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Film explores U.P. teams that played the Packers

This is the film cover for the documentary "Linked to Legends: The U.P. Teams that Played the Packers" by Northern Michigan University history professor Dwight Brady. It debuts on Nov. 28 on WNMU-TV and will be replayed twice more on the station in the following two weeks. (Photo courtesy NMU)
This is a still image from the documentary "Linked to Legends: The U.P. Teams that Played the Packers" by Northern Michigan University professor Dwight Brady. (Photo courtesy NMU)

By Northern Michigan University

MARQUETTE — They toiled in Upper Peninsula mines and mills. But on weekends, the muscles forged by the sweat of their labor would be on display against some of the NFL’s finest football teams.

This rich deposit of U.P. football history is being unearthed in a new television documentary titled “Linked to Legends: The U.P. Teams that Played the Packers.” The film by Northern Michigan University professor Dwight Brady will debut on the final weekend of this month on the school’s PBS station, WNMU-TV.

Brady is an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker who has produced numerous documentaries on topics ranging from grey wolves to green energy.

This is his first historically driven project.

“When I was a kid growing up near Manistique, the local Ford dealership would give out Packer preseason booklets,” Brady said. “In addition to player profiles, the booklets had the scores of every game from each season. As I studied these old records, I noticed the Packers had played teams from the U.P.

“It was a fascinating discovery for an 8-year-old Yooper, and as we reach the centennial mark for these games, it seems like the right time to highlight this history.”

The documentary’s focus is on U.P. athletes who played for and against the early Packers, along with other U.P. players who made their mark in the first decade of the NFL during the 1920s. The Green Bay team itself was founded in 1919 and joined the NFL in 1921.

“The historical link of the U.P. ‘town teams’ with the Packers is really quite remarkable,” Brady said. “The Packers’ very first game in 1919 was against a team from the U.P.

“Their first road game was that same year against the Ishpeming/Negaunee All-Stars, and the Packers’ first Thanksgiving Day game was against a team from Iron County in 1920. The Ironwood and Bessemer teams from that era also played the Packers and other NFL teams in the 1920s.”

Brady’s interest in football really took root on Dec. 31, 1967, when as a youngster he watched the Packers defeat the Dallas Cowboys at home in the game famously known as the Ice Bowl.

“I was 7 years old, sitting on the edge of the couch screaming at our little black-and-white TV for Donny Anderson to get out of bounds to stop the clock as the Packers made their final drive,” he said. “Moments later, Bart Starr snuck over the goal line for the win, and I was hooked on Packer football for life.”

While he never achieved his childhood dream of playing for the Packers, Brady would go on to earn All-U.P. honors as a running back and lead the Mid-Peninsula Conference in rushing his senior year at Manistique High School.

“This project has been a great opportunity to combine my interest in football and documentary filmmaking along with my love for the Upper Peninsula,” Brady said.

The documentary includes interviews with descendants of the early Packers and of players from the U.P. “town teams.”

It also features NMU alumnus and former NFL head coach Steve Mariucci, who is now an NFL Network analyst, as well as Packers’ team historian Cliff Christl and Tony Nagurski, the son of Chicago Bears and NFL legend Bronko Nagurski.

A minute-long trailer for the film can be found online at linkedtolegends.com.

“Linked to Legends” debuts at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 28, on WNMU-TV. It will air again at 9 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 3, and 2:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 7.

This story was prepared by News Director Kristi Evans of NMU News and Media Relations.

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