No autographs like Nitschke’s

I remember so many times when Ray was driving and we were talking about football through the years that when I made some comment that he liked he would smile like only Ray could do and hold out his hand and say “gimme 5”.  He was like a brother and I loved him.  When we parted for the last time at Green Bay airport, although we didn’t know that at the time, he said he didn’t want any long goodbyes because he couldn’t handle the parting.  As we hugged each other he said, “take good care of Margaret, coach, we love you both”, and he couldn’t hide the tears in those kind old eyes.  My last view of him as he walked away with his beloved Jackie by his side, was this huge bear of a man who terrorised opponents and yet he was so kind and compassionate.

He always looked on Jackie as his best friend and his heart broke when she died in 1996 and maybe it was a broken heart that finally stopped “old 66”.  The granddaughter that Amy and Jon provided him with made him so proud and I am thankful he was with his darling girls when he died rather than in some hotel room.  Following Jackie’s death, he seemed to work even harder, he was always telling me where he had just been and where the next flight was taking him.

Jackie used to say it was a nightmare coming through an airport with Ray because he stopped to talk to everyone and never turned anyone away who wanted a photograph or an autograph.  An autograph from Ray wasn’t a scrawled name that was completely indecipherable but lines written from the heart and he used to berate his teammates when they used to do that. Many times the team bus would be waiting outside a hotel somewhere and Ray would be signing autographs for fans in the hotel lobby.

He gave me a copy of his book “Mean on Sunday” and true to form wrote something inside the cover for Margaret and me which reads as follows.

To Terry & Margaret Ainsworth, “Two Beautiful People

I want to wish you all the very best of health and happiness always.  Jackie and I really enjoyed your visit to Green Bay.  I’ll never forget going to the Tampa Bay game with you.  You’re a real Packer Backer

Love You - God Bless friend, Always

Ray Nitschke #66

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