The jersey tells the story of the man’s longevity.
Ray Nitschke, who entered the NFL only four years after facemasks were still optional, ended his career wearing a mesh jersey with his name on the back. That jersey, strongly believed to be the last one he ever wore in competition, is about to go on the auction block.
Consigned to Heritage Auctions’ November catalog, the white road jersey has been photomatched to the August 26, 1973 pre-season game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Nitschke, trying to hang on at age 36, but displaced by younger, more athletic players, would announce his retirement two days later.
“The spirit I have is still there,” he said at the time. “But the numbers game got to me. There’s no room on the roster for a third string middle linebacker so I’m retiring.”
The jersey is made of white mesh with a screened-on, traditional Packers’ sleeve stripe pattern. According to Heritage, Nitschke’s famous number “66” is screened in proper font and dimensions to chest, back and sleeves.
There is a large team repair is visible on the right shoulder.
Packers game-worn jersey expert Guy Hankel used photographic analysis to pinpoint the date and a letter of authenticity from Nitschke’s son states it is “most likely” his father’s last jersey. Auction officials believe it will sell for at least $15,000.
Nitschke’s retirement was an emotional one for the player and Green Bay fans. Ferocious on the field, he was a teddy bear off it, donating time and money to countless worthy causes and even keeping his name and number in the Green Bay phone book.
He led Green Bay’s defense to five NFL titles and victories in the first two Super Bowl games. Nitschke was the MVP of the 1962 championship game. Nitschke was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1978 and was named to the NFL’s 75th anniversary team.
While walking away from the game he loved was among the hardest things he’d ever done, Nitschke was at peace in front of reporters after taking off his familiar #66 for the last time.
“I have no complaints and no hard feelings,” he said. “I’m just glad to have been a Packer.”