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Biofile: Ray Nitschke Interview

By Scoop Malinowski

Status: Green Bay Packers middle linebacker from 1958-1972. Won two Super Bowls and five NFL Championships. 11-time first team All Pro. Inducted into Hall of Fame in 1978.

Ht: 6-3 Wt: 235

DOB: December 29, 1936 In: Elmwood Park, IL Died: March 8, 1998

Childhood Heroes: “Stan Musial. I liked the way he carried himself as a player and as a man. Always came to the ballpark to play hard. Always a gentleman. Always admired that. Then I read his book as a kid. Always admired him. Matter of fact, he sent me a big, big picture yesterday. He said, ‘To my greatest fan, Ray Nitschke.’ I put it up in my office in the basement. He’s got one up there already. And Johnny Lujack.”

Hobbies/Interests: “I’m a big golfer. Five handicap. Watch all sports.”

Childhood Dream: “I always wanted to be in sports. Playing college football, then playing professional. I think I had a dream come true. Always wanted to be an athlete. I really had a great desire to be the best.”

Early Football Memory: “I just enjoyed the competition. Always wanted to win. I’m very competitive. Was always that way. In elementary school. Always trying to be a winner. In order to be good at anything you had to work hard and practice hard, which I did. It was important to me to be as good as I possibly could. My motivation was good. I was just a poor loser. I had an older brother (Richard) four years older. He always beat me in everything. Always a better athlete. That’s life, man [laughs]. I think he gave me the attitude that I didn’t want to be beat.”

(LeRoy Neiman artwork.)

Favorite Athletes To Watch: “Reggie White – a consummate pro. Plays every down. Dick Butkus – he was a force on the field. Oscar Robertson. Henry Aaron. Gordie Howe – a great force, a great player, big, tough. Kinda controlled the game. Pete Sampras – I like that Pete Sampras. He’s a great player and he seems to be a good kid.”

Pre-Game Feeling: “Very excited. Always excited for every game I played. Always chomping at the bit. Fired up. Emotionally ready, nervous. To play football you always have the fear of getting hurt and fear of failing. The feeling of excitement. Maybe football was my best sport because of my nature…I was always fired up. To do the best I possibly could, I needed spiritual help. I always prayed before I went out.”

Favorite Movie: “The Longest Yard.”

Favorite TV Shows: “Holy shit…TV Show…man, I don’t watch much TV.”

Musical Tastes: “All music, country.”

Greatest Sports Moment: “Can’t pinpoint. Had many. A lot of great moments. When they had a day for me (Ray Nitschke Day in Green Bay in 1971) was a big deal. When they retired my number. That was a big deal for me.”

Most Painful Moment: “Opening game 1971. My 14th season. I had hurt my back in the last exhibition game. And I didn’t practice all week. Opening game playing against Detroit. I had a very humbling game. Wanted to be out there but shouldn’t have been out there. I think that was the longest day I’ve had. Couldn’t do anything and Detroit beat us 40-0. Long day and tough experience for me.”

Most Treasured Possession: “My first NFL Championship ring in 1961. Fourth season. Beat the Giants 37-0. (Where is it now?) It’s in a safety deposit box.”

First Job: “Caddy at Oak Park Country Club outside Chicago (age 11).”

Favorite Meal: “What’s my favorite? I like it all.”

Favorite Breakfast Cereal: “Wheaties.”

Favorite Ice Cream Flavor: “Vanilla.”

Toughest Competitors Encountered: “I didn’t meet any…not any more fierce than me. Jim Parker of the Baltimore Colts. I always thought he was the best offensive lineman I played against.”

Favorite Vacation Spot: “Naples, FL.”

Worst Injury: “Breaking my forearm (right arm). (How did it happen?) You know, hitting the guy on the helmet. Tommy Watkins. Played running back for Detroit in the early 60s. At the end of the ’64 season.”

College: Illinois.

Residence: Oneida, Wisconsin.

People Qualities Most Admired: “I admired Vince Lombardi, my coach at Green Bay. His commitment to excellence, to winning. Unparalleled. He was a big influence on everyone that he coached. My college (Ray Elliot) and high school (Andy Pupils) coaches were great guys too. These guys were important to me. I really admired and looked up to them.”

Family: Wife, Jackie; sons, John, Richard; daughter, Amy; dogs, Butkus, Mutley; cats, Sassy, Bogey, Birdie.

Future Ambitions: “Retire and go to Florida. Play a lot of golf. I’m self-employed, spokesperson for a few companies. Do a lot of trade shows, card shows, speaking. I have a column in the Packers newspaper (Packers Report).”

(Note: I was fortunate to do this Biofile with Ray, who was invited to an NFL function at Giants Stadium, before a Giants game in 1995. – SM)

Ray Nitschke Top 100 NFL Players Of All Time segment

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