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Checkoff Watch: Early NFL passion blossomed into partnership that benefits kids

Contributed by John Larson Published on 11 June 2019
From left, Woddy Larson, Red Larson and John Larson

I was a big Green Bay Packers fan as a kid growing up in the 1960s. Quarterback Bart Starr was my hero, and I did a few book reports on him as well as Coach Vince Lombardi.

I couldn’t get enough of the Packers or pro football. My friend Jeff and I made homemade stadiums out of cardboard, complete with goal posts and goal lines. We crafted triangular footballs from notebook paper that we moved up and down our makeshift field during recess. This was our Xbox of the ’60s.

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We only had three TV channels back then, but Sundays after church were reserved for watching games. Imagine my excitement when we got our first color TV in 1968, and pro football appeared in living color.

I’ll never forget a day just after Christmas that year when my dad walked into our house and said, “I got a surprise for you all. How would you like to go to the Super Bowl?” I could hardly contain myself. Super Bowl III was Colts versus Jets, Johnny Unitas against Joe Namath.

Our dairy farm at the time was in Delray Beach, and the Super Bowl was being played an hour south of us in Miami’s historic Orange Bowl. My dad did business with a Miami banker who gave him two tickets and sold him four more. I remember my dad saying, “These weren’t cheap” before letting us know he paid $15 a seat, a lot considering we could see a high school game for a dollar or a college game for $5.

Counting down the days

Super Bowl Sunday – January 12, 1969 – couldn’t arrive soon enough for me. Five of the seats would be used by my parents, my sister Barbara, my brother Woody and me. The sixth ticket went to a high school teammate of Woody’s – the star quarterback I asked to autograph my Super Bowl program.

Our seats were phenomenal. We were about 20 rows up behind the Jets’ bench around the 45-yard line. Unitas – with his trademark crewcut – wore his famous high-top black cleats. Namath was quite the opposite; he was known for his flashy lifestyle and white cleats, uncommon at the time. Namath also made pregame headlines with a “guarantee” that his underdog Jets would win.

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The game was epic, and the Jets fulfilled Namath’s prophecy, winning 16-7. But I’ll never forget seeing a group of Packers fans in the stadium holding a large banner stating, “The Pack will be back.” It was a sentiment I agreed with wholeheartedly.

A few years later, the same banker suggested my dad buy tickets for the hometown Miami Dolphins. They had just hired Coach Don Shula and would win two Super Bowls, including one to cap their famous 17-0 season in 1972. We also had Dolphins tickets during quarterback Dan Marino’s years, another great time to be a fan.

The Dolphins eventually left the Orange Bowl for Joe Robbie Stadium in 1987. I enjoyed riding with my dad to the games and hearing his stories of that area long before it became an NFL stadium. He used to keep cows on land that later became a parking lot, recalling a time he had to manage an issue with a neighbor. It seems some of his cows had gotten loose and rumbled through a woman’s clothesline in her backyard. The cows ruined some dresses, but Dad made good by purchasing new ones for her.

Changing relationship

We still talk a lot about Super Bowl III. It was especially meaningful last February when the 53rd Super Bowl was played, 50 years since my dad surprised us with those tickets. Woody and I talked to our dad – now 95 – about that game and he, too, has fond memories.

I never could have imagined sitting in the Orange Bowl as a 10-year-old that my relationship with the league would one day have a whole different purpose. Dairy farmers, through our checkoff, began a business relationship with the NFL 10 years ago to create Fuel Up to Play 60, a program with 73,000 enrolled U.S. schools. It is designed to create healthier environments through enhanced nutrition – including dairy consumption – and physical activity.

The NFL has changed so much these last 50 years, but I consider us to have a golden partnership with the league. We’re bringing National Dairy Council’s health and wellness reputation to the table and combining it with the league’s “star power” to help reach the greatest asset our country has – our youth.

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A teacher I met in south Florida who had been in the classroom for more than 30 years told me Fuel Up to Play 60 was the best program she’s ever seen for kids’ health and wellness. Students love it because it’s more than a classroom lesson. It’s about fostering healthy lifestyles and leadership. So many of the kids who take a leadership role in Fuel Up to Play 60 today will be the leaders of tomorrow.

I often think about my early years as an NFL fan and how much the league meant to me back then. I still have a lot of that childhood passion and excitement for the game.

But I now see the NFL as much more than entertainment. Because of dairy farmers’ longtime commitment to childhood health, our partnership is showing the difference we collectively can make. As farmers and a league, we together are impacting a generation of kids that never would have seemed imaginable to a 10-year-old sitting in the stands at Super Bowl III.  end mark

John Larson is owner of J.M. Larson Inc. in Okeechobee, Florida. He is First Vice President of the Florida Dairy Farmers and also serves on the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board.

Your Dairy Checkoff in Action – The following update is provided by Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), which manages the national dairy checkoff program on behalf of America’s dairy farmers and dairy importers. DMI is the domestic and international planning and management organization responsible for increasing sales of and demand for dairy products and ingredients.

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