Clarke Hinkle's 1936 title watch up for auction
Becky Auld was in her early 40s when she met former Green Bay Packers star Clarke Hinkle.
It was 1976, and she was working two jobs while living in Langeloth, Pa., best known in those parts as the hometown of University of Wisconsin athletic director and former football coach Barry Alvarez.
Hinkle lived in nearby Steubenville, Ohio.
The Hall of Fame fullback and linebacker often approached the Kmart service desk where Auld worked and talked to her when she wasn't busy.
"He kept stopping by, and after quite a few weeks of that, he had asked me to dinner," Auld said. "So I went to dinner."
At one point, he asked if she had heard of him, and she told him no. It was the truth. She had no idea of his accomplishments, which included winning two championships during his 10-year career with the Packers from 1932-41.
Hinkle and Auld started dating shortly after she accepted his dinner invitation. They were together for two years. Auld's memories of that time are vivid almost 40 years later.
She has a few mementos of Hinkle's, one of which is his 1936 NFL championship watch. That was the year the Packers won their first NFL championship game. Before that season, the titles they had won in 1929, 1930 and 1931 were awarded based on regular-season standings.
The watch is being auctioned by Heritage Auctions, a Texas company, this week. Bidding ends Friday.
There is an estimate of at least $20,000 for the watch. A championship watch issued that same season by the Packers to defensive lineman Lou Gordon sold for $10,366.80 in December.
"It's amazingly rare," said Heritage consignment director Chris Nerat, who graduated from Marinette High School and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. "I think I have seen two other 1936 championship watches ever come to auction or available or in private hands. They didn't have the Super Bowl back in 1936, so they had the NFL championship game. The NFL championship game was the biggest game in town up until 1966, when the Super Bowl started.
"It's comparable to what we have today as a Super Bowl ring. It's a pretty big deal."
For as dominant as Hinkle was during his era, he seems overshadowed by the Packers greats that followed him.
Yet, he was named an All-Pro four times, played in the NFL's first Pro Bowl and was selected to the NFL's 75th Anniversary two-way team. He also was the league's all-time leading rusher when he retired with 3,860 yards and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1964.
The Packers dedicated the west side practice field across from Oneida Street in his honor in 1997.
The decision to part with the watch wasn't difficult for Auld.
Now 81, she has kept it all these years for her own memories, but she realizes she's not going to be around forever. She has five children, and she didn't want to pick which of the five to give it to.
Besides, her memories live even without the material possessions.
The years she spent with Hinkle were as important as any in her life. She was coming off an abusive 20-year marriage at the time, and Hinkle gave her much-needed confidence. He often had her make lists of her good qualities.
"He just helped me realize that I was as good as anybody else," Auld said. "I owe him a lot. I felt very comfortable, and I have always felt that he was the greatest influence in my life.
"He was probably the biggest motivation in my life because he was so kind, and he made me feel a lot better about myself."
Hinkle brought up the possibility of marriage a few times, but Auld was not ready for such a commitment.
He was 67 and she was 42, and after being held down for so long in her previous marriage, Auld wanted to be independent.
"I wanted to do what I wanted to do," she said, laughing. "I didn't want anyone telling me what to do."
The two went their separate ways, and Auld soon met her second husband while training to be a nurse.
She had no contact with Hinkle over the next decade. The only correspondence came when she sent a picture with a note to let him know she had graduated from nursing school. She didn't leave a return address.
Years later, and after her second husband died, one of Hinkle's nieces contacted her.
Auld was told Hinkle was in a nursing home in Weirton, W.Va., just across the river from Steubenville. Auld said he was battling lung cancer and wasn't expected to live much longer.
She went to visit him.
"It was a surprise (when I walked in)," Auld said. "It was nice to see him and I talked to him for quite some time. He had a niece, and she sent me a picture or article of his obituary. She said it was nice of me to visit and that he really enjoyed talking to me. He did tell me he had a new lady friend.
"His niece said he passed away peacefully without pain and that he went to a banquet the week before with a wheelchair and a nurse. He went to the hospital that night, and I guess that was about it."
Hinkle died in November 1988. He was 79.
"He was just very interested in a more positive life for other people," Auld said. "He just was always … he was very honest and fair."
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @scottvenci.