Reggie White remembered

A brief conversation with my family en route to a family Christmas party was either a coincidence, an irony, or a blessing. I'd like to think it was the latter. <p>

As our minivan coursed from Packer country into Bear country early Saturday afternoon, we were discussing the Travis Diener jersey my daughter received for Christmas and whether Marquette would retire his number. The topic veered to retired Packer numbers, and our thoughts turned to Reggie White, whose jersey, not number, was indeed retired by the team.

The "Minister of Defense" was seen in several television appearances lately, and seemed to have made peace with himself. A thinner, healthy-looking White had left behind some of the philosophies that caused controversy during his public-speaking tours shortly after his retirement. This Reggie was still the intensely spiritual man he has always been, but a undercurrent of tolerance now warmed the message.

We talked about how nice it was to see that and how we wanted to remember Reggie as one of the men who saved the Packers, not as the guy who lost the Campbell's Soup spokesman job due to some unfortunate ethnic generalizations. The new public White seemed to smooth over some of the those choppy waters, paving the way to a dignified legacy that he wanted and deserved.

How could we know that the legacy would become official less than 24 hours later?

The part of White's legacy that I'll remember forever doesn't have anything to do with his trademarks -- sacks, Super Bowls and spirituality. Instead, my most intense memory of Reggie White came after a devastating loss to the Dallas Cowboys in the 1995 NFC Championship game at Texas Stadium.

Any locker room after a loss isn't a pleasant place. The locker room of a Packer team coached by Mike Holmgren and led by Reggie White after losing out on a trip to the Super Bowl was a place no one wanted to be. White briefly addressed a crush of reporters. I didn't know what to expect as he growled, rather than spoke, his comments.

"I want everyone to remember this day, remember this feeling. I never want to feel like this again."

The next season the Packers lost only three games and cruised to a Super Bowl title in New Orleans. As Reggie White took the first victory lap with the Lombardi Trophy, I thought of what he had said a year earlier.

I thought about it again yesterday. I also thought about White's Christmas Eve "healing," when he summoned Holmgren to his house in the snow around midnight to prove to the coach that the torn hamstring that had been diagnosed as needing surgery was inexplicably okay.

Our Christmas "Packer chat" touched on White's No. 92, and how the team has retired the jersey, but not the number. The move was a purely ceremonial, a compromise for both parties. The rich history of the Green Bay franchise means they've already retired a slew of numbers; plus they have another one that will certainly never be worn again in No. 4. By retiring the White 92 jersey, the Packers let Reggie know they honored his service to the team -- a short but intensely meaningful six seasons.

Now the jersey will likely be officially retired, probably around the same time Reggie white's name is added to the Lambeau Field ring of honor. According to policy, that will happen when White is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

What a tragedy it is that those honors, and our personal memories of White, now will all happen posthumously.

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