The national anthem is a time of reflection for Taylor Heinicke. He takes a moment to think about all the people who have helped him chase his dreams of being a starting NFL quarterback. His father, Brett Heinicke, is the first person who comes to his mind.
Brett, who died of a heart attack in December of 2011, loved the Packers and shared that fandom with Taylor. On Sunday, he will go to Lambeau Field as the Washington Football Team's (2-4) starting quarterback hoping to pull out an upset against the Green Bay Packers (5-1).
Heinicke's relationship with his father, which was stitched together with memories of watching the Packers together and sharing life lessons, is why the weekend will carry a little more significance to him.
"It might get a little emotional there at the beginning," Heinicke told reporters on Wednesday, "but again, I'm just excited for this opportunity."
It wouldn't be hard to find Heinicke and his father on Sundays; they would be together, watching Brett Favre and the Packers from their TV. It should not come as a surprise that Favre loomed large in Heinicke's mind. He was actually the reason Heinicke started playing football in the first place, and there are some flashes of Favre's gunslinger mentality in Heinicke's skillset.
During halftime, he and his dad would go out to the backyard, and Heinicke, who had several of Favre's No. 4 jerseys, would pretend like he was the Hall of Famer.
"He was out there having fun," Heinicke said of Favre. "He was just slinging the ball around. You saw him cracking jokes, winning games, being passionate about what he did."
Heinicke's father taught him how to be humble and work hard. He learned those lessons early, when he first started playing quarterback in eighth grade. Heinicke threw an interception in his first game, which resulted in a loss. Heinicke was so upset that he locked himself in his room, but then Brett went upstairs and gave him some encouraging words to calm him down. It was a moment that Heinicke still carries today.
"He's with me every day, and I keep a lot of the things that he told me and helped me through," Heinicke said. "And he just helped me be tough, mentally tough and to be humble. Those are the two biggest things that he's taught me throughout my career."
Even when the Packers lost, like they did against the New York Giants in an overtime thriller during the 2007 NFC Championship, the memories Heinicke and his dad created linger in his mind.
"I remember how upset he was," Heinicke said. "I was a young kid at the time. I didn't really understand it, but he told me I get emotional here. He told me, he was like, 'I'm sorry, I just want you to experience this, with me one time.'"
Four years later, the Packers, now with Aaron Rodgers under center, won Super Bowl XLV against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was the last Super Bowl they watched together.
"It was cool I got to experience that with him," Heinicke said. "It was a really cool experience. I got to enjoy that. It just makes this game that much more meaningful."
The Washington Football Team continues its week of practice leading up to Green Bay. (Photos by Emilee Fails and Karlee Sell/Washington Football Team)
Heinicke has been to Lambeau Field as a player before, although he was in street clothes. He spent three years with the Minnesota Vikings, so he's gotten a much closer view of the historic stadium and the Packers than watching them on TV with his dad.
Now, he's heading to Green Bay as a starter. He knows his father would be proud of him.
"You know his biggest thing was after every game, he told me how proud he is of me, and he'd give me a big hug," Heinicke said. "He had a signature bear hug. I know he would be doing the same thing today. More so this week, I mean, he would definitely be proud of the old bud light sponsorship as well.
"He's gonna be there on Sunday."