Friends, co-workers and classmates of Nate Palmer are still processing what happened and how to react to it. Living in what Palmer described as “the heart of Bears Country,” the Green Bay Packers’ sixth-round draft pick has suddenly joined up with the enemy, leaving those around him a bit conflicted.
“Every time I see someone now, they say, ‘I’m going to cheer for you, but not the team,'” Palmer said in an interview with FOXSportsWisconsin.com. “I told them you can’t get one without the other. A few of my friends who were Bears fans said they’re going to jump on the Packers’ bandwagon.”
Up until only a couple weeks ago, Palmer was just like his friends, actively rooting against Green Bay.
“I’ve always been a Bears fan,” Palmer said. “Times have changed. Right now, you can’t be a fan anymore. The fan in you has to go away for this process.”
Palmer is making himself an easy target for those he’s come across in Illinois since the draft. The team gave him a hat and T-shirt, and Palmer has been wearing the green and gold Packers hat every day on campus and around his hometown.
“People keep telling me I’ve got the wrong hat on,” Palmer said.
One of his co-workers at an internship in Illinois went beyond just criticizing his choice in headwear. A woman named Christie left a note on Palmer’s desk after he returned to the office the week following the draft.
“As a loyal Bears fan, I’m sorry to say that I can no longer speak to or work with you,” the note read, which Palmer posted on his Twitter account. “I feel betrayed.”
Though Palmer laughed at the note and didn’t take it overly seriously, it’s a reminder to just how much the Packers-Bears rivalry means to many fans. Palmer, himself an admitted Bears fan for the first 24 years of his life, is finding out what it’s like to be on the other side now.
“It’s serious,” Palmer said of the animosity between the two long-time NFC North rivals. “It’s like the Red Sox and Yankees. People joke about it, but it’s a real true rivalry game. The best thing about it is I’ll get a chance to play them twice every year in the NFL.”
The Bears will visit Lambeau Field in Week 9 for a Monday Night Football game. That will be Palmer’s first shot against his childhood team. But in the final week of the regular season, the Packers travel down to Chicago, and that’s the game that Palmer is especially looking forward to.
“That will be an extra special game,” he said. “I’ve been through so much adversity. Several things happened in my life where I could’ve just quit and given up. (To play in Chicago) will be a dream come true. It will be a dream come true to play anywhere, but that day will be really special.”
Palmer will have every chance to make an impact in those games, too. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound outside linebacker is what his agent described as a “designated pass rusher,” with Palmer picking up 17 sacks in his two college seasons at Illinois State.
“I pride myself on rushing the quarterback,” Palmer said.
Green Bay finished fourth in the NFL in sacks last season, just one year after tying for 27th in sacks in the league. The addition of Palmer is welcome on the Packers’ defense, as the team is still looking for someone other than Clay Matthews to individually total more than five sacks in one season. After Matthews’ 13 sacks in 2012, the next-best player was Mike Neal with 4.5 sacks.
The free-agent departures this offseason of outside linebackers Erik Walden (signed with the Indianapolis Colts) and Frank Zombo (signed with the Kansas City Chiefs) also leaves a spot open for Palmer near the top of the depth chart. Behind starters Matthews and Nick Perry, Green Bay only had one backup, Dezman Moses. Palmer is now the fourth member of that group.
“I feel like it’s a great fit systematically,” Palmer said. “I’ll be learning from the best. (Outside linebackers coach) Kevin Greene taught Clay, so now I have two of the best at what they do together to help me be the best I can be. I feel that’ll just be a real nice experience.”
As Palmer transitions from Bears fan to Packers player, there’s one thing he’s known with certainty all along about the Green Bay franchise.
“They’re all about winning,” Palmer said. “When I took my visit there, the first thing you see is the Lombardi Trophy. They’re used to winning. As a player, if you see that every day, all I can say is that I have to go out there and give it my all.”