Packers are in Becker's blood

2009-12-23T22:25:00Z Packers are in Becker's bloodPETER JACKEL pjackel@journaltimes.com Journal Times
December 23, 2009 10:25 pm  • 

When Jim Becker claims the Green Bay Packers saved his life, don't dismiss him as some fanatic whose priorities are hopelessly out of whack.

The man means exactly what he says. What's more, he's probably correct with his bold claim.

Becker, a life-long Racine resident who is a top-10 finalist for the Packers Fan Hall of Fame, is afflicted with a condition known as hemochromatosis, which was diagnosed in 1975. Hemochromatosis, a condition in which excessive amounts of iron are retained in the blood, claimed the life of his father, Carl, at the age of 43 in 1950.

So how do the Packers play into this? Becker has been such a Packers fan that beginning in 1952, he sold his blood several times a year to help him finance his season tickets for games in Milwaukee. It was only after his disease was diagnosed that Becker learned he might have been prolonging his life by donating his blood to help finance the tickets.

A rather compelling item it is to place on a resume for consideration into the Packers' Hall of Fame, isn't it?

"Money was tight," said the 79-year-old Becker who has 11 children with his wife of 57 years, Patricia. "They were giving about $15 a pint at the old St. Luke's and I would go four times a year, put the money away and go buy my tickets. So this was from '52 to '75.

"The only known remedy is to give blood periodically because it flushes the iron out of the system. Consequently, if I hadn't done that, who knows where I would be?"

The Packers have been a source of therapy for so many obsessed fans over the years, but have they ever been credited with possibly saving a life? Becker is living proof.

From 1959, when Vince Lombardi started writing his unforgettable story as Packers coach, though last season, when Becker's circulatory problems in his feet made it too difficult to walk long distances, he had been a regular as a Milwaukee season-ticket holder.

He was seated parallel with the south end zone at Lambeau Field Dec. 31, 1967, when Bart Starr's touchdown plunge in the legendary "Ice Bowl" gave the Packers a third consecutive NFL championship. As someone who endured a temperature that plummeted to 37 degrees blow zero while serving in the Korean War (he still suffers from complications from frostbite, including the circulatory problems in his feet), the minus-13-degree cold in Green Bay was Miami Beach, by comparison.

Becker came equipped with a ski mask and a sleeping bag. In fact, a photo of Becker wearing a ski mask surrounded by a large contingent of freezing Packers fans celebrating in Lambeau Field is on display in the Packers' Hall of Fame.

"Nobody in the world knows it's me except me and the guy who went (the late Gene Hanson) because there I am with my facemask on," he said. "But I could tell because of all the people around me."

Oddly enough, Becker doesn't choose that game as his most memorable - or any other from the Lombardi Era, for that matter. When asked for his greatest memory, he chooses the 1973 regular-season opener, when Dan Devine's Packers defeated Joe Namath and the New York Jets 23-7 at Milwaukee County Stadium.

"Ken Ellis was a defensive back for the Packers," Becker said. "The ball was at about the 50-yard line and Namath threw three passes in a row down to the end zone and Ellis defended every one of them. He knocked the ball out of the receiver's hands each time."

As for Becker's favorite all-time Packer, he doesn't hesitate to name the late Ray Nitschke, an NFL Hall-of-Fame linebacker.

"I just liked the way he played," Becker said. "And maybe 20 years ago, I went to a golf outing and Ray was there. After the outing, he didn't hustle to leave. He just sat down and talked with everybody. When I told him I was at the Ice Bowl, he said, ‘Jim, that was the greatest game ever played. You were very fortunate.' "

What would it mean for Becker to be inducted into the Fan Hall of Fame, which was made possible when he was nominated by his son-in-law, Cahnrad Cagle, with an essay?

"I was very pleased that my son-in-law took the effort to do this," Becker said. "I think that pleases me more than anything else."

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