Recollections: Remember the Cheese League?
NFL teams once flocked to Wisconsin for training camps
By Thom Gerretsen
For lots of National Football League fans, the season begins in late July with the start of Training Camp. Most teams hold camps in their home areas, where more fans can have fun and “gear up” for the games while watching their favorite players do the same. That was not always a priority in the 1980s. Still, it gave Wisconsin an opportunity to create a league of its own: The Cheese League.
Central Wisconsin had a team in this group, but only for one year. The Jacksonville Jaguars camped at UW-Stevens Point in their inaugural NFL season of 1995. Maybe that’s why for me, the Cheese League came to mind earlier this month when the Jaguars played the Packers in a regular season game in Green Bay.
At some point from 1984-2009, six NFL teams held their summer training camps in the Badger State. Five trained at the same time in ’95: The Chicago Bears at UW-Platteville, New Orleans Saints at UW-La Crosse, Kansas City Chiefs at UW-River Falls, Jaguars at UW-Stevens Point, and the Packers in Green Bay. The St. Louis (now Los Angeles) Rams trained at Concordia University in Mequon in 2008. The Packers’ training camp tradition continues after it began in 1958 with the players staying at St. Norbert College and practicing a few miles up to the road at Lambeau Field. The St. Louis (now Los Angeles) Rams trained at Concordia University in Mequon in 2008.
At Stevens Point, an average of 350 fans per day saw former Packers’ backup quarterback Mark Brunell begin his journey toward becoming Jacksonville’s all-time passing leader with 144 TD passes. They also saw the NFL coaching debut of Tom Coughlin, who later won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants. The Jaguars also had receiver Desmond Howard that year, one season before he was a Super Bowl MVP kick returner for the Packers in their 35-21 win over New England in Super Bowl XXXI. A college friend and I saw one of those workouts at Goerke Field in Stevens Point, and in later years we checked on the Bears at Platteville and the Chiefs at River Falls.
Continued next week