For a season, they believed in it. For the duration of a match, they touched glory before it inexorably flees them. Suddenly sometimes. A romance without a future. A one-night stand. A one-night stand. One-year wonders. These stars as ephemeral as shooting stars.
The offspring of a firefighter carved out of a bourbon barrel stationed in a barracks in eastern Buffalo, Donald Vincent Majkowski grows up, with his little brother Gary, to the rhythm of the burning stories of his father. Century-old buildings in the throes of flames more than 30 meters high, fiery hearths of a violence as uncontrollable as terrifying, nice faces stuck on a large branch, they listen to it with a million stars in their little ones wide-eyed. The eternal power of firefighters to fascinate children. When the two kids are invited to fire station number 14 by their father’s firefighter, they can put on their helmets and slide along the brass post connecting the first floor to the garage where the large and shiny red trucks are crammed, mastodons ready. to pounce all howling sirens. From his eight years, Don lets glimpse the “Majik” so sure of his strength who sleeps peacefully in him when he insists on wearing white crampons, like his idol Joe Namath. His first star whim. Even more straddling his look on the earthy mounds of baseball, he puts his mother extra hours of sewing to stretch the stripes of her socks using elastic bands and the force to twirl her pants to adjust them to the millimeter. close. One year, he even went so far as to ask her to dye his shoes green to match the color of his uniform. Fashionista.
For his penultimate season as a footballer under the dark blue of the Depew High School Wildcats, Don did some freelancing as quarterback and was named All-Western New York as safety. Senior, finally become the titular feline pitcher, he smashes his right hand against the helmet of an opposing pass rusher and moves his knuckles. The doctors’ verdict is scathing: he will have to wear a cast for five weeks. Three weeks later, unable to hang around any longer, he found a chainsaw in the shed and blew up the white sarcophagus that imprisoned his paw. He will start for his last three high school meetings. Ultimate chances to get noticed. In pole position for weeks after an intensive run, Syracuse suddenly retracted after his injury. Canisius, Niagara and St. Bonaventure, three confidential local universities are more interested in his basketball skills, but Don is not ready to give up his aspirations of generalissimo attacking a major NCAA program. Assistant coach at Orange Syracuse having actively followed its development, Jim Tressel recommends that he spend a year at Fork Union Military Academy, a preparation in Virginia where he will be able to gain playing time and improve his rating with the large-capacity university students.
When the family arrives on the austere and modest campus, the tour is led by a guide who will soon be talked about. A certain Vinny Testaverde. After a year in Virginia, the Brooklyn native joined the Miami Hurricanes in 1982, won the Heisman Trophy 86 and the Buccaneers made him the very first player drafted a year later. For a cool kid like Don, the military rigor he discovered that day petrifies him.
“It was a real shock to me,” he told Sports Illustrated in 1990. “My hair was falling halfway down my back. I was a guitarist in a rock band. In high school, I wore a leather jacket and ankle boots every day. “
Back at the hotel that evening, the bahut rocker argued for hours with his padre. The zero ball, the trellis and the rangers, out of the question for him. He’d rather give it a go at a community college or enroll in a big program on his own and try his luck there. You will have to make sacrifices if you want to achieve your dream son. A year of kicking you in the ass wouldn’t hurt you. At three in the morning, eyes shining, on the verge of bursting into tears, he gives in. To pay the 9,000 balls of registration fees and cover a few other expenses, Don has to give up his car and swap it for a few greenbacks. For a year, he will have to give up a lot of things elsewhere. His room: a concrete barracks that he shares with a slew of other teens with diverse and varied backgrounds and ambitions. Wake up at 6 o’clock sharp. Lights out at 10:15 p.m. The military physical tests on Monday and Wednesday, the general inspection on Saturday, the weekly latrine chores, the buckle of his belt that he scrubs with a toothbrush and that uniform that he must constantly wear and keep in an irreproachable state. He misses his family terribly. Frustration wins him over. “[…] I knew I was on a mission,” he repeats to himself when he questions the relevance of all these sacrifices when he has no intention of going to the front with bayonets and cannons.
