From Chester Marcol to Aaron Rodgers: My Green Bay Packers Odyssey
How could a boy born in Kentucky and whose family hailed from Memphis grow to become one of the most avid fans of the Green Bay Packers? Well open your ears and sit a spell and read my tale.
It all started innocently. In 1970 as a toddler my family moved from small town Kentucky to the big city of Memphis. My father sold Speed Queen washing machines.
My extended family was all from Memphis and they were happy to have us back. My uncle even worked at the Memphis coliseum and was an acquaintance of a local guy named Elvis. My grandfather was one of the founders of the Danny Thomas charity golf tournament, which today is the PGA Tour Fed Ex/ St. Jude Classic.
My father traveled a lot, selling washing machines. One day in 1972 he sat me down and presented me with a gift. The gift was a pair of Green Bay Packers pajamas. He also told me that he had sold so many washing machines that he was being promoted and that we had to move again. "Where Daddy?" I asked. "Ripon, Wisconsin" my father told me.
I had no idea where Wisconsin was. Had no idea who the Green Bay Packers were. I just knew that I loved those pajamas. And those pajamas were the start of a magical journey that is still going 37 years later.
My memories are a little hazy with time. I remember that upon arriving in Ripon I sure thought the people talked funny. I was used to words like "yonder" and "y'all." Now my new friends liked to say, "you betcha".
And my new friends sure liked my pajamas. I wore those pajamas until they had holes all through them.
On Sundays we went to church. When we got back, there were a bunch of shows on TV with people dancing to polka music. Sure was different than the music I heard in Memphis.
But after Frank Yankovich signed off the television turned to football. My father still traveled a lot. I figured all families needed a good washing machine.
But on Sundays he was home and I climbed up on the couch and watched the Green Bay Packers with him. Sometimes he would even let me have a sip of his beer, which was either Old Milwaukee or Pabst Blue Ribbon ( whichever was on sale at the Piggly Wiggly).
They sure loved those Green Bay Packers in Wisconsin. And in 1972 the Packers won a lot of games.
Through the next few years the Packers didn't win many games. But my love for them grew. My buddies and I would wear our Packer sweatshirts in the snow and play football. I always pretended I was John Brockington.
By 1975 my father figured I was old enough to go with him and some other family members to see the game up north an hour or so in Green Bay. And my Lambeau Field virginity was broken at age 6.
Packer kicker Chester Marcol tried an onside kick and kicked the ground and hurt his leg real bad. Missed the rest of the season. And the Packers lost pretty bad. I sure hoped I'd get to see the Packers win a game at Lambeau some day.
I learned some bad words that year. the Packers had traded about 100 draft picks for a quarterback named John Hadl. And after a few Pabst Blue Ribbons all my Daddy's friends used some bad words to talk about him.
When Packers coach Bart Starr got rid of him, all my Daddy's friends were happy. They told me that coach Starr had been a great quarterback, much better than Hadl.
The next year my Momma and Daddy built a great house in Green Lake, Wisconsin. There was even a big old playroom for my brother and me. The walls and ceiling were painted green and gold. And I got new Green Bay Packers pajamas every Christmas.
The Packers didn't win hardly any games back then. But I loved them more and more each year anyways.
We moved to Little Rock, Arkansas in 1977. My father decided to stop selling washing machines and sell stoves instead. I played my first year of youth tackle football. I was crushed that I wasn't chosen by the team called the Packers. My team was called the Rams. I liked the blue and gold uniforms.
Daddy told me in real life the Rams were a much better team than the Packers. And I was upset that in Little Rock, Arkansas the Packers were not on television on Sundays. I seemed to always be stuck watching either the New Orleans Saints or the St. Louis Cardinals.
But that was OK. I collected football cards. And I kept buying pack after pack with the nasty tasting gum until I had all the Packers.
The Packers had a new quarterback named Lynn Dickey. He was No. 10. Then one day Daddy sat me down and told me that we were moving back to Green Lake, Wisconsin. He was going to go back and sell washing machines again.
