You know The Owner, right? Yeah, you probably do.
This story appears in the September 2014 issue of Packerland Pride magazine. Subscribe to the magazine here.
After Steve Tate got hit by the Packers fan in Cincinnati, he thought it might be a good time to remind himself of a lesson.
It wasn’t really much of anything. Not as bad as it sounds initially. A pretty-inebriated lady had just watched Green Bay lose to the Bengals last season, and her and her group happened to be shouting things at the group of Bengals fans Tate was with afterwards. Tate thought that maybe since he and the Packers fans were wearing the same colors he could diffuse the situation.
Well anyway, he learned a lesson out of it.
“Anytime I think people might know you: No they don’t. No, they don’t,” he told himself that day.
And yet, you probably do know Steve Tate. Or at least know of him. You just might know him as Steve The Owner, the ubiquitous Packers superfan with the Cheesehead that reads NFL OWNER across the two forward-facing sides of the wedge on his head, sometimes an American flag sticking out the top in front, wearing a green Bart Starr jersey and, occasionally, stretchy yellow football pants like the players wear.
To know him like that is to know his public persona. It’s a costume. And he is The Owner in it. But how The Owner part of Tate came to be at all comes from a personal place. And despite what it may look like, like someone who might be forcing himself in front of the camera with a wardrobe you can’t ignore, Tate is as surprised as anyone that The Owner has turned out this way, known by this many.
Of course there is a satisfaction to the attention, even when this whole thing didn’t start as much more than a passing thought 16 years ago.
“This is really what I’ve come to say when I talk about it: You really become an ambassador,” Tate says. “I’m not anything big. I’m just a normal big fan, but a funny circumstance with the cheese wedge and you do become an ambassador. Because people want to connect someone to a certain team, and when they see you on TV and they see you in newspapers or magazines, they feel like, if they’re saying Hi to you they’re saying Hi to somebody on the team.
“You kind of bridge a gap that really isn’t there. But it does make the experience – a lot of times they just want to come by and say Hi, shake your hand, take a photo, and it just makes it part of the experience for them.”
Somewhere along the way, Steve Tate became a part of the Green Bay gameday routine for many people. He makes sure he doesn’t forget it.
July 30, 2014.
Tate is on the road again. By the time the calendar turns to August he’ll be in Canton, Ohio, for the annual reunion of Pro Football’s Ultimate Fan Association (PFUFA). PFUFA’s mission statement is “to promote the fellowship of all fans, encourage sportsmanship and support charitable activities.” Tate was elected as the association’s Membership Officer in 2012. He is a member of the PFUFA’s Class of 2009.
Tate is a big part of the group now. But in a way, in what it stands for, the group has been part of him for much longer.
As he rides with fellow PFUFA members and spouses to Ohio, Tate is going through photos that he took during the 2013 Packers season. He’s had tickets to the six Green ticket package games at Lambeau Field since 2003, and, like that one in Cincinnati last year, hits road games along the way as well. He says he takes between 1,500-2,000 photos at every game. He’s just sorting through them now so he can post and share them online. Tate feels a responsibility, being a superfan, attending so many games and events, to his fellow fan.
“Most people just say take a bunch of photos for us. And I’m conscious of that,” Tate says. “That’s what causes me to take more and more photos, because I know how fortunate I am to get to go to some of this stuff. There’s people all over the world – I meet people from Asia, Scandinavia, Mexico – that they make their lifelong trip, their family vacation, to come here. And you post those photos up and kind of help them experience some of it.”
Later in the conversation Tate buzzes through an exhaustive itinerary for the weekend in Canton. PFUFA sought him out to become a member years ago because his gameday attire couldn’t not attract attention. But, as the mission statement says, there’s more to being an ultimate fan than wearing something different or screaming a lot.
“It’s kind of a funny thing. We talk about it, what is an ultimate fan?” Tate says. “We talk about it in our mission statement … Take it a little loosely that you have a little recognition, and try to give back with it. Don’t burn dolls with the opponents’ colors on it, that’s not what we do. Beat the teams, but love the fans.”