Flawless in class, sparkling on the pitch. Between two A and a salad of baskets on the floors, the quarterback offers the Blue Devils their best record in ten years. Eight wins, no losses and a draw. Voted top athlete in the academy, he completed this instructive year with the rank of sergeant and a Navy SEAL mentality. “It changed my life. I have become much more serious and mature. Returning to the radar of a handful of Division I programs, he finally opts for Virginia, 35 miles from Fork Union. From his first training, confident freshman, he asks to play with the number one in the back. Wish granted. Gradually integrated into the rotation like milk in pancake batter, he will have to wait until the sixth game of his sophomore year to officially take the reins of the Cavaliers. Eight wins, two losses, two draws. At 97, the Charlottesville program discovered the first Bowl in its almost 100-year history. In a duel of future NFL quarterbacks, well supported by an opportunistic defense, Majkowski defeated the Boilermakers to a Jim Everett that the Rams would draft in third place 18 months later. Don has nothing to envy to future greats.
From high school, by dint of being called Makowitz or having his name slaughtered without trial, he opted for a shorter, simpler and terribly classy-sounding Majik. A slightly pretentious blase that fits so well with this talented athlete who loves attention. Because not content with being a gifted and versatile quarterback, he shines in all the disciplines he touches: skiing, speed skating, tennis, golf, bowling, racquetball (a sort of rican squash), table tennis, ice hockey. , baseball, basketball, gymnastics. Between two somersaults and a backflip he can drag himself to the jumper standing on both hands before regaining his bipedalism to clear a bar at 2.10 meters and then go slam a whole bunch of dunks, each more acrobatic than the other. A promising pitcher and shortstop on the mound from the chest, he was even invited to a test camp by the Toronto Blue Jays. Without tomorrow.
In 1987, in a 12-round draft at the time, the Packers waited for the tenth to quietly steal Don Majkowski. Far behind quarterbacks Vinny Testaverde, Jim Harbaugh, Steve Beuerlein and Rich Gannon, globetrotter Christian Okoye, phenomenon Bo Jackson, Hall of Famers Cris Carter and Rod Woodson or John Bosa, the father of the other two. A bland college rookie, Don shares custody of the offense with Randy Wright and offers himself five starts as a team in deep soul-searching, mired in mediocrity and nostalgic for his glorious past. In 1988, same thing. Starting nine times, he made 13 appearances and broke the 2,000-yard mark, something he had never done in Virginia, bowed six times and struggled to be decisive in the redzone. Nine touchdowns, eleven interceptions, starless despite the promising outbreak of rookie Sterling Sharpe, the Packers offense is still searching for an identity and Don struggles as best he can with the rubber weapons at his disposal. The “Majik” is still struggling to operate.
On the white-painted fields, from his past as an ultra-versatile athlete, Don draws an extraordinary ability to escape the pressure to stretch the game and fool the linebackers with feints as predictable and effective as a Thierry Henry’s flat foot in the small opposite net, an inside return from Arjen Robben or an interception from Jameis Winston. At this little game – and assuming gazelle Randall Cunningham is standout for obvious reasons – only God Montana can sit at the same table as him. And when it is no longer a question of dancing, he never balks at getting into the bacon of linebackers or butchers-like safeties ready to chop him into small pieces.
“If victory depends on it, he’ll dive into the header first,” confirms Joe Clark, assistant coach of the 88-91 Packers, in the pages of SI in June 1990. “He doesn’t care that Godzilla l” waiting there firmly. “
Not even afraid. A composure that appeals to Cheeseheads. What if they finally had the spark they’ve lacked so much for all these years?
The Pack is Back. In 1989, the men from Green Bay haven’t won the NFC Central since 1972. Almost two decades. An eternity. An aberration for the franchise founded by Curly Lambeau and elevated to the rank of an institution by Vince Lombardi.
