SJU’s ‘Super’ Connection
Packers’ team physicians are Johnnie graduates
January 28, 2011
By Mike Killeen
Patrick McKenzie and John Gray have two hopes for the Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 6 in Dallas.
One is a victory for their employer, the Green Bay Packers. The other?
"I'd like to see everybody get up after every play and get back and play the next play," John said.
"If there's no doctor on the field, it's a good game," Pat added.
That shouldn't come as a surprise. Pat, a 1979 graduate of Saint John's University, is medical director and team physician for the Packers. John, a 1976 SJU graduate, is the associate team physician.
"What I do is coordinate (the Packers') medical care," Pat said. "I take care of all the orthopedic issues. I have a family doctor, John, who does all our medical issues. We organize a panel of sub-specialists so that anything that isn't in my area or John's area, we refer to them."
Both Pat and John have had a busy year. Early in the season, the Packers lost a number of starting players to season-ending injuries, including tight end Jermichael Finley, linebacker Nick Barnett, running Ryan Grant and offensive tackle Mark Tauscher.
"Our first six or seven weeks (of the season) were brutal," Pat said. "We had more guys hurt than we'd ever had - and key players."
"They were all season-ending injuries, too," John pointed out. "We had six starters with season-ending injuries, and we had 16 people on injured reserve. It was like, 'What's next?' All the pundits were saying we were a Super Bowl team to start out with, but then, by the middle of the season, people were writing us off."
But thanks to some expert juggling by Coach Mike McCarthy and General Manager Ted Thompson, the Packers became the first No. 6 seed in the NFC to advance to the Super Bowl, where they'll face the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Pat and John will be making their third Super Bowl appearance. The Packers beat the New England Patriots 35-21 in 1997, but lost to the Denver Broncos 31-24 in 1998.
"It's more special now for a couple different reasons," Pat said. "One, you realize how special it is. Back in 1997 and '98, we went to two (Super Bowls) in a row. We thought, 'Shoot, we'll be like the (San Francisco) 49ers and go every other year. And then we go 13 years without going, and you say, 'OK, it isn't that easy.'
"You realize in a hurry that it is a special experience. To have that experience occur in a year like this, where we had so many injuries and everything was stacked against us and we still make it, it's pretty cool," Pat said.
Although both attended SJU in 1975-76 (John's senior year and Pat's freshman year), they did not know each other and didn't connect professionally until the late 1980s.
"I moved to Green Bay in 1986, and he moved in 1989," John recalled. "Pat was starting an orthopedic practice, and I had taken over a couple of family practices when I got here and had a boatload of patients. I started sending him everything orthopedic that came out of my practice, and we got to know each other through the referral system, and then we got to be friends."
When Ron Wolf became the general manager of the Packers, Pat - who had already been working with the team - became medical director. Wolf wanted Pat to hire a second doctor to work with the team, so Pat reached out to John.
"I told my wife I'd try it for a year and see how things went - and that was 18 years ago," John said, laughing.
Both physicians keep regular hours at the Packers' complex throughout the season, although they do not attend practice sessions. They are on the sidelines for home and away games, and they will spend Super Bowl week with the Packers in north Texas.
Pat regularly visits SJU to watch the Johnnies' basketball team play (he's a former guard). Son Pat is an assistant coach for Jim Smith, while younger son Kevin is a freshman guard for the Johnnies. Dad watched both when he attended the Johnnies' 82-68 win over Hamline Jan. 26, but will miss the next week-plus of the season. Of course, he has an excuse.
"The only negative is, the Super Bowl chews into the Saint John's basketball season," Pat said.