PFUFA members connect during the season, sometimes stay with one another on the road, giving the host the chance to be tour guide. Last season Tate hosted Browns, Eagles, and Vikings fans. But on the homefront too, Tate, who lives and works in DeForest, Wis., serves the role.
“One of the unique things I get to do, I say because of the power of cheese, because of my cheese wedge, is a lot of people when they come into town want me to show them around, share an appreciation for it,” Tate says.
Ever since coming into that power of the cheese wedge, Tate has made time for photos, fans, meet-ups, charity events. He used to meander around the stadium and surrounding area before kickoff in Green Bay. Now, because so many ask where he’s going to be, Tate posts up in Lot 1 of Lambeau’s parking lot to make it easier to find him. He arrives four hours early so there’s enough time.
“I enjoy a lot of it and I enjoy meeting people,” he says. “I think part of it is that I didn’t get a lot of this as a person growing up, being in a lot of relationships. And sure, you get these five second relationships, but then you’ve got people I see, there’s guys I see at Fan Fest or minicamps, games you start meeting certain people. But everyone’s really cool about it too.”
Well, almost everyone.
May 24, 2014.
It is a commemorative ring from Super Bowl XLV. The $160 piece of jewelry is purposely gaudy and large. Many times when people take pictures with Tate he lets them wear it, their eyes lighting up when they see it on their hand.
Then, often, something else will happen, some other conversation will merge with the current one. Because of the commotion Tate has momentarily lost track of the ring from time to time. Before this day everyone left with the big honking ring has tracked Tate down to return it.
In the middle of this Saturday afternoon at Jug’s Hitching Post in West Bend, Wis., which was hosting an annual charity event for children, asking for a small cover charge at the door, Tate posed for a photo with a woman, he says somewhere in her 40s. Tate and his friend Wayne Sargent, also known as the Ultimate Packer Fan, were there helping the benefit. Sargent pulled Tate away after the photo to sign some merchandise.
“So I go over and do that and about 10 minutes go by, too much time lapsed, and I go, ‘Where is that ring?’” Tate says.
Tate remembered the woman and figured she had it. He went down to the bar area. She wasn’t there. He went outside, where a band was playing. She wasn’t there. He did a pass around the entire place. She wasn’t there. She was gone.
“I kind of said, ‘Yeah, you don’t just walk away with that thing accidentally,’” Tate says.
After a few unsuccessful social media forays Tate called the local Sheriff’s department but, because he’d only seen the lady for a few minutes, couldn’t leave them with a great description. He figured it was gone when, a few weeks later, he met Green Bay-Press Gazette writer Doug Schneider, who offered to do a story. It was eventually picked up by multiple news outlets – Tate even had someone from Denver call to say they’d heard about the ring.
Then friends started calling, offering their rings. Jostens, the company that makes them, offered to send one from their collection. John Bergstrom, member of the Packers Executive Committee, got in touch with Schneider, telling the reporter he wanted to give Tate his ring. Tate was surprised by the support, and couldn’t believe Bergstrom’s offer, but ultimately decided to accept one from Jostens. They set up a meeting to present Tate with a new one.
Not long after that a ring arrived in the mail at Jug’s. It didn’t come with a name or address. Tate didn’t care. The ring returned, it gave him a great example of the community surrounding the Packers, all the people willing to help.
“It takes something like that sometimes,” he says.
Good results can often arise from difficult situations. Tate himself is proof.
January 4, 1998, Part I.
The Packers were set to host the Divisional round of the playoffs against Tampa Bay. And Tate, who turned 40 in January of ‘98, was going to be there.
Before that, let’s back up further for a minute.
Tate was born and raised in Madison. His mom was from the area; his father from Georgia. The family, Tate and his four siblings, moved almost every school year. In all Tate went to 12 different Madison area schools, three different high schools.
