ISHPEMING - Bubba Croley didn't know it, but on Oct. 7, at a birthday party for him and his cousin, he was going to receive a new Jordy Nelson jersey as one of his presents.
A Green Bay Packers fanatic, Bubba had chosen Nelson as his favorite Packer.
Instead, Bubba died in the early hours of Oct. 6, his family having been in a horrible accident with an alleged drunk driver while they were on their way to the Green Bay area for the family celebration.
His mother, Jodi, and sisters Taylor and Gabby were also injured and are still recovering from broken bones.
Yet Nelson was to touch the family's life in ways they did not anticipate.
After the accident, Bubba's father, Christopher, was speaking to someone about his desire to get an authentic game jersey of Nelson's for a shadowbox tribute he wants to make for his son, whose given name was also Christopher.
"One of my dear friends at the Marquette Police Department (David Schneiderhan) overheard that conversation. His sister knows someone who's friends with someone in the Packers organization," Mr. Croley said.
Later, Croley overheard his friend on the phone with someone and grew concerned from the bits of conversation he was hearing.
"I thought something was wrong with one of his family members," he said. Instead, Schneiderhan was trying to help make that wish come true.
"Then Thursday night, late, Dave's sister Tammy arrived and gave us a Packer flag, a Packer pen and this helmet autographed by Jordy Nelson, who wrote 'rest in peace, Bubba' on it."
Shocked but grateful, the family put the mini-helmet in the casket with their son during the funeral, along with other Packers items.
"One of Jodi's former students (Molly McGlone) brought a Donald Driver jersey and put it in Bubba's casket," Croley said. "She wanted us to keep that."
So Bubba's father has the autographed helmet and Bubba's mother has the jersey from another Packers great. But the story doesn't end there.
Croley was told Nelson had said if he scored a touchdown during the Packers game against the Houston Texans he would try to find a way to pay tribute to Bubba.
"We were told he was going to do something special," Mr. Croley said. "He did point up to the sky. We don't know if that was a dedication to Bubba, but scoring three touchdowns in the game was a tribute to my son, intentional or not. Jordy is now so close to our hearts."
Jodi Croley was back in Green Bay Tuesday for more surgery on her injured clavicle and a friend was able to get her a table at The Bar in Green Bay for the broadcast of "Inside The Huddle," which featured Jordy Nelson this week.
"Jordy didn't talk to anyone but I did meet his publicist who I handed Bubba's obit pic, a card and a giraffe named Bubba for Jordy's little boy," Jodi Croley said. "I said, 'this is the one Jordy signed the helmet in memory of. My son was the one killed in the accident in Middle Inlet.'"
The Croleys aren't sure their favorite Packer received the items, but want him to know how much his kind gesture meant.
"It was Bubba's dream to have met Jordy and to have something signed by him. So we thank Jordy so much for honoring him by signing the helmet," she said.
Christopher Croley added: "We appreciate Jordy taking the time to think of our son. That means a great deal. Our son passes away and his favorite player, Jordy, has such a great game. I take peace in that. I do."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.