Father, son and their iconic Packers pics

In a soon-to-be released book, Jim Biever of Port pays homage to his late father Vernon with famous photos that, as Brett Favre writes, illustrate the importance of father, son in Titletown

SITTING IN HIS basement office, Vernon Biever (left) checked out a slide from a Green Bay Packers game in a photo taken by his son John in the late 1960s. Jim Biever, right, held a copy of his book, which features almost 300 photos he and his father took during their more than eight decades as the Packers team photographers. Right photo by Sam Arendt
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

For more than a year, Jim Biever has been working on a labor of love,  an homage to his late father Vernon and the Green Bay Packers, the football team the Port Washington men photographed for more than eight decades.

He has painstakingly gone through thousands of negatives and digital images, selecting both iconic photographs and favorites of the father-son team.

The result, “100 Years in Titletown: Celebrating a Century of Green Bay Packers Football,” is a coffee table book, a hardcover volume that clocks in at 256 pages and is filled with roughly 290 photos — including some that have never been published — that showcase legendary players and coaches, moments like the Ice Bowl and Super Bowls and candid photos of the men behind the team.

The book is being released Tuesday, Oct. 1.

Biever asked Packer great Brett Favre to write the forward.

In the forward, Favre said Vernon Biever was “just part of the team. He was there but he wasn’t there. And I think that was his plan from the start, as if he said, ‘I want to blend in, but I want to leave something for not only myself to be proud of, but the players, coaches and fans can be proud of.”

In conclusion, he wrote, “For future generations, I am the Bart Starr and Frank Winters is Fuzzy Thurston. Ahman Green is Paul Hornung or Jim Taylor. That is captured and is set in stone in such a classy and important way. As part of the Packers legacy, Vernon and Jim are no less important than men like Bart Starr, Vince Lombardi and Curly Lambeau.”

The book, which is dedicated to Packer fans, came about as he thought about the thousands of images of the team that haven’t been seen, Biever said.

“We have all these wonderful pictures, and I thought, what should we do with them? We just wanted to share them.”
He broached a friend in the publishing business with the idea for a book and went to work with the intention to feature “the best photos that told the best story.”

Biever spent hundreds of hours last winter going through the half-million or so photographs he and his father took, narrowing the number down to 10,000, then 900 and finally 400 favorites.

“At 400, I just couldn’t pick my favorites out any more,” he said. “I left it to the publisher to decide.”

Picking the photos was made a little easier when the decision was made to separate the book into chapters, such as “Lombardi,” “Mud, Guts and Glory,” “In the Stands and On the Field,” “Packer Greats” and “Big Games and Memorable Moments.”

Still, Biever said, “there are so many good photographs that didn’t make it.”

About half the photos are his and half his father’s, Biever said. And there’s one picture his brother John took, the quarterback sneak that won the Ice Bowl. The caption reads, “The best photo Vern Biever never took,” Biever said, noting, “Everyone gave him credit for that.”

The book has text and limited captions written by Tom Andrews, Biever said, adding, “My father was one who would say a good picture doesn’t need a caption.”

The book includes Vernon’s “all-time favorite photo,” one of the famous Lombardi sweep featuring quarterback Bart Starr with Jim Taylor, Fuzzy Thurston and Jim Cramer sweeping right. Lombardi can be seen across the field watching the play develop.

Biever’s favorite photo, of Favre standing in the locker room while the team kneels around him before the Dec. 21, 2006, game against the Vikings, is also included.

“It’s not an action photo or anything exciting, but it shows him as the leader of the Pack,” Biever said.

Other featured photos include a number of pictures of Aaron Rodgers photo bombing the team captains photo before games — “It got to the point where it kind of became a mini-legend,” Biever said. “It got to the point where if he wasn’t there, somebody would have to go get him. We’d wait for him and I’d make sure he was visible in the picture as much as possible” — to the replacement referees who asked him to take their photo before the Aug. 30, 2012 game, saying “You don’t have to tell us to smile because we’re so happy to be here.”

A photo of the “Fail Mary Catch,” a call the same group of refs blew in a game against the Seahawks later in the season, is also included. The next day, Biever noted, the NFL settled the strike.

The photos are presented without enhancement, Biever said.

“I’m not a fan of Photoshop,” he said. “They (the photos) haven’t been touched up except for cropping and a little bit of toning. I’m a purist when it comes to photography.”

The book, Biever said, is as much a book about the history of sports photography as it is about the football team.

That’s because Vernon Biever was the first team photographer in the NFL. As a student at St. Norbert College in De Pere, he offered to take photos of the Packers for the Milwaukee Sentinel in exchange for a field pass. After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, he found that the newspaper had replaced him, so he approached the Packers instead.

“I was out of a job, so I went to the Packers and told them if they give me a field pass I’ll take pictures for free,” Vernon Biever recalled in a 2001 interview with Ozaukee Press. “It sounded like a good deal to them, and I got my pass.”

He was soon named the team’s official photographer and became an icon on the sidelines, where other photographers deferred to him, security guards cleared the way for him and players, coaches and officials went out of their way to greet him.

Vernon Biever was named the NFL Photographer of the Year in 1984 and was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 2002. In 2012, the team dedicated a display at the Hall of Fame to him.

Jim Biever got his start at his father’s side in 1975, took over for his father when he retired and retired in 2016.

The photos in the book were taken between 1941, when Vernon Biever would use a 4x5 Press camera, shooting five or six photos per game by prefocusing on a spot and waiting for the action to get there, to the days when a 33mm Nikon was his camera of choice.

“He was told he had the first Nikon camera in Wisconsin,” Biever said.

The photos also span the advent of the motordrive, when the father-son team would take 20 rolls of 36-exposure film per game, to digital photography. Biever noted that at the end of his career, he was taking 4,000 images per game. 

The book, which has a cover price of $40, is being published by Triumph Publishing, which printed 10,000 copies. 

“They said it’s the best book they ever put out,” Biever said. “They’ve had quite a few preorders.”

Several book signings are in the works, including one at Lodge Kohler near Lambeau Field, and at the Shoppes of Port Washington during Christmas on the Corner on Dec. 7. 

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