His father worked long hours six days a week as a jack-of-all-trades laborer. In Tate’s high school football career his dad saw two games because of work. From tree trimming to janitorial jobs, Tate’s father did anything he could to provide for his family, which meant missing a lot of his family.
But on Sundays the work paused when the Packers played.
“People always say, ‘How did you become a big fan?’” Tate says, “and I don’t remember not being a Packers fan.
“It was one of the constants. We were moving schools, and a constant was really, especially during my teenage years, was my core family, a church we were going to regularly, and then that was the consistent thing: We’d watch Packers games together … Sundays were church, watch the Packers, and go out hunting. That’s all we did. And really, Sunday was the only time we had family time or my dad was around much.”
Tate says the Packers could either help or hurt when it came to post-game hunting.
“My dad told me this as I got older,” Tate says, “but we didn’t have any land. And a lot of times the only meat we got was what we shot, so we’d go out hunting, and he’d say, ‘If the Packers won you could go out and hunt anywhere. If they lost, don’t even go out.’ People would be all grumpy, go get off my land. Luckily in the ‘60s they won a lot.”
Tate didn’t have much growing up. He’d help his dad trim trees or make deliveries. Being the oldest sibling, Tate was also responsible for babysitting duties. At times they were on food stamps or received aid from schools. Things eventually turned around. From those times Tate first learned how valuable outside help is, seeing now what it does from both sides.
“I’ve seen that side and saw a lot of people give to us and help out,” Tate says. “I grew up with that blue collar, we all kind of pitch in and help out kind of attitude. So giving back, and I’ve gotten a lot of help for a lot of different things, so it just seems funny – Hey, why not share what’s out there? And you know, I’m not giving out all my money to the poor. I don’t want to overstate this stuff. But nowadays I make a good wage and my wife and I are doing well and it’s cool to be able to be apart of it.”
It’s why Tate takes photos at games instead of just watching. Takes the time to define what an ultimate fan is, helps out events or establishes his own charitable ventures, such as the Ultimate Packer Fan Connection, which just had its third annual meet-up in June. It’s partly who he is, partly making up for lost time. He didn’t go to a Packers game until he was 37. His first playoff game would come three years later.
January 4, 1998, Part II.
“My mom bought four tickets to that playoff game, and she would never say how much she paid for them,” Tate says of that Packers-Buccaneers Divisional playoff contest.
She knew it was going to be a big deal, though, showing up at Tate’s house in early December with a Christmas gift. They never opened presents early, but Tate’s mother said he needed to prepare for this one. It was a huge box filled like a picnic basket with bananas and chips and soda. But near the bottom were four Packers playoff tickets. One for Tate, his wife, brother, and sister.
That December, Tate also bought his first share of Packers stock. Officially an “owner,” he was part of a community of shareholders that at various times throughout history helped ensure the team would be able to stay in Green Bay.
“I’ve always wanted that: To support my team, have my name on a spot. I just thought it was one of the coolest things ever,” Tate says, adding quickly, “next to being married to my wife.”
The tickets to the game were in the first and second row, so Tate’s sister decided to make a banner to throw over the Lambeau Field railing. If they weren’t in the first and second row Tate’s sister might not have made a banner. But they were, so she was when Tate came over. He had his Cheesehead with him.
“And I’m telling you: I really didn’t spend much more time than this on it, but I said why don’t you put ‘NFL Owner’ on this, almost like a play on words making fun of myself … I’m not thinking how others are going to react to this.”
As it turns out everything came together perfectly in the forming of a superfan. People wanted photos with him right away as they entered the stadium. Media folks came by to ask him, seemingly surprised, if he was really an owner.
“You felt like it added more to the experience so I just kept wearing it and wearing it,” Tate says, “and I just always went by Steve, the guy with the cheese wedge on.”
It’s always been about the cheese wedge. And lots of time in it. Tate’s been doing this, been on the local superfan circuit, making appearances and helping charities, ever since that playoff game against Tampa Bay. (The Packers won, 21-7.) The constant of his childhood became the constant of his life.
It probably would’ve been anyway,