I was happy. I'd get to watch the Packers on Sundays again.
It was great to move back. All my buddies welcomed me home. And my Daddy's friends didn't use the bad words about quarterback Lynn Dickey. But then he broke his leg. Just like Chester Marcol did when he kicked the ground in 1975. Those football players sure broke their legs a lot.
In 1978 the Packers had yet another new quarterback named David Whitehurst. They also had a new running back named Terdell Middleton. Daddy told me he liked Middleton because he was from Memphis, and that Terdell went to the same college that Daddy went to.
And the Packers started winning games again in 1978. They had a new receiver named James Lofton who became my favorite player. It actually looked like the Packers would make the playoffs.
That guy from Memphis, Terdell Middleton really looked like a star, like he was O.J. Simpson or something. But the evil Vikings and their quarterback Fran Tarkenton won their last game and kept the Packers from making the playoffs. I cried.
It was around that time that my daddy sat me down again and told me we were going to move again. "To Green Bay?" I asked excitedly. "No, to Chattanooga, Tennessee," Daddy told me.
By then I knew it was me who talked funny. With my Kentucky, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Arkansas, and more Wisconsin accent I headed back south. I knew I wouldn't get to see the Packers play on Sunday again.
In 1979 the Packers went back to their losing ways. But I got to go see the Packers play against the Falcons in Atlanta. It was my first game in a stadium other then Lambeau Field. I wore my Packer colors. I heard more dirty words. This time they were aimed at me. A guy named Steve Bartkowski had a big game and the Packers got beaten badly
When it came time for football season to start in 1980 I was thinking the Packers might win some games. Lynn Dickey had recovered from his broken leg. In the first game, that kicker that had kicked the ground years earlier, Chester Marcol, had a game winning field goal blocked in over time against a team I had grown to hate, the Chicago Bears.
But the ball bounced right back in his hands and he ran, with the ball up by his single bar facemask, for the winning touchdown. Now I hadn't ever seen a kicker score a touchdown and I thought it was a sign from god that the Packers would make the playoffs. I even got to see the game on television!
But that season went downhill fast. And later that same season those same Bears whooped my Packers 61-7. I was glad I didn't get to see that game on television.
In 1981 my Daddy moved us again, to York, Pennsylvania. No more stoves, or washing machines. Now he was selling cabinets. between 1981 and 1984 I got to see the Packers play in person against the Baltimore Colts and the Philadelphia Eagles.
In 1982 the Packers actually made the playoffs in the year the players went on strike. And I yelled and screamed when the Packers whooped the Cardinals 41-16. But the next week the Packers almost beat the Dallas Cowboys but lost. I hate the Dallas Cowboys.
The Packers were rarely on television, even with the new invention of cable. But I did get to see them on Monday night in 1983 when they took on the Super Bowl Champion Washington Redskins.
It was and still is the highest scoring game in Monday night history and the Packers won 48-47. Lynn Dickey had changed his number to No. 12 by then. When the Redskin kicker Mark Mosely missed a potential game winning field goal in the final seconds, I cried. Happy tears!
In 1984 I raided Daddy's liquor cabinet with the neighbor girl and got caught. The next week Daddy sat me down again and told me we were moving to Illinois. I thought it was my fault.
In reality it was because Daddy had a chance to sell store fixtures and actually own part of the company. I cried. But at least Illinois was closer to Wisconsin. Maybe I could see the Packers on television more often.
From 1984 to 1986 I endured much hate from Chicago bears fans. I wore my Packer colors proudly as Walter Payton ran all over us. I bit my lower lip when Refrigerator Perry ran and caught touchdown passes against us.
I rejoiced when quarterback Rich Campbell won his one and only game as a Packer in the game in which Walter Payton played quarterback.
I did see a game in St. Louis against the Cardinals. Jim Zorn started at quarterback for the Packers. He was awful. An aging Lynn Dickey relieved him from the bullpen and nearly led a great comeback win. Running back Jessie Clark had a big day. But, another tough loss.
