After the 2014 NFC playoff game between the Packers and Cowboys, most in Titletown were buzzing about Dez Bryant’s “catch or not a catch.”
John Kohlbeck, however, was worried about one of the Packers’ offensive lineman, playing with his son’s new long board.
“I’m thinking in the back of my mind like, the starting center is about to go into the NFC Championship game and he’s going to break his ankle in my basement,” Kohlbeck recalled.
Getting to that point goes all the way back to 2014 for Packers center Corey Linsley and the Kohlbecks, who Linsley calls his “Green Bay family.”
In 2014, the Packers took Linsley in the fifth round of the NFL Draft out of Ohio State. He felt right at home here because it reminds him of his home town, Youngstown, Ohio.
The biggest difference, though, is the presence of a NFL franchise. And training camp is as big a tradition as games around Green Bay, with a big part of that tradition being the bike rides from Lambeau Field to Ray Nitschke Field.
“Coming in, guys had talked about riding the bikes and the experience in general, but the amount of people, the atmosphere just in general was overwhelming,” Linsley recalled.
On his first day of Packers training camp, Linsley rode a little girl’s scooter.
On Day 2, he met Travis Kohlbeck.
“I just remember him being very easy to talk to, very personable for his age,” said Linsley.
“I was pretty surprised he picked me,” Travis remembered. “But it’s fun getting to know a Packer player.”
“I remember coming out of practice and coming up to him and I said, 'You ready?' He said, I’m sorry I can’t ride with you, I’m waiting for Corey Linsley,” Linsley recalled, laughing. “And I was like man, I’m here. So that was pretty funny.”
Travis was in the fourth grade then. His mom, Alicia, has been documenting each year since then and proudly shows the photos of Travis over the years.
But she doesn’t recall much of the first couple days Linsley and her son rode to training camp. At the time, she was in ICU at ThedaCare in Neenah for eight days after suffering a brain hemorrhage.
“It was kind of refreshing because it was taking everything off Travis’ mind,” recalled John, his father. “Best way to put it is... We were going through a tough time and he changed everything. He took the scary moments away.”
“I was just happy for Travis that he had a distraction from everything else going on,” Alicia said.
But amid a battle against JC Tretter at the time for a starting center role, for Linsley, spending time with Travis to and from practices wasn’t quite enough.
“I gathered his family was going through a little bit of a tough time,” Linsley said. “His bike was well worn, had some miles on it I figured, I’ll get him a bike as a pick-me-up.”
“I’m thinking to myself at the time, this guy is a Packer?” John recalled. “Just a young guy doing something nice for a family going through a tough time.”
“It was pretty nice, just so I don’t have to think about what’s happening,” Travis said of the gesture.
Since then, Linsley’s Green Bay family hosts his family on Packer gamedays, letting them park at their Ashwaubenon home near Lambeau for games.
“We spent birthdays with them and holidays. And I think the first Thanksgiving or Christmas up here, I spent with their family. I know the grandparents, aunts, uncles,” Linsley said. “Regardless of this story, I’m just thankful to meet such great people in the Green Bay community.”
“He’ll come over, kick his shoes off and sit on the couch just like he’s at home,” John said. “We’ll have dinner, if he wants seconds, he knows just get up and grab it so our house is his house.
“We see Corey more as a friend than as a Green Bay Packer.”
Travis said having Linsley over is simply “like having another family member in the house.”
“It’s different seeing him on the field; he looks like of rough and scary, not the same kid sitting on my couch playing with my dogs and kids,” Alicia said.
Nowadays, Travis has a new bike -- and a new look as he grows older.
“He’s got this haircut now that I had a couple years ago. For some reason he didn’t learn from my mistakes. He’s got the flow going,” Linsley said, laughing. “He’s a teenager, man. He’s funny, he’s energetic. You can’t knock him for energy. He’s got a lot of it. He reminds me of being a teenager. He’s young, he’s kind of a little angsty at times. But we trade barbs back and forth. He’s a great kid.”
The bond the Kohlbecks have developed with Linsley, his wife, Anna, and their families is one of those unique relationships only really found in Green Bay. And like the players riding bikes to training camp practices, it’s just another tradition that lives on in the Packers’ 100th season.
“The most important thing I think about when I go out and see the bike kids, this is what it’s all about,” said Linsley. “They don’t want anything out of it. They’re not trying to make money off it. They just think it’s cool to ride a bike with a professional football player.”