Cheesehead Origins Father’s Day Edition: My Dad’s Fandom Journey Through the 60s, 70s and Beyond

Featuring my dad and his Packer fandom for Father's Day.

Welcome to Cheesehead Origins, an offseason series geared toward showcasing Packer fans with interesting fandom origin stories! CheeseheadTV is devoted to Packer fans worldwide, and we want to hear (and share) your stories. 

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With this Sunday being Father’s Day, I had the idea some weeks back of interviewing my dad to feature in this column. He agreed, and the other day we talked for about 45 minutes about some of his Packer memories and how his fandom has evolved over the years.

I grew up watching the Packers every Sunday, but at least in my lifetime, my dad has never been what I’d consider to be a “diehard.” Sure, he catches every game, but he’s not obsessively reading every morsel of information he can get on the team, or taking part in conversations on social media.

In some ways, he’s very emblematic of what I see in many people of his generation in Wisconsin: people who care about the Packers, first and foremost, and maybe have a mild interest in the rest of the NFL at most. So I was interested in hearing about his own perceptions of his fandom and to get some stories about what he remembers about the team from his youth.

My dad, David Backes, was born in the Milwaukee area in the late 50s. While he didn’t quite have the football consciousness to witness and remember the entire Lombardi era, he does have clear memories of some of the later years, including the Packers’ second threepeat as champions.

I asked him what his earliest memory of watching the team was, and he pointed to the 1965 season.

“My dad had a couple of cousins who were priests,” he said. “One of them was Father Len Novotny, who was pastor at the time at St. Louis Parish in Caledonia. He had had a heart attack, which is maybe why I remember this at all, because we went down there and I thought it was so cool to ride on his thing that went up the stairs. They had the Packers on. I’m pretty sure it was the 1965 season, and I have this vague sense that they were playing either the Browns or Colts, both of whom were pretty big teams at the time.”

David knew his dad was interested, as was his brother Paul. They’d regularly had Packer games on at the house, but he didn’t really remember starting to watch them until the 1966 team, when he was nine years old.

“Then I was starting to get into it,” he said. “I still have, to this day, the yearbooks or press books from 1966, 1967 and 1968. Those years were big years for the Packers, and I just happened to be reaching the right age at that time, too.”

Unsurprisingly, my dad has vivid memories of watching the Ice Bowl from the comfort of his living room as a 10-year-old.

“I doubt that I had a real grasp of its historic nature yet, other than realizing it was pretty cool for the Packers to be in this position two years in a row,” he said. “We knew it was bitterly cold, but I don’t know if we knew at the time it was the coldest game ever. It was very dramatic watching the people in the stands and the breath rising out of the stands. The players were getting numb and all that kind of stuff. I think they had heaters on the sideline. And then, of course, that final play. My dad, I think, was pretty calm about it, but my brother and I went nuts.”

Being five years younger than his older brother, David followed along a similar trajectory in the way he watched and consumed football and sports. The games were always on on Sundays, and he got used to that being “part of the regular happenings of the household.”

He also remembered getting more into football thanks to recess games at school.

“At grade school we played a bit of football, or actually usually ‘kill the guy with the ball,” he recalled. 

[We referred to it as “rumble fumble” at grade school in the 90s.]

Another hobby that shaped my dad’s early football passion was electric football. He and his brother received a joint Christmas present in 1966 or 1967 of an early electric football set.

“This was old electric football, when the  field was kind of like a thick cardboardy thing,” David said. “The players didn’t represent NFL times; they were just ‘white team,’ ‘red team.’ My brother and I had a lot of fun with it until my dog, Charley, peed on it and it buckled up this long strip about a third of the way into the field covering most of the length of the field. That made it a little harder to have a decent game.”

Once the more modern version of the game (with real NFL teams) came out, he got that as a present. He had so much fun with it he continued adding more and more NFL teams to his collection.
“I’d play seasons, and would spend hours every week set up on the floor in my parents’ den,” he said. “I kept statistics on the players and all that kind of stuff. If they would’ve had Madden back then I would have gone nuts on that, I’m sure.”

My dad got very invested in the hobby along with a couple friends of his, so much so that they began painting their players to make sure the uniforms and rosters were remaining as up to date as possible. 

“I don’t remember who got me into it,” he said. “It might have been my friend Greg who convinced me to paint the figures. My natural tendency would have been to resist doing anything to them, but then I got into it. The players came and had the accurate uniforms, but then teams started changing their uniforms a little bit. Like when the Rams went to that yellow, it was like ‘aw, man!’ So then we started painting them. We painted the helmets to get the yellow going over the white. Then we started doing sweatbands that matched the team colors.”

David would go to a corner dime store in the small suburban downtown near where he grew up and pick out little jars of paints from the hobby collection. He remembers having to shake up the paint so that the oil would combine well in the paints. When he and his friends Greg and Chris combined forces, they had all the paint colors they needed to touch up their players and make any updates they needed.

“It was fun, but also a little scary because you wouldn’t want to mess up,” he said.