In 1987 I was accepted to Marquette University. I was ecstatic that I was moving back to Wisconsin. I was accepted to other colleges as well. But at Marquette, i could watch the Packers every week!
But another strike happened.They brought in "replacement players", or "Scabs" if you are a union fellow. I liked those scabs, they won 2 of 3 games behind quarterback Alan Risher. After the strike I even went to a game at County Stadium which the Packers lost. Randy Wright was awful. But Paul Ott Carruth had a nice game!
The Packers had drafted a young long haired blonde quarterback named Don Majkowski in 1987. They even gave him #5. I sure hoped he would be as good as another guy who wore #5, Paul Hornung. But soon after they changed his number to #7. Majkowski would be the last guy to wear #5.
Too bad I got into trouble at Marquette. Father Flanigan, after being awakened at 3:00 a.m. to deal with my disobedience, told me "I needed to seek education elsewhere."
So I headed back to Illinois. Peoria, Illinois to be exact. I found that if I grabbed a six pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon and drove my 1985 Camaro out in the country I could actually hear WTMJ AM 620 through the static.
I'd take my six pack and spend three hours in my car listening to Max and Jim call the games. In fact, the "majikal" 1989 season was spent in a prairie outside Chillicothe, Illinois listening to all those close games.
It was so very sweet to see the Packers against Bears game at Lambeau Field that year. With about a dozen of my closest Bear fan friends, I watched the "instant replay game." After further review...the Bears still suck!
In December of 1989 I got tickets to see the Packers against the Bears at Soldier Field. I wore a Tony Mandarich No. 77 jersey. I knew I'd hear plenty of bad words aimed at me. The Packers won a thrilling 40-28 game.
By halftime i had dodged a couple full beers thrown at me. They hit the lady in front of me. The husband of that lady was not amused. By the time the fight was over security had ejected a dozen or so Bears fans.
By games end, I had frozen spit loogies in my hair. My jersey was soaked with beer. And i cried happy tears.
By 1992 I had graduated college and was living in Indiana. I surprised my Daddy with tickets to a December game at Lambeau Field. When we got to the hotel my Daddy asked me to get the phone book out and call Ray Nitschke and see if he would be at Fuzzy Thurston's bar Shenanigans in Depere. I looked at him like he was insane.
Daddy was semi-retired now and making more money in semi retirement than he ever did selling washing machines.
Ray's number was indeed in the white pages. We had a nice chat and he gave me directions to Fuzzy's bar. Ray wasn't there, but Fuzzy was and is a great man! I went to the men's room to take a leak and noticed that Packer great Willie Davis was doing the same right beside me. I nearly leaked on him.
The next day the temperature was about eight degrees. Daddy and I were excited to see this young new quarterback Brett Favre live for the first time. Daddy told me he liked this kid No. 4. The Packers rolled behind Favre and a rookie first round draft pick, Terell Buckley, returned a punt for a touchdown.
After this game I told my Daddy that I would set a goal to see the Packers in person play against all the other 29 teams in the NFL!
The next five years were a glorious time for not only myself, but for all Packer fans. I got married and had two kids.
I spent my honeymoon in Jacksonville watching the Packers beat the Jaguars. I even shook hands with Big Irv Favre who was sitting three rows in front of me.
A highlight of the 1995 season was sitting just above the "Dog Pound" in Cleveland and watching the Packers whoop the Browns on the first home game after Browns owner Art Modell announced that he was moving the team to Baltimore.
77,000 Browns fans sat in the parking lot for the entire first quarter. It was spooky watching Favre stake the Packers to an early lead with a near empty Old Cleveland Stadium. That was a big road win that season.
I went to over 20 games at Lambeau Field over four years. I saw the Monday night game against the 49ers when Don Beebe replaced an injured Robert Brooks. When Jacke won it with a 53 yard field goal in overtime, I cried, happy tears. I saw the Mud Bowl against the 49ers when Desmond Howard took over the game.
