Date: December 18, 2005
About: Herman Schneidman - Class of 1931
Oldest Living Packer Shares His Life
By Martin Hendricks
Special To The Herald-Whig
At age 93, Herm Schneidman is the oldest living former Green Bay Packer.
His hearing and eyesight are fading, but his memory is exceptionally keen, and he still vividly recalls the first contract he signed for Packers' head coach Curly Lambeau more than 70 years ago.
"He mailed me a contract in 1935 for $80 a game, which was about the bare minimum," Schneidman said. "I wasn't a star like (Johnny) Blood or (Don) Hutson. When I played for the Chicago Cardinals (in 1940), I got $135 a game, win or lose, and whether I played or not."
The former University of Iowa star was the second player, and one of five Packers in the team's 86-year history, to wear jersey No. 4. The player who now dons that jersey, quarterback Brett Favre, earns about $10 million a year, or approximately $625,000 per game.
"It's unbelievable what the players earn now," he said. "I really can't believe it."
Schneidman was a blocking back and a versatile defensive player on some of the greatest teams in Packer history. He played from 1935-39 under Lambeau and was in the same backfield with NFL Hall of Famers Johnny "Blood"
McNally, Clark Hinkle and Arnie Herber. He also played defense and special teams alongside legendary Packer receiver Don Hutson.
"It might seem impossible, but Herm was even before my time," said team historian Lee Remmel, who has been with the team for 55 years. "I never saw him play. The key thing about his career was that he played on two NFL Championship teams and on the 1938 team that lost the NFL Championship.
That's a pretty strong testimonial."
Born Nov. 22, 1912, in Rock Island, Schneidman was raised in Quincy, a city of 40,000 along the Mississippi River in western Illinois.
A former three-sport prep star at Quincy High School, he attended the University of Iowa and wanted to pursue basketball. However, he switched to football and became a star halfback his senior year. A permanent resident of Quincy since 1940, the wheelchair-bound Schneidman now resides at the Sunset Nursing Home.
His wife of 55 years, Venita, died in 2003. The Schneidmans did not have children, but Herm was a very successful and civic-minded businessman in Quincy and has plenty of supportive relatives and friends.
Schneidman is a member of the ROMEOs, a group of retired Quincy businessmen who meet every Tuesday for lunch and camaraderie.
"It stands for 'Real Old Men Eating Out,'" explained Dale Craven, 71, a Quincy resident and member of the group.
"Since Herm is in Sunset, we come and eat our traditional meal of meatloaf or ham and mashed potatoes with him at the home. We eat and talk. 'Hermie'
is loved by this group, and one of our favorite subjects is his playing days in Green Bay."
Schneidman was a starter on the Packers' 1936 championship squad that defeated the Boston Redskins 21-6 in New York, as well as on the 1938 team that lost in the NFL title game 23-17 to the New York Giants. He played in the exhibition games and one regular season contest of the Packers' 1939 World Championship season before retiring.
Four years of blocking and filling in on defense at defensive back, linebacker and end took its toll physically on the 5-foot-10-inch, 200-pound Schneidman.
He never carried the ball more than five times in a season and didn't have a rushing attempt in the 1936 season or his brief 1939 campaign. For his career, he gained 37 yards on 13 attempts and caught seven passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns.
"Early in 1939, I got the crap beat out of me and couldn't move my arm and could hardly walk," he said, noting he re-injured his right shoulder that he first dislocated throwing the discus for the Iowa track team. "I walked into Curly's office and told him I was going to retire. He wasn't too mad, because we had a couple of younger players who could step in, and we had a very strong team."
The 1939 Packers, regarded as one of the best teams in NFL history, cruised to the franchise's fifth world championship with a 27-0 thrashing of the New York Giants in Milwaukee to complete a 9-2 season.
Schneidman's Packer career was over at age 25. He moved back to Illinois and established Schneidman Distributing Co., a beer distributorship, with his younger brother, Sam. His older brother Edward, the mayor of Quincy, was killed in a Chicago hotel fire in the early 1930s.