He also remembered the idiosyncrasies they’d notice in their figures, to the point where they all had their own favorite players, which he finds funny in retrospect.

“With electric football, the bases they had would make a difference, so there were definitely better players than other players,” said David. “We tried to improve them by moving those hair-like plastic things underneath them.”

Around that time there was another occurrence that was a major milestone of his early fandom.

In the late 60s, my dad’s sister (seven years older) was heading off to St. Norbert’s College, where she would spend the first two years of her university education. My dad went along with his parents (and possibly his brother, he can’t remember for sure) to take her up from Milwaukee and drop her off.

The family had lunch in the cafeteria, and up until that point my dad was completely oblivious to the fact that the Green Bay Packers were also there in training camp.

“I don’t even know if I knew until that day that that’s where the Packers’ training camp was,” he said. “They came in to eat lunch at the same time we were there. In the cafeteria there was a partial dividing wall between where we were and where they were. Our table was at the end closest to their first table closest to us, and the dividing wall didn’t go where we were.”

The person who ended up sitting closest to my dad was Packers tight end Marv Fleming. 

“I just remember thinking ‘oh my god, I can’t believe how much he’s eating!’ He had this incredible plate of food and I was just thinking ‘how is this possible?’”

My dad was too shy to ask for an autograph in that moment, and had a feeling his parents wouldn’t want him to make a scene anyway. So they all left the cafeteria, but finding his courage, my dad convinced his parents to give him a piece of paper that he folded up into quarter sections, and he waited outside the cafeteria to try to get autographs from whoever came out first.

He ended up getting three or four autographs. Jim Grabowski, running back, and Dave Hanner, former pro bowl defensive lineman and defensive line coach at the time, were the two names he remembers for certain.

“Grabowski was new at the time, but became bigger,” he said. “I didn’t fully appreciate Dave Hanner at the time> i was still young and I was just thinking ‘who the hell is Dave Hanner?’ He was doing that sort of ‘yeah, I’ll sign your thing, kid’ and putting his arm on my shoulder, but scribbled his name really fast.”

When the 70s arrived, my dad was a full-on football diehard up through his high school graduation in 1975. Then he began to lose touch.

“Before I started college I knew a lot of the top players from almost all of the teams, probably,” he said. “I could tell you most of the starting rosters for most of the teams. Afterward it started sliding away. This is partially because of going to college, but had the Packers stayed really good, I probably would have paid more attention through college.”

He does remember closely watching the Packers through high school, even as the team began to flounder under Phil Bengtson and Dan Devine. 

“So the Packers win their second Super Bowl in 1968,” he remembered. “And then Lombardi retires, but then ends up becoming a coach with the Redskins. Everybody here was so disappointed. Phil Bengston took over, and things were okay, but then started sliding. I saw the decline of some of the old-time Packer players like Ray Nitschke, Bart Starr, Willie Wood, all those great guys who were in their final years at that point.”

David did get to go to one or two Packer games in his youth. But it wasn’t until much later in life that he got to see them play at Lambeau Field for the first time (more on that later).

“Around 1970ish I went to one, possibly two, games at Milwaukee County Stadium with my dad,” he said. “I can still remember Bart Starr and Ray Nitschke being out on the field. I think Starr got hurt during the game. He was getting hurt a lot at that time.”

David also fondly remembers some of the other major teams of the time. He really enjoyed watching the Miami Dolphins, especially because of players like Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Bob Griese.

“At the start of that ‘72 season I had entered a Sports Illustrated contest where you could predict the Super Bowl. if you got the two teams that went into the Super Bowl you got a free year’s subscription,” he said. “If you got the score right you got a lifetime subscription. I did get the two teams right and the one year subscription, and just missed the lifetime.”

He also grew a fondness for the Oakland Raiders, especially the double-zero of Jim Otto.

But by the time he was in college, it became harder to keep up. The Packers were bad, the access he had to the team was relatively limited, and it just wasn’t as much of a priority any more.

He met my mom and they married young (he was 21, she was 19). The 80s came, and my dad went back to school for another undergrad degree, then a master’s degree, then a doctorate. My older sister was born in the early 80s, then I was in the late 80s, and my other siblings followed in the early 90s. 

Life was hectic, and the Packers fell to the backburner. My dad ended up missing most of the football of the 80s. He’s described the entire decade in general as being a “blur” in the past, and football certainly was not a priority compared to obtaining multiple degrees while balancing new children and eventually a new career.

When my family moved back to Milwaukee in 1988, months after I was born, my dad was beginning a brand new career that consumed most of his time that fall. But in 1989, routine began to set in, and my dad turned back to the Packers, just in time to catch the magical season produced by Don Majkowski (before a couple more Lindy Infante flops). 

When Brett Favre stepped on to the scene, my dad was an early fan. In fact, he probably became a bigger fan early on than he otherwise would have due to arguments with a coworker, who wanted the Packers to move on.

“He was really down on all his interceptions, and I said ‘you mark my words, he’s going to go on and be a Hall of Famer.”

