There they all are, lined up outside the tunnel into the only stadium greater than Lambeau Field.
Some are wearing game day unis, others are dressed more formally in the yellow blazers they earned, because I believe heaven is a heyday, an eternal celebration of the best moments of your life. For some of these guys, those moments happened on the field and for others they happened in glorious celebration of those game-day achievements.
They’ve formed a raucous, chatting, back-slapping, good-natured-ribbing V and turned on cue toward the entrance, so excited for what’s about to happen.
Maybe Jim Irwin even calls it from the press box at midfield.
“And now, one of the greatest defensive ends to ever play the game, ladies and gentlemen, Number 87 Willie Davis!”
And the Crowd. Goes. Wild. as Doctor Feelgood dances through the line, high fiving his brothers. There he is bear-hugging Henry Jordan, so happy to see his old friend after all these years. And grabbing Lionel Aldridge by the shoulders,”You look good!” and my dad, Ron Kostelnik, is there too and he can’t stop smiling because his whole line, the guys he played next to for the eight most formative years of his life, are all, finally, together again, nimble and moving with pain-free grace.
Coach Lombardi is there, obviously, and he reaches up with a wry smile, pats his defensive captain on the shoulder and says, “It took you long enough to get here.”
And Willie Davis pauses with that big ole grin on his face, squares his broad shoulders, stands tall and takes it all in.
Dick Schaap waits over on the sideline, watching carefully and taking notes, and Vern Biever clicks away, deftly capturing each magical moment.
The guys huddle up and it takes a while because Willie looks each one square in the face and tells them how glad he is to see them again. They shift their feet a little because it feels so good to sink them into that soft turf, and they bounce on knees that haven’t ached, not once, since they arrived.
Then, Phil Bengston, clipboard in hand, calls them over so they break and jog easily to the sidelines.
The sound starts in the south end zone and builds as it makes its way around.
“Go Pack Go!”
And that chant bounces around that stadium until it meets itself right where No. 87 stands, helmet in hand, and those three words distort so it sounds to him like two he’d been waiting a long time to hear.