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Andy Walsh might not be named the NFL Fan of the Year, but finishing second, or even 32nd, wouldn't be bad.
Walsh will attend Super Bowl LVI at SoFI Stadium in Los Angeles in February with the NFL picking up the cost. That's the perk of being named the Green Bay Packers' nominee for the NFL contest. The winner will be announced by the NFL the night before the game.
"If the Packers make a run this year, there’s that added, awesome component to it," said Walsh, a school administrator who lives in Danvers, Illinois, just west of Bloomington/Normal.
In addition to being a diehard Packers fan from birth, Walsh supports St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. In January 2020, he led the first meeting of a new St. Jude Run team, a fundraising effort that includes many communities in Central Illinois. Walsh and his wife, Jami, participated in the event at another location and co-workers in the Olympia School District said they wanted to start their own team. Walsh helped launch the team, which raised more than $120,000 for the families of St. Jude over the past two years.
Walsh, 41, was raised in Durand, Illinois, five miles from the Wisconsin state line. Maintaining his faith in the land of unbelievers is a family trait. His father, one of 14 children, was a Lombardi-era Packers fan in the midst of Bears siblings. As Walsh tells it, there are additional Packers fans in the family now because a number of his aunts were converted after they made the short crossing to Wisconsin for love.
“Family reunions are pretty much an even split,” he said.
While his dad had Vince Lombard to hang his fandom on, Walsh had a more challenging beginning.
"It was a pretty rough first 10 years or so of fandom, until (quarterback) Don Majkowski came in. That was my first memory of them being competitive," he said. "All my friends at school gave me a hard time until Majik Man had a good year, and then Brett Favre came in during my middle school and high school years."
Game days — or those days when they can't watch a live broadcast of the game and have to watch a recording — are dedicated to the Packers. Phones and other distractions are turned off.
"It's always been Packers, period," he said. "We'd all stop and watch the games as a family."
Game watching is a family bonding experience and good for life lessons.
"Last year, when they lost to Tampa Bay, everybody was pretty downtrodden," Walsh said. "At the end of the day it was just a game. I think the kids take some of that stuff with them, too."
His wife did not grow up a football fan, but she got tickets from a friend to Packers vs. Chargers at Lambeau Field in 2007. The Packers won 31-24 and Favre threw three touchdown passes, the third one tying Dan Marino for the then NFL record 420 TD passes.
"From that day forward, she was very much hooked," Walsh said.
Clearly, they raised their children, Noah, 13, and Lily, 11, to be proper Packers fans. The first game the kids attended was a January 2017 playoff game against the New York Giants, which Green Bay won 38-13.
"It was like negative-20 degree wind chill. The kids loved every minute of it," he said.
Walsh was nominated by Jami and Noah. Among the factors rated are fandom, community involvement and an inspirational story. The Packers said they chose him because of his passion for the Packers, his dedication to the students and how he gives back to the community.
Walsh was made assistant superintendent of the Olympia School District after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The staff of the district has been dedicated the past two years to providing in-person instruction, and though things are not fully back to normal, Walsh said the Packers and NFL have been a diversion from the daily and weekly stresses that go with helping lead a school district during challenging times.
After Packers victories, Walsh wears his Packers tie to school, and he has a Packers decal on his car. He's coached football, basketball, softball and baseball over the years.
The Walshes love that being Packers fans isn't just about the team. As Packers fans have demonstrated time and again, the attraction also is about being around other Packers fans.
"Both my wife and I are from small towns, and just going up to Green Bay on game day and seeing how the community absolutely loves the Packers," he said. "Everybody is so kind and friendly up there and they are so inviting. I love that about the Packers."
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Illinois Packers fan Andy Walsh nominated for NFL Fan of the Year