One of the things I love most about my job is pleasant surprises. On Friday, Jan. 15, I received one of those surprises in an email from an account executive at a public relations agency for Dove Men+Care asking me if I would be interested in interviewing Jordy Nelson at a hotel in Green Bay the following Tuesday. She also wanted me to watch a three-minute You Tube video that her agency made about Jordy Nelson.
It didn't take me long to decide that this was an interesting opportunity that probably wasn't going to happen more than once. I responded to the email and let the PR person know I'd be delighted to view the video and drive to Green Bay to talk to Jordy.
For those of you wondering what a star Green Bay Packers wide receiver has to do with agriculture, the answer is plenty. Nelson was born and raised on a cattle and wheat farm near Manhattan, Kan. Today, his parents and his older brother grow 1,000 acres of wheat and graze 300 Black Angus cows and their calves on 1,000 acres of pasture.
"Every year we sell more than 100 bulls," Nelson says. "We keep most of the heifers and sell the bulls for breeding."
Two years ago, I had the opportunity to listen to Nelson speak at the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin Annual Business Conference in Madison. He mesmerized the audience of 1,500 dairy farmers and agribusiness people with stories about growing up on the family farm and playing football and how he ended up in Green Bay. I have to admit, I'm pretty sure he could have read the Green Bay phonebook and everyone there would have been just as excited to hear him talk because he is after all Jordy Nelson!
Although I didn't get to meet him then I sat near the front and I took a photo and wrote a story that appeared in the April 2014 issue. The article also ran online which is why the PR agency contacted me, the editor of a Wisconsin farm magazine, to see if I might want to interview Nelson in person. Other media invited to interview Nelson that day were all sports media from ESPN, Chris Roth from BAY Channel 2 in Green Bay and USA Today Network-Wisconsin.
The meeting took place just three days after the Packers lost a heartbreaking playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals that saw the Packers tie the game up at the last second with a Hail Mary pass from Aaron Rodgers to Jeff Janis only to lose the botched coin toss and the game in overtime. While Nelson wasn't able to play in the game and missed the whole season with a torn ACL, he was on the sidelines with his team.
In the video, he was asked what were the highlights of his year? Because of his injury, he couldn't say football. So he said his three big highlights were getting an opportunity to substitute teach at his son's school for a teacher who was receiving cancer treatment, working on his family's farm during the off season and taking his six year old son Royal to school every day.
You can watch Nelson's "Real Strength Highlight Reel" at https://youtu.be/3O2KHDnXaCw.
The 30 year old has been playing football for 19 years including the past eight years as a Green Bay Packer. He and his wife Emily were high school sweethearts and they both graduated from Kansas State University. They have been married for nine years. In December 2014, Emily gave birth to their second son Brooks.
Emily's father raises cattle and crops on a farm about 15 miles from Jordy's family's farm.
Nelson told me farming is important to him because it "was my life for my first 18 years until I went to college. I like going there during the off-season because it gives me a chance to work on the farm, get away from football and be with my family."
Nelson says is looking forward to playing football next season. But after his football career ends, he and Emily plan to return to his family's farm.
"I want to be my brother's hired man," he explains. "He can pay me when I work and if he has to lay me off, I think I will be able to survive!"
I sure hope so. Nelson signed a four-year contract with the Packers in July2014 for $39 million.
Jordy says one of the main reasons he and Emily want to go back to Kansas is to give their young sons a chance to be on the farm, learn how to work on the farm and become a part of it.
"I know what it has done for me," he says.
Every year Nelson invites one Packer to the farm to help with a benefit he holds. Last year, he invited A.J. Hawk. In the past, Aaron Rodgers, Randall Cobb, Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and James Jones have also visited the farm.
"None of them had ever seen a farm before," Nelson says. "It's always a lot of fun."
At the end of our interview, I asked him if Wisconsin reminds him of Kansas?
"Wisconsin is identical to Kansas but it's colder here and there is more snow in Wisconsin," he says. "Like Kansas, it's a small community here. People in Wisconsin truly care about you."