GREEN BAY – It started with a $5 ticket to a home game back in 1959, and she had no idea it would lead to this.
Patricia Nevala’s journey as a Packers fan reached an unexpected pinnacle on Tuesday when she was named the 18th member of the Green Bay Packers FAN Hall of Fame.
Chosen from 10 finalists in a January online vote that featured more than 25,000 votes cast worldwide, Nevala will now have her name permanently displayed in the same place as the franchise’s greatest players, many of whom she has watched in person as a season-ticket holder since 1965.
“It’s such an honor,” Nevala said shortly after the announcement in the Lambeau Field auditorium. “It’s a thrill after these 50 years of tickets, now I’m in this elite group of Packer backers. There’s what, 18 of us? That’s pretty cool.
“It’s exciting, it’s an honor, and I really want to thank the Packers and everyone who voted for me.”
Nevala still remembers her first visit to Lambeau with a $5 ticket she found for sale in Wausau, Wis., where she was living as a recent high school graduate. She then found a friend with a car and made the Sunday drive to see a Green Bay victory in Vince Lombardi’s first season as head coach.
“I just remember sitting on the 20-yard line and thinking, ‘I’m at Lambeau Field?’ I couldn’t believe it,” she said.
“I was hooked after that. I put my name on the (season-ticket waiting) list. We didn’t have to wait very long back then.”
She and her husband, Merlin, have made the 450-mile roundtrip to Green Bay from their home in Menomonie, Wis., in the western portion of the state, hundreds of times. Nevala also has shared her tickets with countless family members, friends, church acquaintances and the like, giving an extensive list of folks their first Packers experience.
Among many memorable trips, Nevala noted the 1996 NFC title game win over Carolina to send the Packers to Super Bowl XXXI as one of her favorites. She also recalled the 2007 NFC divisional playoff against Seattle played in a hefty snowstorm that made for a strenuous drive back to Menomonie.
“It was really snowing, and it was a long ways home,” she said. “It was a bad trip back, but we’d do it for the Packers, for sure.”
She couldn’t help but get a little emotional when her name was announced as the winner, and there was just as much excitement amongst the family members in attendance, which included her son Jon, who nominated her. He didn’t even tell her about it until she was named a finalist.
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As the FAN Hall of Fame honoree, Nevala will receive four club seats to a home game and a road trip for two to an away game in 2016, among other gifts.
Those games will be special given her new fan status. Then again, she might be just as likely to continue her tradition of sharing the tickets, too.
“Now it’s the grandkids taking over, which is fine with us,” Nevala said of the family’s tickets. “We’re backing off a little bit after 50 years. We’ve seen so many games here. Love it. It’s what our family does.”