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Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Today...December 29th.....is Ray Nitschke's birthday.



by Mark Quarderer
PackerChatters Staff

Today...December 29th.....is Ray Nitschke's birthday. He would have been 68 today, but like many former NFL players, he didn't live to enjoy old age.

As a kid, Nitschke was always my favorite player and to this day he personifies to me the rugged Lombardi-era defense. Dick Butkus gets all the press about being the great middle linebacker, but I saw both of these guys play and whereas Butkus was a great player on a mediocre team, Nitschke managed to stand out on a unit that featured four other Hall of Famers. How good do you have to be to manage that feat?

I got to meet Nitschke on several occasions. The first was in 1967 when I was 12 years old and my church group sponsored a trip to take us to watch a Packers practice during training camp. Nitschke stayed after running extra laps, and when he walked off the field I walked up to him. I remember the sweat dripping off his nose and his huge fingers taking the pen from me and scrawling his name on a 3x5 index card I had brought along.

The last time I met Ray Nitschke was outside of a Hardees restaurant in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, probably around 1975 or so. He was doing a promotional appearance with the chain and he was there that day signing autographs. My friend and I had been out getting high and had the munchees so we showed up and there he was, sitting outside at a table with one or two people around him.

By that time in my life, I had kind of degenerated into an insufferable wise-ass who wasn't too big on showing proper respect to people who had earned it. So I went up to Nitschke and started talking about how I had seen Roman Gabriel run over his ass a few years before.

He gave me a look.....and it was not a nice look. Even though I was stoned and stupid I had enough sense to back out of there. To this day I regret having acted like such a jackass around a guy who was a total hero to me when I was a little kid. I have a #66 Ray Nitshcke jersey that I paid about $150 for a couple of years ago and I rarely wear because I don't want it to ever get worn out.....but I've got it on today.

So here is to Ray Nitshcke, the greatest MLB in Packers history, a Hall of Famer, and the rock upon which one of the great defenses in NFL history was built. We won't see his kind again.


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