CHIPPEWA FALLS — Willie Buchanon lives in his hometown of San Diego, but he loves coming back to Wisconsin to represent the Green Bay Packers.
Buchanon, 68, was a cornerback with the Packers from 1972 until 1978, then played four more years with the San Diego Chargers. The 1972 league rookie of the year and two-time Pro Bowler spoke at the Lambeau Field Live exhibit Thursday at the Northern Wisconsin State Fair and posed for pictures with the crowd gathered for his speech.
“This is great,” Buchanon said of the crowd on hand. “There are great fans here, and we want to thank them for continuing to support the Packers.”
The Lambeau Field Live exhibit, which debuted at the fair last year, features an artificial turf field laid in the center of the grounds and trailers filled with Packers’ exhibits and memorabilia that surrounds the mini-football field. The exhibit, which was created to celebrate the football team’s 100-year anniversary, is not expected to return in future years.
Buchanon said he feels honored he was able to play in the league for more than a decade.
“It was fascinating; it was fun,” he said. “I told myself when it stopped being fun, I wouldn’t play anymore.”
Even as a retired player, he stays involved with the team, attending an annual Packers alumni weekend.
“I talk to three, four guys (former teammates) at least once a week,” he said.
Buchanon was the seventh overall pick in the first round of the draft. He noted that the seventh pick this year got a $15 million signing bonus. When asked how much he received to sign, he quickly replied, “I ain’t telling you,” which drew laughs from the crowd.
One fan asked him what was the coldest game that he ever played in. While Buchanon said it seemed like all the Lambeau Field games were cold, he said the worst was actually a late-season game in Cincinnati when he was with the Chargers at the end of his career.
Buchanon was asked about his injuries in his playing career.
“I had both knees done about five years ago, but I broke my leg twice,” Buchanon replied. “They actually set my leg on the field in 1974.”
Buchanon spoke warmly of his friendship with Bart Starr, who died earlier this year.
“He loved his players,” he said. “He was genuine. He told you what you needed to hear on the field.”
One fan asked him which quarterback he prefers, Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers.
“How do you ask that question? They are both great quarterbacks, spun from the same system,” he replied.
Since he retired, Buchanon has stayed involved in the league, including working on an annual fundraiser during the Super Bowl to raise money to end hunger. He became a Realtor but also a pastor.
“Being an ordained minister, I understand what life is all about,” he said. “I understand the Word, and I had to go out and teach the Word.”
Lambeau Field Live continues today with special guest John Brockington, a fullback who played for the Packers from 1971 until 1977. Brockington will be at the exhibit every day this weekend.
Fairgoers will have a few new food options to try this year.
Steve Demars of Rice Lake debuted his Waffle Bomb food truck at the fair this year. He’s stationed in front of the grandstand bleachers.
A Waffle Bomb features several jumbo strawberries that are dipped in waffle batter, deep fried, then covered in chocolate sauce and powdered sugar. Demars said he opened his booth last year and brought it to fairs from Florida to New York. He loves the reaction when people give it a try.
“They are surprised, saying it is very tasty,” Demars said. “It get a lot of ‘oh my god that is fantastic’ comments.”
Demars was pleased with the customer traffic over the first two days of the fair.
“When you have a new, unique food item, it’s hard to get a following,” he said.
Another new food this year is at Richie’s Cheese Curd Tacos truck. Charles Smith of St. Cloud, Minn., said his tacos feature deep-fried cheeses, plus a variety of meats, ranging from bratwurst to chicken.
Smith said he sees confused faces as they walk up to his truck.
“They don’t understand it at first, then they get one, and they understand,” Smith said. “It’s a blast, after they bite into one. Then they come back and say how much they liked it.”