If NBA basketball had Earvin “Magic” Johnson, NFL football had Don “Majik Man” Majkowski.
Both Johnson and Majkowski strutted their wares in the 1980s. The latter defied the odds and became a member of the Green Bay Packers in 1987.
Majkowski, who largely flew under the radar because of his shoulder injury in college, lived up to his unique nickname in the 1989 NFL season.
Majkowski’s 4,318 passing yards led the league that year. He also had 27 touchdown passes as he led Green Bay to a 10-6 win-loss record and his first and only Pro Bowl berth in his 10-year pro football career.
Majkowski was so good that some pundits, including San Francisco 49ers head coach George Seifert, thought he was as good as the great Joe Montana.
Majkowski could have been the franchise quarterback the Packers desperately needed as they ushered in the 1990s decade.
Alas, various injuries relegated him to backup status and paved the way for Brett Favre’s iconic career in frigid Green Bay, WI.
Nevertheless, “The Majik Man’s” memories will live on forever in the hearts of Packers fans everywhere. This is his remarkable football journey.
Donald Vincent “Don” Majkowski (pronounced Mah-KOW-ski) was born to parents Fred and Geri in Buffalo, NY on February 25, 1964. He has a younger brother, Gary.
According to Sports Illustrated’s Jill Lieber, Majkowski’s father Fred worked as a fireman at Hook & Ladder No. 14 on the east side of Buffalo, NY.
When Don and his brother Gary were growing up, their dad told them stories about his various experiences as a firefighter. Fred Majkowski rescuing victims from burning structures and putting out gigantic flames had the two boys hanging on his every word.
However, it was obvious at an early age Don was destined to excel in sports.
He grew up idolizing New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath, who led his team to an upset victory over Johnny Unitas’s Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, 16-7.
Majkowski looked up to Namath so much that he even summoned his inner “Broadway Joe” by wearing white shoes during his Pop Warner football days.
Don, who played Little League baseball as a kid, was also fussy about his appearance on the baseball diamond.
He asked his mother, Geri, to alter his pants until they fit perfectly. One time, he even told her to color his shoes green so that they would match his attire.
Don Majkowski attended Depew High School in his hometown. He played football and basketball for the Depew Wildcats.
Majkowski wasn’t your typical high school jock. He told Lieber that he also played guitar for a rock n’ roll band. Don easily stood out among his peers – he walked in the hallways wearing a leather jacket and boots daily.
Majkowski thought of his famous nickname “Majik Man” during his teenage years in Western New York.
He felt compelled to come up with a new moniker because people were butchering his surname more times than he could possibly count.
“It’s butchered to this day,” he told Lieber in the summer of 1990. “I’m Maj-i-KOW-ski or MAJ-kow-ski. I’ve even been called Makowitz.”
Majkowski, who would eventually enter the pro football ranks as a quarterback some eight years later, did not start under center until his senior year in 1982.
Instead, Don excelled on the defensive side of the ball. He earned All-Western New York honors as a safety in his junior year in 1981.
Majkowski’s first start as a quarterback did not go too well. He fractured his hand when it slammed against the helmet of a defensive lineman.
Consequently, Majkowski’s doctors told him to wear a cast for the next five weeks. Don, the epitome of toughness and resilience, used a hacksaw to remove the plaster two weeks before the scheduled removal date. He eventually started the final three games for the Wildcats in the 1982 season.
As Don Majkowski’s high school athletics career wound down, various college basketball programs such as the Niagara Purple Eagles, Canisius Griffins, and St. Bonaventure Bonnies sent him feelers.
A Look Back- Don Majkowski QB
In 1989, Don "Magic Man" Majkowski had a magical season! He led the NFL in Passing Yards, had 27 TDs, went 10-6 & was elected to the Pro Bowl. Don was born in Buffalo & played his High School ball at Depew.#NYmade #NYfootball #ThrowbackThursday pic.twitter.com/OkLRxjGEIt
— NY MADE FOOTBALL (@NYMadeFootball) February 24, 2022
Majkowski, who wanted to excel as a college quarterback, turned them down. He had a chance to remain in-state and play for the Syracuse Orangemen, who expressed interest in his services.
Unfortunately, Syracuse’s interest in Majkowski waned considerably after he broke his throwing hand during his senior year.
