GREEN BAY – Mark Lee didn’t know whether this day would ever come. After all, it had been more than 25 years since he last stepped foot on an NFL football field.
However, there the former Packers cornerback stood Saturday evening – finally a member of the Packers Hall of Fame.
“My mom always said better late than never, baby,” said Lee shortly before the Packers Hall of Fame banquet. “I always took with respect hearing that from her. It came and hit me by surprise, which I think is the best way. I was pretty shocked when I got that phone call.”
Back in the place he called home for 11 of his 12 NFL seasons, Lee tried not to get emotional when reflecting on the journey he’d taken from Hansford, Calif., to Lambeau Field.
A second-round pick in 1980, Lee caught 31 of his 32 NFL interceptions as a member of the Packers. He missed only eight games in Green Bay, starting 139 of the 157 games he played in.
Bob Jimenez has been with Lee since the beginning. The two were introduced to each other when Lee was a 15-year-old freshman at Santa Marie (Calif.) High School.
Jimenez was the varsity football coach and Lee’s health teacher. Lee was only a 110-pound kid at the time, struggling to fill out his football jersey, but Jimenez still could see the potential.
Lee lived up to every expectation. In Jimenez’s 43 years of coaching, he said the newest Packers Hall of Famer will go down as the greatest player he ever coached.
“He was the most fluid and talented athlete I ever coached and I saw a bunch a good ones,” said Jimenez, who presented Lee for induction. “He’s still the best, hardest-working guy.
“Nothing was ever easy in a lot of parts of Mark’s life, but he overcame everything because he’s just tough and durable and versatile among other things. I love the guy like a son I never had. I’ll be here for him the rest of my days.”
Lee’s career came with its share of highs and lows. While there were more losses than wins, the lifelong friendships Lee forged are what make Lee smile when looking back on his time in Green Bay.
Professionally, the 1982 season will forever hold a special place in his heart. It was in that season – his third in the NFL – Lee played in his only two playoff games for the Packers.
He carved out a special part in Packers history with a 22-yard interception return for a touchdown, pulling Green Bay within one score of the Dallas Cowboys in the fourth quarter of the postseason’s second round.
“That was a very memorable time for me,” said Lee of the playoff run, which ended in a 37-26 defeat. “The fact I played 11 years and those were the only two playoff games I got to play in here. It sticks in my mind.”
Lee spent the last 25 years wondering if his resume would be sufficient to be considered for the Packers Hall of Fame. His biggest achievement – a nine-interception campaign in 1986 – is still tied for second in franchise history for a single season.
In the end, he finally got the call he was waiting for and it was well worth the wait.
“It means a lot,” Lee said. “We all play (to be), at the end of the season, the last team standing with the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen for me, but this right here is just as good. I’ll wear this with a badge of honor the rest of my life.”
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