What is the definition of a super fan? Is it dressing up in a costume, painting your face, and then cheering on your team? Or is it being a walking football encyclopedia that is more passionate about a team and the game than life itself? Cleveland Browns fans, I’d like you to meet Walter “Big Wally” Pavicic.
Every single day, we read articles about the players we root for and hold dear to our hearts. It isn’t often that we hear from our side of the fence. When I had the pleasure of sitting down with Big Wally and his wife Mica, it was evident that his story needed to be told. All passionate brown-and-orange fans should model themselves after Big Wally.
With parents coming from the “old country”, Big Wally has been all over the world. A Vietnam veteran, Big Wally has missed just three Browns games in the last nine seasons. What do I mean by that? He goes to every game both home and away. In fact, Pavicic has been to every stadium in the NFL except for one. A frequent goer of the Super Bowl, Big Wally has stories from seeing Browns Hall of Fame guard, Gene Hickerson drink with Merlin Olsen to serving Robert DeNiro tequila in the 70’s in the flats to chatting with Bernie Kosar‘s father on the Rapid Transit down to a Browns game. Big Wally also once filmed an instructional video with Joe Theisman and even got to wear his Super Bowl ring.
When Big Wally enlisted in the air force and was sent to Vietnam in 1970, he took a football with him. That same football sits on a shelf in his collection and is the most prized possession he has. Football was home to the airman and tossing it everyday with his fellow war friends was one way of staying sane in the foreign country. Talking of the 43 year-old Vietnam ball, Pavicic told me, “It’s one of the dearest ones to me. This ball was my sanity, I didn’t like being there. The ball meant home for me.”
In 1976, Pavicic was given an open tryout for the Browns. With a rocket throwing arm as a result of throwing the football everyday at Vietnam, Pavicic played his heart out that day and impressed offensive coordinator at the time, Blanton Collier. When I asked Big Wally about his experience told me, “That day, I was throwing the ball out of this world.” Despite throwing the ball well, Pavicic was cut two weeks later. “Coach Collier called me at my house and wanted to know what college I played at.” Pavicic explained. When Big Wally told Collier he didn’t play college ball, Collier told him that he was sorry but the Cleveland Browns couldn’t teach him everything to know about playing quarterback in the NFL with no experience. When Pavicic asked Coach Collier, “Was I Brown?” Collier responded, “You were a Brown for two weeks, son.”
My favorite story of Big Wally was the John Banaszak story. Banaszak, a three-time Super Bowl champion with the Pittsburgh Steelers, went to junior high school with Pavicic. At a charity golf outing, Pavicic ran in to Banaszak that just happened to be with ex-Steeler teammates. Banaszak hollers to Pavicic, “Hey Big Wally! Are you still a big Browns fan?” as his Steeler teammates laugh. Pavicic fires back, “Every day of my life!” Banaszak asks why, while all his Steeler buddies chuckle some more. Pavicic continues, “John, I sure find that hard coming from a guy like you. I remember when you got picked up in the draft and called home to tell your dad. Your dad asked you who picked you and you said, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The next thing you heard was click!” The following golf outing Banaszak didn’t even look at Big Wally.
Never mind the fact that he has a basement full of memorabilia that it would take more than a day to learn about, Big Wally knows his Browns and knows football. Never mind that he let me put on a game worn jersey of Jim Brown from 1963, his love for the pigskin will never end. The tone of his voice and the body language says it all with Big Wally that is just grateful to be alive. If there ever was a fan that could make it as a head coach in the NFL with no previous coaching experience, it would Big Wally. It was a pleasure to sit down and chat with the humble big fella.
Ryan Ruiz is the Cleveland Browns Beat Writer for The Inscriber: Digital Magazine. You can follow him on Facebook: Ryan (BrownsWriter) Ruiz and Twitter @ryanpruiz24.