Syracuse assistant football coach Jim Tressel, who led the Ohio State Buckeyes to a national title in 2002, recruited Majkowski during his senior year in 1982.
Tressel thought Don spending one year at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia would help him improve his quarterbacking skills in the collegiate ranks, per Lieber.
Don and his family gave the idea some thought. They even visited the campus and met their tour guide Vinny Testaverde, an incoming freshman quarterback with the Miami Hurricanes who eventually played twenty-one seasons in the NFL from 1987 to 2007.
Majkowski quickly shunned the thought of spending his freshman season at a military prep school after the tour.
“It was a shock to my system,” Don told Sports Illustrated in 1990. “I had hair halfway down my back.”
Majkowski told his father Fred that his best options were either going the JUCO route or making a major college football roster as a walk-on.
However, Fred Majkowski convinced his older son at 3 a.m. that going to Fork Union would toughen him up and open up more doors for him in the college football ranks.
A tearful Don listened to his father and decided to enroll at Fork Union Military Academy. His father had to sell his car so that they could shoulder the $9,000 tuition fee and other costs.
Don Majkowski’s college football journey had officially begun. He eventually became a standout signal caller for the Virginia Cavaliers in the mid-1980s.
College Days with the Virginia Cavaliers
Don Majkowski attended the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA from 1983 to 1986.
Before Majkowki’s freshman season at Virginia, he spent one year at Fork Union Military Academy in Fork Union, VA.
Don resided in a tiny barracks with bunk beds and cement walls. He and the other cadets had to be in bed by 10:15 p.m. and wake up at 6:00 a.m. every day.
Majkowski picked up on the nuances of military life pretty quickly. He told Sports Illustrated in 1990 that he waxed floors and scrubbed toilets on all fours. He also used a toothbrush to polish his belt buckle and placed his uniforms within a two-finger distance of each other inside his closet.
The rigors of military school made Don miss his family in Western New York terribly. However, he dug his heels in and focused on the task at hand – excelling as a quarterback in the college football ranks.
Majkowski, a stellar all-around athlete, played for Fork Union’s football, basketball, and track teams in 1983.
Don, who did not start at quarterback until his senior year at Depew High School, led Fork Union to a stellar 8-0-1 record that year. Not only that, but the school also named him its best athlete in 1983.
Majkowski also earned As in all of his classes, earned his diploma ranked as a sergeant, and did not get a single demerit.
The lone academic year at Fork Union had served its purpose. It toughened up Don Majkowski for the next phase of his college football journey.
“That year taught me mental toughness,” Majkowski told Lieber seven years later. “It changed my life. I became a lot more serious and mature.”
Before long, several college football programs in the South dangled scholarship offers to Majkowski. However, he decided to attend the University of Virginia, a school located just 22 miles from Fork Union.
When Majkowski reported for freshman practice in the summer of 1983, he requested jersey No. 1 from Cavaliers head football coach George Welsh. The latter eventually gave it to him.
Majkowski had 1,235 passing yards and eight passing touchdowns as a sophomore in 1984. He led Virginia to an 8-2-2 record – the program’s best showing since the 1952 NCAA season.
Majkowski also earned the distinction as the first quarterback to lead the Cavaliers to a bowl victory. With “Majik Man” under center, Virginia beat the Purdue Boilermakers in the 1984 Peach Bowl, 27-24.
— Kirk Norris (@knorris40) August 3, 2018
It did not take long for Majkowski’s fame to grow far and wide in Charlottesville, VA. Students and professors called him by his nickname whenever they crossed paths with him in the hallways.
On the other hand, Cavaliers head basketball coach Terry Holland wanted Majkowski to suit up for his team as a walk-on from 1984 to 1986. However, Don turned him down each time, per Lieber.
Majkowski promptly picked up where he left off the following season. He had 1,233 passing yards, seven touchdown passes, and eight interceptions as a junior in 1985. The Cavaliers won six of eleven games that year.
Majkowski injured his throwing shoulder four games into his senior campaign in 1986. He sat out three games and willed himself back into the starting lineup despite hardly undergoing physical rehab.
Don did not let the searing pain deter him from improving his draft stock in 1987.
“I was in a lot of pain,” Majkowski told Sports Illustrated in June 1990. “But I felt it was critical to get back in there if I wanted to be drafted.”
Regrettably, Majkowski experienced a double whammy. Not only did Virginia stumble to a woeful 3-8 win-loss record in 1986, but the pain in his shoulder also lingered for the next two months.
