A special level of fandom
If you’re reading this magazine, there’s an extremely high chance that you are a Green Bay Packers fan.
You may be a dedicated fan; you may even be a super fan.
But odds are you’re no Patricia Nevala.
The Menomonie, Wis., mother of three was selected to the Packers Fan Hall of Fame from 10 finalists in January polling that saw more than 25,000 votes cast.
Nevala’s son, Jon, nominated her for the honor, explaining why she deserved to be the 18th member of the hall.
The LaCrosse resident documented his mother’s dedication to the Packers throughout more than 50 years as a season ticket holder, facing a 450-mile round trip drive across the state on Highway 29 hundreds of times over the years. Nevala and husband, Merlin, have shared season tickets since 1965.
In his nomination letter, Jon notes:
“We were so blessed to spend time in the Pontiac Grand Safari wagon and experience the aura of Packers pride through our mom. Patricia and Merlin have always been so generous with their tickets and many people had their first Lambeau experience because of them. Patricia shared tickets with church, charity and community because it was always the right thing to do and never done to profit. While changes to the world of the Packers mirrors that of changes in life, one constant during that time has been the commitment and loyalty of the lady seated in Section 103, Row 32, Seat 2 to her ‘boys.’ ”
The whole situation was a shock to Nevala.
“Was I surprised?” she asks. “Yeah, because I didn’t even know I was nominated. My son didn’t tell me anything about it ‘til the middle of December, when he called and said, ‘Sit down, because you’re one of the 10 finalist from around the world.’ I said, ‘What!?!’ Totally surprised.
“So, then the voting starts the first of January and the rest is history. The voting went through the whole month of January. Nobody knew anything until Mark Murphy announced the winner at that press conference.”
The Packers called all the finalists to Green Bay – some as far-flung as Hawaii and Germany – on Feb. 16, 2016. Team president Mark Murphy broke the silence about the voting, making the pronouncement that Pat had won.
“We all had to gather in the media room and I stood behind the lectern where Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers go, and it was quite a big deal,” she said. “When Mark Murphy announced me, I had to give a little speech. I was shaking like leaf walking up to the podium. I thought, ‘This can’t be happening.’ But the media, there was all kinds of them, the room was filled. Then we went down on the field and the media was following me. It was crazy.
“Then, the next morning – we stayed over, of course – we looked around and nobody was there. You’re old news, nobody gives a darn anymore,” Pat adds with a laugh.
That’s a bit of an exaggeration. There was follow-up from some sources, including a certain former famous Bengals’ quarterback.
“Boomer Esiason talked about me on his radio show,” Pat said. “He talks about the Nevala family and at the time when we had little kids, no seat belts in the back of a station wagon, and away we went to Green Bay. Boomer talks about that like we were still doing that now. It was funny. But he interviewed me for his show. That was nice.”
Being a part of the Packers Hall of Fame, as one of the top fans in team history, blew Pat away.
“Well, was I honored?” she asks again. “What do you think? Of course, I was honored. I couldn’t believe it. The voting went on for a whole month. I had people voting for me from across the country, thanks to my kids who did some campaigning for me. It was just unreal.
“I’m going to be 75 this year and it’s been quite a year, quite an honor with the Packers. I’m always going to be a Hall of Famer. If you ever go to the Hall of Fame, go to the fan room and punch the right buttons and maybe you’ll see me. I’m the 18th one, and I’m the one that pops up first, because I’m the newest.”
Pat didn’t dream it would turn out this way.
“I’ve watched this (contest) every year, but I’m never going to be nominated,” she had told herself. “I don’t qualify for something like that. That’s why I said to my son last year, ‘What are you talking about?!?’
“But he did say he was right under the (dead)line (for the nomination). He had to get it in within one day. He just went typing away. When he first clicked the button to submit it, it popped right back at him, because you have to be under like 500 words and he had way too many, so he had to change it all over again. I just said, ‘Jon, everything in there is true, but just I thought you did a beautiful job, because, holy cow, wow!’ ”
Pat’s fandom began on the cusp of the glory years.
“It all started back in 1959 when I graduated from high school and went to a Packer game,” Pat noted. “And that was also Vince Lombardi’s first year. So we were in this together.
“I was working in Wausau and I found four tickets at $5 apiece, and then I had to find a friend with a car, because I didn’t have one at the time. We got there and had tickets on the 20-yard line and the rest is history. Shortly after, I applied for tickets and I got them. We’ve had season tickets for 52 years and we drive over from the western edge of the state to Green Bay. Been through a lot of coaches, a lot of players; oh, the renovations at Lambeau, it’s hard to describe.
