Tuesday, March 10, 1998

Ray Nitschke Remembered

I'm going to jump in with my own Ray Nitschke remembrance. It picks up on an interview I heard on KCBS radio in San Francisco Monday morning. John Madden has a segment each morning, where he talks about whatever is on his mind. Unfortunately I missed the first minute or two, but caught the end. He was talking about Ray Nitschke, and was making the point that he (Madden) had spent enough time around Nitschke to KNOW that Nitschke considered it an honor when someone asked for his autograph, and that he was genuinely happy to give one. My personal encounter with Nitschke bears this out.

It was 1989 (the "Majik Man" year). A semi-business meeting was scheduled for a Saturday in September in Chicago. Checking the calendar and realizing that the Packers were playing the Saints in Lambeau Field the following day, and being no dummy, I decided that I really needed to go to the Chicago meeting myself rather than sending someone else. I decided to take my dad to the game, something I had never done, since our tickets come from my wife's side of the family.

I boarded a plane at O'Hare about 5:00 in the evening on Saturday, heading for Appleton. The plane was scheduled to stop in Green Bay first and then continue to Appleton (makes no sense geographically, but must have made sense to United Express, or Air Wisconsin, or whoever it was at that time).

As I was waiting for the plane to get going, I noticed that the last guy to get on the plane, right as they closed the door, was none other than Ray Nitschke. (It is hard to miss him, even in a non-football setting.) For some reason, he was always a special Packer to me. My wife and I even named one of our cats after him (the cat is now 12 or 13 years old, and is showing his age).

I decided that I would ask for his autograph, but thought I would leave him alone until just before the approach to the Green Bay airport. When the time came, I pulled my copy of Ray Nitschke's Packer Report out of my briefcase, and walked to the front to ask for his autograph. We talked for awhile. I explained that I was a subscriber of his, living in California, but was going home and was going to the game with my dad. He said that was just great (and I think he really meant it, too). He wrote a nice note for me on a piece of stationery I handed him. I then started blubbering something about what a great honor it was to meet him. He brushed the blubbering aside with something like "aw, go on." He could not have been nicer. I'm looking at his note now:

To Tom Freeman
"A Super Packer Fan."
Best of Luck. Always
Keep Happy & Well -
Love Ya - God Bless
Friend in Green Bay
Old "66"
Ray Nitschke

As a little postscript, for several years I have been meaning to send Ray Nitschke a picture of Nitschke the cat, explaining that we named the cat Nitschke because of his red hair and sweet disposition. Unfortunately, I never did. What they say is true - if you have something nice to say or do, do it before it is too late.

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