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APPRECIATION

He was very big cheese

White made his mark on, off field

Reggie White was fond of saying God told him to go to Green Bay in 1993 to sack both sin and quarterbacks.

White was the first big-time free agent to switch teams, shocking the NFL when he left the Philadelphia Eagles and picked the Packers over San Francisco.

Not only did "The Minister of Defense" help restore the glory to Green Bay and the title to Titletown, but he proved to other players, particularly blacks, that Wisconsin wasn't a winter wasteland.

And Green Bay embraced him. White said he didn't know what was better, playing in a town with such a deep history of great football players, or in front of all those bare-chested cheeseheads.

"Brett [Favre] is the icon here, but this is still the house that Reggie helped build," fullback William Henderson said yesterday, hours after learning of White's stunning death at age 43.

White, who combined size, speed, and strength like no defensive lineman before him, found a way to mix his faith with football in Wisconsin. "That's what changed the football fortunes of this franchise. It was huge," team president Bob Harlan said. "Everyone thought the last place he would sign was Green Bay and it was monumental because not only did he sign but he recruited for Green Bay and got guys like Sean Jones to come here. He sent a message to the rest of the NFL that Green Bay was a great place to play."

After a quarter century of futility, the Packers rose again, reaching the Super Bowl twice and winning it all after the 1996 season when White set a record with three sacks in the Packers' 35-21 win over the Patriots.

"He had a lot to do with my success in the National Football League," said Holmgren, now coach in Seattle. "He was just a wonderful player, first of all. Then as a person, he was just the best."

It was a common sentiment, shared across a stunned NFL yesterday.

"I was trying to fight back tears today in [chapel service], and then I'm like, I don't care, I'm going to cry," said former Packers teammate Eugene Robinson, now a commentator for the Carolina Panthers, where White spent his final season.

He took his passion to the pulpit, to schools, to the streets, to the homeless. "He was absolutely passionate about everything," Robinson said. "I always told him, `Man, you've always got to have a cause.' "

White made headlines in 1998 with a speech to Wisconsin lawmakers in which he blasted homosexuality and used ethnic stereotypes when describing the gifts each race brings to the tapestry of humanity. He later apologized for offending so many people but stuck by his Biblical beliefs. Nobody has worn No. 92 in Green Bay since White left, and the Packers had planned to retire his jersey next season.

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