Lombardi’s defensive captain for life

When he described a true friend as someone who “advises justly, assists readily, adventures boldly, takes all patiently, defends courageously, and continues a friend unchangeably,” William Penn might have been describing a fellow William, former Packer great Willie Davis.

Davis, a Hall of Fame football player and a defensive lineman for the Green Bay Packers from 1960 through 1969, advocated for young players as Lombardi’s liaison. In the 50 years since, he had continued in that role, a perennial mentor and cheerful confidante. Yesterday, Mr. Davis served as one of the Packers’ honorary team captains.

My Dad, Ron Kostelnik, flanked the reliable Davis through three world championships and two Super Bowl titles. Until he died in 1993, my Dad considered Willie Davis a genuine friend.

Nearly 20 years after they retired, my Dad heard that a teammate was struggling, so he called Willie and together they hatched a plan to help.  From the ground, my Dad searched shelter to shelter to find his teammate, Lionel Aldridge. Meanwhile, via his own contacts, Willie aided in the search. Eventually, Dad found Lionel and, for the rest of his life, the two of them kept track of their teammate and friend.

Several years ago when my husband ran for a state-wide office, Willie invited him to be an on-air guest in the studios of his Milwaukee radio station, a generous gesture we’ll never forget.

Mr. Davis’ post-football success has been well-documented; he sits on the boards of several Fortune 500 companies and received an honorary degree from my alma-mater Marquette University in 2010. He also owns all four Packer Super Bowl rings, earning the first two as a player and the second two as a member of Green Bay’s Board of Directors.

Less documented though equally impressive are the football star’s more anonymous activities, the generous support of an ailing teammate, the sound advice to a struggling friend.

Coach Lombardi chose Willie Davis to be his defensive captain 50 years ago and Davis has honored that selection every day since.

I saw Mr. Davis on Saturday at a book signing for "Closing the Gap," his new autobiography. While I haven't read it yet, I'm sure it will make an excellent gift for the Packer fan on your list.
I saw Mr. Davis on Saturday at a book signing for “Closing the Gap,” his new autobiography. While I haven’t read it yet, I’m sure it will make an excellent gift for the Packer fan on your list.
Packer defensive line
Since 1998, Willie Davis has been the only surviving member of this iconic defensive line. Hall of Famer Henry Jordan died at 42 in 1977, my dad Ron Kostelnik died in 1993 at 53 and Lionel Aldridge died in 1998 at 57. Heart attacks killed all three men.
My nephew Michael posed with Willie last year at the reunion of the 1961 championship team.
Sacking the Chicago Bears
Poor Johnny Unitas is about to meet a Packer one-two punch as No. 87, Willie Davis and No. 77, Ron Kostelnik take dead aim.

9 thoughts on “Lombardi’s defensive captain for life

  1. A lovely mini-biography. It’s rare to hear the inside stories, you know – the ones that matter. I guess if they were told on the news the same human acts of kindness would lose their shine, just because the person is famous.

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