Packers have a good, strong following in Grand Valley
Green Bay, Wis., is similar to Grand Junction.
Both are small towns tucked away in a corner of the state away from larger metropolitan cities.
And Grand Junction has its fair share of green and gold fans.
“I went to Green Bay, and if you put the mountain around there like we have here, it would almost be the same city,” Packers fan Dave Mantlo said. “They are a lot alike, very similar.”
Jim Ciha knows plenty about the two cities.
Ciha is a financial aid advisor at Mesa State College who has been attending Packers’ games since 1966.
Ciha grew up in Kimberly, Wis., 25 miles outside of Green Bay. Ciha, 55, just missed out on attending one of the most memorable games in NFL history.
“My dad went to the Ice Bowl, but decided it was too cold for me,” Ciha said. “So I listened to the game on the radio.”
Ciha lived in Wisconsin until 1992 and said he’s been surprised by the amount of Packers fans across the nation.
“No matter where you go there are Packers fans,” Ciha said. “Everyone in Packer nation just lives and breathes Packers. It just consumes them for half the year, but it’s a great camaraderie that brings everyone together.”
There was never a choice who he’d be supporting.
“When I first got interested in the Packers, (Vince) Lombardi was coach, so it was just football excellence,” Ciha said. “I remember Packer football since the ‘63 season, so then ‘65, ‘66, ‘67 they won three in a row, and the Packers were the team. Everyone wanted to be a fan.”
The franchise just celebrated its 92nd birthday, one reason there are generations of Packer fans.
Grand Junction High School senior James Wilkinson was born into the Packer Nation. Wilkinson’s father, Frank, grew up in Milwaukee.
“It’s not the most loved team of all the NFL teams,” Wilkinson said. “Most people know I like them because I’m always wearing something Packers. Some people give me a hard time, but it doesn’t bother me.”
There’s a difference between those who support the team and those who experienced the Packers from behind a facemask.
Palisade High School graduate Ben Steele bounced around the NFL after graduating from Mesa State College. Steele spent time with the San Francisco 49ers, the Oakland Raiders, the Seattle Seahawks and the Minnesota Vikings before settling in Green Bay in the 2004 season.
Steele, now a graduate assistant football coach at the University of Colorado, played 15 games with the Packers in 2004, ending with four receptions for 42 yards. His most memorable moment with the Packers was in a late December game against the Vikings when he recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter to help seal the Packers’ 34-31 victory.
“It was a great atmosphere,” Steele said. “Green Bay was a small town, there were houses right next to the stadium, and it was a weird feeling to have an NFL team in a town like that.”
Steele was a reserve tight end for the Packers, playing more on special teams. Despite not being the most recognized player, that didn’t stop the local fans from knowing exactly who he was.
“They aren’t afraid to coach you up on the street,” Steele said. “I wasn’t a starter but I had a big article in the paper, and had fans send me birthday cards.”
Steele said he enjoyed playing for the Packers fans because of the uniqueness of the team. The Packers are the only professional sports team that’s publicly owned. Chances are one of the people talking X’s and O’s with Steele was a Packers part-owner.
“But they are the best fans in all of football because they have an ownership, so it comes with the territory,” Steele said. “It was unique. I can guarantee half the state of Colorado doesn’t know who is the back-up tight end for the Broncos.”
Although he never made it to a Super Bowl with the Packers, Steele was a member of the Raiders’ practice squad in Super Bowl XXXVII.
“The Super Bowl is crazy, it’s such a production,” he said. “It’s almost like the game is second to the pomp and circumstance. There were so many people on the sidelines who I had no clue who they were.”
Steele, who caught Aaron Rodgers’ first touchdown pass in the NFL, will be rooting for the Packers today.
“I know a lot of guys on the team, so I want to see them do well,” Steele said. “But as a fan of football, I want it to be a good game.”