Champions and friends

“We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.”
MartinLuther King 1963

The year Martin Luther King made his “I have a Dream Speech” marked the first season Lionel Aldridge, Henry Jordan, Ron Kostelnik and Willie Davis anchored the defensive line for the Green Bay Packers.
The four men went on to play together for six more years and earned three consecutive world championships, including two Super Bowl titles. En route they formed a friendship that transcended both race and the playing field. Although three of the four died far too soon — Henry at age 42, my Dad at 53 and Lionel at 58 — their legacy stands as much for their athletic prowess as for their loyalty to each other. All four have been inducted into the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame and two, Willie and Henry, are enshrined in Canton.
One day more than 25 years ago, my Dad picked me up from my college apartment and asked if I’d help him with a project.
“I need to find Lionel,” he said.
Dad had heard a report that Lionel was homeless and living on the streets of Milwaukee. Though we spent that afternoon visiting Milwaukee homeless shelters looking for him, we did not find him that day. The shelters took my Dad’s contact information, though, and a short time later my Dad reunited with his old friend.
From that day until his own death in 1993, my Dad kept close tabs on Lionel, a gifted speaker whose battles with schizophrenia have been well documented.
We last saw Willie Davis at the Packer Alumni Brunch earlier this year. The only surviving member of the line greeted us with a big smile and a hug.
I think often about how fortunate these men were to play during the Glory Years, when they lined up against a backdrop of such tumultuous historical events but alongside the same fellows year after year.There are all kinds of ways to measure a team’s success and, in the number of rings they wore and friendships they maintained, the 1960’s Packers topped them all.
This Packer defensive line played together for six consecutive years.
Lionel Aldridge sat with my dad at my 1987 wedding.
Here is Willie Davis with my nephew Michael Kostelnik
at the Alumni Brunch earlier this season.

7 thoughts on “Champions and friends

  1. Beautiful story. Thanks for sharing. I have goosebumps when a read about these great events. I can see your Dad was a wonderful man and his legacy lives on in his children and grandchildren. Thank you so much. Kathry Koll

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