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Morning, UP

No. 66: Mailbag brings a memento from an idol

October 22, 2011
The Mining Journal

The large white postal envelope was balanced on my computer keyboard Monday morning.

Being neither a Monday person nor a morning person, I didn't even look at the envelope at first. Instead, it was time for my cranky self to dig in to the first-of-the-day tasks.

However, once I really looked at the envelope, my heart skipped a beat. The name on the return address label was Amy Nitschke.

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My hands trembled a bit as I tore open the envelope. At the top was a small beige envelope and inside that was a lovely handmade notecard, inscribed with beautiful handwriting, from Amy.

She is indeed the daughter of Ray Nitschke, my all-time favorite Green Bay Packer.

The note told me Amy and I have a mutual friend in John Maino. Maino, who was a year ahead of me at Negaunee High School, has been a media maven in Green Bay for many years and currently has a popular show on WIXX there.

Maino had shared with Amy a column I wrote back in 2009 when Brett Favre signed with the Minnesota Vikings. The column was about how I mailed my No. 4 Favre Packer jersey back to the former Green Bay quarterback.

In the column, my last three sentences are: "The lesson, I reckon, is to not be fooled into thinking you know your football idols any more than you know a stranger. And that idolizing modern football players is a foolish enterprise, at best. If I ever get another Packer jersey, I believe I will stick with the Ray Nitschke one."

In her wonderful note to me, Amy wrote: "My dad would be honored to know someone like yourself was wearing his jersey. Thank you for believing him to be a man worth idolizing!"

In the envelope was a Packers green No. 66 jersey with Nitschke emblazoned on the back. What an amazing surprise. To say it made my Monday would be a total understatement. It made my year.

By the time you read this, I will have mailed a thank-you note to Amy that includes some information she probably does not know: Ray Nitschke was one of the first well-known people I ever interviewed.

Mr. Nitschke had traveled to Ishpeming to speak at a civic organization's banquet. This must have been in 1982 or 1983, at the start of my career here. My editor at the time told me to ask for a few private minutes with the football legend so the story would have something in it that wasn't shared with the crowd during his speech.

Nervous? No. I was way beyond nervous. My hands were actually shaking when I approached my football idol. Thankfully, he was amazingly kind and put me right at ease. We covered my questions quickly, his answers filled with humor and patience.

"Good job," he told me. Those were precious words to a young reporter.

After dinner, when he spoke, Mr. Nitschke was making a point and said, "As I told my new friend, Renee ..." and he pointed me out. All I could think was "Ray Nitschke knows my name!!" The rest of the event is a happy haze in my memory.

Flash forward about 17 years: It's my first time covering a Packers game in my former capacity of Armchair Quarterback for the Ogden Newspapers chain, which owns The Mining Journal. My press credentials were handed to me and upon arrival in the pressbox, my assigned seat number was revealed.

It was 66. Yep, Ray Nitschke's number. Probably no one sitting by understood my tear-filled eyes. But it seemed like a sign that Ray, who passed away in 1998, was there with me, encouraging me like he had all those years ago.

Amy Nitschke probably didn't realize it, but her kind act had more import than she could imagine.

Indeed, the No. 66 jersey that's now mine will be worn with tremendous pride and with gratitude the kindness of one generation of the Nitschke family is being carried on by the next.

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is rprusi@miningjournal. net.



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