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Packers tradition spawns friendship for Lofton

Discussion in 'Latest Chargers News & Headlines' started by robdog, Aug 7, 2005.

  1. robdog
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    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

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    <strong>August 7, 2005</strong>
    Source: <a href="http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2005/08/07/news/columnists/paris/22_45_088_6_05.txt">North County Times</a>

    James Lofton reunites with a special friend when the Chargers travel to Green Bay, Wis., to open their exhibition season.

    Nick Mehan will visit the Chargers' hotel on Wednesday, and don't fault Lofton if he looks for Mehan to cruise up on his nifty Stingray bike.

    It was on Mehan's bicycle's banana-shaped seat on which Lofton parked his backside, going to and from countless Packers workouts.

    "To get to the practice field from the locker room, you would go all the way across the parking lot," said Lofton, the Chargers' wide receivers coach. "It's a good distance when you are wearing cleats, then it's also uphill on the way back. And at the end of the practice, walking up hill wasn't a lot of fun."

    Packers borrowing bikes is a Green Bay ritual, rivaling the fans' pregame consumption of bratwurst and Old Style. Youngsters would gladly temporary relinquish their most prized possessions to rub shoulders with their Packers heroes in shoulder pads.

    "The tradition goes that the players ride the kids' bikes, and we didn't have a ton of kids back then," said Lofton, a Packer from 1978-86. "So if you found somebody, you would ride their bike and they would hold off other players that would want to ride their bike in. They would say, 'No, I'm waiting for so-and-so.' "

    But Lofton, a member of the Pro Football and Packers halls of fame, did more than decrease Mehan's tread.

    Lofton took a shine to the then-13-year-old running alongside carrying his helmet, and their friendship has flourished since.

    "I started talking to him and took an interest in him," said Lofton, a Poway resident. "I followed him through middle school and then high school."

    Lofton did more than lob an occasional phone call. He attended Mehan's prep football games and looked after him like an elder sibling.

    "I'm not really sure how or why we met, but it's really been quite a thrill to know him so long," said Mehan, 40. "He would bring out Gatorade after practice, give me tickets to the home games."

    Lofton also provided the support of a role model.

    Mehan's parents were divorced, and Lofton was someone Mehan could lean on.

    "James was like a dad to me," Mehan said.

    The modest Lofton downplays his extending a helping hand.

    "Father figure is too strong, but maybe I was like an older brother," Lofton said. "I would tell him to keep his grades up and I would check up on him, making sure he was doing the right thing."

    Lofton, 49, always did right by Mehan. That's why he's making Wednesday's trip from his Minneapolis home.

    That's why he attended Lofton's induction into the hallowed halls of Canton. That's why he counts Lofton as among his most trusted pals.

    "I'm proud to call James my friend," he said. "The world needs more James Loftons."

    This relationship long ago ceased being about the bike. It's about a Green Bay kid who went from being a pint-sized valet to Lofton's longtime buddy.

    "If people saw us sitting together," Lofton said, "nobody would ever think that he was a little kid whose bike I used to ride. Now, we're just two guys sitting around."

    Brought together, Lofton might add, by Mehan's bicycle wheels going round and round.

    "It's all changed in Green Bay now," Mehan said. "Back when I met James there might have been 10 kids out there. Now you go back there and no kidding, there's 200 bikes."

    Of that current or past bunch, few can brag of meshing with a Packer like a spoke and a wheel.

    "I really haven't heard of anyone else like this, so I guess it is really unique," Lofton said. "And I never remember riding anyone else's bike."

    And while Mehan once jogged next to a peddling Lofton, meeting the former Packer great became the ride of his life.

    Contact staff writer Jay Paris at jparis8@aol.com. The Chargers Insider runs every other Sunday during football season.

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