After a statement victory over the Buccaneers in Tampa last week, the Green Bay Packers return home Sunday to take on the New England Patriots.
The Packers have re-established their dominance at Lambeau Field, winning 14 straight regular-season games. The last victory came in Week 2 over the Chicago Bears, and it capped off a perfect ending for the franchise’s annual alumni celebration.
Every year, the Packers host and honor their alumni players during the weekend of the first or second home game of the season.
It’s like a class reunion or homecoming, with former Packer players from decades past returning to Lambeau Field for a long weekend of social gatherings, from dinners to golf. The alumni celebration culminates with the game on Sunday, when the players are introduced at halftime in order of the decade in which they played.
Cathy Dvorak, director of community outreach and player/alumni relations, and Packers game-day staff run a tight ship to ensure the introductions go smoothly and everything runs on schedule as Packers players return to the field for second-half warm-ups.
Typically, the alumni depart their Lambeau Field suite early in the first half to be staged in the tunnel outside the Packers locker room. Once the present players depart the field for halftime and are in the locker room, the alumni introductions start soon after.
Eighty-six-year-old Jerry Kramer, former Green Bay guard, waited patiently in his wheelchair while watching the Packers increase their lead to 24-7 in the waning minutes of the half on a television by the elevators.
When asked if he was excited to be introduced, Kramer replied, “Well, except for this damn wheelchair. But my hip is shot so. . . but it’s always great to be at Lambeau Field with my teammates and the fans. And beating the Chicago Bears.“
Players from the 1960s are the last to be introduced. When Kramer’s name was called, he walked out on the field with the assistance of his son, Mark, and teammate Dave Robinson.
The Lambeau Field crowd applauded loudly for all the alumni players, but saved the loudest ovation for Kramer.
As Kramer’s 1960s teammates assembled around him for photographs, the current Packers players were beginning to return to the field to warm up for the second half.
As they ran across the south ends zone, many stopped to hug or shake hands or chat briefly with the alumni players. “Aaron Rodgers has always shown great respect during his career of us old timers,” Robinson said. “He knows we paved the way for the game has become today. It means a lot to us when these players stopped—and we know they’re in a game with our arch rival Bears—and said hello. Makes us feel special.”
As Kramer and Robinson watched the second half from the alumni suite, they reflected on the moment.
“I felt like a quarterback, or a running back, or something else—anything but a guard,” Kramer said of the ovation. “That was a first time for me and it was a wonderful experience. It was a surprise, spontaneous. So it was a wonderful evening to begin with and that just made it very, very special.
“Aaron said hello and we stopped, shook hands, and chatted. The Packer fans have always been good to me and appreciative, and I feel the same way about them. We have a great relationship.”
Robinson said reuniting with his teammates and the fan support during the halftime introductions brings out the competitor in him.
”At my age, you have a lot of memories,” the 81-year-old Robinson said. “Your memories start fading, you can’t always remember plays or faces.
“Then when you get together again with all your teammates, all of sudden you feel like you’re 23 years old and you’re full of energy and you want to go out there. For a minute there—no, no, a couple seconds,–I felt like I wanted to put uniform on and go out on the field. You get all inspired. It’s really something.”
Robinson and Kramer both saw the makings of a Super Bowl team.
“There’s a lot of season left, but there’s a lot of talent on this team,” Kramer said. Added Robinson: “They have a tough schedule, but they can go as far as they want to go. They’ve got the personnel and coaches and organization. It’s all there. Hey, I’m old school. The players have to believe in themselves and have that tough edge and intensity. Every play, every game. And you’re not going to be beat at home. I’m not a gambling man, but I think this is a Super Bowl caliber team. But you have to go out and earn it.”
NFL Week 4 Picks
Packers 31, Patriots 17
Brian Hoyer will likely be under center, but never underestimate a Belichick-coached team. NE tests Packers defense on the ground with Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson, but defense makes Pats one-dimensional. Success with Jones-Dillon opens up passing game for Rodgers and his young receiving corps.