Packer fans relive memories, make predictionsLike many in River Falls, school board member Dennis Behnke exudes Packer pride. Behnke says his comes from a glorious tradition that his own family is part of.
By: Phil Pfuehler, River Falls Journal
Like many in River Falls, school board member Dennis Behnke exudes Packer pride. Behnke says his comes from a glorious tradition that his own family is part of.
“A true Packer fan is always going to predict a Packer victory,” Behnke said regarding Sunday’s Super Bowl game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. “Through good times and bad, Packer fans have been loyal to ‘our team.’ Our family has the same seats at Lambeau field since it was constructed in 1959, and we will continue to pass the legacy down to our children.
“My father attended the (first) Packer/Bear playoff game at Wrigley Field in 1941, and I was destined to continue the Packer tradition. Actually, my mother, at 86 years of age, attended the home opener again this year.”
Best of all, Behnke will be in Dallas Sunday to attend the Super Bowl.
“Attending a Super Bowl is an incredible experience that words simply cannot describe,” he said.
Behnke said that one of the “most moving moments of my Packer experiences” was seeing the Vince Lombardi trophy back in Green Bay after the 1997 Packers won the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots.
Said Behnke, “I will never forget the words of former Packer President Bob Harlan: ‘The Lombardi trophy has come home to Lambeau Field where it belongs.’”
Behnke said Packer fans have many reasons to rejoice.
“They are a great group of talented players united as a ‘team,’” he said. “Many of my friends and relatives still live in the Green Bay area, and I am always amazed by the acts of charity and kindness the players provide to underprivileged youth in the area -- without any media coverage, no hype or glamour like many professional athletes.”
Behnke and his wife Julie try to attend one Packer road game each year. Their goal is to watch the Packers play in every NFL stadium.
Last fall the Behnkes traveled to a game in Washington, D.C., against the Redskins.
“Just as in previous years, it is amazing the number of Packer fans you see at these away games no matter where the game is played,” he said. “In my opinion, this simply proves that the Packers are ‘America’s team.’”
Packer fans of all stripes
- Colleen Prine, 75, a River Falls State Bank teller for almost 20 years, said Friday that the tension before the Super Bowl has longer to simmer because of the extra week off after the NFC championship.
“Most of us at the bank are one big basket case because we’re so excited and nervous,” she said.
Prine said her Packer mania started soon after she got married 54 years ago. After that it simply matured.
Just six years ago, Prine attended her first game at Lambeau Field. Now she goes to one game in either September or October with her daughter, Dee-dee Prine, a 1989 River Falls High School graduate, who lives in Wausau.
“I found a way to get tickets, and I wanted to go with someone special,” Prine said. “Packer fans are the greatest. There’s such camaraderie and fun at those home games. Even if you don’t know anyone else, everybody’s friendly and you fit in by the end.
Prine was -- and remains -- a loyal Brett Favre fan.
By her teller window she’s kept a 15-year-old Journal photo of Favre signing a helmet for her grandson when Favre visited River Falls one summer with other Packers.
“No, I don’t like that Brett went and joined the Vikings, and I don’t care about his personal life,” Prine says. “But in my mind, he’s a legend for what he did as a Green Bay Packer, and that won’t ever change.”
On the other hand, Prine has embraced Favre’s successor, Aaron Rodgers.
“I love him, too,” she says. “He’s awesome the way he has replaced Brett, and he seems like a good guy.”
Prine is eager for some work-related entertainment when her employer, the River Falls State Bank, hosts a Packer tailgate party this Friday starting at 11 a.m.
She predicts a hard-fought Super Bowl with the Packers emerging 24-20 winners.
- Stacy Martin has worked nearly 14 years at EconoFoods as a bookkeeper and in customer sales. She’s been to more than 25 Packer home games at Lambeau Field.
Raised in Chippewa Falls, Martin’s devotion to the Packers was passed on from her parents and grandparents.
“With all the big-name players who’ve been hurt, it’s really amazing the Packers are even in the Super Bowl,” Martin says. “They’ve had to crawl their way there. It’s been a struggle, but even the games lost were all close.
