One of these days, Mark Chmura is going to show up at the wedding. He might want to sample the spread or see if there is a cash bar or dance with the bride’s mother.
While he’s at it, he may even want to meet the bride. And for that matter, the groom, too. He won’t need to introduce himself; that’s why he’s invited. But he would like to be introduced to them.
Welcome to life in Packerland. Anywhere else, this would be classic get-a-life stuff. Here it’s “This is Your Life.” You play for the Packers, you are a big deal. You are even invited to weddings simply because you are the Pro Bowl tight end.
“I must get 8-10 wedding invitations a year and I have no idea who these people are,” Chmura said. “It’s almost like a Hollywood atmosphere in some ways. People stop in front of Brett Favre’s house and take a picture. The other day, I saw the latest. People want to be buried in Packer caskets. It’s amazing.”
You think Charlotte and Jacksonville have gone nuts? It’s been like this here for 40 years. Every game is sold out, even though there are aluminum bleachers from top to bottom. (No one is demanding a new stadium, though.) Green Bay and its NFL team are one, united and indivisible. Take the Packers and Lambeau Field out of Green Bay and you have Utica.
“In a lot of ways, it’s like Penn State, something like that,” Chmura said. “Everyone lives and dies for the Packers. There’s no tradition like it. I love it here.”
He likes the schools and the summer - yes, they have it here. It’s a far cry from what he imagined that day in 1992 when the Packers made the Deerfield, Mass., native their sixth-round pick, 157th overall, after his record-setting career as a tight end at Boston College.
Green Bay? He had to find a map. Wasn’t it cold and isolated? “To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled,” he said. “Then I got here and saw how the organization works, how it treats its players, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
He is asked about the situation in Dallas with Michael Irvin, Leon Lett et al. What would have happened in Green Bay?
“This organization,” Chmura said, “would not tolerate that. When there has been a problem with a player like that in the past, he has been out of here the next day. It wouldn’t stand for that.”
He didn’t name names, but the Packers got rid of problem children Lewis Billups and Walter Stanley and even traded veteran James Lofton. If you don’t fit, they find a way out. On the other hand …
“They will do anything, anything for you,” he said. “If your kid needs his tonsils out, they’ll find the best doctor. Not everyone will do that.”
It helps to be good at what you do, which Chmura most certainly is. Last year he was selected to play in the Pro Bowl as a backup and had seven TD receptions, the most by an NFL tight end. He had 54 receptions - more than three times as many (16) as he had in his first three years with Green Bay. (He sat out his rookie year with a back injury.)
This past season, he split time at tight end with Keith Jackson, missed three games with an arch injury and had 28 receptions. Barring the unforeseen, he will start today in the NFC title game against Carolina.
He knows there will be 60,000-plus cheeseheads at the game; there usually are. The club announced that there were three no-shows last Saturday for the game against the 49ers. Three. That didn’t surprise Chmura.
“These people are as hungry for a championship as we are,” he said.
He is asked if he has a personal favorite story about a Packer loony. He does. A lady came up to him once during a charity golf tournament and was crying. Sobbing. Thanking him for being a Packer. She was, Chmura guessed, 40-something years old. “I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “I just told her thanks.
“But the craziest one I’ve ever seen is women having their breasts autographed - and their husbands are right there next to them,” he said.
Chmura says he may get back to New England this summer - he’s looking for land in New Hampshire - but otherwise, he’ll stay in town, work out, play golf and enjoy the Wisconsin lifestyle. He says he also may finally take in one of those weddings. It might be fun to actually meet the happy couple.
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