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New doc highlights links between U.P. and Packers

Courtesy photo Pictured on the DVD cover are Walter Tippett (left), a member of the Ishpeming Negaunee All-Stars that played the Packers in 1919, and Curly Lambeau (right).

MARQUETTE — Often, passions can be traced back to a specific moment. For Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and Northern Michigan University Professor Dr. Dwight Brady, that moment was Dec. 31, 1967.

On that day, seven-year-old Brady — glued to his family’s black and white television — watched as Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Bart Starr powered across the goal line to defeat the Dallas Cowboys in a game that would forever be known as “The Ice Bowl.”

He was hooked on football from that moment on.

Now, some 53-years later, Brady has tapped into that passion to create a documentary: “Linked to Legends: The U.P. Teams that Played the Packers.”

The film focuses on the U.P. athletes who played for and against the early Packers, and the other U.P. players who made their mark in the National Football League’s early years.

“It’s a documentary certainly about football,” said Brady, “but more importantly, it’s about individual experiences and the personal stories within the context of the football history that I think makes it interesting.”

Brady’s interest in the U.P. teams also stems back to his youth. It could even be said that he’s been researching the film since he was eight-years-old.

“My dad brought home a preseason booklet of the Packers,” he said. “It had pictures of all the players and statistics and biographical information on each one, but in the very back — because I read it cover to cover as a Packer fan — it had every game the Packers had ever played and, of course, the opponent and the score of the game.”

As he started reading through the games, he noticed many familiar names: Ishpeming, Ironwood and Iron Mountain, to name a few. The Packers, to eight-year-old Brady, were recent two-time world champions having won Super Bowls I and II.

“How could it be the Packers were champions but at one point were playing teams from the U.P.,” he asked himself.

As it turned out, the U.P. and the Packers are intertwined back to the team’s inception.

The first game Packers played in 1919 was against a U.P. team.

In that same season, they hit the road for the first time to take on the Ishpeming/Negaunee All-Stars.

Green Bay’s first-ever Thanksgiving Day game pitted them against a team from Iron County.

“The historical link of the U.P. town teams with the Packers is really quite remarkable,” said Brady.

The further Brady dug into the history, the more he learned himself.

“I had no idea the Packers were thrown out of the American Professional Football League because they signed two players who were from the Upper Peninsula,” said Brady.

Heartly “Hunk” Anderson and Fred “Ojay” Larson –both from Calumet — had been signed by the Packers under assumed names while playing for Notre Dame. Presumably, said Brady, the two were likely recruited by George Gipp, who was also from the Copper Country and played for Notre Dame.

However, at the time, the signing of college players was prohibited.

“They would load up with college players if they really wanted to win,” said Brady. “It was fairly common, but it was still illegal. The Packers wound up getting caught, and they were thrown out of the American Professional Football League.”

Stories such as that are just the tip of the iceberg that is “Linked to Legends.”

Also told in the film are stories like that of Rigney Dwyer — an original member of the Packers — whose life began and almost ended on the railroad tracks.

As the 100-year mark approaches, and in some cases has already passed, on these games, the timing to make the documentary was just right, said Brady.

To create “Linked to Legends,” Brady conducted interviews with a total of 17 people. Many of the interviewees were descendants of players. Others were bonafide legends in their own right, like U.P. native Steve Mariucci.

Just weeks after completing his interview with Mariucci, filming came to a halt as COVID-19 hit.

To finish filming, Brady adapted how he would film and conduct interviews. The biggest adjustment was moving interviews to outside shooting locations, bringing further challenges with lighting and sound. Not to mention the variable that the weather brings into the equation.

Despite the added obstacles, “Linked to Legends” is set to debut on WNMU-TV PBS Saturday at 9:30 p.m. It airs again Dec. 3 at 9:00 p.m. and Dec. 7 at 2:30 p.m.

For Brady, “Linked to Legends” was the perfect combination.

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

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