Ryan Longwell, left, laughs with Packers President Mark Murphy on Tuesday at Ray Nitschke Field. / H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette Media
Are you in favor of kicker Ryan Longwell, who played six seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, retiring as a Packer?
71% — Yes
28% — No
Some Green Bay Packers fans considered kicker Ryan Longwell a traitor for signing an unrestricted free agent contract with the Minnesota Vikings in 2006. Others resented him for a joke he made at the time that came off sounding condescending toward Green Bay.
But time heals old wounds, and Longwell was welcomed back into the family Tuesday by officially retiring as a Packer.
Longwell is the best kicker in franchise history, based on field goal accuracy, so it seemed only natural for him to return home. And it was apparent the Packers organization, which gave him his first NFL kicking job, and the city of Green Bay still hold a special place in his heart.
Longwell and his wife, Sarah, and their two children took a tour around the city this week to reminisce and look at their old houses. The visit wouldn’t have been complete without stopping at the stadium where Longwell kicked for nine years.
“For them to experience Lambeau and walk onto the field (Monday) and kind of see where their daddy used to work has been pretty special, to see it through their eyes,” Longwell said.
There was originally some doubt in Longwell’s mind about how he would be accepted by Packers fans, considering he wore a Vikings uniform for six seasons. He participated in a charity golf outing in Wisconsin earlier this summer “to test the waters to see if anyone was throwing golf balls at me.” That event convinced him Packers fans would forgive and forget.
“The fans were awesome, so that really made it easier to kind of get ready for this and get the wheels in motion to do this and end it the right way,” Longwell said.
His biggest regret after signing with the Vikings was making a joke about Applebee’s being the fanciest restaurant in Green Bay. He didn’t mean it as a cut against the city or its dining establishments, but that’s the way some people took it and Longwell is sorry he said it.
Longwell treasures the small-town values and family-first priorities that Green Bay represents.
“This is much more of a family than just a big-city sports team,” Longwell said. “Because of that family, a stupid comment by a kid about Applebee’s gets people not liking you — and rightfully so. What was meant to be an off-the-cuff joke was taken out of context and turned into something, but that happens in a family, where in a big city, you’re just put on a tabloid or whatever and they make it a big deal. There’s genuine hurt in a family.
“So, this atmosphere around here is different. It’s just different because of the size of the town, it’s different because of the passion of the fan base and it’s different because of the people in this building.”
Longwell said the joke was actually meant to make fun of himself.
“Sarah and I would literally eat at Applebee’s five to seven times a week,” Longwell said. “It was our favorite place. It wasn’t supposed to be a negative comment. The joke was maybe we’ll have to venture out, there’s more options and see what else is out there.”
Longwell said he never harbored hard feelings about not getting re-signed by the Packers after his successful run with the team. After converting 81.6% of his field goals with the Packers, he got even better with an 86% success rate in Minnesota.
Longwell has watched other former Packers players join forces with the Vikings — such as Brett Favre and Greg Jennings — and lob grenades at their old team.
“I think it’s only natural if you get let go or not wanted or not signed by your news organization or your job or your NFL team that there’s going to be some animosity,” Longwell said. “You could go to any other team on the planet but when you happen to go to the team right across the border, it kind of amps up that thing. I know a lot of us have migrated that way, and most of us migrate back.”
Longwell calls Favre “a great friend” and believes the legendary quarterback will one day rekindle his ties to the Packers.
“I feel like it will happen soon,” Longwell said. “I feel like everybody’s in a good place about it … I think time heals everything. I think it’s his desire to be here.”
Longwell knows better than anyone that former Packers players can come home again and be received with open arms, even after spending a portion of their careers with the hated Vikings.
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause