Packer defensive tackle Steve McMichael was born to be wild. On the practice field, it's not unusual for him to suddenly start howling like a hungry wolf. In the halls of the Packer offices, he'll grab a teammate and hoist him halfway to the ceiling. In the locker room McMichael can be seen stomping around wearing nothing but his game shoes, oblivious to everything but his attempts to break in his cleats by game day. He has also been known to crash-test his helmet in the bathroom by banging his head against the wall several times, shouting loudly, "I feel nine or 10 sacks in this thing!"
Characters like McMichael are few and far between in the NFL these days. "I'm a dinosaur," says McMichael, who came Into the league in 1980. "When I started playing in the NFL, the locker room was full of smoke on game day. Guys smoked cigarettes before games, at halftime and after the game. Now it's a lot more pure. Today's players treat football as a business."
Last April the business side of pro football slapped McMichael in the face. Bear coach Dave Wannstedt decided to go with younger defensive linemen and informed McMichael that the team wouldn't pay his salary of $1 million for 1994. He was cut, then offered a $300,000 one-year deal. When he balked, the offer was retracted. In June, McMichael thumbed his nose at Bear president Michael McCaskey and signed a $450,000 one-year contract with the Bears' archrivals, the Packers.
It's hard for Bear fans to imagine McMichael in a Green Bay uniform. During his distinguished career in Chicago, which stretched from 1981 to '93, McMichael played in more games than any other Bear (191), breaking Walter Payton's record of 190. He accumulated 92½ sacks, which, coming into the season, ranked him first among defensive tackles since the NFL started keeping the stat in 1982. And he helped the Bears win their only Super Bowl, in 1986.
Still, McMichael had no trouble fitting right in with the Packers. Though he has slowed a little and now shares time at tackle with John Jurkovic and Gilbert Brown, he's a key contributor to Green Bay's defense, which was ranked third in the NFL through Sunday. And off the held, his antics can be wildly entertaining to his new teammates. A few weeks ago he could be seen roaring around the Lambeau Field parking lot for almost an hour on his new Harley-Davidson Fat Boy, a 37th-birthday present from his wife, Debra. "I wasn't going to get the bike until after I retired, so I could let it fall over and crush my leg and not worry about it," he says. "But I just couldn't wait."
The Bear-Packer rivalry is one of the most bitter in the NFL. When the teams meet for the 147th time, on Halloween night, McMichael will be making his first trip back to Soldier Field. McMichael has hinted that he may go onto the field wearing a Wisconsin "cheesehead" hat during the pregame warmups.
"I feel like I've been reborn in Green Bay," McMichael says. "The people in this town revere the game. They're like rabid dogs. I feel young again. It doesn't matter which side of the Packer-Bear rivalry I'm playing on, as long as I'm playing in it."
The Pack's defensive tackle (with Debra) is revving up for his first crack at his old teammates.