17

March

Farewell, Tom Crabtree

For those who have known me for any extended period of time, you know how long I’ve always wanted to become a sports writer. I’ve always been a Green Bay Packers fan but I knew that if I wanted to make that career jump I would have to exercise some kind of objectivity and hopefully I have been somewhat successful.

Right now, however, I’d like to at least somewhat circumvent that objectivity.

As you’re probably aware by now, now former Packers tight end Tom Crabtree signed a two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.   On the surface, this move should not be that painful for the Packers. Crabtree was mainly a blocking tight end and highlights from 2012 aside, he wasn’t much of a threat in the passing game. This should not be that big of a deal.

That’s at the surface. Deep down, this is painful and in ways I never imagined.

I remember the first time I heard Crabtree’s name—when he scored his first career touchdown against the Eagles in the Wild Card round in the 2011 playoffs.  The Packers won that game en route to the Super Bowl XLV title.   We didn’t see much else from Crabtree in the rest of that playoff game but he did make many appearances on this thing called Twitter (or “the tweeter” as Mike McCarthy once referred to it as).

This was early 2011. I followed (and still do) quite a few Packers players and enjoyed the banter  between the players as well as the interaction with fans. I’d reply every once in a while but never really expected a response due to the massive number of mentions the players had to have been getting.

One day, Crabtree made a joke of some kind. I wish I could remember what it was but I don’t.  I replied back with my own wisecrack and Crabtree actually replied.  As someone who was aspiring to be a writer and wanted to build a good reputation  with the players, this was like Christmas.  Crabtree and I exchanged a few more tweets and I really enjoyed the conversation.  At that moment he ceased to be a Packer for me and was just a regular guy.  I know many others feel the same.

What happened next was so simple yet it had such a profound impact on me.  I get an email alert via my iPhone: “Tom Crabtree is now following you on Twitter.”  All he did was hit the “follow” button on my Twitter profile but what he actually did was give me a shot of confidence.   This website was still developing at this point and that simple act by Crabtree made me realize: “Hey, I can do this.  I can be a writer. I can interact with a player and have it pay off.”

“My dream can come true.”

This may sound like hyperbole and massive overstatement and over dramatization but it’s not.  I’m a sensitive person and wear my heart on my sleeve. I can’t help it. It’s who I am. I take everything, for better or worse, personally and it’s led to both good and bad things in my life.

Anyways, I later met Crabtree for the first time at the Bay Park Square Mall after he (what else) tweeted he’d be there with his Super Bowl ring and invited fans to come check it out.

How cool is that? If that isn’t “Packer People” I don’t know what is.

Later on that spring I had debated seriously leaving Twitter and Crabtree, without prompt from anyone, told me not to  do it and that I was (am?) a “good dude.”  That meant a lot to a guy with some insecurity issues.

Same thing happened after the Packers lost to the Giants in that heartbreaking playoff defeat a year ago.  I made a tweet that I hoped Aaron Rodgers never tweeted again until the Packers made it back to the Super Bowl.  Crabtree called me out and I admitted mea culpa.  He could have dismissed me as another bonkers fan but he didn’t . He appreciated my apology.

Since then, I’ve handled Packers losses a lot better. In fact, I’d say I handle them almost too well.

My connection with Crabtree also goes beyond Twitter. I was a regular attendee of his “Clubhouse Live” show in Appleton and also was on “Team Crabtree” for last year’s JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes in De Pere.   I didn’t go to all these events because Crabtree was a Packer and that I wanted an autograph. That’s not how I was raised.

I didn’t go to Clubhouse live JUST to see Tom and another Packer. I went there because it was fun.  I didn’t do the JDRF Walk because I wanted to meet players, I went because it’s a good cause and it was the right thing to do.

Even with Crabtree in Tampa Bay, I still plan on doing the JDRF Walk this year because, as he’d tell you himself, it’s not about him. It’s about curing a disease that has plagued society for far too long. That’s bigger and more important than any football player.

I’m blessed to have gotten to know Tom. For all the evils of social media at times, this is part of the good side of it.   The fact that he even knows my name without having to introduce myself is pretty neat.  I’m so fortunate.

Football is a business and I knew that,  so I had prepared myself for this moment.  I gave Tom my personal thanks at the final “Clubhouse” taping in early February but I think I need to say it again.

Thank you Tom for everything. What you’ve done for me cannot be measured in words, let along 140 characters.  More importantly, thanks for what you have done for so many people.   The fact that more people were upset over your departure than Greg Jennings’ speaks volumes of your character. In a world where athletes use Twitter to get themselves in trouble, you use it for (gasp!) its actual intended purpose—to have fun and interact with the fans.

Crabtree used his celebrity for good and sadly that is becoming all too rare in our world today.  Hopefully he can be an example for pro athletes everywhere.

Godspeed Tom Crabtree.  Packer Nation is a place you can always call home. You’ll always be a Packer in our hearts.

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Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke

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7 Responses to “Farewell, Tom Crabtree”

  1. Razer says:

    Yeah Crabtree was an asset to this team beyond receptions. Sorry to see him go and sorry that we didn’t reward him for his versatility, effort, results and contributions to Packer success.

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  2. PatMc says:

    I hate to see Crabtree go but I am happy he is getting a chance to start at TE down at TB.

    With 5 other TE’s on the roster before the draft, Crabtree was in for a tough camp in GB.

    GB is a good place to start a career AND TT will let you move on to fulfill it (if that is the best decision for the team).

    TT Rewarded his hard work by letting him go for a better deal and a chance to start in TB. What Crabtree does with that opportunity is his reward.

    TT is the GM making tough decisions now for the best of the GB Packers and the players. I think for Crabtree this was a win (not a loss)!

    Good luck Tom Crabtree. (except against the Pack)

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    • Oppy says:

      Well put.

      These are my sentiments on how I believe TT and the Packers’ front office perceives the treatment they offer their players, I don’t think I have or could have put it as well.

      I think often players don’t see it that way, at least not when the sting of being allowed to fly the coup is fresh.. But I do think it’s how the front office views it more often than not, and I’d like to think the players come around to seeing it that way down the road.

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  3. BradHTX says:

    Kris, this is a really great piece — thanks for sharing it. In a world where too many athletes are deified, I like to think the Packers’ players are more worthy of respect than most, simply because they’re good, normal guys. It’s nice to have that opinion confirmed about Tom Crabtree.

    Keep being “Packer people,” Tom, even down there in Tampa.

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  4. Savage57 says:

    I think that someone needs to send this article to TT with a reminder that despite the cold, hard nature of the business side of football, fans develop all kinds and degrees of relationships with the players that populate their teams. And, those fans, in doing that, fill the stands, buy the memorabilia, watch the shows and support the businesses that enable the Packers to remain in existence.

    More tact, openness (when possible) and simple diplomacy in the negotiations and other team interactions with these players can go a long ways towards reducing the sting of loss that many fans wind up feeling deeply when a player they’ve come to know and appreciate leaves the team.

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  5. John Rehor John Rehor says:

    This is really good Kris.

    The personal stories are always the best. Thanks for sharing the impact Tom had on you during his time in GB

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  6. Zeman says:

    Really nice article Kris, best of luck to Tom.

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