Brazilian becomes Packers fan after Florida trip

Richard Ryman
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Gabriel Kune Piragine of Taubate, Brazil, poses with the Lambeau Leap sculpture Friday, minutes into his first visit to Lambeau Field.

GREEN BAY - Gabriel Küne Pirágine didn't sleep on his 10-hour overnight flight from Brazil, didn't look sleepy during his first visit to Lambeau Field Friday and might not sleep all weekend.

You could say he was thrilled to be in Green Bay, home of his favorite football team. He was even excited about the 60-degree difference in temperature and a likelihood of snow Sunday, though he might get over that sooner than his love of the Packers.

He's no casual fan. Pirágine, 17, is a member of  the Brasil Cheeseheads fan club, he's well up on the Packers current playoff chances and the importance of this game, and asked whether he knows about the Seahawks, he recalls, with some pain, the January 2015 playoff loss in Seattle. His favorite player is Jordy Nelson because "he's big, he's athletic and he has a leader-roll on the team," and when host Kim Raymond wondered whether he would still want to come to Green Bay after four-straight Packers losses earlier this season, he responded with "relax."

He's going to fit right in.

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Pirágine's fandom and his trip to Green Bay has whimsical aspects. He became a fan seven years ago when his parents returned home to Taubaté, Brazil, from Orlando, Fla., with a Packers jersey they picked up cheap. It caught their eye because green and gold are the colors of Brazil.

"I thought it was really beautiful," Pirágine said.

He started watching Packers games and was hooked, even though his understanding of the game started at zero. He played one year of American football in Brazil — he was a cornerback — but had to give it up to focus on his studies. His father promised that if he did well in his first year of medical school, he'd pay for a football trip.

"He knows I'm a big Packers fan. He promised me if I passed in college this year he'd let me go to the Super Bowl, but he didn't look at the prices," Pirágine said.

He's not complaining about the alternate reward. In fact, might prefer it. He's interested in everything related to the Packers. His itinerary included a Pro Shop excursion Friday, a stadium tour and Hall of Fame visit Saturday, and on Sunday he'll sit in Section 127, near the players' tunnel.

"Only here can you get this experience," he said.

He was awed by Lambeau Field and its many amenities.

"In Brazil, you don't have a stadium full of things other than the field," he said.

He became a guest of the Raymonds because his father is a long-time friend of their Brazilian-born sister-in-law, who now lives in Oregon.

Gabriel Kune Piragine of Taubate, Brazil, poses with his host, Kim Raymond of Neenah, on Friday at Lambeau Field.

Kim Raymond and her daughter, Marina, attend most of the Packers games with two of the family's season tickets, which her parents, Butter and Betty Vander Wyst, acquired 51 years ago. Betty and Butter, whose real mostly unused name was Roger, founded the Lox Club supper club in Combined Locks. Butter has passed on, but Lox Club remains family owned and operated.

Brazil is a soccer nation, but Pirágine said American football is gaining popularity by the year. He's heard Brazil is the third-largest football-loving country, after the United States and Mexico, and the Packers are the No. 1 team in Brazil. He knows there are Packers fans everywhere, including, now, in his own family.

"When they knew I'm coming to Lambeau, everybody in the family is a Packers fan," he said.

He belongs to what might be the world's least-exclusive club. He often notices a lot of green and gold in the stands when the Packers play road games and he saw many Packers jerseys Friday at the airport in Chicago.

He admits being nervous about Sunday's must-win game. He'd like to see good play by this favorite team.

He's not alone there, either.

Contact and follow him on Twitter @RichRymanPG, onInstagram at rrymanpgor on Facebook at Richard Ryman-Press-Gazette. Or call him at (920) 431-8342.

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