“It’s been back and forth for 50 years. Someone is there all the time. We don’t go to all the games anymore like we did when the kids were little. But now we have grandkids and everybody wants to go to the games. We’re kind of backing off – which is fine – after all these years. We don’t go to the Caribbean, we don’t have a cabin up north, we go to Green Bay – constantly!
“It’s just been a family thing. We’ve driven back and forth to Lambeau for years. It’s a 3-1/2 hour drive (one way).”
Digging deeper, Pat gives credit to her mom.
“Growing up, we lived on a farm in rural Thorp and my mom was into the sports thing,” she explains. “All through high school, I was into sports, and when I got to Wausau and lived that much closer to Green Bay, and I’m out on my own, and hey, I may get to go to a Packer game. And I did and I just loved it, and I knew it was something I wanted to continue doing, so I did.
“I’m an old lady now, but I’ve been doing it for a long time. We’ve been there through the snow and the sleet and the rain and the cold and, you name it, I’ve been there. And a long ways home after some games when we had big snow storms during the games, but we still did it and everybody got home safely.
“I remember one game particularly, and that was Mike Holmgren’s first time back to Lambeau after he had left, for the playoff game, and it snowed and it snowed. It was absolutely beautiful and the temps were up there, but then after the game we had to drive home. We’ve stayed over after games many times, but that particular time, we did not. It was not nice. They were cleaning off the yard lines like every five minutes, it snowed so hard. We still had to drive home after it was over.”
Packer games take precedence in this family, no matter when they fall.
“We were at the Cowboy game and we turned right around for the Bear game,” Pat stated. “The first two in December, Jon is going to one and (daughter) Tricia (of New Richmond) is going to the other. They take their kids and that’s the way we want it. My husband and I will be traveling back on Christmas Eve day with friends for the (home) finale, and we’ll see what happens for the playoffs.
“We’ve been there several times for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, whatever, it makes no difference, it’s Packer day.”
Along with having her name permanently displayed in the Hall of Fame, Nevala received four club seats to the 2016 Packers home game with the Cowboys, a $500 Packers Pro Shop gift certificate, a road trip for two to a 2016 Packers away game at the Tennessee Titans (including game tickets, air fare and hotel accommodations), and a one-year subscription to Packers Plus.
Those additional club seats came in handy, paired with their original four tickets.
“For the Cowboy game, my son (Mark) flew in from Oregon, and our three kids and their spouses and my husband and I got to go to a game together for the first time,” Pat said. “Because we never had eight seats before, so that was quite an experience, except it was the Cowboys game, which was not very good. But it was just a wonderful experience. The night before, my son, Jon, told us he had passes for us to be on the field before the game.
“My son (Jon), I gave him my winning away package because he got me into all this and I don’t really care to travel. He’s going to Nashville.”
As a sidelight to the induction, the Packers Television Network contacted Pat this summer to say they wanted to do a documentary piece on her, with stops at her home, her daughter’s home and random visits in her community.
What started with apprehension, turned out swimmingly.
“I was on pins and needles,” she revealed. “I was a nervous wreck. But it turned out it was really a fun day. They made it extremely fun.”
Pat has seen amazing changes over the years and, with it, the price of being a Packers fan has gone up, but she understands.
“The renovations over there from my first game in 1959. Oh. My. Gosh! Right before our eyes, all these things happened,” she said. “And the prices on these tickets changed from when I first went. I told you $5 for a ticket. Now you couldn’t touch a thing for $5.
“But we’ve got to keep up with the big boys and we understand that. That’s the reason for the ticket prices and the renovations – you want to play in the big league, you’ve got to pay in the big league. And that’s what we do.”
At the time of our talk, Green Bay had just lost to the struggling Colts at home to fall to 4-4 for the season, and the murmurs from fans were developing into plaintive shouts. With all the seasons under Nevala’s belt, she showed a little more patience and perspective.
“Well, we’ve been down this road many times,” she said. “My husband was mentioning that the other day, ‘Remember when we only won two or three games.’ This is just kind of unreal for us. We’re spoiled! Such a good team and what they’re doing now… oh my goodness. But they’ll bounce back. They’re bound to, I would think.
“There’s so many good players. We’ve just got to. The window’s closing on Aaron Rodgers, we’ve got to do something and do it quickly, if we’re going to get another Super Bowl. Hopefully, they’re going to bounce back, but the whole North Division is just kind of chaos right now (on Nov. 9). Hopefully, they’ll win this weekend and get going again. But injuries, injuries! But you can’t think about injuries, every team’s got injuries. We always have our share of injuries, big time.
