Super Bowl I win when he was 11.
"That shirt was special to me," said Eggebeen, a 57-year-old Neenah resident.
Eggebeen had worn his prized sweatshirt periodically during childhood. His mother, who died in 1975, packed it away in a hope chest with his baptismal gown. Years later Eggebeen found the shirt and let his daughter, now 24, wear it when she was a teen.
One day in January 2011, as the Packers played their way through the NFL playoffs toward an eventual Super Bowl XLV victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Eggebeen told his colleagues at the Fond du Lac car dealership where he had worked with Mike about his sweatshirt. His co-workers had viewed the picture of the newspaper ad for the shirt Mike had posted on Facebook and showed the posting to Eggebeen, who was surprised.
"My jaw dropped when I went on Facebook and saw that," he said.
Eggebeen called Mike to let him know he had the shirt but had no intention of giving it up, not even when Mike offered him $1,000 for it.
"He told me right off the bat it's not for sale," Mike said.
Undeterred and determined to obtain the shirt, Mike contacted the Packers Hall of Fame to see if they might be interested in exhibiting the shirt. Within 30 minutes Packers team officials responded, saying they wanted it.
Then Mike contacted Eggebeen again asking whether he would be willing to sell the shirt if it could be donated to the Hall of Fame. He drove Eggebeen to Eau Claire to meet with Russell. Eggebeen decided to part with the shirt. He didn't even want any money for it. Mike gave him $200 as a thank-you gift.
"I saw how important this was to their family and decided it would be neat to see this in the Hall of Fame," Eggebeen said. "Sometimes things happen for a reason."
On Friday Russell stood with Mike, Eggebeen and others at Lambeau Field as the donation was made official. They marvel at the unlikely scenario leading to that shirt's location in the Packers Hall of Fame.
"Way back when we made those shirts, I never figured one day one of them would be in the Hall of Fame," Russell said.
Emerson can be reached at 715-830-5911, 800-236-7077 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c)2012 the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.)
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