Janesville native remembers Packers past

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Saturday, January 19, 2008
— As the owner of an accounting firm, Steve Nickols comes across his share of checks.

His most prized one is part of a print that hangs on the wall of his office.

The check is not the first one written to him as part of the business. No, the check is for only $4.77. It was made out on Dec. 1, 1960, to Raymond Fitzgerald.

A man named Vincent Lombardi made it out from the Green Bay Packers checking account.

“Why did he write out the check?” a visitor asks.

“Because he was general manager of the team,” Nickols said. “Back then, he pretty much ran the show.”

“For $4.77?”

“It was probably for shoveling snow,” Nickols said.

The check is part of a print that is autographed by most of the members of the Packers who won the first Super Bowl game. There are only 74 other prints in existence.

Nickols, a Janesville native, was closer to the Packers than most people during “The Glory Years” of the franchise.

Nickols went from being, if not the first, one of the first All-Big Eight Conference lineman from Janesville High to a full scholarship player at St. Norbert College in 1967. At the time, St. Norbert was a powerhouse on the level that UW-Whitewater is now. The Green Knights played such teams as Southwest Louisiana and Northern Michigan.

Just as they do now, the Packers spent the first part of training camp living in a dorm at St. Norbert.

Nickols, who played offensive tackle, entered St. Norbert the summer after the Packers won their first Super Bowl. The Packers would eat in the same cafeteria as the Green Knight players.

“They were in another room,” Nickols said. “Our side had hot dogs. Their side had steaks.”

While the St. Norbert players were in close proximity to the Packers, there was limited interaction between the two groups.

Ray Nitschke, the famous Packer middle linebacker, was the master of ceremonies at the team banquet after Nickols’ senior season. Nickols was a captain for the Green Knights that year.

“I got a chance to talk to him,” Nickols said. “He was one of my idols.”

A few of Nickols’ teammates added to his Packer connections.

Tom Olejniczak is the grandson of then Packer President Dominic Olejniczak. Dominic served as president of the team from 1958 until 1982. Tom is an attorney in Green Bay.

Another teammate, Larry Krause, was signed as a free agent and played in 51 games for the Packers at running back for four seasons. Krause now works for a bank in Waunakee.

Ted Fritsch Jr. played center for seven years on both the Atlanta Falcons and Washington Redskins. His father played for the Packers in the 1940s and was an assistant coach at St. Norbert when Nickols was there.

Just being around the Packers and having the “in” by knowing Tom Olejniczak was a great experience for Nickols. Some of the Green Knights would get “standing room only” tickets to the home games and then help clean up the stadium afterward.

Bart and Cherry Starr had a house just down the street from the house Nickols lived in his junior and senior years in East De Pere.

“Bart was very friendly,” Nickols said. “You would see them in the grocery store.”

Nickols went to St. Norbert a Packer fan and still has a strong allegiance to the team. Along with the large framed print of the Super Bowl I Packers, there is a Leroy Niemann print of Vince Lombardi surrounded by the coach’s favorite sayings.

“Dancing is a contact sport. Football is a hitting sport.”

On another print of the great Packer coach on the wall is the often-misrepresented quote about winning.

“If you can’t accept losing,” Lombardi said, “you’ll never be a winner.”

For many Packer fans around the state and in Lambeau Field on Sunday night—Nickols included—a NFC title will bring back memories of the Glory Years.

Nickols just had a closer view of those teams than most fans.

Last updated: 1:45 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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