What it was like to be a young Packer fan in the 70’s.
When I read about the recent death of Dave Purifoy, who played DT for the Packers back in the 70’s, it brought back some memories. I was a kid back then, growing up on the Wisconsin-Michigan border, and the Packers were our heroes. So many of the names and numbers are still burned into my mind after all these years: #90 Ezra Johnson…#77 Mike Douglas…#13 Chester Marcol…#29 Mike McCoy…. The list goes on and on. The only problem with the Packers back then is that they did not win a lot of games. The fans were still riding high from the Lombardi era, and we hadn’t yet realized that there would be many more lean years to come.
But to a kid, all that really mattered was that these guys wore the green and gold and played in the NFL. Greatness was 100 miles due south on US-141: Lambeau Field and the Packer Hall of Fame. My grandfather, who lived in Antigo, Wisconsin, had attended virtually every home game since the early 60’s. My grandma was just as big a fan in her own way. She couldn’t tell you much about what the offensive linemen were doing, but she loved the Packers and could yell and scream with the best of them. Bears linebacker Dick Butkus was her nemesis. I still remember the way she spat out the name “Butkus.” “I hate that Butkus!” she would say.
Back then, it was possible to worship a mediocre NFL team in a way that you seldom see anymore. Fans have shorter attention spans now and are less willing to be kind to a team that doesn’t at least make a playoff run every couple of years. There were no superstars on the Packers back then, and very few stars. I remember the running back John Brockington, #42, who had a few very good years before his career was lost to injuries. Then there was Terdell Middleton, who had one year where he rushed for more than 1,500 yards. What happened to him after that, I honestly don’t know. He seemed to just disappear. But I also remember some of the running backs who were ordinary talents by NFL standards--guys like Harlan Huckleby and Eric Torkelson. Maybe I remember them because their names reflected the humbleness of the Packers back then.
One of the more unusual memories from my childhood was when some members of the Packers played a basketball game at the Kingsford Armory, near my hometown. It was just for show, sort of like the Globetrotters except not nearly as good, obviously. It ended with Chester Marcol kicking a game-winning field goal from midcourt, between the posts that the backboard and hoop were suspended from. We got a bunch of player autographs afterwards.
Back then, that was a big part of the appeal of the Packers. They were so accessible. They were regular guys, but at the same time, they were like gods to us. It’s good that the team has tried to preserve some of that accessibility, especially in training camp. It can never completely go back to how it was, because football is such a big business now, but it’s worth trying to preserve it as much as possible. The Packers of the 70’s may not have been one of the better teams in the league, but they were OUR team, and in a way, that was enough.