“What I think is great is the backups and guys on the practice squad have gotten a chance and they’ve come through. And now the Packers are a better team with more depth. This season has been a true team effort.”
Martin says the basement of her home is a “Packer shrine.”
“It’s like a big sports bar,” she says. “There are bobble-heads of many of the players, a wood carving of Vince Lombardi posing with a Super Bowl ring, old sports magazines of the Packers, pictures and posters on the walls. It’s really something to see.”
While she still likes Brett Favre, Martin said watching Aaron Rodgers is like “watching a young Favre when he first led the Packers and was so dynamic.”
Martin said the two-week wait for Sunday Super Bowl has made her jittery.
“I don’t know about the score but it’ll be a close one,” she said. “We have a decent chance. I really hope they can do it so they can shut everyone up about how Favre won it for the Packers and all the comparing that goes on between Favre and Rodgers, and whether Rodgers is as good as Favre. I want Rodgers to be able to stand as his own person.”
- Kevin Pechacek, West Wind Supper Club owner, has been going to Packer games at Lambeau Field since the late 1970s.
He said the team’s up-down-and-up again fortunes have made this season a roller-coaster one for fans.
“Before the season started the Packers were picked by many to be the top NFC team, but with all the injuries they’ve had it’s been a surprise to see how well they’ve finished,” he said. “If they play their game, execute like they’re capable and don’t turn the ball over, we should win the Super Bowl.”
While pleased the Packers are rushing the ball better, Pechacek said it’s all about passing the ball for big plays.
“When Rodgers takes off running, the linebackers have to stay close and cover him, and that creates gaps for our great receivers,” he said. “He’s got those quick passes over the middle that no one can stop. I think we can get by with just passing the ball.”
Pechacek has critical advice for the Packers’ offensive strategy.
“We can’t get conservative,” he said. “Sometimes when we get a lead, we seem to be looking up at the clock in the middle of the third quarter and play like we’re just trying to hang on. We need to put a foot to the pedal but without being reckless.”
Pechacek said from a business standpoint, the West Wind will capitalize on Super Bowl Sunday by offering prizes during the game for patrons, including a halftime prime rib giveaway.
Pechacek said his biggest Packer Super Bowl memory is the last one in 1998 -- a stunning loss to John Elway and the Denver Broncos.
“It’s strange how that Super Bowl sticks out,” he said. “It must be because the Packers were so heavily favored. We had won it the year before, and then we just got complacent and let that game slip away.
“But after losing, everyone thought, ‘Well, it’s a shame they lost, but we’ll be back right away in the Super Bowl.’ No one thought it would be another 13 years before we actually got back.
“We went from having a legendary quarterback like Brett Favre leading us to another quarterback who may be on his way to becoming a legend.”
- Dick Rinehart, Dick’s Fresh Market grocery owner, attended the 1997 Super Bowl in New Orleans when the Packers beat the Patriots 35-21. Rinehart went with his son-in-law Brian Weiss.
“My most distinct memory was something that happened outside the SuperDome,” Rinehart said. “It was unbelievable but there were 30,000 Packer fans who had assembled but couldn’t get into the game. They came anyway just to be together and celebrate, and it was a sea of green and gold.
“The sight of that avid, huge crowd of Packer backers made me feel like I was back in Green Bay, Wisconsin, otherwise known as Titletown USA.”
Rinehart said his extended family of children and grandchildren have gathered at his house for the 2011 Packer playoff run.
“It got so loud at times during the games that I wondered if the police would come by to check on the noise,” he admitted.
During televised games, Rinehart said he dresses for comfort and to show his allegiance will be wearing T-shirts and shorts bearing Packer logos.
Similar to what they did in Atlanta, Rinehart hopes the Packers can give a repeat “domed stadium” performance in Dallas.
“That’s a beautiful, beautiful dome, and the indoor setting should benefit our team, our quarterback and our receivers because of the way we throw the ball to certain spots,” he said. “The Steelers have a smothering defense, but I’m going with the Packers by a score of 27-19.”
Read more on this story in the Feb. 4 print edition of the River Falls Journal.