Having played as an offensive center in the National Football League for 13 seasons (1969-1981), Carl Mauck now lives in Lincoln, Neb. and has remained good friends with Worthington’s Joel Krekelberg.
That friendship began back in the fall of 1978 when Krekelberg was a rookie trainer with the Houston Oilers and Mauck — who started in 151 of the 166 NFL games he played in with four different teams — was the Oilers center who snapped the ball to quarterback Dan Pastorini and helped open up holes for rookie running back Earl Campbell on a team that fashioned a 10-6 record under fourth-year head coach Bum Phillips.
“Krek was just a rookie in ’78,” recalled Mauck. “We broke him in, and he became a great trainer. More importantly, he was and is a great human being. He worked hard at his job, kept his nose clean and became a top-of-the-line trainer who put the health of the players first.”
Krekelberg grew up in Worthington and was a three-sport athlete for the Trojans, playing football and basketball along with running middle distance races during track and field season. After graduating from WHS in 1973, Joel pursued his dream of becoming a high school physical education teacher and a basketball coach. He stayed in town and completed two years at then-Worthington Community College and finished up his degree at then-Mankato State College.
Krekelberg student taught at Mankato Loyola High School, but that was the closest he came to sticking with his original chosen profession.
Athletic training classes land Krekelberg in the south “I was majoring in physical education and getting a minor in athletic training,” recalled Krekelberg about his days at Mankato State. “Their athletic training department was considered the second-best in the nation at the time, ranked only behind Indiana University. Roger Schipper, who was a few years ahead of me in high school, completed the course at Mankato and became a trainer for the Minnesota Gophers.”
As things worked out, Krekelberg was intrigued by the classes in athletic training and physical therapy and — after passing all of his tests and becoming fully certified — he landed a job with the New Orleans Saints in the summer of 1977.
“I just worked with the Saints during their training camps in both ’77 and ’78,” he recalled. “Then, when the Saints and Oilers played each other in the last pre-season game in August of 1978, I learned that Houston had an opening for a full-time trainer. Things just fell in place, and it became a permanent position for me for the next seven seasons.”
The Oilers, with Mauck manning center and Campbell rushing for yardage totals of 1,697 in 1979 and 1,934 in 1980, enjoyed back-to-back 11-5 seasons. Krekelberg was part of the experience, getting caught up in the culture of a franchise that knocked on the door of a Super Bowl trip in 1979.
“We won two playoff games after the ’79 season before losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship,” remembers Krekelberg. “Pittsburgh won its fourth Super Bowl two weeks later. After the 1980 season, we lost in the playoffs to the Oakland Raiders, who went on to win the Super Bowl that year.”
While Krekelberg looks back fondly at the memories and experiences gained in his years working with the Oilers and getting to travel to NFL stadiums all across the country, it’s friendships like the one with Mauck that he treasures most.
“Carl’s such a special guy,” declared Krekelberg. “We’ve kept in contact over the years and went pheasant hunting together last fall. I will always remember the genuine concern Carl had for our equipment manager who years later suffered a heart attack and a couple of years after that was involved in a hit-and-run automobile accident. Both times, Carl was calling the hospital every day checking up on him. That’s the kind of guy Carl is.”
Mauck, who recently received a Rimington Trophy at a Gerald Ford Legends Awards ceremony, spoke highly of Krekelberg, remembering their times in Houston well.
“We lived on the west side of Houston,” Mauck recalled. “We spent a lot of time together, going out hunting for geese or ducks. I met Joel’s folks and they were good people, too. Joel was a good Catholic, and I went to Mass with him every Sunday.”
Since then, the bond has continued to grow as the two friends made a trade last fall as part of their latest hunting adventure.
“Joel brought me this beautiful quilt that he had stitched with logos of the four NFL teams that I had played for — the Baltimore Colts, Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers and the Oilers — weaved in there,” Mauck said of the multi-talented Krekelberg. “I gave him seven of my football cards. I got the best of the deal because that quilt was really done well, and I sure appreciated the work he put into that.”
For Krekelberg, stitching quilts is just one of many hobbies that keep him active. He left the Oilers before the 1985 season started, returned home to Worthington and began working with his dad, Dale Krekelberg, in the real estate business.
“I decided I’d had enough of the NFL,” he said. “I wanted to come back and work with Dad, which turned out be a good thing. I never cared much for selling, so I worked as an appraiser instead and have been doing that now for more than 30 years.”
While working full-time in the real estate appraisal business, Krekelberg has also continued his work as an athletic trainer. A common fixture at Worthington Trojan and Minnesota West athletic events, “Krek” is on hand to deal with any injuries that may come up.
After volunteering his services for about 10 years when he first came back, Krekelberg is now employed by the physical therapy department of Sanford Health and provides the kind of quality care in dealing with injuries gained through decades of experience.
“The community of Worthington is lucky to have a guy as good as Joel Krekelberg working as a trainer,” summed up Mauck. “He knows what’s going on. He can diagnose and treat injuries.”
A devout Catholic, Krekelberg is also active in a Bible study group organized mostly by Lutherans.
“We have a great group of people and get together a couple times a month at the couple’s house who is putting on the lesson,” he said. “There’s a lot of support for each other.”
Among the members of the Bible study group is retired elementary teacher Rich Besel, who recalls how kind Krekelberg was to him after his father passed away.
“Joel was there for me and pressed a hand-carved wooden heart into my hand,” remembered Rich. “He said, ‘This is just what friends do for other friends.’ That’s Joel. He shares Christ’s love in a most humble way. His strength of character comes from his faith and his desire to grow in his Christian walk.”
Besel noted Krekelberg is not one “to let the grass grow under his feet,” mentioning his skills in the kitchen as well as his quilt masterpieces.
“He loves life and enjoys swirling around the kitchen with concoctions and spices, stopping only to put a new entry on his wall of inspirational quotes or a new stitch in a quilt masterpiece that really qualifies as an art,” he said.
Earlier this month, Krekelberg walked and ran the Lucky 7, a seven-kilometer race through downtown St. Paul, which finished up with a trip around the warning track at the Saints Stadium before ending on home plate.
“I walk quite a bit, but hardly ever run,” he said. “So, the running was a challenge, but that was a good overall experience as I was part of a huge group of people who were doing the same thing.”
A variety of experiences, including eight years working as an NFL trainer, have certainly been part of Joel Krekelberg’s 62 years of life — most of which have been spent in his hometown of Worthington.