Incomplete Passes: Reflections on Life, Love, and Football
Linda Lange Interview by MAJK INK
1. You grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA, during the 1960s when Vince Lombardi coached the Packers. That was an exciting time in football, and in Green Bay. In a few words, what was it like to be a teenager then?
My friends and I came together during the first half of the ‘60s—an ordered society compared to the chaos of the late ‘60s. But I think we had more freedom than today’s teenagers have. We could get on a bus and be gone for hours on some sort of adventure, and our parents weren’t concerned about all the dire possibilities that we hear about today. At the same time, we were more innocent. Our naïve expectations got us in trouble a few times, as I related in Incomplete Passes. We were extremely lucky to grow up when we did and to have such incredible people in our hometown. Vince Lombardi was the father figure who was dedicated to excellence. And just as we were beginning to notice boys, we discovered the Packer players. They were big, muscular, young men, and some of them were very handsome. Other girls might have been infatuated with Elvis Presley or Paul McCartney, but we had the Packers. They were champions, and they were right there in town where we could meet them as well as dream about them.
I can say from personal experience that Lombardi’s influence in football extended beyond the Packers. I can only imagine how it must have been to have heroes, role models so accessible for a community.
2. Your book Incomplete Passes chronicles many things, coming of age, the relationship between life and football, but mostly it focuses on a friendship with three women that developed around your mutual love for the Packers. Are you and these women still close today?
We certainly are close. Incomplete Passes chronicles our annual trips back to Green Bay, and at the beginning of October we completed the thirteenth trip that included all four of us. Pam and I made an initial trip in 1997, all four of us went in ’98, and since then we’ve missed only two years. We find it much easier to stay in touch now that we have the Internet. We share news and photos through e-mail and Facebook, and Carla and I play Words with Friends almost daily. I’m in Ohio, and she’s in Wisconsin, so we might see each other only once a year, but I know she’s thinking about me every day. I love that.
I couldn’t help but think of Steel Magnolias, or Waiting to Exhale, when reading your book.
3. The title Incomplete Passes could be taken a number of ways after reading the book. There’s the football term, the sexual innuendo, and the reference to dreams or goals that never get done. Which meaning was your initial intention when you thought of the title? How do you view the title now, looking back?
I’d say the football and the sexual meanings both came to mind immediately and the reference to dreams and goals a little later. I’m happy with the title, less satisfied with the subtitle. When a friend of mine heard my title, she said there had to be a subtitle. She thought I should use Tales of a Titletown Groupie. I thought that subtitle promised more than I could deliver—after all, we’re talking about incomplete passes! So I came up with Reflections on Life, Love, and Football. That subtitle is more accurate in terms of content, and it works for my blog, too. But it doesn’t have the “sizzle” of Titletown Groupie!
I’d have to agree I like the sizzle and style that Tales of a Titletown Groupie brings to mind. You ladies certainly did have your own share of style.
4. Writing a tale of fifty years of friendship had to be at times heart wrenching, and at other times joyful. Can you tell what part of the book was the toughest to write in emotional terms?
Definitely, the chapter I’m Lucky, I Guess, where I discuss a tragedy in Carla’s life. We’ve been friends for over fifty years, and I know Carla regards me as a special friend. But during the ‘70s she lost someone who was very close to her, and I wasn’t there for her. In fact, I wrote something in a letter—we connected mostly through letters then–that I regret today. It’s hard for me to believe she kept me as a friend when I showed so little understanding. In addition, at the time I wrote that chapter, Carla’s daughter had recently suffered a loss similar to her mother’s. It was difficult for me to show Carla that chapter and tell her I wanted to publish it. But she let me keep it in the book.
I think that chapter was particularly important in that it gave the reader more of an understanding of you as human beings. Too often we see non-fiction stories that lean all to the good or all to the bad. I like that you shared both because that really is how life works. Sometimes we do things we regret later and if we are lucky our friends stick with us in spite of it.
5. Which part made you smile or laugh the most when writing?
It’s another one about Carla, and it’s a chapter that she doesn’t care for—For the Love of … . “It makes me sound so immature,” she says. “Well, you were immature,” I tell her. “You were fourteen or fifteen.” I don’t want to give anything away, but I lost something of mine. She found it and kept it for a while before she gave it back to me. I was afraid to ask why she didn’t return it to me immediately. This probably happened in 1962 or ’63, and I didn’t ask her about it until 2010. When she explained, I almost fell on the floor laughing. There’s even a football connection to the story, so it’s perfect for this book.
Carla may not realize it but she comes across as one of the most lovable characters in the book. Her character is very relatable and real.
6. Ok, it’s obvious we are going to have to ask this one. How did you approach your girlfriends, who based on this book are amazing, and explain that you’d be writing about them?
It was a gradual thing. They knew me as a writer, of course—as far back as Pam’s and my eighth-grade graduation, I was called upon to write and recite a class poem. And Carla and I used to write these long sagas when we were in high school. We filled up spiral notebooks with fictional accounts in which she played for the Packers and I played for the semi-pro Green Bay Bobcat hockey team, and we’d read them aloud to each other. My friends’ introduction to Incomplete Passes came in 2008 when I had a few pages written and brought them along on our trip. The next year, I began to work on the book in earnest. My friends were supportive all along. I showed them the manuscript at different stages, to make sure I wasn’t including anything inappropriate.
I’m fairly sure if I wrote a memoir about my best girlfriends and our teen age years we’d spend months editing a lot of the embarrassing scenes out. I have to applaud your friends for the willingness to take this plunge with you.
