NOTE: This column represents our department’s third-year anniversary in the Florence Reminder & Blade-Tribune newspaper. We are grateful for the opportunity to inform Florence about the Community Services Department. We also thank the public for its support these past three years.
The anticipation of our family vacation back to Michigan in 1967 to visit my father’s hometown became secondary to me after Dad promised a trip into Green Bay to possibly meet Green Bay Packer players. Born and raised in Arizona, I had no local professional football team until the Cardinals relocated in 1988. I decided to embrace my dad’s favorite team, since Green Bay was less than an hour from his hometown of Menominee, Michigan.
Dad’s connections provided a lifetime memory for me when I was 13 years old. Andy MacDonald was head football coach at Northern Arizona University from 1965 to 1968. Before his NAU position, MacDonald was an assistant at the University of Iowa under coach Jerry Burns. Burns enjoyed a long and successful career as an assistant and head coach in the National Football League. Luck was on my side when Burns was an assistant coach in Green Bay under Vince Lombardi in 1967. Thanks to a casual conversation between Dad and MacDonald that summer of ’67, Andy offered to call Burns and see if a visit and tour of the Packers’ facility was possible. Burns readily agreed and all arrangements were made prior to our train trip back east.
During one of our 14 days in Michigan, Dad borrowed his brother’s car and drove us south into Green Bay. I couldn’t believe what I soon saw: the mezmorizing and historic Lambeau Field. The practice fields were close to the stadium, so it was a short walk from the parking lot. Dad told the security guard who we were and after a short radio check to someone on the field, the guard allowed us to pass through a crowd of fans watching the Packers practice. We sat on a bench between the two practice fields, but we were soon surrounded by players, taking a water break. Linebacker Ray Nitschke and guard Fuzzy Thurston sat close to us while they gulped water on that hot and humid day. Soon, Jerry Burns extended his hand, introduced himself and asked how coach MacDonald was doing.
When practice was over, Burns invited us into the locker room to meet my favorite player, defensive end Willie Davis. Davis, who wore No. 87, was a tremendous player for 11 years and easily elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981. While Dad and I followed Burns through the locker room, I was fixated on the football stars I admired for years, available only on the TV screen. I was introduced to wide receiver Boyd Dowler, offensive guard Jerry Kramer and watched as quarterback Bart Starr and Lombardi walked by us. Burns found Davis in the trainer’s room, using an introduction something like this: ‘Willie, this young man and his father came all the way from Flagstaff, Arizona, so he could meet his favorite player: you.’”
Davis broke into a wide grin, crunched my hand in an enthusiastic handshake and we spoke for a few minutes. Our dialog was long forgotten as I was living a dream. Later, Burns told my father that most fans did not want to meet the defensive players. Quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers were always in demand but not on this day. From that point on, I attempted to pattern my play after Davis, regardless of participating in flag football, street football or high school and junior college competition.
When I see players perform in our department’s youth flag football leagues, I expect they have dreams of playing in high school, college and the professional ranks. It’s a safe bet that most of the kids in our seven-team league use today’s players as role models hoping to equal and perhaps exceed their success. Our youth league games are held every Tuesday evening and Saturday morning at the aquatic center multi-purpose fields through Oct. 12. I know the kids would love to play before a sizable crowd while they experience the sheer joy of playing football and creating future memories of their own.
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I’ve written previously that Florence is my fifth stop among state municipalities. Chandler, Prescott, Prescott Valley and Maricopa were previous employers and each one had outstanding public safety departments. The police and fire personnel were dedicated and well-trained to provide protection to residents of those communities. This November will mark my seventh anniversary with the town, so I can say with 100% assurance, the Florence Police and Fire departments are among the best I’ve seen in 41 years of working.
The community has an excellent opportunity to see first-hand what the Florence Fire Department has to offer this Saturday from 2-5 p.m. It’s the second annual Florence Fire Department Open House. Chief David Strayer and department personnel will provide tours of the station at 2035 N. Hunt Highway. Raffles for prizes, kids’ activities and photo opportunities in firefighter gear and on the fire engines are all included. This is a free, family event so stop by this Saturday.