The first game Rick Steele witnessed at Lambeau Field was on a rainy, miserable Monday night in 2003, and the Packers lost in the waning seconds to Philadelphia on a Donovan McNabb touchdown pass.
Yet, that became the beginning of unparalleled dedication.
"I knew a lot of Packers history, but once we came here, honestly, it was just something magical," said Steele, 39, a Pennsylvania native who was named the 14th member of the Green Bay Packers FAN Hall of Fame on Tuesday. "It was very special. Something about it just grabbed me."
Steele was selected from 10 finalists for the FAN Hall of Fame during a month-long online and mail-in voting process that produced 100,000-plus votes, more than double last year's total. Edging Rick Wiltzius of Wausau, Wis., by less than 4,000 votes, Steele was presented with a plaque by President/CEO Mark Murphy in a gathering at the Lambeau Field auditorium that several other finalists attended.
Crediting his wife, Kristi, with turning his allegiance from his home-state Steelers to the Packers, Steele has since dedicated five rooms in his house to Packers memorabilia. He also made his home the first outside the Green Bay area to have Packers carpeting installed.
He and Kristi named their son Brett, now 6 years old, after longtime Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre, and Steele says his favorite piece of memorabilia is a double turnstile from Lambeau Field that sits underneath his TV on Sundays while his family watches its favorite team.
"Our lives are Green Bay Packers, non-stop, all the time," he said.
Steele came to Green Bay on Tuesday wearing a Packers tie, a logo denim shirt, and a blazer with team logos embroidered on the inner lining. He was also sporting his shareholders' Super Bowl ring, which he purchased right after buying his share of stock two months ago.
A technical education teacher and volunteer firefighter from Greensburg, Pa., about 30 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, Steele generated some media attention prior to the Packers-Steelers matchup in Super Bowl XLV.
A local television news crew came to his house to produce a feature story that led to threats against his property.
"It spiraled out of control," he said. The furor died down, fortunately, after the Packers' victory in the Super Bowl, which he ranks as his top moment as a fan, along with Favre's memorable Monday night performance in Oakland back in 2003 the night after Favre's father died.
Coincidentally, Steele was in Green Bay for the Packers-Raiders game in December this past season when he received the phone call notifying him of his status as a FAN Hall of Fame finalist.
"Ever since that time, this has been unbelievable," he said.
In addition to the plaque, Steele also wins four club seats to a 2012 Packers home game, a $500 Packers Pro Shop gift certificate, a road trip for two to a 2012 Packers away game, and a one-year subscription to Packers Plus and Packer Insider.
His name will also be permanently displayed, along with the 13 previous honorees, in the Packers Hall of Fame.
In addition to Wiltzius, this year's other finalists included Gary Green, Lake Worth, Fla.; Jimmy Krueger, Euless, Texas.; Joe Kuhar, Janesville, Wis.; Lana Longe, New Berlin, Wis.; Peter Michaud, Milwaukee, Wis.; Lori Mueller, Eland, Wis.; Joe Phillips, Nolanville, Texas.; and Mark Stegmeier, Calgary, AB, Canada. The fan contest was sponsored by Goodwill, Mattress Firm, Best Buy and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
"To be the No. 1 fan," Steele said, "words can't describe the honor."
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