In 1997 after a win over the Bills in the regular season finale, i actually met #4. At roughly 2 a.m. at the Best Western hotel, my buddy Andy and I were finishing our last cocktail of the night and had the door open to allow some air in. With four other buddies passed out after a day of football and drinking, the room was a bit ripe!
Suddenly we heard a small group of guys in the hallway. When we heard the drawl we looked at each other immediately and burst out into the hallway. There was Brett favre along with a couple of his buddies that were in town from Mississippi and were staying at the hotel.
Looking a bit like Beavis and Butthead, all I could muster to say was, "MVP..." And Brett nodded at us and simply said "how y'all doin", and with that he and his buddies proceeded to head to their rooms. Andy and I just stood there, in our long johns. As we started to follow them a hotel security guard came around the corner and simply said "let em go, boys". And that was that.
Slowly but surely I crossed teams off my list that I saw play against the Packers in person.
In 1996 I prayed for the Super Bowl win and cried happy tears when it happened.
In 1997 I prayed for the Super Bowl win and cried sad tears when the pass to Chmura fell incomplete.
The highlight of that season was watching at Lambeau as Darren Sharper scored a couple touchdowns as Packers finally beat the Cowboys at Lambeau for the first time since the Ice Bowl. After the game Michael Irvin was quoted as saying "I haven't been beaten that bad since my old pappy beat me".
In 2000 I had a Packers chat room on the internet. I received an e-mail from a guy claiming to be from Wal-Mart's television advertising firm. He asked me if I was interested in auditioning for a television commercial.
By now I had the Sunday Ticket and watched EVERY Packers game on television. That July I filmed a television commercial for Wal-Mart and Direct TV for the Sunday Ticket. It was run nationally that entire season. Every week I got phone calls from old friends asking me if it was really me.
In 2003 I sat in the "leap zone" for the first time in a night game against the Eagles in a driving rain storm. I hung out with "St. Vince", the Packer Pope. I sat in row one seat one. Ahman Green scored a touchdown and ran right at me but veered left at the last second. We lost that game in the final seconds. I was too mad to cry.
In 2004 I sat in the end zone as Packers pummelled the Broncos in the last game of the regular season. I watched the luxury box erupt when the now Arizona Cardinals scored twice in the last two minutes to beat the hated Vikings and deliver us yet another division crown. I cried more happy tears.
Two weeks later I sat in the same end zone and looked straight at Randy Moss as he "pseudo mooned" us in the disappointing playoff loss.
After enjoying a 25 game winning streak in games I attended between 1992 and 1999, the Moss "moon" started a losing streak that took me back to the '70s and '80s.
I sat in the same end zone and saw Aaron Rodgers make his Lambeau Field debut in a bad loss. I saw Aaron Rodgers break his foot. It brought back memories of Chester Marcol and Lynn Dickey.
And in 2007 I sat on the 40 yard line and froze myself to the bone watching Brett Favre battle the Giants. I literally thought I was going to die of exposure. When Favre threw the pick I cried. Frozen tears. Eli Manning...
My Daddy, now retired and living in warm Arizona cried also.
And as I write this I have a humble one game winning streak after sitting at Lambeau and watching Aaron Rodgers beat Peyton Manning last October. Aaron Rouse had a 99 yard interception return for a touchdown. It was my Mother's 66th birthday.
I'd gladly have traded the win against Peyton Manning for a win against Eli Manning on January 20, 2008.
I've now seen the Packers play in person against all but seven of the 31 other teams. I know I am getting older in that I saw the St. Louis Cardinals, the Baltimore Colts, the Los Angeles Rams and the original Cleveland Browns as well as the new Baltimore Ravens.
And there you have it. My story of how I became a die hard Packers fan. 34 years of being a die hard fan. And ready to head to Lambeau Field to see the Packers open against Jay Cutler and the Bears on September 13, 2009. The tickets are a 40th birthday present for me. I hope to be crying happy tears.
And it all started with a pair of Packers pajamas in Memphis, Tennessee in 1972.
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