Very quickly, as they gain more playing time, Majik Man and his long neck become staples of a league that is in its prime. A look that does not go unnoticed, a tongue hanging out, arrogant at will while remaining appreciable. On the pitch, Majik Don has a world-class image of the man he is as soon as he takes off his helmet, takes off his chest protector and unpins his jockstrap. Discreet, warm, affectionate with children, close to his family back in the suburbs of Buffalo, involved with a host of charities, such as this association which fights against cystic fibrosis for which he has raised thousands of dollars. He regularly visits sick children, protects his privacy like a mother hen incubates her eggs and very rarely lends himself to the game of more intimate interviews. One way of maintaining the tight wall between the Don footballer and the Don simple citizen, friend, son, brother, husband and father. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Don Majkowski and Majik Man. The civilian and the footballer. One extrovert and talkative, the other introvert and taciturn.
“When people pass me on the street, they expect me to be as rambunctious and arrogant as I am on the court,” he told Sports Illustrated in 1990. “You can’t imagine the number of people. coming out to me, once they get to know me a little bit, ‘You’re not the person we imagined at all.’ They’re shocked that I’m a good guy. I have the impression that people are disappointed that I am not as superhuman as Majik. “
A pressure that, he sometimes feels, forces him to step into the shoes of his evil twin even off the pitch. Because despite the insolent self-assurance that oozes with every move he makes on and around the gridiron, he looks like the average American. A small, unpretentious two-bedroom apartment, bland furniture that doesn’t belong to him, a fridge that sounds hollow, nothing flashy. However, in Green Bay, a remote corner of Wisconsin where the Packers are a true cult, he cannot hide. When he walks behind the wheel of his Merco flanked by his MAJIK 7 plate, the other drivers come to rub against his cabin and stare at him as blissfully as stupidly. Sometimes he discovers a bouquet of roses in his locker room after a match. One day, a woman spins him home and gets out of his car with flowers and a bottle of wine in her arms. A celebrity that is always easy to manage.
“I have everything I ever dreamed of, everything I worked so hard for,” he admits. “Now that I have all of this, I shouldn’t have any reason to complain, but it’s hard to have to accept to sacrifice any idea of privacy. The public wants to know everything about you. They are suffocating you. After every game I feel like a Beattles – the girls huddle against my car, scream and cry at Majik. This is delusional. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to be called Michael Jordan. “
Each week its new rumor. Uncontrollable collective hysteria in a city where the Packers polarize all the attention that forced him to close in on himself. The hermit crab technique. “I really feel lonely – really, really lonely,” he insists. Locked in his house most of the time, he handpicks the friends he invites between his walls and even asks Gary, his 24-year-old younger brother, to move in with him to play the human shield against this Majik. -mania and bring him some of that company he so lacks. Worse, he wisely maintains his celibacy for fear of falling under the spell of a woman who would only be drawn to his unmistakable Packers quarterback label. “I live like a hermit. “
When he walks into the locker room on match days, he presses the PLAY button on his cassette player and Phil Collins suddenly starts bawling out the opening verses of In the Air Tonight. Once again. Then another. And yet another. He plays the Londoner tube over and over again until his motivation gauge is fully charged. Pulled up, number 7 puts on his yellow tights and suffocates his ankles under a ton of white plaster, which he passes under the sole of his crampons. Spatting as we say in American. The utility? None. “Sounds cool,” he just blurted out in explanation. One glance in the mirror for the shine of his patchy hair, two black lines under his eyes as war paint, and he’s ready for the warm-up. Body ready for battle, he parades to the edge of the pitch with his torso bulging, head held high, dripping with confidence, ready to hum the Star-Splangled Banner. An immutable ritual that Jill Lieber dissects in the pages of the June 11, 1990 issue of Sports Illustrated.
“I watch the opponents on the other end of the field and I can feel the adrenaline pumping,” said Don. “I thank God for giving me the chance to play football and I promise to never forget all I owe Him for giving me such a gift. My heart is beating so fast and so hard. When the hymn ends I’m so far west I feel like I’ve been bumped into by a lineman. It usually takes me three deep breaths to get to my senses. “
With his head right, his brain oxygenated, he is ready to bring smiles back to fans who have been weaned from happiness for ages. Passionate, skilled, sure of his strengths, he has proven to be a leader by example and a teammate with little resentment. When his offensive line crumbles in protection and he eats a flank steak after ordering a salad, he doesn’t rush at them to yell at them for all the good they think of them. Instead, he prefers to get up and let go: “Wow! You saw what this guy just put on me. »Offered by the house.