My dad readily admits he probably didn’t actually believe Favre would be that great when saying this circa 1993 or 1994, but he was always high on Favre’s play style and confidence. To this day, despite having less-than-positive feelings about Favre personally, he says Favre is close to being his favorite Packer of all time (an honor that still belongs to Jim Taylor). 

These days, David is a self-described casual fan. He still watches every game in the fall, but that’s about it. He doesn’t read columns or articles all throughout the week or watch sports television. He doesn’t take part in social media conversations. He doesn’t read the blogs or devour every morsel of team-related news he can find.

“The main difference is that I enjoy watching the Packers, but I’m not as much of a football fan as I used to be,” he said. “So I don’t have that sense of what’s going on with the rest of the league like I did back in my teens, and probably even less than I did when I returned to watching the Packers again in the late 80s and early 90s. My interests have kind of moved to some extent away from sports and general. I don’t know if there’s any particular reason for that that I can put my fingers on. I just don’t find sports in general as interesting as I used to.”

Even in the 90s when he was more emotionally invested, he was still never the kind to shout at the television or get extremely intense. 

“I guess in that sense I was like my dad in watching it,” he said. “I liked to watch the Packers, like to watch them do well. But it wouldn’t ruin my week if they lost a big game. That’s a change from when I was a teen, for sure.”

In fact, when I mentioned the Packers’ last couple season-ending losses, my dad could barely remember any specifics about them other than the general sense of disappointment. This is certainly different than someone like me, who is still haunted by every missed opportunity that occurred in those games.

But that doesn’t mean he’s not appreciative of the magic that can come from following the team.

In November 2000, my dad came home from work and surprised me by saying a coworker with season tickets had offered him a pair of seats to go to the Packers’ Monday Night contest against the Minnesota Vikings, a game that ultimately became known for Antonio Freeman’s overtime circus catch (and Al Michaels’ all-time call of it). 

It remains the only game we’ve been together, and the only time he saw the team play at Lambeau. 

“I remember it was cold and rainy,” he laughed. “That’s a tough combination, especially when you’re sitting or standing still in the stands. I do remember it was a cool experience. Before the game we were wandering around and looking for food and found this place where we got food.”

We ultimately found it–some local sports bar was doing a tailgate and had plenty of brats, kraut, corn on the cob and everything else you could want out of a tailgate selection.

Both of us had been to the stadium for a tour in the offseason before, but getting inside was an entirely different experience when it was packed for a primetime divisional matchup.

“To see it with the game going on, you’re really impressed with just how good every seat really is,” he said. “There’s a real sense of closeness. It’s pretty amazing. Then, of course, the excitement of the fans. It is different than watching it on TV for sure. I’m not a very social person, so my preference is to watch on the TV, but there is an excitement that you can only get by being at the stadium.”

I’ve been fortunate enough to be with several people when they walked through the tunnel into the bowl for the first time, so I asked my dad if he could remember what he was thinking in the moment.

“I just remember being excited and thinking ‘wow, this is going to be really cool,’” he said. “Knowing that it was Monday Night Football and you’d have the Monday Night crew up there. Just, wow, we’re part of something the whole nation is watching. And then just finally seeing the Packers play a real game at Lambeau Field, that was a cool feeling.”

These days my parents are both homebodies and very much content to stay home and watch the game quietly. My mom has a hard time sitting through a full game and is usually doing multiple chores or knitting while watching, and my dad will usually have his laptop to be working on his writing or other tasks.

“I’m terrible with just about anything that has commercials these days,” he said. “And then there’s all the time between the plays!”

So while the Packers may no longer be the same obsession they were for him in high school, it is a guarantee that every Sunday (with occasional Thursdays and Mondays) this fall, the green and gold will be on the television in the Backes house, a link in a generations-long tradition for our family.

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Special thanks to my dad, who I’m pretty certain has never once visited CheeseheadTV.com, for unquestioningly taking part in this interview and article. And Happy Father’s Day this coming Sunday to all the dads out there!
 

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Tim Backes is a lifelong Packer fan and a contributor to CheeseheadTV. Follow him on Twitter @timbackes for his Packer takes, random musings and Untappd beer check-ins.

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Comments (3)

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mrtundra's picture

June 16, 2022 at 07:44 am

Nice memories and tribute to your Dad, Tim! That Green and Gold is in our DNA.

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TXCHEESE's picture

June 16, 2022 at 09:26 am

Cool stuff Tim! Our family is coming to our first GB game this season. Mid October against the Jets. Looking forward to your beer selections, so we can sample the local fare. (IPA's please!). Like your dad, my first real memory of watching the Packers was the Ice Bowl. Being in Texas, all of my brothers were rooting for Dallas, and there were tears shed when Starr went over for the winner. My dad and I were whooping it up, and I think my mom was happy the Packers won as well.

Can't wait to get to Lambeau this Fall.

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THESZOTMAN1's picture

June 16, 2022 at 04:43 pm

Great story, Tim.
Your Dad and I are from the same generation.
And my favorite Packer is also.......................... Jim Taylor.
The Szotman

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