“Last year we had Jordy, and that really hurt us. Aaron just wasn’t clicking with him not out there. But he’s not really clicking this year, either. I don’t know. That’s Mike McCarthy’s job to take care of, not mine.
“But it’s just so disappointing. Oh, my! But, again, we’re spoiled! We can’t win all the time; we can’t have the division every year. The Vikings did it last year. A lot of Vikings fans … if your team’s so great, you’ve got to do it 2-3 years in a row. Well, let’s face it. They’re not going to do it 2-3 years in a row. They’re not going to do it two years in a row. Oh, man, we do not like the Vikings in our house, no!”
Pull quote “Oh, man, we do not like the Vikings in our house, no!”
Like any good Packers fan, Nevala has her favorites.
“Currently, hands down it’s Jordy Nelson,” Pat noted. “In year’s past, hands-down, by far, it’s Bart Starr. and probably Reggie White, but Bart Starr, definitely. Right now, Jordy, he’s just a good player, just a good man, and he’s just a good old farmer from Kansas, ya gotta love it.
“(Bart) was just a good player and a good man. Things were so different in those days. He was a Packer icon. He was it. Because he was a quarterback, sure, but he and (Coach) Vince (Lombardi) clicked so well in those days. He was kind of like Jordy now, good man, good man. I don’t think the money… he’s just there to play football. Course the money helps, but he’s there to play football, period. That’s how I felt Bart was, too. Classy? I mean down-to-earth, yeah!
“Every day in the newspaper, someone, I don’t know… Luckily, Green Bay is small enough and we don’t have a lot of that Odell Beckham stuff and so on and so forth.
“That’s what I like, too. Who owns the Green Bay Packers? We don’t have a Jerry Jones. Green Bay is us, period. And probably some of the guys don’t like it because it is so small. Well, then, go to Milwaukee for their extracurriculars, which is fine. But Green Bay is Green Bay, and ya gotta love it.
“We’re all Packer fans. We eat and breathe and sleep, whatever.”
Packer Fan Hall of Fame contest 2016
This year’s other finalists included: Chris Biermann, from Cedarburg, Wis.; Matt Lutsey, De Pere; Larry Schimmel, Pinckney, Mich.; Julie Franseen, Franksville, Wis.; Sara Wisniewski, Milwaukee; Karen Brannen, Kaiua, Hawaii; Ryan Murray, Whitehouse Station, N.J.; Michael Steinmetz, Hanover, Germany; and John Holt, Tacoma, Wash.
The Packers closed nominations for next year’s award at midnight on Nov. 30. Ten finalists will be selected, and the winner will be chosen for recognition in the Green Bay Packers Fan Hall of Fame in a 50/50 split on fan/previous honoree votes (online and mail-in) and Packers committee votes. The voting phase runs from midnight Jan. 1, 2017 through midnight, Jan. 31. Fans may vote once per day per mailed or online submission.
Fan Hall of Famers
The 17 prior annual honorees, since the hall’s formation in 1998 and inaugural induction ceremony in 1999, include (in order of induction): Mel Knoke, Appleton; Louis Gardipee, Black River Falls; Ed Jablonski, Wausau; Paul Mazzoleni, Green Bay; Wanda Boggs, Brookfield; Sister Isaac Jogues Rousseau, Milwaukee; Dorothy Hanke, Milwaukee; Kathy Lazzaro, Milwaukee; Rich Barbera, River Vale, N.J.; Richard ‘Ike’ Eisenhauer, Wauwatosa; Allan Hale, Green Bay; Jim Becker, Racine; Tom Little, Mount Sterling, Ill.; Rick Steele, Greensburg, Pa; Edward Fritsch, Sheboygan; Vivian Scherf-Laabs, Cedarburg; and Steve Schumer, Gillette, N.J.
The 2016 Packers Fan Hall of Fame winner will be announced late February of 2017.
The prize pool for the winner will include:
• recognition in the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame at Lambeau Field;
• a road trip for two to a 2017 season away game. Trip includes airfare, accommodations and game tickets. Away game selected by the Packers;
• four club seat tickets to a 2017 Packers home game with catered food and beverages. Game selected by the Packers;
• a $500 Green Bay Packers Pro Shop gift card;
• a one year subscription to Packer Plus;
• and autographed Packers merchandise.