Wizbicki wows the Packers
On Friday, the Green Bay Packers made a surprise stop at the Golden Living Center in Superior to visit one of their own.
Alex Wizbicki, 92, is a resident at the center and played for the Packers in 1950.
He wore a vintage blue and gold jersey for the occasion and was introduced with the other players when the Packers’ Tailgate Tour bus stopped at the care center Friday morning.
The visiting Packers spent about half an hour signing autographs and snapping photos with excited fans.
For Wizbicki, it was a familiar scene.
“It brought back memories of years ago,” he said.
Wizbicki began his professional football career in 1947 with the Buffalo Bills and then played one year with the Green Bay Packers in 1950.
At the time, professional football was not a lucrative a career path. Wizbicki’s one-year contract with the Packers totaled just $5,500.
The current minimum salary for an NFL rookie is almost $500,000, and the average player salary is about $2.1 million.
Gloria Leighton, Wizbicki’s daughter, said times certainly have changed since her father played for the Packers.
“He had a nail for his uniform,” she said. “And they had the leather helmets.”
Wizbicki played both defensive back and running back as a professional. He spent four years in the professional circuit before leaving football due to an ankle injury.
“He’s so modest he didn’t save anything from the Packers,” Leighton said. “We have a few old pictures, some newspaper clippings, but he was so humble. He loved the game for the game.”
Wizbicki said he has many fond memories of his days in Green Bay, but more than anything, he remembers the fans.
“I don’t know of any ballplayer who played here that didn’t walk away with a heartwarming feeling toward the fans,” Wizbicki said. “That’s what made the team what it was.”
Before the Packers’ visit Friday, the staff at the Golden Living Center draped the building in green and gold.
Balloons, streamers and construction paper chains decorated the interior. Large posters welcomed each of the visiting players, and most of the center residents wore Packers apparel.
There were, however, a few splashes of purple.
Daniel Stephans, executive director of the Superior Golden Living Center, said about half of the residents are from Minnesota. He joked about hiding Vikings memorabilia prior to Friday’s event, but a few jerseys still turned up in the crowd.
Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy noticed the purple and gold and took a playful jab in his opening remarks.
“We feel like we have the best fans in the NFL,” he said. “Even better than the Vikings fans.”
Murphy later added that, while the team enjoyed its recent Tailgate Tour sojourn into Michigan, he was “proud to say that we’ve never been to Minnesota.”
Three former players and three current players joined Murphy on this year’s Tailgate Tour. Defensive back Jarrett Bush, linebacker Brad Jones and kicker Mason Crosby represented the current players. Packers alumni were Paul Coffman (TE), Lynn Dickey (QB) and James Lofton (WR).
The Tour made scheduled stops in Escanaba, Ironwood, Superior, Rice Lake and Merrill, and a number of surprise stops along the way.
“The Packers are a unique organization in that we’re owned by our fans, by our community,” Murphy said. “So for us giving back to the community is one of our real key priorities, and this is one of the ways we do it.”
The players joined the Golden Living Center residents for songs and exercises before taking questions and signing autographs.
One exercise had the residents lifting and waving a brightly-colored parachute. They laughed as they sat in a circle and swatted at balloons that bounced on the parachute.
When the formal program ended, Coffman jumped into the circle to add an exercise of his own — the Hokey Pokey.
He led the residents through a few verses of the song before handing off the microphone to Murphy.
“I think we can see why when Paul played, the Packers didn’t win much, but they had a lot of fun,” Murphy said.
The staff at the Golden Living Center said Friday’s visit was a great success.
Wizbicki also said it was a special day, and he was happy to see the Packers’ organization continuing its close relationship with its fans.
“To them, you were something special. You were part of the team that represented their town,” Wizbicki said. “You contributed to the existence of the team, and you became a part of their community.”
Lofton, who played nine seasons with the Packers (1978-86) and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2003, agreed with Wizbicki.
“I think it’s more than just being a former player, it’s part of being a much broader family,” Lofton said. “It’s important, and it’s something that’s so special.
“One thing that this tour does is it gets people connected. There was a young man at the benefit last night; his name is Matt. Well, Matt first wrote me a letter in 1986. We’ve kind of been pen pals ever since, and so we met last night.”
Bush said interacting with the fans brightened his day, especially students at the schools they visited.
“Some of them have been too excited to even talk,” Bush said. “But eventually they open up to you and start talking, relating experiences and sharing stories a little bit.”
“You can see it in the faces of little kids, because it’s not every day that the Packers’ Tailgate Tour bus rolls into town. It’s pretty memorable,” Lofton said. “It’s important to them, and so it should be important to you as a player and as a former player.”