Outagamie County Circuit Judge John Des Jardins wears his name, his hat, his glasses, his shoes and everything in between proudly.
The name he got from his grandpa, former Packer lineman John Des Jardins. The hat and glasses are a nod to Coach Vince Lombardi. The shoes he bedazzled himself. And everything in between is a testament to his lifelong loyalty to the Green Bay Packers.
On Saturday, Judge Des Jardins, who also works as a member of the Packers’ sideline chain gang, gave a very entertaining talk about the Packers 1919 season.
He spoke about his grandpa, who grew up on a farm outside Green Bay and biked 10 miles to school every day. One day, his classmate Curly Lambeau noticed John Sr.’s athleticism, and told him he should go out for the high school football team.
“What’s this football?” he reportedly said, having never even seen a game.
Intrigued, he gave it a whirl and found he had a natural affinity for the sport. In fact, he played so hard he broke Lambeau’s leg during practice, much to the horror of the home team fans.
Lambeau, though, had no hard feelings and when he and Green Bay Press Gazette editor George Calhoun began putting together Green Bay’s first professional football team, they recruited Des Jardins.
They also signed Martin and Carl Zoll, two concrete masons known for their strength and their stubborn refusal to wear helmets or pads. As Judge Des Jardins tells it, one day after practice the Zoll brothers found their car, a Model T Ford, parked in. So, they each took an end and lifted the 1200-pound vehicle right over the other cars, hopped in and drove home.
Another teammate, 5-9 halfback Gus Rosenow, had no left arm and still managed to help the team score 565 points that season as they rolled to a 10-0 record.
But for the machinations of the paradoxically named Beloit Fairies, the team would have enjoyed a perfect season. But, during state championship, referee and Beloit native “Baldy” Zabel committed four blatant acts of favoritism so egregious his name still lives in Packer infamy.
First, when the Packer defense held the Fairies on the five-yard line as time ran out in the first half, Baldy told the timekeepers to put five second back on the clock, allowing the Fairies to score the game’s only touchdown.
Then, later in the game, he penalized the Packers three times on three successive scoring plays, negating the touchdowns
He looked the other way as Fairy fans swarmed the field during play, which stifled the Packers’ passing attack.
And he also allowed a Fairy fan to trip up a Packer runner just before he made it into the end zone, negating another Packer touchdown.
In addition to this fascinating look into the first season of a storied franchise, Judge Des Jardins told stories about his lifelong devotion to the team.
When he was young, John often attended Packer games with his grandpa. Other times, he snuck in, both over and under the chain link fences that surrounded the stadium at that time.
When his grandpa took his brother to the 1965 championship game, John rode into the stadium on the bumper of a service vehicle, jumped off to help the ground crew shovel, and stayed on the field to watch the game. When the Packers won, John was right there to grab an end zone flag and a piece of the goal post.
Many of these items and more are on display in Judge Des Jardins’ chambers. He also lent his grandpa’s original shoulder pads and helmet to the history museum at the Castle to use in conjunction with their Gridiron Glory exhibit, which celebrates the history of the NFL.
The exhibit runs through January 6 (or the length of an NFL season, if you’re a Packer fan 😉 ) so you have plenty of time to check it out.
We really enjoyed Judge Des Jardins’ presentation and admire his loyalty to a team we all love.