Every Green Bay Packers fan worth his/her salt knows St. Vince. Wearing his holy garb, he can be seen in his low-level end-zone seats, along with his cheese-bra wearing wife, “Cheese Louise.” St. Vince has become synonymous with Lambeau Field and is almost as a big a celebrity in Green Bay as the players are.
Before every home game, he is mobbed by Packer fans wanting to take pictures, get autographs and kiss his Super-Bowl ring. St. Vince truly shows the patience of a saint, obliging every request, and blessing fans with his cheerful personality. I am always fascinated by people who take their Packers fandom to a “higher” level, so I just had to get to know a little about this “Paragon of Packers Piety:”
When did you first become a Packers fans and what is the background story behind it? Also, what are your earliest memories of the Packers?
My earliest memories of the Green Bay Packers were when I was about 5 years old. The ritual with our family was like that of thousands of other families back then….You get up on Sunday, have breakfast and go to church. You then come home and watch the Green Bay Packers on TV and then have your Sunday meal. I did that for about 7-8 years from about 1957 to 1964 and learned a lot about the game. Then in 1964, my Grandfather got two very good tickets to a Packers game at Milwaukee County Stadium and took me to see my first Packers game. Since I had never seen the Packers on anything other than a black and white TV, I was momentarily surprised to see all the color when I walked thru the tunnel and saw them on the field! From that point on, I was HOOKED on watching games in-person versus watching them on TV! I did everything I could to go to games in Milwaukee and Green Bay. We lived south of Madison, Wisconsin so it was about 160 miles to Green Bay and about 80 miles to Milwaukee. So the problem wasn’t only getting tickets to the game, but figuring out how to get there as well!
How did your Packer fandom evolve into the persona “St. Vince?”
We had just beaten the Carolina Panthers to advance to Super Bowl XXXI and I was thinking about how I wanted to dress up for this event as my wife and I were going to drive down to New Orleans for this game. She happened to say, “I’ll bet Lombardi is smiling in Heaven right now!” And that got me to thinking that somehow, the image or spirit of Lombardi should somehow be present at the Super Bowl. The two of us came up with the concept, “St. Vince” and put together an outfit very similar to the one I wear today. At the time it seemed like a good idea, but I wasn’t completely sure if my fellow Packer fans would “get it ” and if they did, I wasn’t sure if they would like it! I almost got cold feet and didn’t go through with it. The first place I ever donned the vestments was in Brett Favre’s home town of Kiln, Mississippi. There was a huge party going on there the Friday night prior to the Super Bowl and we were not going to miss that! I found out IMMEDIATELY that they not only “got it” they LOVED it! The next day, I was so swamped by fans on Bourbon St. trying to get photos, I never made it completely down the street! It was a wonderful time getting to meet so many great fans that you would otherwise just see – but not meet! THAT is the best part of doing this – it’s meeting so many great fans!
I’ve had the opportunity to meet quite a few Packer players – especially those from the Lombardi era. On the back of my miter (hat) are the autographs of maybe two dozen of them. I have only let Packers who played under Lombardi to sign the back of my miter – with two exceptions: Lombardi’s son and daughter, Vince Jr. and Susan. I unknowingly met Jimmy Taylor at Lambeau Field! I was in the parking lot going from tailgate party to tailgate party during a pre-season game and this big stocky guy wearing a Packers hat, sunglasses, t-shirt and shorts asked me, “Hey St. Vince – Do ya think the Packers are going to pay Dorsey Levens what he’s asking for?” I think Dorsey was holding out for $25 million at the time. I said, “Yes – I think so, but I think guys played just as hard many years ago for $25 thousand.” He then said, “That’s about what I was paid.” Having no idea I was talking with arguably the greatest running back in Green Bay’s history, I said, “Oh! You played professionally?” He said, “Yep.” I had a feeling that something very embarrassing was about to happen but I had to ask the obvious, “Who did you play for???” He said, “Green Bay”. I stood there trying not to seem TOO dumb because I could not recognize his face with the hat and sunglasses on. He finally said, “Jim Taylor.” I got down on my knees and said repeatedly, “I am not worthy!” Up to that point Jim had successfully remained anonymous among all those Packer fans tailgating at Lambeau Field but that ended right then and there! People tend to notice things like St. Vince on his knees bowing to someone! I was the first to get his autograph (on my miter of course) – but the line was mighty long when he and I parted company! It was a fun and spontaneous moment for both of us – one that I will never forget!