One on two. A narrow home loss to division rivals Tampa and a one-point win over the Saints to finally kick off the 1989 season after falling down badly 21-0. For their third outing and their first trip of the year, Don and his pals land in the heat and dampness of Anaheim. Clumsy, under pressure, next to his pumps, the quarterback balances three interceptions in the first half, but wins precious points with his teammates by piling more than 100 yards on the ground in all possible directions by dint of rushing after the defenders who have just short-circuited his pass to limit the damage. Insufficient efforts to prevent Vince Newsome from going up 81 yards in the opposite direction and going to score, but thanks to which he manages to catch up and neutralize Cliff Hicks and Mike Wilcher. 7-38. At the break, the Cheesers look like a fondue and Majkowski is washed out. “I felt like I had smoked an entire pack of cigarettes,” he described to Sports Illustrated six months later. Smoky.
In the locker room, lined with pipes in both arms, it replenishes water and nutrients. The match folded, Lindy Infante, recommends him to stay wisely on the bench for the second half. Don nods before being caught by a bad taste in the palate. The one to abandon his friends. A shameful and inconceivable feeling. If Anthony Dilweg begins the second act, Majkowski quickly urges his admiral to return to coal. Heard soldier! Sterling Sharpe in the air. The 4th overall pick of the 1987 draft Brent Fullwood in power over 11 yards. Ed West on a tasty call that fools the whole defense. Chris Jake and Mike Lansford answer each other from afar and Fullwood crosses the goal line a second time before throwing the winning ball over the line and depriving Majik Don and the Packers of a historic comeback. 38-41. Despite the defeat, the Wisconsin men find the banana again, and Don’s magic begins to liven up the lips.
After a checkered start where the cheesy heads harmoniously combine defeat and victory, Lindy Infante’s men unearth a four-leaf clover on the grass at Lambeau Field and clinch seven successes in their last nine meetings of the season. Victories not recommended for the heart. Three by a tiny dot (four over 89 overall, a record) and one in overtime that earned the franchise the fleeting nickname of The Cardiac Pack. As many victories, as many setbacks, such a prolific attack, a much tighter defense, a better record in the conference, the Packers must however cede the throne of the NFC Central to the Vikings because of a less good division record which deprived them of the playoffs for the 7th consecutive year despite a strategist crowned Coach of the Year and new ambitions.
4318 yards, 27 touchdowns, Pro Bowler – a first for a Green Bay quarterback since Bart Starr in 1966 – new darling of Lambeau Field, 26 years old, Don has just lived the season of his life. No passer has attempted more passes than him. In a league full of Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Warren Moon, John Elway and Jim Kelly, no passer has had as many passes as he has. No quarterback has heaped as many yards in the air as he has. Only Jim Everett (29) and Boomer Esiason (28) found the painting more often than him. Despite 20 interceptions that smell more like Saint-Nectaire forgotten in the cellar than carefully matured cheddar, it fails with a few votes from God Joe Montana in the race for the MVP. After years of misery, unable to find a worthy successor to Bart Starr despite Lynn Dickey’s honorable stint in Baie des Puants, the master cheesemakers of Wisconsin believe they have finally found the new face of their franchise. Blue eyes, a pif de traviole and a delicious mullet cut. Only, he will never confirm the maddening figures for the time of his 1989 season. Worse: his fall will be as rapid as his rise. Stuck in the 80’s, he will miss the turn in the new decade. The last of the millennium. Eight starts, 1,925 yards and 10 touchdowns. 1990 equals 1989 divided by two. And as the seasons go by and injuries, those numbers will keep dropping. He will never know a full season again. But in the meantime, and to his chagrin, his reputation remains intact.
