Walking around Williamstown, I wouldn’t expect to meet someone who had played in the NFL, and that possibility certainly didn’t even cross my mind the first time I saw Terry Leroux wearing a Green Bay Packers hat in The Spirit Shop on Cole Avenue. Figuring he was some displaced Packers fan who somehow found himself in the land of the Patriots, not unlike myself, I struck up a conversation with him. I never could have predicted the story I would hear.
Leroux’s incredible tale began in upstate New York, outside of Watertown, N.Y, where he grew up. “Where I come from, hockey is king,” Leroux said. “Most of the people in my family were into hockey. I was kind of the oddball who wasn’t.”
Leroux’s family wasn’t just into hockey; they were Stanley Cup champions. Four of his family members have won the Stanley Cup, with the most recent being his nephew Erik Cole who won it in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes. But hockey was not the sport for Leroux, who started playing football when he attended the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) in Syracuse, N.Y.
At SUNY-ESF Leroux studied photometric engineering. “I make maps from aerial photography,” Leroux said. Due to the few firms and jobs in this field, “You go where you get an offer, and I got an offer in Wisconsin,” Leroux said. So Leroux packed up his life and moved to the Midwest, where little did he know he was about to have the ride of a lifetime.
“If you live in Wisconsin, everything is Packers,” Leroux said. As a Wisconsin native myself, those words ring particularly true for me. Leroux heard that the Packers were hosting a walk-on camp for the 1978-79 season, so he decided to go try out for the position of wide receiver. “I went up with about another 800 people at the camp with the attitude that I get to go up to Lambeau Field, see the events and maybe meet some of the players. I was just going to go up and enjoy the day,” Leroux said. Emphasizing what a long shot he was, he said, “I had played Division III.”
At the tryout, the first thing he was asked to do was run 40 yards. “You had to run at least 4.5 [seconds], 4.6 [seconds] to even be considered [at wide receiver],” Leroux said.
When Leroux ran well under that, he was asked to run a second time. “I matched the speed the second time,” he said. When the day was over, he was asked to report to training camp with the rookies on Monday. “Needless to say I was rather stunned,” Leroux added.
Leroux went to the first two weeks of training camp, thinking every day that he would be cut. The Packers were unusual in that they cut after each practice, not at the end of the week.
“If you had a bad practice you weren’t sticking around,” Leroux said. “It’s because it’s municipally owned. They don’t want to [keep] funding somebody who’s not going to make it any longer than they have to.”
But Leroux’s name kept being on the roster at the end of each day, and eventually he made it to the team’s first scrimmage. “The following week was going to be the first preseason game. I figured I was cut after the scrimmage. But I was on the roster the next day,” Leroux said.
Leroux appeared in two preseason games for the Packers that summer, making four catches in the first and five in the second. In the second game he even got in the end zone for a touchdown.
“I found an opening in the end zone for an eight-yard pass,” Leroux said. But the next day he got cut because of his size. “Every time I got hit they were wondering if I was going to get back up again … I just don’t have the frame, I don’t have the size for it,” Leroux said.
“I couldn’t argue with the coach because the coach at that time was Bart Starr,” Leroux said, referring to the legendary Packers coach and Hall of Famer. Leroux said there were no hard feelings after being cut: “[Starr] is the nicest man I think I’ve ever met. The whole organization is just remarkable in the way that they are owned by the city, they support the city … It’s just phenomenal to work with them.”
Even though Leroux didn’t end up making the team, his 15 minutes of fame were unforgettable. “To even walk out of the stadium with the gear, you’re a god,” Leroux said. “You can walk in anywhere, and you don’t pay for anything.” The fans definitely made an impression on Leroux during that experience and his time in Wisconsin.
“I’ve never met a friendlier group of people. I’ve never met anyone who supported their team as much as they did,” Leroux said.
Although the experience ended sooner than Leroux would have liked, he’s grateful for the opportunity. “To this day, that was my 15 minutes of fame. My 15 minutes of fame was just to get on the field and just enjoy it. And I did,” Leroux said. “No one could have given me a fairer chance. No one could have given me a greater experience. I’ll always remember it.”
And the experience he remembers most? “Coming out of the tunnel the first time … That I remember more than catching a ball or anything else,” Leroux commented. “No one knew any of us. We were all rookies or backup players trying to make the squad. But to run out of that tunnel, [the fans] look at it like a playoff game. I came out of the locker room and you could hear the rumble. And as you got closer to the tunnel entrance onto the field it was deafening. It was the greatest thrill.”
After the experience of a lifetime, Leroux eventually moved back east and started working for Col-East, Inc., in North Adams, where he still makes maps from aerial photograph. He also works most nights at The Spirit Shop, where I first saw him, thinking he was just a Packers fan.
I’ve been to Lambeau. I’ve seen the crazy, loyal fans. But I’ve never met a fan more genuine than Leroux. So if you find yourself at The Spirit Shop in the future, ask him about his time with the Packers. He’ll be the one wearing the Packers hat, and the first to tell you, “I’ll be green and gold until the day I die.”