Welcome home Willie Davis

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.

Welcome home.

My dad took this picture of Willie Davis on the plane ride home from the first Super Bowl. I like the spiffy way he’s dressed and the six pack of beer stuck in the open overhead bin.
Vern Biever gave my mom this awesome shot of the Lombardi defensive line.
I like to think the reunions are still happening, up there in a stadium even greater than Lambeau Field. So many of the guys in this Super Bowl I defense reunion picture are up there celebrating Willie right now and five of them, plus Henry Jordan, who is not pictured, have been inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. Left to right in this picture are my dad, Ron Kostelnik, Doug Hart, Herb Adderley, Bob Jeter, LeRoy Caffey, Phil Bengston, Ray Nitschke, Tommy Jo Crutcher, Jim Weatherwax, Willie Wood, Willie Davis and Dave Robinson.
I love this picture of Willie Davis and my nephew Michael.
Here is Willie Davis about to give my daughter a smooch back in 2013. Rest in peace and glory, Willie. You were a remarkable man.

7 thoughts on “Welcome home Willie Davis

  1. I cracked up over the picture with the beer in the overhead bin. Was probably a DC-9. We used to have to make a PA during boarding. “Only coats and hats are permitted in the overhead bins.” Some woman had her baby in a layette up there!!
    By the way, a very nice tribute to Willie.

    1. It did look pretty casual, didn’t it? Ha ha.
      Crazy about the baby in the bun. You have some excellent stories.
      Thank you 🙂

  2. I recall seeing an NFL Films profile on Willie back in the 60’s. At the conclusion of the mini-documentary, he said pro football was more thana game, it was a way of life. At the time, being a kid and a big Packer fan (despite growing up in NY Giant territory), I thought he was referring to the x’s and o’s of the game. Years later, after moving to Los Angeles, I got the pleasure and honor to meet and get to know Willie. When I met Willie, I thought I was meeting a football legend. I ended up meeting a legendary man. I learned the “way of life” he was referring to was the way his football experience taught him the cultivation of genuine love for his teammates; a love which speaks from the tough fiber of the human heart; a love with roots of encouragement, order, support and respect – for oneself as well as for those around you. He carried that “way of life” though all he did and radiated it to everyone lucky enough to have been within the reach of his touch. I’m blessed to have been one of them.

    1. He absolutely was a legendary man. Thank you so much for sharing this tribute.

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