In the spring of 1990, when he arrived at a Vegas bar run by hardcore Packers fans, he was greeted by thunder from Majik, Majik, Majik. He would like to throw himself under the first table to escape all this awfully awkward attention.
“I’m not the type of guy who comes in, puts my arms up and stuffs himself with all that cheering,” he tells SI. “I feel terribly embarrassed. Inside I was like, ‘My God, get me out of here.’ “
September 13, 1992. After a setback in overtime to enemies in opening Minneapolis, the Packers move into the bluish waters of a Tampa galleon that has scared no one for nearly a decade. Junk pirates. His men led 17-0 at the break, with no solution, Mike Holmgren sends Don and his mullet cut to smell the spray on the bench while his lining takes to the sea in his place. On the first move of his embryonic career, the Mississippi kid catches his own pass, deflected by the paws of a man from the Florida defensive front. Mowed seven yards behind the line of scrimmage, he will not be able to reverse the trend. Forced to be satisfied with 106 unfortunate yards in the air, the Packers are sent from the bottom by the Buccaneers (3-31). A week later, at Lambeau Field, Don’s ankle ligaments fail. He will have to do without the field for almost a month and leave the field open to this sassy 22-year-old kid: Brett Favre. The kid from Southern Mississippi puts the Packers back in the direction of the market, snatches the first victory of the season and starts the following week an insane series for a quarterback of 297 consecutive starts. Despite himself, Don just paid him the toll for Canton, Ohio. He will never wear Green Bay’s green and yellow uniform again.
The following spring, Don Majkowski is sent to Indianapolis where he puts on the costume, a bit humiliating given his pedigree, as a firefighter on duty. A shame for this son of a fire soldier. A forgettable season in 1993, six starts and three victories in 1994, then he returned to the NFC Centrale. In 96, returned to the den of Lions subscribers to eliminations in the first round and force-fed the exploits of Barry Sanders and his elastic legs, he scratched even more an already badly banged ankle. Sent to pool in June, he had to recover for three weeks and found himself in uniform for the final feline warm-up game in an attempt to dethrone Scott Mitchell from his starting spot. At 60% of his capacity, he again damages a poor ankle that will never let go in his life.
“It was the start of the nightmare with my ankle,” he told FOX Sports. “She was in such a state. It was dreadful. She swelled so much after every workout. Without it, I could easily have played three more seasons. “
On November 3, 1996, he found the tundra of Lambeau Field. Worn by a Brett Favre in MVP mode and on the way to a title that had eluded them for 29 years, the Packers do not tremble (28-18). To the four touchdowns from a demonstration Brett, Don responds timidly with 153 yards, a meager 50% of passes completed and a small touchdown in garbage time in an attempt to digest the five painfully conceded sacks. The very last pawns of his career, he launched them two weeks later against the Seahawks in another anemic performance. Shipped back to the bench until the end of the season, he will look distractedly at his pals lose five times in as many games. His ankle shattered, his throwing shoulder dying, he gives up. End clap. Sad epilogue.
“That shoulder injury in 1990 ruined my career,” he says. “I played six more years, but it was in terrible pain. She never returned to her normal state before the injury. I always had to keep this to myself. I always had to keep it all to myself because I wanted to keep playing. “
At 32 years old, it is now time to spruce up and pamper her crumbling body. Almost two decades later, a few months away from plunging headfirst into his fifties, retired from the field for a long time, he is in terrible pain. Daily. Vouté, the one who shelled the opposing defenses from the top of his almost 90 meter surprisingly mobile at the end of the 80s is struggling to get out of his own hut. Golf, a hobby he loved above all else, he had to give up on for ages. Stored in the cupboard, his old bag covered with wood, irons and putters collects dust in silence. Since hanging up his crampons, he has been dragging his pain painfully.
