Jimmy Allardyce, left, and Mike George in front of Geroge’s Green Bay Packers garage in Avoca.Photo by Jack Smiles
There are probably more Green Bay Packer fans per capita in Avoca than any other town East of Milwaukee. But why?
Mike George, 68, -- the owner of the iconic Packers Garage on Main Street in Avoca – has two theories. Though George grew up on Packer Avenue, one of the borough’s main drags, and that has some influence on Avoca’s Packermania, George believes two other factors are more important – school colors and being Irish.
The Avoca-Packers link goes all the way back to 1957 and you might say all the way back to Ireland.
Historically Avoca was largely an Irish-American town. As such there were a lot of Notre Dame fans in Avoca.
In 1957 the Green Bay Packers selected Notre Dame “Golden Boy” and Heisman Trophy winner Paul Hornung with the first pick in the NFL draft.
That was when a lot of Avocans, including George -- then a football player at Avoca high school who wore Hornung’s no. 5 -- latched onto the Packers.
And here’s another link: the Avoca football players uniforms were green and gold – all 15 of them.
The school also used the Notre Dame fight song. Fred Gedrich, who grew up in Avocain the 1950s, said as a kid he thought Notre Dame stole the song from Avoca.
And get this: the coach’s name was Kennedy, Joe Kennedy.
“We only had 15 players,” George recalled of his playing days at Avoca.
“We played wherever Joe Kennedy could stick us. I played halfback, quarterback, defensive back and linebacker.”
That was a long time ago, and while many of the town’s Packer fans are of the baby Boomer generation or older, the town’s Packers connection has been handed down through families.
George is the undisputed CEO of Avoca’s Packer fans. He’s got tons of Packer memorabilia in his home bar, garage office and in storage.
And who else, as George’s friend Jimmy Allardyce said, would have knockwurst flown in from Milwaukee for a Packer playoff game or buy a lighted Packer helmet sign for $300 from a stranger in an airport.
George made annual pilgrimages to Green Bay for 10 years during old-timers golf tournament weekend. Once he met Jim Taylor at an airport and Taylor let George try on his Super Bowl ring.
He met a lot of the legendary Packers at Fuzzy Thurston’s Bar. Thurston was a lineman on the three Packers NFL championship teams and the first two Super Bowl teams. Allardyce made a few of the trips and has a Fuzzy Thurston autograph on the sleeve of his Packer jacket.
Ray Nitschke, a hall fame linebacker from the Green Bay ‘50s and ‘60s glory days, gave George a jersey and he also met Forrest Greg and Willie Davis among others.
Search Packer Gas Station on Google images and the first photo you’ll see is of George’s gas station.
That’s brought him a bit of fame.
Two carloads of fans from Shenandoah made a special trip to see the garage. Fans from New York State stopped by. And once in a while travelers from Wisconsin hop off the interstate to check the garage out.
Sometimes they want to buy some of the Packer memorabilia that adorns the garage office, but he’s not selling.
Allardyce tells this joke: Why did Mike George paint his garage green and gold?
Answer: Because his wife wouldn’t let him do it to the house.
Among the other Green Packer fans from Avoca are John McCutcheon, Tom Lampman, and Jack Gallagher.
George predicts a 34-27 win for the Packers.
The Avoca football
players uniforms were green and gold – all 15