HANFORD — Mark Lee has been retired from the NFL for 26 years, so it came as a welcome surprise when the Hanford native got the call informing him that he would be inducted in the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame.
“I started reflecting, wondering if I’m going to get that phone call or not,” Lee said at a meet and greet held in Hanford on Friday. “It didn’t happen in my first five years, it didn’t happen in my 10th year of being retired; then all of a sudden, I get that call.”
Lee, 59, was drafted by the Green Bay Packers from the University of Washington in the second round of the 1980 NFL Draft. He was the 33rd player selected overall in the draft.
Along with receiver Donald Driver, Lee was inducted during the 47th Packers Hall of Fame induction banquet held on July 22 at the Lambeau Field Atrium.
Dan Chin spoke to the Hanford City Council members during the July 18 meeting to inform them of Lee’s impending induction, and asked the council to honor Lee in some way.
Chin grew up with Lee, playing sports and attending school together. When the two graduated high school in 1976, Chin said there were less than 18,000 people in Hanford. He considers it a true accomplishment for Lee to have gotten recruited to play college football and eventually drafted into the NFL.
Hanford city officials proclaimed July 22 "Mark Lee Day" in Hanford for Lee “bringing honor to himself and his hometown of Hanford on the national stage.”
Lee played for Hanford High School and graduated from the school in 1976 before going on to play college football in Washington.
While at Hanford High, Lee was a member of the only Hanford football team to go undefeated in the regular season.
During Lee’s senior year, Hanford went 10-1 with its only loss coming in the first round of the Central Section playoffs. He was one of two players on that team that went on to play in the NFL, including Jewerl Thomas, who played for the Los Angeles Rams and the Kansas City Chiefs.
Lee played 11 seasons as cornerback with the Packers between 1980 and 1990, starting in 139 of 157 games with the team, only missing eight games due to injury. He played one more season with the San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints before retiring.
Lee ended his career in Green Bay with 31 interceptions for second all-time in team history. In 1986, he was tied for second in the NFL with nine interceptions.
Lee said he considers the Hall of Fame induction the “icing on the cake” of his career.
The Packers never made it to a Super Bowl during Lee’s tenure, but one of the biggest plays of his career came during a 1982 playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys where he returned an interception 22 yards for a touchdown.
The city held a meet and greet event at the Longfield Center on Friday, where the community and Packer fans had the opportunity to receive an autographed picture from Lee and take a picture with him.
He said his welcome back to Hanford after being inducted was unexpected and he’s glad he got the opportunity to share this occasion with his friends, family, the community and his fans.
“I am soaking this all up,” Lee said. “I really enjoy coming back home. I’ve always come back home, but not to this magnitude.”
Joshua Puerner carried a Green Bay Packers flag around the event on Friday for Lee to sign. He said he was excited to meet Lee because he’s been a Packers fan for most of his life starting when he was a kid in the 90s.
Puerner said Lee’s Hall of Fame induction was long overdue, but better late than never. He also said getting the flag signed by Lee meant a lot to him; not only because Lee is a former Packers player, but because Lee is from the same hometown as him.
“This flag might be worth money, but this is mine,” Puerner said. “This flag is not going anywhere. I’m going to have this for the rest of my life.”
Puerner said he thought it was great for the city to hold the event for Lee, and said it was very nice of Lee to come back to Hanford to meet the community and spend time with people like he did.
Chin said he has nothing but good memories of Lee, describing him as an “extremely nice, well-spoken person who cares about others.” He also said Lee was the type of person who was always prepared to be successful, never letting an opportunity go to waste.
Chin said he was pleased that the city put on the event for Lee and hoped the people of Hanford appreciate Lee’s achievement.
“Not everyone gets inducted, it’s a special group,” Chin said. “It’s a huge honor for him and puts Hanford on the map.”
At the meet and greet event, Lee was presented with the key to the city from Mayor David Ayers and also certificates of recognition from Senator Andy Vidak and Assemblyman Rudy Salas.
Lee admitted he doesn’t really know what it means to get the key to the city, but said he’s definitely honored and thanked the city for what it’s done for this “hometown boy.”
“It means a lot to me and I’ll cherish this for the rest of my life,” Lee said.