What can I say? I have been a lifelong Green Bay Packers fan, beginning at 8 years old when I went to my first Green Bay Packers game (Vince Lombardi era) with my Dad, and willingly and happily subjected myself to years of all sorts of frozen body parts. It didn’t occur to me until I was an adult that my love of football—and especially the Pack—had everything to do with my father, more than football itself.
He shaped my experience with football both in and out of the stands. I liked the players my father liked; I knew who Ray Nitschke and Zeke Bratkowski (hands pictured above) were, and I learned to immediately identify the penalty as soon as a yellow flag came flying out of a black-and-white-uniformed hand. I loved learning about the players by listening to the stories that were told to me about the men who played football.
One of the many Packers stories I heard actually took place away from the frozen tundra. My father had many Packers season tickets as well as many entrees to special events. One such event was a black tie dinner about 40 years ago in Milwaukee, where he and my mother attended a Vince Lombardi Cancer benefit. George C. Scott was the guest of honor as were many Packer legends, including Jim Taylor (whose Superbowl-ringed hand is also pictured above). My mother was both fortunate (and unfortunate) enough to sit next to Jim Taylor.
After a very engaging 45 minutes of conversation with her dinner partner, my mother, whose anything below 60 degrees Fahrenheit intolerance allowed me to take her place at every Packer game, smiled at her dinner companion and asked: “What do you do?” He shrank back and said: “I’m Jim Taylor.” Understanding that she had possibly offended him, she offered minimal consolation: “Cheer up. I didn’t recognize George C. Scott, either.” Apparently, as the story goes, he never spoke to her again.
And it brings me to the subject of ego and its counterpart: leadership. Between 2005–2008, Brett Favre had a three-year waffling season, unable to decide if he wished play or not. There was an enormous buzz around Favre, as his “in-out-in-out” decision-making stimulated discussion among football fans around the country. Yet, for me, there was only one element of this three-year “it’s-all-about-me” period that was most fascinating: It wasn’t the plethora of Favre press conferences, nor the many interviews # 4 gave, but rather, the lack of attention to the #12 jersey who sat so quietly on a Lambeau bench. For three years.
I am one of those who believe that a person’s great character contains more parts leader and very few parts, ego. John Shepherd, Pleasant valley High School principal and coach, speaks of his then teenage student Aaron Rodgers:
He's just a person of character. When he played for me, he was an intense leader. He wasn't a person who tried to embellish his stature or attributes. He is who he is.
Watching Rodgers on TV, playing on a chilly Green Bay field this past Sunday, I marveled at how he smiled and chatted with his opponents during an official review of a penalty play against the Packers. I was intrigued with the lack of aggression and posturing I normally witness in most football games. Rodgers’ body language and facial expressions were open, calm, and relaxed. Even when a penalty is against his team, one can see, in the very next play, Rodgers continue to drive the ball down the field where the Pack will undoubtedly score.
Aren’t all leaders like that? Superbowl-like people of character who put themselves smack in the middle of what’s good for all; what’s good for the team, the family, the organization, the group? With the genuine mission of best-for-all, there is no place for ego.
This Thanksgiving, while my beloved team plays in Detroit, I will be mindfully grateful that I, too, not only witnessed that great strength of character and leadership on the frozen tundra bench and field, I also lived and breathed it every day with the man who role modeled it the best: my favorite Packers viewing partner, my Dad.
And while I envision him next to me at each football-viewing, his presence and essence are with me each day, and I am thankful for him- my own “Superbowl Champion.” Last month, one of my Packer-backer daughters took some of his ashes to place in Green Bay at the field. It is one of many poignant and heartfelt reminders that I will always do a Lambeau Leap for my Dad.
Who might be the person you choose, who is Superbowl worthy?