Living in Algoma, a town 30 minutes from Green Bay on the shores of Lake Michigan, Randy Gilson always had a special place in his heart for the Green Bay Packers. His father worked for the team for some time. The importance of the Green and Gold was instilled in him at an early age.
So much so that, when he was only seven years old, Gilson made an impression on Packers players with his ability to rattle off game statistics. In particular, he caught the attention of Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr.
“At that time, a local television station used to announce when the Packers were arriving at the airport,” Gilson said. “I would ask my parents if we could go and meet the Packers at the airport, and once in awhile we would go.
“We would go there and get autographs from the players, but they would also talk to you for a bit and ask you questions. Bart Starr once called me over and said, ‘You are the boy with all the stats aren’t you?'”
Gilson said he was and answered some questions about that day’s game. But Starr had another question for him.
“He had asked me before who my favorite Packer was and I would give him a name,” Gilson said. “This time, he asked me again and I answered some other player. Then he asked me who my second favorite Packer was and then my third, my fourth. Each time I answered someone else not knowing what he was really asking me. Until he said, ‘Well what number would I be?'”
Their conversation took place in 1962, Gilson says, a year after the Packers won the 1961 NFL championship, the organization’s first of five titles in the decade. In what was their only hiccup in ’62, however, Starr and Green Bay lost, 26-14, to the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day. Starr was roughed up, getting sacked 10 times and throwing two interceptions. With that in mind, Gilson gave an answer only a child could get away with.
“I asked him how many players were on offense,” Gilson said. “He answered 11. Then I asked him how many on defense and he said 11. So I said you are about my 21st or 22nd (favorite) Packer player. He looked at me and asked why. I told him, ‘Because you had 10 quarterback tackles, which is what they called sacks back then, against Detroit.’ And I said to him, ‘If you are going to make it in this league you have get rid of the ball faster.'”
Gilson said Starr asked the Packers’ stat-keeper if the 10 sacks were true. He nodded and smiled at the young boy.
“He was very nice about it,” Gilson said. “When I got home and my parents asked me what Bart Starr and I talked about and I told them, they asked me why I would say something like that to him. But he went on to win four championships after that and I never charged him anything for the advice.”
Clearly, even at a young age Gilson’s dedication ran deep. That passion came thanks to his upbringing.
“Back when I was a kid, the games would be blacked out in the Green Bay area so we would go to church in the morning and then have to listen to the games on the radio,” Gilson said. “The radio in the house did not get good reception so we had to listen to the games in the car. So our Sundays consisted of going to church in the morning and then sitting in my dad’s car in the afternoon.
“I knew I would need to listen very closely to the games because when we would get together with family they would ask a lot of questions,” Gilson said. “Different questions about what happened in the game and different stats. If you didn’t know the answer, you weren’t a real Packer fan.”
So Gilson would study the games as he listened to them and became adept at remembering every statistic. He would lock them away, ready to be recalled at a moment’s notice. In this case, it allowed him to make a quick friendship with a Packers legend.
The incident also led to Gilson, now living in the Minocqua area, being interviewed for a potential movie about Starr a couple of years ago when the director heard he had a good story to tell.
“The director told me that was the second best Starr story he ever heard,” Gilson said.
The movie, which still remains largely in the works, could mean a reunion with Starr and the boy who claimed the quarterback wasn’t on his top 20 list of favorite players.
“If the movie gets picked up, they will have a premiere party and Starr will be there,” Gilson said. “I would love to meet him and he probably would like to meet the kid that told him how he was his 21st or 22nd (favorite) player.”
This time around, Gilson would have a different answer for the great Packers quarterback.
“He is my favorite player of all-time now,” Gilson said. “Not only because of what he did on the field, but he is a real classy guy and does the right thing for people. He not only is happy to sign autographs but he will sit and talk to people like he used to do when I was a kid.
“He didn’t have to take the time to talk to a kid but that is the guy he was. A lot of the Packers in that day were like that. That is something that really stuck with me.”