A late and unexpected Christmas gift celebrated two key factors in my father’s life — football and friendship.
The gift, given to my son Vinnie this week by his godfather, John Olson, mirrored an equally sentimental gift “Ole” gave me nearly 30 years ago.
Back then I found one last package addressed to me and hiding among the torn wrapping paper and open boxes of my family’s Christmas celebration. It held my Dad, Ron Kostelnik’s Packer jersey, purchased at a charity auction by Mr. Olson, one of my Dad’s best friends.
Last week John gave my son a similar jersey he had purchased at the same auction in 1986. The jersey belonged to Jim Weatherwax, former Packer player and lifelong Kostelnik family friend.
Injuries cut short Weatherwax’s career — he played only 34 games in the NFL, all with Green Bay. But his stint covered the Packer glory years and he made the first tackle in Super Bowl history as a member of the Packer’s 1966 kick-off squad.
Coach Vince Lombardi assigned the rookie Weatherwax to room with my dad in 1966 and launched a curious though solid friendship between the son of a California citrus farmer and the son of Pennsylvania coal miner.
In 1967 when my dad accidentally caught himself on fire trying to repair our family’s car, Jim Weatherwax met the ambulance at the hospital.
Perhaps concerned about his friend’s ability to handle power tools safely, Mr.Weatherwax later spent the summer helping my dad build a screened in porch on the back of our house at the edge of Colburn Park in Green Bay.
I swung by our old house a few weeks ago and noted that the screen porch stood strong. An annual Christmas letter with the promise of an upcoming visit confirmed that the friendship stood strong too.
The Lombardi Packers collected championship rings like boy scouts collect badges, and the remarkable friendships they developed during that run had lasting merit.