Dawn of another Packers season begins with training camp
Kelly Hodgson, Packers contributor
Packers guard Greg Van Roten.Photo: Image by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
GREEN BAY - For many, the end of summer means two things: school and Packers football.
You can mark this time of year with chirping crickets’ return as accurately as turning the page of a calendar.
As a young child, it was a mournful song that mocked you as the sun went down - school was only a few short weeks away. The crickets were no different than a new pair of gym shoes or a fresh box of crayons. Each was a harbinger for cooler nights, shorter days and the impending fall that was right around the corner.
But as a college student, it meant the Green Bay Packers would be gathering once again at St. Norbert College and a new NFL season was nearly here.
Two decades later, the sound of crickets still reminds me of my first summer job.
For four summers, my fellow college-aged compatriots and I were affectionately known as the "Packer Slackers."
We mopped floors, cut fruit, slung hash and ran errands from sun up to sun down for the Green Bay Packers while they lived on campus for the duration of training camp.
To this day, crickets evoke such strong memories of the Green Bay Packers that are as powerful to me as the image of Brett Favre sprinting across the field of the New Orleans Superdome holding his helmet triumphantly over his head, or Aaron Rodgers hoisting the Lombardi Trophy aloft for all of Packers Nation to see.
The crickets would be singing in the bushes below my bedroom window when my alarm clock would go off at 4:30 in the morning while the rest of the house slept. The sky was still black that early, and the crickets would be singing away for another hour before the sun would peek above the horizon.
After a quick shower, I was off to training camp.
More often than not, I would hop on my bicycle and zip across the Claude Allouez Bridge in De Pere. The bridge was all but empty, aside for my bike and the multitude of fat spiders that would spin a tangle of webs across the railings.
That bridge has long since been replaced, but I imagine that the spiders have found a new home.
My tenure (if you can call a summer food service job a tenure) mirrored that of head coach Lindy Infante’s. We both spent four summers on that college campus. It seems like a lifetime ago.
The Packers were just starting to emerge from twenty years of mediocrity. While they weren’t great at that time, they seemed to be one step away from greatness.
It marked the last time there was a genuine competition to see who would start at quarterback.
Randy Wright was in the twilight of his career while Don Majkowski was just starting his. Sterling Sharpe was seventh overall pick in the draft the spring before. Tony Mandarich would follow him the year after.
LeRoy Butler — when he was still just Lee-roy and his Lambeau Leap was not even part of the Packers vernacular — joined the team the year after that. Meanwhile, Chuck Cecil held the title of the hardest (and perhaps dirtiest) hitter in the entire NFL.
The Packers were a team in transition. They were the beloved Cardiac Pack that would eke out dramatic victories as time would elapse.
Players like Sharpe, Cecil and the sack master himself Tim Harris put the team back on the map and represented the Packers in the Pro Bowl.
Back then, fans were thrilled that the Packers merely made it to a wildcard playoff game. You could almost taste the victories that were yet to come during the Holmgren era.
It was an arm’s reach away, and it would only be a matter of time before Brett Favre and Reggie White joined the team and fulfilled a destiny that was thirty years in the making.
Years later, I made a conscious effort to make a note of the last Packer to depart the team that had attended camp during the time I had worked there. It took a decade for it to happen.
By then I had finished with my schooling and had finally settled into a family and career.
In 2001 LeRoy Butler retired from football, and the last vestiges from my time at training camp had receded into history.
The crickets now sing for a new generation of players, and the kids staffing camp now are young enough to be my children. With them, the cycle of the hopeful unknown will be rekindled once again.
I have no doubt there will be crickets singing in the courtyard of the Packers’ summer residence at Victor McCormick Hall just as there is likely a fat gray spider weaving a web along one of its open-air stairwells.
The players will walk past them every day as they return to their rooms, exhausted from a day of practice drills. I wonder if they hold the same meaning for Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews or John Kuhn.
Summer is drawing to a close, and those bugs still remind me that they welcome the dawn of a new season with all of the hope and promise that a 0-0 season entails. There’ll be no season-ending injuries. The Packers will sweep the division. They are going to go all the way this year!
Those are prayers that are whispered among players and fans alike every July as the team gathers at St. Norbert at the opening of training camp.
There’s the rest of the season to worry about the unknowns, but for now I am happy to revel in that joy, sit back and listen to the crickets that announce the beginning of another NFL season.
Kelly Hodgson, who grew up across the river from Lambeau Field, is the co-host of the podcast "Out of the Pocket" at Packerstalk.com. Her other Packers musings can be found at PocketDoppler.com.