It's Super Bowl XLV. Who do you got?
Chunky guys from Pittsburgh, or chubby dudes from Sconnie?
No matter what shade of yellow you support, know that a few of our finest American entrepreneurs are living off the fat of the football land. The good folks at AOL Small Business asked me tell their stories. Cue John Facenda...
Second, get to know the diehard Packers fan/maker of the Terrible Towel who does his manufacturing in Wisconsin.
Lastly, two dueling publicans from Pittsburgh and Green Bay detail their plans for the Big Game and agree to my bar bet.
Enjoy the game and don't forget, the Super Bowl is what we stand, and fall on our large asses, for. That, and the chili.
Meet Ralph Bruno, the Green Bay Packers Cheesehead Guy
You'll be seeing plenty of his iconic Cheesehead hats at Super Bowl XLV. How a native Wisconsinite took taunts from rival fans and a piece of his mom's couch -- and built a million-dollar business.
Come Super Bowl Sunday, some 100,000 football fans will descend on Cowboy Stadium -- and many of them will be wearing chunks of foam fromage atop their domes. These are, of course, theCheeseheads, the proud army of Green Bay Packers loyalists with a good sense of humor and a unique taste in fashion.
The ubiquitous Cheeseheads have become as synonymous with Wisconsin as the Golden Gate Bridge is with San Francisco or the Eiffel Tower with Paris. Packer Backers who recite the"Wedge of Allegiance" wear these hats to every game, tailgate, Super Bowl party and probably even the occasional wedding. The headgear of choice has reached a level of pop culture status heretofore unseen in the dairy-based couture market, appearing in beer commercials, the Madden video game franchise, questionable rap videos, Outsourced and TMZ.
And just who makes the Cheesehead magic churn? Meet Ralph Bruno, who started his company, Foamation, as a lark crafted out of a piece of his mother's sofa. Nearly 25 years later, the Cheesehead, which began as a way to take back the slur leveled by Illinois "flatlanders" against Badger Staters, has become a universally recognized symbol of Wisconsin itself.
A Milwaukee native, Bruno's company is now based out of an 18,000-square-foot operation just off of Lake Michigan, and his entrepreneurial ride has been as goofily entertaining as his world-famous product. But it's not all curds-and-giggles -- Foamation pulls in more than $1 million in annual sales. The silly hat racket is cutthroat, but in the end, the Cheesehead stands alone.
Is it true that you might not have the Cheesehead empire if not for the people of -- gasp -- Chicago?
It's true. People from Chicago would refer to us Wisconsites as Cheeseheads, and it got worse after the Bears won the Super Bowl in 1986. I thought, "What's the big deal? I like cheese. Wisconsin makes some of the best cheese in the world. I'm proud to be a Cheesehead."
How did you go about constructing the original Cheesehead?
I was reupholstering my mom's couch, so I took an extra piece of foam, cut into the shape of a wedge, gave it the color of American cheese, and put holes in it with a wood burner.
Where did the original Cheesehead make its debut?
At a Brewers/White Sox game in the summer of 1987. We were tailgating at County Stadium and just before we headed in, I put on the Cheesehead. My friends had no idea of what I'd done and they scattered. Everyone was shouting out, "Hey, Cheesehead!" People couldn't get enough of it. At some point during the game, a woman came up and tried it on. I had trouble getting it back from her. I could see right away, there's really something to this. The Cheesehead took a slander against us Wisconsites and turned it into a badge of honor.
(To read more of "Meet Ralph Bruno, the Green Bay Packers Cheesehead Guy," click right here.)
Gregg McArthur, Maker of the Steelers' Terrible Towel, Is a Packers Fan!
Even worse, Steelers fans' good luck charms are made in enemy territory in Wisconsin. On Super Bowl Sunday, the head of McArthur Towel & Sports will be pulling for the Packers.
Come Super Bowl Sunday, Pittsburgh fans everywhere will be waving their Terrible Towels, hoping their beloved Steelers will bring home a record seventhVince Lombardi Trophy. And while the towels' manufacturer, Gregg McArthur, will look out at the sea of yellow and black in Cowboy Stadium and feel a sense of pride -- he'll also be pulling for the Steelers to lose.