7. Did you ever consider changing their names?
I did change their names. They all told me I didn’t need to, but I said, “I want to give you deniability.” There’s some stuff in there that I’m sure they don’t want everyone to know. Each name I invented has a meaning for us. For example, Pam was adopted as a baby, and her adoptive parents gave her a name they preferred, but she came to them as Pamela.
Very Clever! I like that plan and let’s face it who couldn’t use a little plausible deniability when it comes to there youth?
8. We all do silly, crazy, and sometimes dangerous things as teenagers. Did you consider altering the book or leaving out things?
No, I think everything is in there, and fortunately we never got in big trouble.
9. It’s clear from this book that the Packers influenced you four women in all manner of life lessons. In what life lesson did the Packers most heavily influence you, personally?
What stuck with me is Vince Lombardi’s focus on excellence, on doing things the right way rather than the easy way. He’s quoted as saying “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” I think all of us who grew up in Green Bay at that time have a better work ethic because of our exposure to Lombardi.
I think that is a saying a lot of us today could do to take to heart.
10. Could you describe what the essence of what being a Packer fan means to you?
Being a Packer fan is not the same as being a fan of any other sports team. Green Bay is so much smaller than any other big-league sports town—it has just over 100,000 people now, and had only 50-60,000 during the Lombardi era. So the team is very important to the economy and infrastructure of Green Bay, and the players are much more visible than they would be anywhere else. The Packers are also one of the oldest teams in the NFL. The team was founded in 1919 and joined the league in 1921. There’s a rich tradition there, and a huge base of loyal fans. While a few other teams are struggling to sell out every Sunday, the Packers have a waiting list for season tickets that’s larger than the capacity of Lambeau Field. People sign up their kids when they’re born and hope they’ll have tickets by the time they’re grown up. We still love our Packers even when we complain about their play or their coaching. And they really are OUR Packers. The most distinctive thing about this franchise is that it’s community-owned.
Every time the team got in financial trouble in the early years, they sold stock. They continue to do that when they have a special project, such as stadium renovation. My father bought stock in the 1950 offering. I inherited his and bought more in 1997. I don’t get dividends, and I can’t tell the coach what to do, but I do vote for the Board of Directors and I’m invited to an annual meeting. Although I’ve never attended, I hope to some year. So when I root for my Packers … well, I’m really rooting for MY Packers.
I think we could do with more community owned football teams. It’s clear it breeds a real sense of camaraderie among the fans.
11. Tell us a little about what led to the concept for your musical Third and Long?
I was on the wrong side of thirty-five and panicked about my upcoming fortieth birthday. I had been young all my life, part of this huge baby-boom generation, and suddenly I wasn’t young anymore. I kept hearing on the sports news that the Bengals’ quarterback Ken Anderson and the Packers’ quarterback Lynn Dickey were considering retirement. I realized that both of them were a couple of years my junior. And it struck me—I was older than almost every player in the National Football League, and after all my teenage fantasies about dating or sleeping with one of them, I’d never done that. And now that I was pushing forty, I was never going to. I was married, more or less happily, so it wasn’t that I was desperate to connect with a new man. It simply became the symbol of all the things I’d hoped or expected to do, but hadn’t. For example, I’d majored in broadcasting and film, and some of my classmates were doing great things at the networks, while I was a stay-at-home mom and part-time writer. A song lyric started in my mind: “I could ’a’ been Barbara Walters./I could ‘a’ been a TV star./I could ‘a’ been riding to my network job/In my fancy chauffeured car.” That was the beginning of Third and Long. I acted out some fantasies in that script. It was never produced, largely because I never could find a compatible composer to write the music for my lyrics. But it was the precursor of Incomplete Passes.
Who knows maybe just the right person will read it and Third and Long will make it to the stage. One never really knows.
12. You now live in Cincinnati, Ohio. In spite of the regular visits back do you ever wish you could move back to Green Bay?
Pam and I talk about that every year when we’re there. It’s game weekend, the whole town has a festive atmosphere, and of course we’re on vacation with Del and Carla, two of our favorite people. We have to remind ourselves that it’s not that way 365 days a year. Our parents and a lot of our friends aren’t around anymore. We might have to take jobs that we wouldn’t enjoy. We’d have to shovel snow, or find someone to do it. And of course, if we met any Packer players, we’d remind them of their grandmothers! Green Bay is a fine little city with plenty of activities. It has some good restaurants, a couple of wonderful bookstores, an annual art fair, some theatre, two universities, and a minor-league hockey team to enjoy along with the Packers. I haven’t ruled out moving back some day—but it wouldn’t be the same as in the ‘60s.
It’s true. Home is ever in our hearts but often returning to our childhood home is not really a return because time moves ever forward. Speaking of returning and moving forward, we are going to close this portion of the interview and look forward to you returning to join us tomorrow for the second half of this interview. I guess that makes it Half Time for us. Cue the cheerleaders and marching band.
Thank you all for reading and remember Incomplete Passes is available on Amazon.com, bn.com (Barnes & Noble), Indie Bound, and other on-line retailers. It also can be ordered through Linda’s website, www.incompletepasses.com.
Linda Lange grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, during the Sixties when Vince Lombardi coached the Packers. She recalls those times in the pages of her memoir, “Incomplete Passes: Reflections on Life, love, and Football.” Linda has worked in broadcast stations and as a promotional copywriter for U.S. News & World Report magazine. Her first book, “Incomplete Passes,” was named a finalist in the 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Linda now lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her husband, Scott, and their two cats. They have a son who is not named after “Mr. Anonymous” in “Incomplete Passes.”
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We’ll see you all tomorrow for the completion of our interview with Linda Lange.