The Elusive Autograph
BY RICH PALZEWIC
Ray Radish is no longer with us but one of his greatest moments in life came just a few short years before he passed on.
Radish was a Wisconsin native living near Milwaukee for most of his life, working at the Journal-Sentinel for 44 years as a pressman. He was a Milwaukee season ticket holder for Green Bay games for years before giving up his seats and moving to Arkansas with his wife in the late 1990s for the warmer weather.
“My grandpa used to tell me that he wasn’t even sure why he paid for the Milwaukee games because he could probably get in for free because the team was so bad,” said James Radish, Ray’s grandson and a high school teacher at Bay Port. “Then when he and my grandma moved down to Arkansas he gave up his tickets and didn’t even tell anyone about it. He was always a huge Packers fan and knew everything going on with the team.”
Ray passed away in 2012 but had a large collection of Packers memorabilia that has been passed down to James, and other members of the family over the years. No pieces of memorabilia were more important than a poster from the 1962 World Championship team where the players are acting silly, with many making faces.
“I had gotten this poster of the ’62 team and thought it would be great to give it to my grandma,” Radish said. “Then I got this idea that I would like to get as many of the guys on the poster that were still living to sign it and then give it to him for his 50th wedding anniversary.”
And so the chore began for Radish to get as many signatures as possible.
“I went to festivals, wineries, car dealerships, Menards or to wherever players were signing autographs,” said Radish. “I would constantly just watch the paper or news on TV to find out where these guys were going to be at, just so I could get their autographs. Some of the signatures were only like $10 because the players weren’t really well known and were pretty easy to get.”
It was when James was a cheerleader for the Packers in the late 90s that he tells a story about how he got the autograph of center Jim Ringo.
“Ringo’s granddaughter was also a cheerleader with me and was related to Tony Canadeo, so she had a contact with Ringo,” said Radish. “She got me his autograph and I heard shortly thereafter that he quit signing, so I feel pretty lucky to get that one.”
One of the big ones that Radish is missing is that of the legendary Ray Nitschke.
“I was going to go to the Brookfield Menards to get Nitschke’s but shortly before he was scheduled to be there, he passed away,” Radish said. “Not knowing that I was getting the signatures for the poster, I told my grandpa that I couldn’t get his autograph because he passed away before I could get it. My grandpa said, ‘you should have gone to the funeral.’”
Probably the funniest story behind the signing of the poster belongs to that of Max McGee.
“When I got McGee’s signature he was laughing,” said Radish. “He told me that he wasn’t even in the picture but he was still nice enough to sign it for me. He told me the whole story about how he had too much to drink the night before and missed the picture. He was supposed to be in there but wasn’t feeling too well the next morning.”
Some of the members of the team had long since passed but Radish ended up getting about 20 of the signatures. He felt like he almost became a stalker to try and get as many as possible before it was too late. He belonged to online clubs where he’d get information about locations of where the players would be.
“Over the course of like seven years – from maybe 1996 to 2003 – we got the 20 signatures,” noted Radish. “Then when it came to my grandpa’s 50th, we got it framed and matted, and gave it to him. Whichever ones were on there, we thought that was good enough.”
It was a journey for Radish to get what he did but he was still missing what he and his grandpa considered the most famous signature of them all: Bart Starr.
“That was my grandpa’s favorite player of all time,” Radish said. “He had his No. 15 jersey – which I now own – and would always tell us stories about what it was like to watch him play halfback in college at Alabama.”
Shortly after giving the poster to Ray, James found out that Starr was going to be in Menomonee Falls at the Lombardi Golf Classic; so he, his uncle and grandpa headed down to the North Hills Country Club on a hot day.
“My grandpa was wearing his big Packers jacket, pants and was huffing and puffing trying to follow Starr each hole. We got to about the fourth hole and he just couldn’t keep up anymore. My uncle ran up to Starr and said, ‘Hey, Bart, my grandpa watched you play at Alabama and wants to meet you and say hi.’ Bart didn’t talk to anyone else – he stopped what he was doing, walked off the tee box and walked right to my grandpa. They shook hands and my grandpa’s face was one big grin. They probably talked for a few minutes and then Bart signed the poster. He is a class act and it made my grandpa’s day. It was probably one of the greatest things that ever happened to him.”
Ray proudly held on to the poster but wouldn’t display it for people to see it for fear that something would happen to it; but when visitors would come to the house, he would pull it out and show them what it was. After he passed away it was decided that James would get the poster since he did the work of getting the signatures.
“I didn’t have the greatest relationship with my dad,” said Radish. “I think that was why I was so close with my grandpa. We always had the Packers in common and made us very close. I’m just thankful that my uncle and I could give him this big gift with meeting Starr and getting his signature.”
With Starr recently making his last trip up to Lambeau Field on Oct. 22 for the Saints’ game and the anniversary of the Ice Bowl fast approaching, it’s stories like this that make you realize the impact of Starr went way beyond the football field.