That's right, the man behind the Steelers' gridiron good luck charm is actually a diehard Packers fan -- and worse yet, the Terrible Towels are made in Wisconsin.
McArthur, 52, is CEO of McArthur Towel & Sports, his family's Baraboo, Wis.-based business originally founded in 1885. How to explain McArthur's longevity? As legendary Packers coach Vince Lombardi once said,"The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary." That's how you stay in the towel business game for 115 years.
I think I speak for football fans everywhere when I ask, the Terrible Towel is really manufactured in Wisconsin?
It's funny, we've become a big media story. I did an interview with ESPN radio in Pittsburgh a few days ago and I promised not to sabotage the Terrible Towels. The announcer said, "He sounds like a good guy, Steeler Nation," which is cool because I think both franchises are good for the NFL.
Your family has been in the towel business for a long time.
Our Scottish ancestors came over and initially made hammocks for a living. In 1885, my family got into making towels for YMCAs, schools and health clubs. We manufactured them until 1972, when the textile industry changed and it became cheaper to import towels. Since then, we've imported the towels and done custom designs.
How did you get involved in professional sports?
We went to the NBA in 1980 with an imprint of their logo. It took off, so we started to license towels to other leagues and companies like Gatorade. We make the towels you see on the bench. That led to the NFL, so now you'll see our custom towels throughout the season, at the championship games and, of course, the Super Bowl.
I've always wondered, what happens to merchandise printed up for the losing team?
The losing team towels get boxed up right after the game and shipped to the Third World. They are donated overseas, so we lose money, but we don't make a big run of towels until after the game -- only a couple of hundred. We budget for those.
(To read more of "Gregg McArthur, Creator of the Steelers' Terrible Towel is a Packers Fan!" click right here.) _________________________________________
Packers vs. Steelers: Battle of the Bar Owners
The proprietors of two watering holes in Green Bay and Pittsburgh share stories about life behind the bar, their predictions for the big game and why Super Bowl Sunday is good for business no matter who wins.
So who better to talk about the importance of the Packers and Steelers than two bar owners? We spoke to one in each respective football-crazy city, to find out what it's like to run a local watering hole in the run-up to one of the most anticipated Super Bowls of all time.
Both men are longtime bar guys and diehard supporters of their gridiron squads. They weigh in on what playoff success means to their bottom line, what they think of each other's organizations and whether they'll agree to a good old-fashioned bar bet.
Representing the Steelers: Jim Oliver, co-owner of Sunny Jim's Tavern.
And on behalf of the Packers: Ron Enke, owner of Champions Sports Bar & Grill.
It's Titletown vs. Iron City. Pick your poison.
You've both been in the bar business for a long time. How did you get started?
Oliver: My partner Mike Stachel and I have owned Sunny Jim's for 33 years, but it actually opened in 1943. It's just a coincidence that it's named Sunny Jim's. I bought the bar before I was legally allowed to drink in the bar. I love it. I told the regulars when I started that I wouldn't be here when their kids are old enough to drink. Now it's their kid's kids and I'm still here watching the Steelers.
Enke: I owned Michael's Pub in the town of Gays Mills, Wis., for more than 24 years. I started at 18, working road construction during the day while tending bar at night. I bought it a few years later and that's when I started accumulating and accumulating and accumulating my Packers memorabilia collection. Moving to Green Bay was always a dream of mine. I'd been at Michael's for almost 25 years and I felt like I wanted to do something different. I began looking around in 2003-04 and didn't see any place that had anything close to the collection of Packers stuff I have. I finally purchased some land in 2006. We were up and running in 102 days. I designed the layout of Champions, which includes a football-shaped bar. It's amazing to me that I'm just over a block from Lambeau Field. When I started out in Gays Mills way back when, people told me I would never even make it to Green Bay to see a Packers game. Here I am.
Since you mentioned it, tell us about your Packers collection, which is, in a word, epic.
Enke: I have somewhere between 5,000 and 5,500 pieces of Packers memorabilia, a lot of it autographed. I have all kinds of stuff, from an airbrushed helmet with Bart Starr and Brett Favre, to all kinds of jerseys, to a brick wall filled with signatures. One of my favorite items, because it's so unique, is a Reggie White helmet from when he played for the Memphis Showboats of the USFL. His widow told me she didn't even have one of those.
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