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Jill Lieber
June 11, 1990
Quarterback Don Majkowski has captivated Green Bay Packer fans with an on-field bravado that belies his true nature
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June 11, 1990

The Majik Touch

Quarterback Don Majkowski has captivated Green Bay Packer fans with an on-field bravado that belies his true nature

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Syracuse had seriously recruited Majkowski as a quarterback but stopped calling soon after the injury. Canisius, Niagara and St. Bonaventure were interested in him as a basketball player, but Majkowski was determined to be a major college quarterback. Jim Tressel, a Syracuse assistant who had recruited Majkowski, suggested he spend a year in prep school, at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy, to gain more experience at the position before going to college. The Majkowskis visited Fork Union, where their tour guide was Vinny Testaverde, then a student soon headed for the University of Miami and now the quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The military environment gave Majkowski the creeps. "It was a shock to my system," he says. "I had hair halfway down my back. I played guitar in a rock band. I wore a leather jacket and boots to high school every day."

That evening back at their hotel, Majkowski and his father debated the pros and cons of Fork Union for several hours. Majkowski was dead set against enrolling; he wanted to take his chances by going the junior college route or trying to make it at a major college as a walk-on. "You're going to have to sacrifice yourself for this goal," Fred told him. "If I were you, I'd let 'em kick me in the butt for one year. Then, you'll see, all the doors will open."

Finally, at about 3 a.m., while fighting back tears, Majkowski gave in. Fred sold Don's car to help pay the $9,000 for tuition and other expenses. Majkowski lived in a small barracks with cement walls and bunk beds. Reveille at 6 a.m., lights out at 10:15 p.m. He dressed in a uniform, except on Monday and Wednesday, when he reported for military drills in fatigues. Saturday inspection was the biggest test.

"I got down on my hands and knees, waxed floors and cleaned toilets," he says. "I used a toothbrush to shine my belt buckle. Closet hangers had to be two fingers apart. I asked myself all the time, Is this worth it? I was so homesick and uptight, but I knew I was on a mission."

A straight-A student, Majkowski quarterbacked the football team to its best record in 10 years (8-0-1), excelled in basketball and track, and received the school's Best Athlete award. He never got a demerit and graduated with the rank of sergeant. "That year taught me mental toughness," he says. "It changed my life. I became a lot more serious and mature."

Majkowski considered several scholarship offers, most from major colleges in the South, before deciding to attend Virginia, located 22 miles from Fork Union. He was so sure of himself that he asked for—and was given—a jersey with the number 1 the first day of freshman practice. By the sixth game of his sophomore season, in 1984, Majkowski had won the starting job. Throwing for 1,235 yards and rushing for 305, he led Virginia to an 8-2-2 record, including a 27-24 Peach Bowl victory over Purdue in the Cavaliers' first bowl appearance.

Already spatting his shoes, Majkowski was well on his way to becoming Majik. Students and professors often referred to him by his nickname. Basketball coach Terry Holland was so impressed by Majkowski's athletic talents that he asked him to join the team as a walk-on three years in a row. Majik declined each time.

As a junior, Majkowski started eight games and Virginia went 6-5. In the fourth game of his senior year, he separated his throwing shoulder and was sidelined for three games. He forced his way back into the lineup with almost no rehabilitation. "I was in a lot of pain," Majkowski says, "but I felt it was critical to get back in there if I wanted to be drafted."

Virginia finished 3-8, and two months later Majkowski's shoulder still hadn't healed. He went to the NFL Scouting Combine, where scouts were disturbed by his lack of arm strength. In the 1987 draft, Majkowski waited while 12 other quarterbacks were picked before he got the call from the Packers in the 10th round. He signed a two-year deal—$65,000 in '87 and $81,000 in '88-and headed to Green Bay. Upon arrival, he asked to wear number 1, but the Packers refused.

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