The Chicago Cardinals coaxed him out of retirement and into playing for the 1940 season. Schneidman then served in the U.S. Navy from 1942-46 at Illinois and North Carolina posts. He played on the Navy's Great Lakes football team from 1941-42 before hanging up his cleats for good.
"I was too old to keep playing," he said. "I coached a little bit, too, but I knew I should be watching, not playing."
Scheidman watched the Green Bay-Chicago game on television two weeks ago.
"The Packers looked better than normal, but they've had a lot of injuries to the first-team offense," Schneidman said. "If the Packers had all their first-teamers in there, I think they would have beat the Bears."
Schneidman said the Bears were the Packers' heated rival and that Lambeau put extra emphasis on winning that game.
"Curly didn't like to lose to anyone, but especially the Bears," he said.
"If we lost to Chicago, we didn't get to eat (a post-game meal)."
He enjoys watching the current No. 4 play.
"I had No. 4 for the first couple years in Green Bay before the league changed the numbering system for backs and ends," said Schneidman, who then wore jersey No. 51.
"I think Brett Favre is a great player and athlete. During the Bears game, Favre had a sour look on his face after he took some big hits, but he stayed in there even when he's hurting. He's a tough player. I think he could have played with us. I think he could have played with anyone at anytime. Wouldn't that have been something to see Brett Favre throwing passes to Don Hutson?"
Hutson and Schneidman both joined the Packers in 1935 and were teammates on offense, at times in the defensive backfield and on the kickoff coverage unit.
"Sometimes we'd cross positions to throw 'em off on kickoffs," Schneidman said. "Don was a pretty quiet guy, but he'd tell me to run in his lane so one of us would make the tackle.
"Don Hutson was the greatest player. He could outrun anybody. He always had big pass plays against Chicago. Curly and Don would work up pass plays just for the Bears. On one, we'd throw the ball by the goal post (set on the goal line in those days) and Hutson would swing around it and jump up and get the ball.
"Johnny Blood was great, but he was always into something. He liked to change the plays in the huddle, even though Curly had a standing order.
Blood was always Blood. The linemen would say no, but he'd say 'I'm the quarterback.' Curly wasn't happy, but he didn't say too much if the play worked."
Curly Lambeau was a very superstitious coach, according to Schneidman.
"He'd wear a suit and tie to the first game, and if we won, he'd wear that suit and tie to every game until we'd lose," he said. "If we lost, that suit and tie were thrown in the garbage can. And one of the boys (Packer
players) would go in the garbage and get 'em. Why throw out a good suit and tie?"
Lambeau also had a ritual of eating a sweet roll with his pre-game breakfast.
"One time in Boston against the Redskins, we were eating breakfast in a big fancy hotel," Schneidman recalled. "Curly liked to stay at those kind of places.
"He ordered a sweet roll like he always did, but they didn't have any.
Well, he started raising all kinds of holy hell. Curly was going to move us to a different hotel if he didn't get his sweet roll. Someone from the hotel ran out and got one for him. I was really surprised. I'd never seen a coach do anything like that before.
"Most of the guys didn't like him, but I got along with him OK because I always worked hard on every play I was in there."
Today, Schneidman enjoys discussing his NFL career with family and friends, particularly Gary Handrick, a Quincy Junior High School teacher who visits him weekly.
"I got to meet Herm through one of my students, his great niece," said Handrick, a Wisconsin native and avid Packer fan.
"His memory is incredible. He can point to players on the Packer team pictures and rattle off their names, positions, stories about them, and even when he last talked to them. It's so neat to experience those Packer teams and players through Herm's eyes.
"He is Packer history."
And, as the residents of Quincy already know, a true gentleman.
Martin Hendricks is a freelance writer based in Eau Claire, Wis. He writes a column for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Packer Plus titled Flashback, which highlights the career of former Green Bay players. Packer Plus, with a circulation of approximately 20,000, has subscribers in 50 states and several foreign countries.