GREEN BAY, WIS. -- Anthony Dilweg, the Bethesda boy who endured a series of football misadventures to grow up to become the starting quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, sat in the team's offices on Lombardi Avenue Saturday afternoon and talked about his sudden stroke of good fortune.
"Life is so peculiar, with all its twists and turns," he was saying. "I have to play like tomorrow is it, like it's my very last game. I don't mean that negatively either. I play football like everyone lives. You live like each day is your last. You never know. I have to think that way about football, considering my career. But when you play that way, you fulfill a lot of your dreams."
On Friday, Coach Lindy Infante named Dilweg -- not million-dollar ex-holdout Don Majkowski -- as his starter for the Packers (1-0) against the Chicago Bears (1-0) Sunday at 1 p.m. at Lambeau Field. It was a popular decision here; doesn't everyone love the underdog? A radio station conducted a poll: Packers fans wanted Dilweg, 70-30 percent. He had led the team to a 36-24 victory over the Los Angeles Rams in his first professional start last Sunday while Majkowski stood on the sideline, watching. The hero of Green Bay's 10-6 season a year ago, Majkowski had just ended a 45-day holdout and agreed to a $1.5 million, one-year deal.
Dilweg makes $165,000.
"I was thinking about it," Dilweg said. "After this game, two weeks into the season, Don will have made as much as I will make in a year."
But Infante's decision to stick with Dilweg should be viewed as something more than simply picking one quarterback over another. It should be seen as a wonderful personal triumph for a young man who constantly has been slapped to the ground by the game of football, only to get up, dust himself off, and keep on trying. When Infante chose Dilweg, even for just another week, it became clear that football finally had embraced one of its most worthy disciples.
"I've made it to the bonus round now," Dilweg said with a smile.
'On the Bench'
Anthony Dilweg, the conscientious grandson of Packers legend Lavvie Dilweg from the '20s and '30s, never has had much luck playing the game. Through injuries and bad timing, he had started just 23 games at quarterback in his career before the start of the 1990 NFL season.
"Fourteen-year-old kids usually have started that many games, considering they've been playing since they were 11 or 12," the 25-year-old Dilweg said. "I've played football 10 years, and eight of those years have been spent on the bench."
Just when he was going to be able to start as a senior at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda in 1982, he blew out his left knee. Doctors told him his career was over. It wasn't. He received permission to come back the next year for his "second" senior season and played so well he earned a scholarship to Duke.
Four years of riding the bench there made him consider quitting, until a coaching change gave him his chance. Again, he was a redshirt senior. He ended up second in the nation in total offense and set ACC records for passing yards (3,824) and touchdowns (24).
So he kept going. The Packers liked what they saw in college all-star games and made Dilweg a third-round pick in 1989. But he sat as Majkowski won over the town with tremendous come-from-behind performances. Dilweg was in for two plays and threw one pass, a seven-yard completion.
Still, he was in the pros. He was playing a block from the Packer Hall of Fame, where his grandfather, an end who played both ways, is enshrined. Dilweg was 3 when his grandfather died in 1968 after a career as a one-term Wisconsin congressman and Washington attorney. He has leafed through scrapbooks of his grandfather's playing days and came here often as a child. He even has a framed picture of his grandfather in his Packers uniform at home.
But this is a different Packers team and a different Dilweg.
"I was competing so hard as a rookie," he said. "I really thought I had a realistic chance to start. Don had a great year, but what hurt me was I didn't have the experience."
So he waited, watched (he has gotten quite good at that) and learned. But he didn't like it.
"I've thought about people on the bench making $1 million, they're making all this money and they're not out there getting hurt and beat up," Dilweg said. "But I can't see them being happy. Take a social worker making $5 an hour and a football player making $1 million a year. I can see that social worker being a lot happier because at least they're making an impact. Just sitting getting a paycheck is not very self-satisfying."
And then, with Majkowski sitting out, there he was, starting in the preseason and the opener. He was 20 of 32 for 248 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions against an injury-depleted Rams defense. He was NFC offensive player of the week. He immediately had to change his phone number in this football-crazed town. It had been listed in the book.
Dilweg is hoping it will not end, but he is realistic. He sent his parents tickets for the Rams game. "Mom and Dad, it may be the only game I start," he told them in Bethesda.
They went to that one, but Bob Dilweg, who was born in Green Bay when his father played for the Packers, said they will stay home and watch this one off their satellite dish.
Even though this is new for this generation of Dilwegs, Infante said he feels totally comfortable with Anthony as his quarterback.
"It's the theory, you don't mess with something that's not broken," he said. "It's just my opinion that, going into this game, Anthony gives us the best chance to win. He's been here throughout camp and he's aware of what we're doing. I'm still finding little things here and there that I haven't told Don that we've been doing this year. So Anthony is our starter."
But Dilweg knows the odds are that will not be the case for long.
"Everybody expects Don to play and I have to be realistic about it," he said. "Yet, why not say: 'Hey, this is my job. I can keep it as long as I can?' That will be my attitude, at any rate."
It has always been this way for Dilweg. Some people have all the luck. Others don't.
Dilweg eagerly awaited his senior year at Whitman High so he could start at quarterback for the first time in his life. But in a preseason scrimmage against Magruder he injured his knee when his cleats got planted in the ground. He suffered ligament damage, underwent surgery and was out for the year.
Normally, that would be it. No college scholarships, no pro career. A high school knee injury and football becomes the unfulfilled promise of a grown man's life.
But Dilweg was to be different. After he and his parents checked with Montgomery County officials, he found out he still had a year of eligibility remaining because of the injury and because he wouldn't turn 19 before Sept. 1 of the next year.
His parents -- his mother, especially -- wanted him to go on to college, but there was this reason to pause: Dilweg's three sisters all were in college, and a football scholarship would be a big help to the family.
Dilweg intentionally dropped English so he would be short the credits he needed to graduate. Then he came back the next year, took the tough courses his mother demanded, and was able to have a second senior season. He used it to throw for 2,293 yards and 24 touchdowns as Whitman went 7-3.
"I think back now and I know I could never have done that again," he said. "Once I went on to college, I could never have gone back."
Why had he not played quarterback until his fifth year of high school? His parents didn't want him to. They put him in soccer and didn't allow him to play football from seventh to ninth grades because of the risk of injuries as he developed.
At Duke, Dilweg was more successful as an actor than a quarterback -- again until his senior year. He turned to drama when football wasn't going well, then even became a vendor at Durham Bulls games one summer, wearing Hawaiian shirts and offering "fried kiwi" to fans who were expecting hot dogs and peanuts. (And they got only hot dogs and peanuts.)
When he became the starter, he didn't stop being a ham. To keep the huddle calm during a tense moment against Northwestern, he sang "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall."
"I figured the offensive linemen could relate to a song about beer," he said.
"His temperament is almost enviable," said Infante. "I know if he had to come into a game at the end, it wouldn't faze him one bit. He is never nervous."
Why should he be? In a town that has more than its share of people who remember Lavvie Dilweg, the grandson with the low salary, proper attitude and ready smile can't help but be a hit.
"What a top-flight guy," said Lee Remmel, the Packers' venerable executive director of public relations, who remembers everyone and everything from the Green Bay glory days. "He's a dream in the community. He never turns down charity work. As far as I'm concerned, he can't have too much success."