Majkowski finished his four-year stint at Virginia with 3,901 passing yards, 22 touchdown passes, and 29 interceptions.
Against all odds, Don Majkowski eventually represented a faint glimmer of hope for a struggling Green Bay Packers franchise in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Pro Football Career
The Green Bay Packers made Don Majkowski the 225th overall selection of the 1987 NFL Draft.
Majkowski’s pro football career almost ended before it even began.
Scouts and coaches at the 1987 NFL Scouting Combine thought his lack of arm strength (which stemmed from his shoulder injury during his senior season in Virginia in 1986) would make his draft stock plummet.
Unfortunately, they were right – various teams took the names of twelve other quarterbacks off the draft board before NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle called Majkowski’s name in the 10th round.
According to Lieber, Majkowski signed a two-year rookie contract with Green Bay worth $65,000 in 1987 and $81,000 in 1988.
Reminiscent of Don’s request to Virginia Cavaliers head football coach George Welsh in 1983, he asked the Packers for jersey No. 1 when he entered his rookie season in 1987.
Unfortunately, they refused. Majkowski wound up wearing No. 7 instead.
Majkowski started his usual pre-game routine by listening to Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight on his cassette player repeatedly until his confidence levels soared, per Sports Illustrated.
After Don put on his football uniform, he secured his shoes and ankles with white adhesive tape. Players of his era called this ritual “spatting” back in the day.
Next, Majkowski checked his trademark hairstyle – short at the top with a mullet at the back – in front of a mirror. Finally, he smears eye black under each eye.
Lindy Infante, who took over the reins as Packers head coach from Forrest Gregg prior to the 1988 NFL season, once saw Majkowski blow-drying his hair prior to a preseason game.
When the teams line up in front of each other on the football field for the national anthem, Majkowski feels the surge of adrenaline coursing through his veins. He says a little prayer and gives thanks for the opportunity to play in the NFL.
At that point, Majkowski’s adrenaline has reached sky-high levels.
“When the anthem is over, I’m so jacked up that I feel like butting heads with a lineman,” he told Lieber in the summer of 1990. “I have to take three deep breaths to regain my poise.”
Majkowski’s injuries become a recurring theme throughout his 10-year pro football career.
After he finished his second NFL season in 1988, he underwent physical rehab for shoulder tendinitis for several months. Majkowski pored over game film of the San Francisco 49ers’ Joe Montana and the Miami Dolphins’ Dan Marino during that time, per Lieber.
Majkowski thought overstriding on his throwing mechanics eventually took a massive toll on his shoulder.
The “Majik Man’s” most memorable pro football season was the 1989 NFL campaign – his third in Packers green and gold.
After racking up a combined 2,994 passing yards and 14 touchdown passes in his first two NFL seasons from 1987 to 1988, Majkowski played out of his mind in 1989.
He had a league-leading 4,318 passing yards and 27 passing touchdowns that year. Majkowski’s 599 pass attempts and 353 completions were also the most in the NFL at the end of the 1980s decade.
🪄 OTD 1989: The Majik Man Don Majkowski threw for 313 yards & 4 TD's in the Packers 31-13 win over the Cowboys! Sterling Sharpe finished with 6 catches for 132 yards & 1 TD as the Pack improved to 3-2 on the season while the Cowboys remained winless at 0-5.#GoPackGo @Dmajik7 pic.twitter.com/2GEBexJP5S
— 80s Football Cards 🏈 🙌 (@80sFootballCard) October 8, 2022
One of Majkowski’s most memorable outings in 1989 was the Week 2 35-34 victory over the New Orleans Saints where he threw a touchdown pass to Sterling Sharpe in the game’s waning moments.
Majkowski went on to pass for 313 yards, 367 yards, and 331 yards against the Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in subsequent weeks.
Majkowski was so good, San Francisco 49ers head coach George Seifert thought he was on the same level as eventual Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana.
“I think Majkowski is a budding young Joe Montana,” Seifert said during Super Bowl XXIV in February 1990 (via Packers.com’s Cliff Christi).
Behind Majkowski’s emergence, the Packers won ten games in 1989. It was Green Bay’s best record since the 1972 NFL campaign.