I know you’ve gotten some recognition from the national media. What are some specifics and how did that feel?
I have definitely had my 15 minutes of fame several times over. Some of the specifics are:
I did an national ad for Miller Lite
I did a state wide printed ad campaign for Budweiser
I was nominated twice for the Green Bay Fan Hall of Fame the first two years they had it. I haven’t won that one though. The first time I was nominated I went up against Mel Knoke. Heck, I voted for Mel! There was never a more devoted Green Bay Packers fan then Mel Knoke.
I was inducted into the NFL Fan Hall of Fame in 2000. I was featured in a documentary, “Our Pack – The Motion Picture” in 2001. In 2006, Howie Long decided to add four fans to his annual “Tough Guy” list which was named just prior to the Super Bowl that year. Fox did a stories on the four of us – the “Elvis” dude from Buffalo, the late “Barrel Man” from Denver, and “The Violater” from Oakland. In 2008 Fox did a story on me shown nation-wide called, “Meet St. Vince” – which can be seen on-line to this day. (Here’s the link) Packer fans from all over the country tell me they see me on TV all the time – which may be true – or it may just seem that way to them, I don’t know.
As for how it feels: I don’t think anyone really knows how they’ll react when they are suddenly thrust into the spotlight – and that’s kind of what this has been like. I think I’m old enough to understand that it isn’t “ME” it’s more of what I represent. I’m not the type of fan that you will see screaming into the camera. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but that’s just not me. I jump around and yell when the defense needs noise and shut up when the offense is trying to work. I know that at any time, I can be on national or state-wide TV and not even know it – and with that comes responsibility. I can’t be drunk and acting stupid! No need for that as there are plenty of fans of the opposing team doing that already! Packer fans are there to watch a football game. They’re not there to watch me. I never turn down a request for a photo with a fan, except if it’s DURING a game! That’s a no-no. I’ll pose for a picture during a commercial break if need be, but not DURING the game.
It’s an honor to be one of the best know Packer fans around, but with that honor comes the responsibility to do it in a positive way.
I always have fun at the games, but I never forget that.
What would you consider your favorite Packers moment?
One of my favorite Packers moment was at Super Bowl XXXII in San Diego. On the night before the game, there was a Packer fan ralley held at a very large auditorium. We started out by going up to the balcony and throwing Packer towels to the thousands of people who were there – until the police stopped us because they were concerned someone was going to get hurt! My wife and I were invited up to the stage with the Favre family, Big Erv, Bonita, his brothers Scott and Jeff to say a few words to all the Packer fans in attendance. It was a heck of a surprise and quite an honor! After Erv died a few years back, my wife who goes to games as “Cheese Louise” (famouse because of her Cheese Bra), have partied several times with Bonita. She’s quite a lady!
Another memorable event at Super Bowl XXXII was the fact that we just walked in!! When we decided to go into the stadium, by chance we got in line behind a group of people that had red T-shirts on with “Halftime Event Staff” printed on them. They walked right in and security apparently thought we were part of the half time show and didn’t even ask us for our tickets! We just went to our seats. Since we didn’t win that game, I didn’t really want to keep these two un-torn tickets – so I ended up selling them on Ebay to some Denver fan for $400 – which helped defray the costs for the weekend! Fun weekend (lousy game) but a fun weekend!
What is the most unusual Packers-related item you own (not counting your “costume?”
The most unusual Packer items I own is an autographed photograph of Vince Lombardi and a game ball given to me by Ryan Grant in Arizona after scoring the first touchdown in the last regular season game on January 3, 2010. I’ve had a few Lambeau leaps in my lap, but I never in a million years thought I’d be given a game ball!
Which current Packer player would you most want to sit down to dinner with?
I’d love to sit down with any of the 53 – but the guy I have been VERY impressed with during the past year is Clay Matthews. Here’s a guy who was undersized in High School, and decided to do everything he could to follow in his father and uncle’s footsteps and play football for the USC Trojans. He was a walk-on at in 2004 – and by 2006 he had a full scholarship! Then he became the only player in USC history to be awarded three consecutive Special Teams Player of the Year awards -which of course helped him become a first round draft pick of the Packers! 99.9% of us would probably have remained undersized and gone on with life. He made his dreams come true by hard work and determination. How can you not admire a guy like this?? I have no doubt that Lombardi would have loved this guy! If he stays healthy, it won’t surprise me at all to see his name up on the wall at Lambeau Field years from now.
For more about St. Vince, including a lot of really cool pictures, visit his new Facebook Page.——————
Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.