GREEN BAY – It was an on-the-spot decision Steve Schumer has never regretted.
Not quite 50 years ago, Schumer was hanging out with friends on the elementary school playground. Going around the group, each kid was naming his favorite football team, with most in his New Jersey neighborhood picking the Giants.
Unafraid of being a “wild duck,” as he likes to say, Schumer picked the Packers. He knew a little bit about Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr, but those glory years were over. Yet Schumer decided at that moment he was adopting a team that would become a lifelong passion.
“The reason I picked them is they were from far away,” Schumer said. “I didn’t even know where Wisconsin was. It was some football team I knew played in a small city on some frozen field. They captured my imagination.”
That dedication culminated Tuesday in Schumer, now 57, being recognized by President/CEO Mark Murphy as the 17th member of the Packers FAN Hall of Fame, having won an online vote amongst 10 finalists from more than 30,000 votes cast.
He’s just the fourth of the 17 FAN Hall members from outside Wisconsin, and it’s the painstaking effort he made to follow the team from afar in those childhood years – long before the internet and satellite TV – that makes his story compelling.
As described in an essay written by Schumer’s son, Adam, to nominate his father for induction, Schumer tracked the team by having a mail-order subscription to the Green Bay Press-Gazette, which would arrive several days after its publication date.
In the 1970s, he wrote to the Packers on an annual basis asking to borrow the team highlight film. He would watch it on a 16-mm projector in order to review a season from which he would have been lucky to have seen a nationally televised game or two.
“I never lost the film, but I think if I had lost it, it would have cost me a pretty buck,” Schumer said.
“What was special was seeing them probably once or twice a year on TV. It was like Christmas. It was magic to see my team that I had been following.”
So magical that Schumer once drove 5 ½ hours from his Jersey home to a hotel in the Washington, D.C., area to watch a Packers-Redskins broadcast. Of a preseason game.
“I think I played in that game,” joked Murphy, the former Redskins star.
With the advent of VCRs in the 1980s, Schumer began receiving weekly videotapes sent to him by longtime Packers public relations employee Shirley Leonard, who would receive a season’s worth of self-addressed, stamped envelopes from Schumer before the first game.
“I more or less followed the Packers alone,” Schumer said. “I didn’t know anybody else in New Jersey who was a Packers fan. I was kind of a lone wolf. I lived through every single game, those periods of lost hope.”
Schumer hung with the Packers, of course, and went out of his way to express gratitude to Bob Harlan, Ron Wolf, Mike Holmgren and Brett Favre for turning the franchise around.
“There’s something about loyalty through the good times and the bad. You stick with something,” Schumer said. “You don’t just leave because it’s convenient or something else is easy.
“Some people take winning for granted. I do not. I appreciate all those years and what those people did to revive the Packers.”
Sporting a gold jacket and green Packers tie on Tuesday, Schumer gave his son a heartfelt hug after Murphy’s announcement, and he was presented with a plaque that included Adam’s detailed nominating essay.
Schumer also wins four club seats to a 2015 home game, a road trip for two next season, and a $500 gift card to the Packers Pro Shop, among other prizes. His name will now be permanently displayed in the soon to be opened Packers Hall of Fame.
“I’ve made some dumb decisions in my life. This wasn’t one of them,” Schumer said, recalling that long-ago day on the playground.
“This is humbling. This is an honor. This is incredibly special.”
Official press release