To nobody’s surprise, Majkowski earned the only Pro Bowl and Second Team All-Pro selections of his 10-year pro football career. Unfortunately, his $250,000 base salary was the lowest among the NFL’s starting signal-callers in 1989.
The Packers realized Majkowki’s value and dangled an initial contract extension that paid him between $600,000 to $700,000 annually – the highest in franchise history at the time.
Majkowski held out for a better contract for forty-five days before the two sides agreed to a $1.5 million deal in the summer of 1990.
For his part, Majkowski’s agent, Randy Vataha, wanted a contract worth at least $3 million for his client.
Majkowski’s elusiveness and shiftiness in the pocket make him a slippery target for the NFL’s best pass rushers.
If Don couldn’t find any open receivers downfield, he resorted to his uncanny play-faking prowess to throw off the defense. His scrambling abilities were reminiscent of the Minnesota Vikings’ Frank Tarkenton’s during the latter’s heyday in the 1960s.
Majkowski won his Green Bay teammates over with his levelheadedness and composure. He never raised his voice at his offensive linemen whenever they blew an assignment.
To Packers guard Ron Hallstrom’s astonishment, Majkowski even gave props to pass rushers who sacked him, per Lieber.
Despite Majkowski’s best efforts, Green Bay lost in a tiebreaker for the NFC Central division crown to the hated Minnesota Vikings in 1990.
Worse, the Packers extended their postseason drought to seven years. Since the great Vince Lombardi stepped down as their head coach in February 1968, they had tasted postseason football just twice in twenty-two years.
Although Don never tasted postseason football when he suited up for the Packers from 1987 to 1992, he earned a reputation as one of his generation’s most athletic signal callers.
According to Lieber, Majkowski excelled in other sports including gymnastics, skiing, table tennis, bowling, golf, tennis, racquetball, ice hockey, and speed skating.
Majkowski once recorded a distance of 6’11” in the high jump. He could also perform a variety of slam dunks on the basketball court. Not only that, but Major League Baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays asked him to try out for a spot on their roster during his high school days.
The introverted Majkowski lived in a two-bedroom apartment during his early years with the Packers. The devoted philanthropist regularly visited children’s hospitals and spearheaded various charities geared toward cystic fibrosis awareness and prevention.
Although Don tried to keep a low profile when his star rose in Green Bay, fans adored him wherever he went. Whenever he pulled up in his gray Mercedes with the MAJIK 7 license plate, other motorists stared at him in disbelief. One time, a devoted female fan even dropped off wine and flowers at his doorstep per Sports Illustrated.
To a certain degree, Majkowski appreciated the adoration from Packers fans. However, he told Lieber in the summer of 1990 that his increasing popularity compromised his private life – or whatever was left of it.
“The public wants to know everything about you. They suffocate you,” Majkowski told Sports Illustrated. “It’s unbelievable. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be Michael Jordan.”
It got so crazy Majkowski even asked his 24-year-old brother Gary to move in with him to act as his de facto bodyguard.
Through it all, Don tried to keep a low profile and stay away from the limelight. When he walked into a Las Vegas, NV sports bar in 1990, Packers fans chanted his name. He told Lieber that he wasn’t the type to soak in the adoration – he felt embarrassed and wanted to leave the premises as soon as possible.
Majkowski had the makings of a perennial Pro Bowl quarterback of the 1990s. Unfortunately, he tore his rotator cuff late in the 1990 NFL campaign – an injury that marked the demise of Don Majkowski’s pro football career.
Majkowski missed a combined fourteen games from 1990 to 1991. With “The Majik Man” out of commission, Green Bay averaged just five wins during that forgettable two-year stretch.
Don eventually took a backseat to new franchise quarterback Brett Favre in the 1992 NFL season.
Favre, who Packers general manager Ron Wolf acquired in a trade with the Atlanta Falcons, had 3,227 passing yards, 18 touchdown passes, and 13 interceptions in his first year with the Packers in 1992.
Not only did Favre become the new face of the franchise, but he also eventually led Green Bay to eleven postseason appearances, seven division titles, and one Super Bowl title during his illustrious 16-year tenure in frigid Green Bay, WI.
As for Don Majkowski, he suited up in fourteen games for the Packers as Favre’s backup in the 1992 NFL campaign. It turned out to be Don’s final season in Green Bay.
Wolf and the Packers allowed Majkowski to become an unrestricted free agent following the 1992 NFL season. He eventually split his last four pro football seasons with the Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions from 1993 to 1996.
