In 1971 John Brockington was a rookie for the Green Bay Packers. On a cold winter night, with roads pelted by sleet and rain, John made his way to a Levitt’s furniture store outside Milwaukee to sign autographs.
Also on a journey to the Levitt’s warehouse and showroom that night was this writer, nine years old, safely traveling in the back seat of his father’s Pontiac Catalina. I have no memory of the exact location of the showroom, I just remember the trip seemed to take hours and I was worried he would be gone by the time we got there.
When we arrived, I was surprised there were so many people there to see my hero. When we found the back of the line, I couldn’t see my Packer favorite, and again I was concerned he would leave before I could meet him. My father told me to be patient, and I stood fidgeting, trying but failing miserably in my attempt to comply.
After what seemed like an eternity, I made it up to the front of the line. There was John Brockington sitting in a chair in front of a table, right in front of me. My first impression was I was shocked at his size, he seemed larger than life. I wanted to say hello but I was tongue tied. He broke the ice by smiling at me and asking my name. I swallowed and said as loud as I could, “I’m Paul’.
He said, “Nice to meet you”, signed an 8×10 glossy photo of himself and handed it to me. Instead of thanking him I pulled out a folded piece of paper and asked if he would sign it. I still remember the curious face he made, asking why I needed that when I had the glossy photo signed. I told him I was afraid to take the picture to school, someone might tear it, so I wanted the paper to take and show my friends.
There was still a line behind me and I’m sure those people were rolling their eyes at this kid holding things up, but John just smiled, chuckling under his breath, and reached for my paper. I thanked him after he signed it and stuffed it into my pocket.
Yes, I brought the folded paper to school. No, my friends did not seem very impressed. No, I do not still have the paper or the glossy photo. But I do have my memory, and it is one of my favorites from childhood: my father driving for an hour in sleet to allow me to see my hero; my first and only real encounter with a Packer hero who talked to me; John Brockington’s kindness, and his patience with a silly nine year old’s request.
John Brockington Foundation
It does not surprise me that John Brockington went on to use his fame for good. His foundation helped so many suffering from kidney disease. This quote from John on the Foundations’ website sums up the man I still consider a hero:
“Throughout my life, I’ve been blessed by opportunities to be able to reach my goals. Whether a National Championship with my beloved Buckeyes or Rookie of the Year with the Green Bay Packers, I have been rewarded with great success. Certainly my kidney transplant of November 28, 2001 can be added to the list.
For me, as for other kidney recipients, it made the difference between a difficult life on dialysis and the normal life I now live.
Since I left the Packers, no effort has been as satisfying and important to me as the work of my foundation. The ESPN piece above tells you how we became involved in the cause. Since 2002, we have been providing help and hope to those impacted by kidney disease.
Our free screenings and classes educate, our food vouchers sustain patients on dialysis, and our donor registration drives seek to reduce the wait for all organs.
Join us in battling death on the transplant list – the health crisis our nation could virtually solve with a signature.”
Number 42, thank you. You always gave your all, on Lambeau Field, and in your community. A hero to me always.