“I didn’t embark on a new professional career, I didn’t become a coach, I didn’t do absolutely nothing,” he told FOX Sports Wisconsin in March 2013. “Even just sitting down five minutes is complicated. It’s a real nightmare. “
He had to give up his real estate investment firm, which was far too draining physically. A year earlier, a corset tight around the ribs, he was still coaching Bo, his son, and his pals mini-footballers. But even that he had to let go, unable to endure the long hours of standing. “I loved spending all this time with these kids so much,” he regrets wistfully. Whether his son follows in his footsteps or not, he doesn’t care anymore. If right now he likes to roam the mottled white pitches, all that matters to his father is that he does what he loves. But he can do everything not to think about it, impossible not to be overtaken by the risks inherent in this deeply brutal sport which will have dented its own carcass. So much so that when her son talks about his fondness for baseball, the former Packers passer is quick to entice him to climb the mound rather than don the armor of the Gridirons’ gladiators. High school quarterback, Bo will finally opt for the little ball with the red seams and join the Clemson Tigers in 2018 much to the relief of his father.
Don’s list of symptoms is as long as his bruised arm. Hesitant. Mollasson. Neck records scratched like old, outdated vinyl, a stewed shoulder, a back traumatized by repeated tampons and a tattered left ankle that eleven operations failed to patch up. Even the two back-to-back surgeries after the first pains, while still wearing the Packers’ yellow and green, will have been unnecessary. That fateful September 20, 1992. A fateful day in many ways. For his career and for his body. The five-toed thing hanging off the end of his leg is no longer of use to him. He can’t move it at all.
And that’s not all. About ten years after his retirement, doctors discovered that the intervertebral disc, the fibrous cartilage separating each vertebra from its last two vertebrae, had simply collapsed, inflicting excruciating pain on Don. Despite the operation to fuse his two compressed vertebrae, they will never be able to truly heal them either. For the rest of his life, they will have to support the rest of the weight of a ramshackle column. A degenerative disease that stretches from the tailbone to the neck against which he can do nothing. “All those tampons that I took on the back were terrible,” he said. Bad blows that he still feels echoed two decades later. Because at the time, no concussion protocol, the NFL was still a long way from realizing the irreversible damage it caused to the bodies of its athletes. When you roll a shovel on the grass and the Milky Way starts to dance around your ears, a quick check up with the docs at the edge of the field is enough to send you back to the field like a vulgar troufion who would be sent to the junkyard. -smoking pipe. Towards certain death.
“When I was playing you would take a nasty blow and you would see a red light like someone was taking a picture of you with an old film camera,” he explains. “You were a little dizzy for a few minutes. This has happened to me more than once. But you had to deal with it and get back into the field. Some guys didn’t say anything like that they could stay in the game. “
Because for hundreds of guys, staying in the game is also about keeping a livelihood and not mortgaging your immediate future overnight to the detriment of your long-term health.
Like golf and fairground rides, Majkowski has forgotten them for ages. His head hurts too much for that. Each loop gives him the effect of the worst concussion he would ever have on a soccer field. In the early 2010s, for months, now based in Atlanta, he traveled back and forth to California, the only state where the physical and mental integrity of former NFL players seemed to move. He would spend over a year and a half battling paperwork to try and get NFL trench veteran pay. Sometimes, with the green light from picky lawyers, he has to struggle through three days of ultra-thorough examinations to make his case. Head-to-toe scans, neurological tests, he was thoroughly examined at the expense of the League. An exhausting process of almost two years.
“It’s insane all the steps that former players have to go through to win their case and receive their worker compensation,” he laments in 2013. “I had the opportunity to talk about it with so many other guys who have been through the same thing. The owners are trying to get rid of this compensation altogether because it is costing them a lot of money. They no longer want to pay for any future health plan. “
A subscriber to billiards and a scalpel, he finally feels the effects of these repeated operations. The pain eased. For the rest, he learned to live with it. And despite the ordeal he endured, he regrets nothing.
“I have no regrets,” he told FOX Sports in June 2013. “That’s the craziest thing. I wouldn’t hesitate for a second if it had to be done again. It was my childhood dream and I worked like crazy to make it happen and play in the NFL. It has been a privilege and a dream that a very small percentage of guys have the opportunity to live out. “
His dream, he will have lived it for a season. Time for a thrill. Time to believe it, before opening your eyes and being caught by a blistering body. A one-season wonder.