Majkowski hardly resembled the Pro Bowl quarterback he was in 1989. He made only eight starts in those four seasons with the Colts and Lions.
Majkowski played behind quarterbacks Jeff George and Jim Harbaugh during his two-year stint in Indy from 1993 to 1994. The Colts struggled and averaged just six wins per season during those two years.
Majkowski spent his last two pro football seasons in the Motor City. Detroit averaged eight wins per year from 1995 to 1996. The Lions made the postseason in 1995 but lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Wild Card Game, 58-37.
Don Majkowski retired from pro football following the 1996 NFL season. He finished his 10-year NFL career with 12,700 passing yards, 66 touchdown passes, and 67 interceptions.
Majkowski told FOX Sports’ Sam Gardner in December 2016 that he did not look forward to playing the Minnesota Vikings and their top-ranked defense when he suited up for the Packers from 1987 to 1992.
The Vikings’ vaunted defense that featured Henry Thomas, Keith Milliard, and Chris Doleman gave Majkowski fits, especially when the Packers and Vikings squared off at the latter’s Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.
Majkowski dreaded having to face that defense and the loud Vikings’ home crowd, which made it nearly impossible for him and his teammates to hear each other.
“It was the loudest place to play,” Majkowski told FOX Sports. And with the pass rushers they had on the astroturf, it was just a difficult place to play against and a very difficult place to play. Even (Brett) Favre said the same thing. You couldn’t audible as a quarterback.”
Don Majkowski and his wife Kelly currently reside in the Atlanta, GA area, per FOX Sports. Don’s son, Bo, is a former Clemson Tigers baseball player.
Don Majkowski entered the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 2005. To his dismay, someone stole his Packers Hall of Fame ring in the summer of 2018. He posted a series of tweets saying he lost his ring at the Lord Baltimore Hotel in Maryland.
FYI… My Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame ring was stolen from my hotel room in Baltimore this past weekend. If anyone sees it out there, let me know!
— Don Majkowski (@Dmajik7) June 22, 2018
The Lord Baltimore Hotel. Forgot to put it on one morning and left it on the dresser. Realized it was gone the next day.
— Don Majkowski (@Dmajik7) June 22, 2018
Majkowski told Gardner he never regretted the injuries he sustained that derailed his pro football career. Although he had always wanted to play in the NFL since his childhood in Western New York, he had no regrets about how his NFL career ended.
The reality of age and injuries bit Majkowski hard. As he gained experience on the pro gridiron, injuries became inevitable.
“As you get older and the injuries accumulate, it really has a profound effect,” Majkowski told FOX Sports in 2016. “And I’m really just one of the guys. It happened to all my friends, all my buddies and former teammates I played with. They all have some big-time issues.”
Majkowski told The Athletic’s Daniel Kaplan in November 2020 that he operated his own real estate company from 1996 to 2004.
Alas, Majkowski’s back gave out in 2004. That particular health issue forced him to dissolve the firm that year.
Don then ventured into the Green Bay, WI sports media industry covering Packers games afterward. Although he loved that job, standing on the sidelines for prolonged periods took a massive toll on his back and ankle.
With that, Majkowski resigned in 2008. According to Kaplan, Don’s various health ailments have prevented him from working for almost fifteen years.
By Majkowski’s estimate, he has had twenty-two surgeries in his lifetime. Surgeons had to repair his ankle, back, and a torn rotator cuff. He is also dealing with degenerative arthritis and neck pain.
Majkowski expressed his disappointment with the current crop of NFL players who came to terms with the new collective bargaining agreement in the spring of 2022.
Thanks for always being there for me Kel! I know life w me can create some trying times!!!! Unfortunately we are not the only @NFL family going through this. #400forgotten
It’s gonna be a long 12 weeks with this on. 💪🏻😷💚💛 https://t.co/RrPdV9TKza pic.twitter.com/TWh18lV2cV
— Don Majkowski (@Dmajik7) October 31, 2020
That agreement slashed the pension more than 400 retired NFL players have been receiving by roughly 25 percent.
“He deals with chronic pain 24/7,” Majkowski’s wife, Kelly, told The Athletic in the fall of 2020. “I know a lot of the wives I’ve talked to will have to go back to work and leave their husbands at home. And you’re leaving disabled players that have traumatic brain issues home alone.”