Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Packers' Tauscher tough on the blocks

By Lori Nickel

October 31, 2006

GREEN BAY, Wis. - Offensive line coaches Joe Philbin and James Campen said Mark Tauscher couldn't stop grinning in the fourth quarter against Arizona. Tauscher was unstoppable in the back-side blocking as Green Bay's offensive line helped both Ahman Green and Vernand Morency on to 100-yard games in the victory against the Cardinals.

Tauscher, the seven-year veteran right tackle, has endured a coaching change, a system change and the loss of close friends and teammates on the line in the last year and a half. But it isn't his nature to back down from this latest challenge of zone blocking with rookies all around him - not after a childhood that taught him teamwork and competition at the same time.

Tauscher believes his competitive nature has always been his strength. ``And I would not have that without my two brothers and pretty much everybody we grew up with,'' he said.

That's because Tauscher brothers Craig, Mark and Pat made winning the goal in everything they did.

Growing up on a farm in Milladore in central Wisconsin, they kicked field goals between two silos, marching back five yards until someone missed and a winner was declared. They played Wiffle ball, matching hits to the road that was the home run line.

Their father, Dennis, turned a hayfield into a baseball diamond and the neighboring Schmitt family had several of their nine kids over to play (the outs didn't count for the youngest kids). First base was a corner of the barn and Dennis offered $100 to anyone who could hit a ball to the pond.

The Tauschers played marbles and kickball at St. Mary elementary school in Auburndale and rode bikes on the ice. They played games in the shed for hours.

``We played everything and we played for everything,'' said Mark Tauscher. ``At that point in time, it meant something. You'd never want one of your brothers to one-up you at any time. It got pretty heated.''

But it wasn't all boyhood fun and games.

In the 1970s and '80s, Dennis and Dianne owned `Tauscher's D and D Dairy Farm,' nearly 800 acres with 160 dairy cattle and up to 500 head of livestock. Milk was the main source of income.

``On a dairy farm, you never get a day off,'' Dennis said. ``As a matter of fact you never get a half a day off because you milk cows in the morning and at night.''

Once the Tauscher boys turned 8 years old or so, they started helping their parents and oldest sister Christine with farm chores. The easier days still meant 3 1/2 hours of chores.

``The kids had to be on the school bus at 7:30 in the morning, and if we wanted help out of them they had to be down by 4:30,'' said Dennis.

When younger, Craig and Mark fed calves with bottles and swept floors. As they got older Dennis trusted them to handle bales of hay, run the bunk feeder or the barn cleaners, and eventually, milk the cows. On Sundays when the Packers played, the family squeezed the morning and evening chores around the game.

``Like all kids, they tried to get out of what they could,'' said Dennis. ``I would be cleaning stock yards or something, and they would happen to disappear on me, thinking if they get far enough away I won't take the time to find them. But they were good workers, every one of them.''

In a small town, their lives revolved around school and chores. Sports were their social lives.

``I don't think Mark ever exerted himself with his farm chores like he did with football,'' said Craig with a laugh. ``None of us really cared for the farming part too much. I don't think there was ever a risk of us going in to farming, just because the hours and always being tied down.''

After hip-replacement surgery, Dennis sold the farm in 1992 when Mark was 13. Dennis ``hobby'' farms now on about 20 acres and writes sports stories on a part-time basis for the Marshfield News-Herald.

By high school, Mark may have been built more like a lineman but he was well known in his community as an elite baseball and basketball player.

``He was always a really great athlete,'' said Pat. ``He wasn't just a one-sport wonder.''

That added to the brotherly competition.

``It's always tough when your little brother passes you,'' said Craig. ``For a while it was a tough time; there was definitely some jealousy from me to him. But I would say maybe by my senior year of high school, when I knew he was better than me, I accepted that, and it became me hoping that he does well.''

Tauscher walked on at Wisconsin in 1996 but by his senior year was starting. For the Badgers, he blocked for Ron Dayne and Michael Bennett.

He was just a seventh-round draft choice by the Packers but was starting at right tackle as a rookie in 2000.

The competitive drive that blossomed with his brothers and fueled Tauscher's early success also helped him rehabilitate from a knee injury in the 2002 season, when he and left tackle Chad Clifton were both on injured reserve.

``There were certainly days that you just didn't feel like coming in and Mark would say, `Let's do it, we've got a big goal that we're working toward,' '' said Clifton.

Now at 315 pounds, Mark is athletic enough to play the Packers' aggressive scheme on a line that has improved weekly.

The Tauscher brothers remain tight. Craig, 32, works in the lab of the blood bank at Mayo Clinic and lives in Rochester, Minn. Mark, 29, lives in Green Bay year-round. Pat, 25, is training to be a funeral home director in the Madison area.

They get together every Easter at Craig's, where they have a ping pong tournament with seedings for the players (Mark's best finish is runner-up). Last year they toured Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and Camden Yards together for a baseball fix.

The year before that, they took a summer trip to Iceland, where they played soccer with the locals and golfed at 2 a.m. because there was still daylight.

``We wanted to keep playing because we were losing,'' said Craig. ``The other team didn't forfeit or anything, they finally just said `OK, you don't lose,' so we could quit.''

Even now, the brothers are so competitive that they can't help but critique each other's hands in Sheepshead.

``You'd swear they don't get along, but they are thicker than thieves,'' said Dennis Tauscher. ``I am probably happiest about that than anything. You see so many families that are split apart, the way the world is spread out these days. These guys are always going to be there for each other. They like each other.

``I always tell my wife, if I didn't do anything else right, I instilled family values, and they have that.''

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