The Gift on the 40-Yard Line
Lee Remmel was the public relations director for the Green Bay Packers, a team he was associated with in various capacities for more than sixty years. He passed away in April of this year, leaving behind a remarkable legacy . . . and one of my most indelible memories.
I’ve never lived in Wisconsin. The closest I came was a two-year stretch (5th and 6th grade) when my dad was stationed in Michigan, at an Air Force base in Oscoda. And yet for my entire life I’ve been a diehard Green Bay Packers fan.
The explanation is in two parts, one that makes sense, and one that is mostly foolish. The sensible one is that I first began to notice the NFL when I was a wee tyke in the late 60s - and we all know who the dominant team was at that time. Professional football games weren’t televised nearly as much as they are now, so the Packers (as world champs) were one of the few teams that I saw on a regular basis.
The foolish reason is that I decided (at that time) that my favorite color was green. Thus are kids’ favorite teams selected when they’ve never lived in a town with its own franchise.
I’ve been a fan through the good (four Super Bowl wins) and the 70s/80s - Packer fans know what I’m talking about. But I’ve also been a radio guy since the late 70s, which gave me a certain “press” association, even though I was never technically a news guy. Regardless, in the 80s I contacted the Packers and asked to be added to their weekly press release mailing list. Yes, they were typed/photocopied reports on all things Packers.
And the guy responsible was Lee Remmel. Every week he made sure that I received the report, chock full of stats, game info, player transactions, and assorted tidbits from Packerland.
In September of 1992 I decided to make my first journey to storied Lambeau Field. I started to call (no Internet, folks) and buy tickets somehow, when it occurred to me: Hey, maybe Lee Remmel can help me. So instead of calling a ticket broker, I wrote a letter to Lee. He called me a few days later - he called ME! - and said that he’d leave a couple of tickets at will call. “Enjoy the game,” he said.
I was in heaven. I was finally going to see a Packer game at the most hallowed football stadium in America. I took my sister (who actually lived in Wisconsin at the time) and off we went to Green Bay. We arrived on game day and quickly did a pass through the Packers Hall of Fame, took a few pictures (with an actual camera, ha ha!) and talked with Packers fans. The topic of conversation was mostly centered on a new player who would be making his first start as a Packer. None of us knew anything about him, and there was considerable debate on how to pronounce his name.
About an hour before kickoff I went to will call . . . and there were no tickets for me.
I wouldn’t say that panic set in, but my brain scrambled for a minute as I contemplated flying to Wisconsin, dropping money on airfare and hotel, and then - incredibly - spending the entire game in the parking lot. With no desire to do that, I asked if I could talk with Lee Remmel. I explained to the harried ticket booth agent that I was a member of the media, and Mr. Remmel would hopefully take care of the problem.
A phone call was made. Then another. “Please wait over there,” said the ticket agent, who moved on to the next customer.
Five minutes later a young man showed up - I wish I could remember his name - and he essentially said, “Mr. Remmel is busy.” (It was game day, after all.) “But he apologizes for the mix-up. Will you come with me?”
This gentleman escorted my sister and me into Lambeau Field, quickly walking to some elevators while I gaped. When the doors opened we were on the press box level. We weren’t getting regular tickets anymore; our destination was a small, private room next to the press box, where we looked out through the open windows onto a sun-splashed 70-degree day. “Help yourself to the free food in the press room,” said the PR assistant. “You might be joined by a Make-A-Wish child and his parents. Oh, and one of the players on injured reserve might be sitting in here, too.”
Wait. An actual Packer player might join us?
And free food?
Here’s the deal: No one else ever showed up. My sister and I sat in this private box on the 40-yard-line, eating brats and chips and giant cookies, drinking in the majesty of a Packers/Steelers game at Lambeau Field. There was an old-fashioned phone in the booth, and we called a few people we knew and held the receiver out the window so they could hear the roar of the crowd.
Two details that I must share: The Packers won that game, 17-3. And the player whose name we struggled with? A guy named Brett Favre. It was his first start, and it included a 76-yard touchdown pass to Sterling Sharpe. After that Favre went on to start another 296 games in a row. It’s the longest streak for a quarterback in NFL history - and I was there for the first one. In a private box on the 40-yard-line.
And it’s all because of Lee Remmel. He felt so bad about a silly mix-up in the ticket booth that he ended up going way way way above and beyond to make it up to me, some radio schmuck in Denver whom he’d never even met. And that’s exactly what made the man one of the most beloved people in not only Packers history, but NFL history. He was the consummate professional, and a gentleman.
Mr. Remmel did eventually pop into that private booth for a few minutes near the end of the game to make sure I’d been taken care of, and to quickly chat about the team. Then he went back to work, doing what he did for decades: Covering the greatest, most storied franchise in football, the team that he loved to his core.
That’s my memory of Lee Remmel. I count it as one of the greatest gifts of my life.