Fuzzy Thurston, a key player on Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers championship teams of the 1960s, died Sunday after a long illness. He was 15 days shy of his 81st birthday.I was fortunate to have met Fuzzy once.
His family announced the death on Sunday afternoon via Twitter, prompting an outpouring of sympathy messages from Packers fans.
Thurston became the Packers' starting left guard upon his arrival in Green Bay. He missed part of the 1965 season because of injury. Thurston's last year as a starter was 1966. He was a backup to Gale Gillingham in his final season, 1967.
Thurston was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1975. He was inducted to the Wisconsin Athletic and the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association halls of fame in 2003 and was a member of the Valparaiso Athletic and Indiana Football halls of fame.
"The Packers Family was saddened today to learn of the passing of Fuzzy Thurston," Packers president and chief executive Mark Murphy said in a statement. "Fuzzy was an endearing figure for Packers fans for more than 50 years, going back to his all-pro playing days and continuing through his rousing welcomes at Lambeau Field as a favorite alum. Our sincere condolences go out to Fuzzy's family."
My wife and I had taken Vangie, an elderly friend, out for lunch at a restaurant called King's Table in King, Wisconsin, just outside of Waupaca.
It was mid-October and my wife and I were decked out in our Packer gear.
When we asked the waitress for our bill, she said that a gentleman sitting halfway across the room wanted to compliment us on our outfits and the way we attended to our elderly friend. She further said that he would like to pay for our lunch tab.
I looked up in surprise and saw an older but vibrant man sitting at a table. Like us, he was garbed in his Packer finery and when I made eye contact with him, he broke out in one of the biggest smiles I've ever seen and gave me a thumbs up.
As I looked closer at him, I saw that he was wearing a hat with the number "63" on it. My jaw bounced off the table when I realized that Fuzzy Thurston had just paid for our lunch.
I immediately went up to him and shook his hand, thanking him for his generosity. It was only then that I noticed a large bandage on the front of his throat.
Still smiling, he held up his hand, indicating that I should wait. He reached in his pocket and pulled out a wad of bills. He flipped through the money until he found one of his business cards for his restaurant. He pulled out a pen from his coat pocket and autographed the card for me.
It was a coincidental meeting, but it showed Fuzzy's character and what a generous and outgoing man he was.