‘Classic Cinderella story'

There's not much to look at on a drive from Auburndale, Wis. to Green Bay.<p>

Save for a small town here and there, the rest of the scenery is filled with acres of rolling farmland and miles of lonely fields aching to be developed.

Lord knows Dennis Tauscher has made that drive a million times. And he can tell you as well as anyone that the two-hour trip doesn't offer much in terms of aesthetics.

But the drive is one Tauscher freely makes on a regular basis these days.

Working as a part-time sports reporter for the Marshfield (Wis.) News-Herald, Tauscher is all business when he heads to Green Bay. He has to be.

Expected to fill inches on the sports pages with columns and stories regarding the Green Bay Packers, Tauscher is lucky enough to have a seat in one of the two Lambeau Field press boxes where he can watch and write in comfort.

Sure, Tauscher keeps an eye on the action, diligently jotting down notes and ideas. But he also keeps an eye on something that — as we've all found out in recent weeks — is a lot more special and precious.

Every time the Green Bay offense is on the field, Tauscher watches with keen interest his favorite Packer. Brett Favre? Nope. Ahman Green? Good effort, but wrong.

Try second-year right tackle Mark Tauscher. That's right, Dennis' son.

Talk about a dream come true. A Wisconsin boy playing for the Green Bay Packers. And his father, covering the games as a reporter. Fantasy transformed into reality, right?

Actually, not really. Dennis will tell you that never in his wildest dreams did he ever picture Mark starting on the offensive line for the Green Bay Packers. As for his exploits as a sports writer covering Packers games? Not in a million years.

"I didn't ever envision myself coming to Green Bay and doing a game, let alone coming to do a game when (Mark) was on the field playing," Dennis said with a smile. "It wasn't even a vague idea or a dream, really. It just more or less happened."

Mark's meteoric rise from a collegiate walk-on to a starting right tackle in the NFL has been well-documented. But it bears repeating.

Called a "classic Cinderella story" by the Green Bay Packers' official media guide, Tauscher was a seventh-round draft choice (224th overall) in 2000 out of the University of Wisconsin, where he made the team as a walk-on and didn't become a starter until his senior season.

"When he was drafted, it was like I was stunned," Dennis said. "Because we talked about it, and he said he might get drafted by the (Detroit) Lions or the (New England) Patriots or the (New York) Giants. He talked to San Diego, too.

"But for this to happen in Green Bay. Our team. It's somebody we've rooted for all these years. Then it starts to sink in and you think that you might get to see some games."

Nothing more than an afterthought upon his arrival to Green Bay, Mark played well enough in last year's preseason to land a backup spot behind incumbent Earl Dotson and then was rushed into duty once Dotson went down with a season-ending back injury on the Packers' second offensive play in a Week 2 contest at Buffalo.

Mark went on to start the final 14 games of the season and performed so well that he earned all-rookie honors by the Football News. This year, with back problems continuing to plague Dotson, Tauscher remained the starter and looks to have a stranglehold on that job for years to come.

But unlike his father, Mark has very little time to think about where he's come from or that the team he plays for is the same one he used to worship on fall Sundays as a kid in Auburndale.

"It was a dream, but it's reality now," said Mark, an all-state and all-conference football player in high school, as well as an all-conference standout in baseball and basketball. "When I was growing up, yeah, I obviously wanted to be in this situation. But after a while, that luster wears off and reality hits you. You have to separate the two, and I think I've done a pretty good job of that.

"If you don't separate it, you're going to get yourself in trouble. That's just the way it is. You can't start thinking that this if ‘fantasy land,'I've never done that. I've enjoyed it, but it's a job. If I don't perform, the fairy tale is over."

Former farmers

For Mark's father, the journey to Titletown is just as amazing.

Long before he picked up a note pad and hammered out a story with deadline approaching, Dennis spent every waking moment running the family dairy farm with his wife Dianne, his two other sons Pat and Craig and his daughter Christine. Of course, Mark was heavily involved, as well.

Between 600 and 700 acres made up the Tauscher farm, along with 300 to 400 head of cattle and 175 to 180 Holstein dairy cows.

But those long hours came to a screeching halt when the work became painful. Forced into having both of his hips replaced and with all four of his kids approaching high school and college, Dennis decided the time was right to retire from farming.

Following that decision, Dennis said he concentrated on raising crops and then tinkered with custom machine work before getting out of the farming business all together.

A self-confessed sports junkie, Dennis then turned to journalism — albeit unexpectedly — 13 years ago at the urging of the Marshfield News-Herald sports editor.

"I really love sports, and I love to go to games," said Dennis. "That was more or less my main entertainment when I was on the farm. I'd go to as many games as I could. I started getting to know the News-Herald sports editor a little and he told me that as long as I was at games, I should get paid for it.

"I told him that I didn't think I'd know how to do it, but he told me he'd help me, and I was pretty good with grammar and all my subjects in high school, so I went and tried it. The first couple of times, it was kind of fun and exciting, and I enjoyed it. And all of a sudden, I started getting more and more responsibilities."

From there, Dennis started covering collegiate events at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and then at Madison, where he reported on Badgers football games.

Now, he's in Green Bay, covering the team he loves and a son he adores.

Interestingly, Dennis and Mark have seen their careers intertwined, beginning with Mark's athletic prowess at Auburndale High School, then at Wisconsin and finally in Green Bay.

Each stop Mark has made, Dennis has been there. Not only as a reporter, but more importantly, as a father.

"To me, it doesn't matter if he's reporting," Mark said. "I'm just glad he's here watching. He does his own thing. Him reporting really doesn't mean anything. Just having my family here watching me means a lot to me.

"He makes it down to practice here and there, and he's made it to almost every game. He and my mom, both. It's just great having them here, giving me support."

Said Dennis: "I think it's especially great because our whole family is crazy for sports. You get to do it when they're a kid, but to get this chance to keep on doing it later on is really a great opportunity and something I cherish."

Dad is objective

Over the years, Dennis said he's run into very few conflicts of interest when it came to covering Mark. He's been able to remain objective, fair and honest.

But as he'll tell you, Mark doesn't exactly play a position that requires a ton of attention. If anything, the less attention an offensive lineman receives, the better.

"Generally, the only thing I'll ever do (with Mark) is use a quote from him," said Dennis. "Or maybe I'll try to get a feeling of the team. He's not really a player who'll figure into the scoring. That's not hard.

"There were times in high school when it was a little difficult because if he'd have a great game, you don't want to downplay it, but at the same time, you don't want to say anything that looks like you're pushing it. There's a fine line to cross, and I've certainly tried not to."

So, after all these years, father and son remain together. In some ways, nothing has changed since the days when Mark was starring for the Apaches and Dennis was writing stories about it.

But at the same time, a lot has changed. The venues are larger. The games are more important, too. And the future isn't quite as certain now as it once was.

That's why Dennis isn't taking any of this for granted. Because when you think about it, the drive to Green Bay for both has been a long one.

"All these great things that have happened, everything kind of close by," Dennis said. "Was it supposed to happen? I don't know. We don't know where we go from here. It's day to day, and it's a tough sport. You never know what's going to happen."

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