LA CROSSE, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – Former Packers center Frank Winters, an iron man on Green Bay’s Super Bowl XXXI team that defeated the New England Patriots a quarter century ago, highlighted the Boy Scouts-Gateway Area Council’s annual Golden Eagle Gala Wednesday night at the Waterfront’s Cargill Room in downtown La Crosse.
According to scout executives Joe Carlson and Kevin Corkin, the dinner and auction raised more than $63,000 to support local scout programs that serve area youth.
Winters, who now lives in Chicago and has a thriving business career, shared stories from his NFL career and Super Bowl championship season to more than 200 attendees at the benefit. He also promoted the qualities—hard worker, dependable, persistence, being prepared and a good teammate—that have served him well in his NFL and business career.
Winters’ career path in the National Football League was never an easy one.
Before the Packers’ eventual Pro Bowl center came to Green Bay in 1992, Winters had stints in Cleveland, New York, and Kansas City.
The 6-foot-3, 305-pound center/guard’s primary role that first season was as a long-snapper, stepping on the field only in kicking situations or to spell an offensive linemate.
When the opportunity for increased playing time arose due to injuries in 1993, Winters stepped in and proved he could be a full-time player. By 1994, he had become a permanent starter on a rising Packer team and was best friends with quarterback Brett Favre and tight end Mark Chmura.
1996 would bring a Super Bowl title and Pro Bowl acclaim. But Winter’s season was marred by his older brother John’s unexpected death just over a week before the Packers faced the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans.
Winters flew home to his native New Jersey, facing the “toughest three days of my life.” In the blinding limelight of the Super Bowl, he grieved and prepared for the ultimate championship he always hoped to participate in.
“When I look back now, that was a tough time,” Winters said. “First we had the great joy of getting to a Super Bowl after all those years in the league. Then came the tragedy. The closeness of our team and having my family come down to the Super Bowl really helped a lot, battling through it.
“When the Super Bowl was over, when everything died down, then I had the chance to go through the grieving process and reflect on all the great moments with my brother. Almost 10 years later, it’s still on my mind.”
Winters always had a tough-guy reputation, according to Ron Wolf, the Packers former general manager who signed him as a Kansas City Chief free agent.
“Frank has a big-time temper and is legitimate tough guy,” Wolf said. “He looks like one of those guys on the Sopranos. He made himself into a Pro Bowl player. He got the opportunity and took advantage of it. Frank Winters was a free-agent snapper who paid huge dividends for the Green Bay Packers.”
Wolf cited a statistic: “One year (1994), he took every offensive snap, from the preseason through the regular season due to injuries we had. Every single offensive snap. That’s amazing. Some people thought Frank wasn’t in the best of shape, but that speaks to his durability and physical condition.”
Winters was signed by Green Bay for his long-snapping abilities. “Someone once told me you can never take the ‘foot’ out of football,” Wolf said. “It’s a vital part of the game. We believed in having a strong kicking game. One thing about Frank was he was a superb long snapper. When he showed up on KC’s (Plan B free agent) list, we wanted him.”
Wolf said Winters importance to the team may have been overlooked or taken for granted at times by the fans or media.
“But not by the Packer coaching staff or the administration,” Wolf said. “Why? Because he was always there. He was at every meeting, every practice, every game. Frank was dependable—and that’s the greatest compliment you can give to an offensive lineman.”
Former team historian Lee Remmel once cited Winters’ leadership. “Frankie imparted a certain machoism, a certain brand of toughness, that rubbed off on his fellow offensive linemen,” Remmel said. “Frankie was a leader by example and a professional football player, with the emphasis on professional. He always came to play.”
Winters said he valued the relationships and friendships with his teammates, especially Favre and Chmura. The three teammates, who were virtually inseparable in their playing days, were dubbed “The Three Amigos.”
“I’m not sure how the ‘Three Amigos’ got started,” Remmel said. “Favre, Winters, and Chmura just became fast friends in a short amount of time and were leaders on the team. That’s unusual, but not unique. Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, and Max McGee of the Lombardi era were another close trio that comes to mind.”
Winters recently returned from the Super Bowl in LA, where he attended the NFL Awards show that introduced teammate LeRoy Butler as part of the 2022 class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“LeRoy is very deserving on the honor,” Winters said. “I didn’t stay for the Super Bowl, but I got a chance to have dinner with Brett on Saturday night before I flew to Florida to play some golf.”
Winters is still amazed at Favre’s accomplishments—and some of the pranks he played on teammates.
“To go 14 years without missing a game, that’s something truly amazing,” Winters said. “In any sport that’s something, but especially with the physical nature of football.”
What was Winters’ favorite all-time Brett Favre practical joke?
“There were a lot of them,” Winters said with a hearty laugh. “He always kept you on your toes. One comes to mind that wasn’t too bad. We have a secure parking lot for the players. Brett went through this stage when he took players’ cars and drove them across the Lambeau Field parking lot in the dead of winter. He’d leave them running, turn the air conditioning on, with the radio blaring.
“But we got him back really good. He always left his keys in this car, so we put it behind a big snow bank in the parking lot one day. Payback.”
Winters said the highs and lows of his NFL career involve the Super Bowl.
“To get to the Super Bowl and win it is special,” he said. “Just a great feeling of accomplishment with all that it takes to get there. I’ll cherish that forever. I look at my ring and all the effort it represents. Football is the ultimate team sport.
“On the other side of it, one of the biggest disappointments was losing to Denver in a Super Bowl we were favored to win. I look back and we were ready to play; I just have to give Denver credit. That’s life in the NFL.
“I always told myself, hopefully I can play for five years and pay for a house. Well, I played 16 years. . . The time really went by fast, and I have a lot of good friends and memories.”
Winters relishes his 11-year Green Bay career, as the Packers compiled a 116-60 regular season record and a 10-7 mark in the playoffs.
“Basically I just went out and played every down like it was my last,” Winters said. “Until the whistle blew. I approached it like that, week in and week out. Nothing was ever given to me—I had to work for it and tried to take advantage of opportunities to show I could do the job.”