Camaraderie is hard to replace

Dorsey Levens and Antonio Freeman strike a chord when talking about what they miss about the sport. "It's the relationships that you form with guys that you've been to battle with," Levens said before being inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame.

Four score and seven years ago, this scribe played football for a couple of seasons at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, a Division III powerhouse.

Frankly, I was in way over my head. I was a fairly decent guard in high school and just didn't want to give up the sport. After doing some research in those pre-Internet days, I put Whitewater atop my wish list because it had a journalism program and it was close to home. After talking to my high school coach, he convinced the Warhawks' coach, Hall of Famer Bob Berezowitz, to come to my high school to talk to me.

(As an aside, on the day Berezowitz showed up at my school, I had, ahem, called in sick for the morning so I could watch UW-Green Bay come within a last-second jumper by Steve Smith of shocking Michigan State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. I walked into one of my late-afternoon classes, only to be told that I had been paged to the football office several times in the last hour. Fortunately, Berezowitz understood.)

Two years later, I called it quits. I was far too small to play guard in college, so I was moved to tight end. The scouting report on me no doubt said something like, "Huber, the 20th-string tight end, has the speed of a guard and the hands to match."

Sixteen years later, I'm still kicking myself at not coming back for my junior season on the team. It had nothing to do with possibly losing out on a starting position. I could have been a 10th-year senior and never received playing time in a meaningful situation. I'm indebted to my parents for many things. Athletic genes aren't one of them.

Nonetheless, on Saturday night, when Dorsey Levens and Antonio Freeman spoke from the heart before being inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame, I knew exactly what they were talking about.

"The toughest part really is being a part of a family and the camaraderie in the locker room," Levens said. "The special relationships that you form while you're part of a professional football team, and that's the thing that I miss the most. It's not working out, it's not practicing, it's not training or anything like that. It's the relationships that you form with guys that you've been to battle with. All of my friends are athletes. I don't have one non-athletic friend. It's a special bond."

I understood what Levens was saying, and I even understood what Freeman was about to say, even though our situations could barely be more different.

"Camaraderie. Aside from the money — the financial thing is obvious — but the camaraderie in the locker room," Freeman said. "I can't go in the locker room every day and see Derrick Mayes, see Robert Brooks, see Brett Favre, see Rob Davis. The locker room is like our family. We have more time in that locker room with these guys than we do with our own family. We come in at 8, we leave at 6, we've got 3 hours with our family, maybe our kids. We're back at work. The weekends, we're traveling together, we're on airplanes, we're in a hotel hanging out together. We shop together. We do a lot of things together."

I silently nodded to myself. There was sweating together in August and slugging it out in November. There was cracking jokes in classes and playing basketball in intramurals. Many of you, I'm sure, know what I'm talking about.

"That locker room becomes your family more than your real family," Freeman said. "So, when you get out of that locker room, it's like you're an orphan again and you don't have family and you're searching to be a part of something. That's what a lot of guys struggle with when we leave the game. We want to be a part of something again."

Freeman and Levens are fortunate. They've found something that a twice-retired quarterback apparently is missing. Freeman has built a Web site to help players past and present network with each other. Levens has delved into broadcasting.

I'm obviously fortunate, too, because you're taking the time to read this. For that, thank you.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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