Life has its ups and downs. This is one of the many clichés about life. As much as I don’t like to use them, a cliché doesn’t become a cliché unless it’s true. For many, ball is life. No, not just basketball, but football. This is a sport in which many of these clichés about life can be applied. In particular, the one about life having its ups and downs and how you have to keep moving forward. Keep fighting. These are true of life and football. The Green Bay Packers and my father in law Al Micke had this in common this season.
I know what you’re saying right now. Who is Al Micke and how could he possibly have anything in common with the Green Bay Packers? (I’m a bit of a mind reader.) The Packers have been a staple in Brown County for decades, so has Al Micke. Having built the home, he still resides in, in the tiny cubbyhole of Greenleaf, WI. The Packers are firm believers in doing good in the community through charitable efforts. So does Al Micke. Al continues his decades long work with the Optimist Club of Wrightstown. Spending many days at Lambeau not watching the Packers, but serving patrons all in the name of charity. The Packers are 13-time World Champions. Al Micke is a champion in life. Still married to the love of his life for 40 years, and raised four wonderful kids who have gone on to become phenomenal human beings. (I got lucky and married one. Fact.) So how does this season parallel Al’s life?
After the Packers received a thorough beating at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys (At Lambeau!), and a day after they washed that taste out of their mouths with a Thursday night home victory versus the Bears, my wife received a phone call. It was her mom. I could sense the tone change in my wife’s voice. I stopped what I was doing to be near her. When she hung up, I knew something was wrong. One look in her eyes told me so. Her eyes welling up with tears, she told me her dad was in the hospital. Apparently he had been extremely fatigued and had a cough for a couple of weeks. He went in to the doctor for a checkup, left, was at a Friday Fish Fry, and got a call from the doctor to come into the hospital immediately. That’s all she knew. I gave her a hug and did what I could to calm her down. We quickly decided we would go to the hospital to see Al and hope for an update. My wife’s brother was there when we arrived to Al’s room. We sat around talking for a bit before the nurses took Al down for a scan. That’s when her brother dropped the “C” word. My wife’s already fair skinned face turned ghost white. As I was listening to her brother talk about cell counts and such, I was taken back to the same conversation I had with my dad’s doctors. I knew if they were talking to her brother about those things, that was the ailment, not the flu. For my wife’s sake, I didn’t say for sure that would be the news. Plus, nothing would be known until the doctors looked at the results of blood tests and the various scans Al will have had. We left with two trains of thought. My wife fearing the worst, and me preparing to get her through the worst.
My sister and brother in law had come up from Franklin, WI that night to stay at our place for the weekend. As we were about to leave for the hospital the next morning, my wife’s phone rings. It’s her brother and the moment I feared was about. The doctors had confirmed it was in fact Leukemia. At that moment, my wife and her sister’s worlds were shattered. They both broke down in tears. My brother in law consoles his wife and I console mine. A constant flow of mascara and tears ran down my shirt. I didn’t care. All I cared about was easing her mind. This isn’t an automatic death sentence like back in the day. Medicine has advanced, the fight has just started. Little did we know the Packers’ fight was just about to begin as well.
Al had to undergo aggressive treatment for his first round of chemotherapy. Seven straight days, 24 hours a day, with blood and platelet transfusions as needed. Chemo is never pleasant, but the first week is usually the worst. The amount of sick and fatigued you are can only be described as the flu 20 times over. Al was definitely on the injured list, much like many Packers players of impact for the week 8 tilt versus the Falcons. The family came up to watch the game with Al in his hospital room. Highly competitive game that the defense gave up. A highly competitive game that made everyone, including Al, forget about his battle for a few hours. Week 9’s game was full of follies. A game that wasn’t even close until the Packers tried (and failed) to mount a comeback against a hapless Colts squad (at Lambeau!). More tired and weary than the week prior, Al’s attention was peaked and he was fired up as if he was in the comfort of his own home. A luxury he longed for. Week’s 10 and 11 brought failure, embarrassment, restlessness, and disappointment. The Packers brought the first two, getting blown out in both games and gave up an average of 44.5 points per game on defense. Now on a losing streak that had reached four games. (I guess you could say they brought disappointment too. No one saw them going 4-6 in their first 10 games.) Al endured the last two. He longed to be home, craved nourishment other than the bland punishment called hospital food, but most of all, he wanted all of the cancerous cells in his body to have been eradicated. They weren’t at this point. All hope wasn’t lost though. When he started chemo, 78% of his cells were cancerous. They were down to 6%. He was winning the fight. When would the Packers pick themselves up off the mat and start winning their fight?
At 4-6, behind both the Lions and Vikings in the division, and dead in everyone’s playoff scenarios, Aaron Rodgers stated he felt they could run the table. Everyone thought they were dead just like many people feared the worst after hearing of Al’s diagnosis. The Packers had set a goal and would be damned if anyone stopped them from achieving it. Al did the same thing. The family spent Thanksgiving (of sorts) with him in his hospital room. Eleven people crammed in there to keep each other’s spirits high and enjoy each other. Although he looked forward to this, he wasn’t going to do this for Christmas. He wanted out of that hospital. He wanted to be home for Christmas. So he knuckled up and continued to fight.
The Packers knew what they had to do to run the table, Al knew what the doctors wanted to see in order for him to run his own table at home. The Packers rode the hot hand of Aaron Rodgers and a better executing defense to a division crown, home playoff game, and an NFC Championship game berth. With the help of some of the best doctors in Green Bay (and awesome nurses!) the positivity and warmth of a loving family, and his own iron will, Al was able to leave the hospital and spend Christmas at home. More specifically our home. We all got a great gift from both Al and the Packers. The Packers played with house money and damn near went to the Super Bowl. Al was home for Christmas and still has life. The greatest gift of all.
The fight isn’t over for the Packers or Al. The Packers are in off season mode. They are a couple of defensive players away from winning a Super Bowl. (Some may argue but that’s another story for another day.) Ted Thompson is going to have to look to his own free agents and those from other teams to bring that to fruition. Al is still in the fight and looking for free agents of his own. Although he is now receiving outpatient chemo, doctors have now begun to search for bone marrow donors. Long term care plans have been put into place and the quest remains the same; Get cancer free. Life and sports really do parallel each other. Al’s season of life proves it. When you put your mind, body, and team in action to achieve a goal, you must believe it is attainable. Cliché? Sure. Truthful? Definitely. Ask Al about that.
For more on Al Micke’s fight and to help with his fight, please visit the site in the link below.