Before Shawn Moore, before Aaron Brooks, before Matt Schaub and before Bryce Perkins left their marks as University of Virginia quarterbacks, there was “The Majik Man.”
In 1984, Don Majkowski led UVA to its first bowl game in history, a 27-24 victory over Purdue University in the Peach Bowl.
He went on to play 10 seasons in the NFL for the Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions.
In 1989, while playing for the Packers, Majkowski led the league in passing and earned a selection to the Pro Bowl. In 2005, he was inducted into the Packers’ Hall of Fame.
Today, Majkowski lives in Johns Creek, Georgia, with his wife of 25 years, Kelly. They have a daughter, Dani, and son, Bo, who, funny enough, plays baseball for Clemson.
During Saturday night’s ACC championship game against Clemson in Charlotte, Majkowski will be honored as UVA’s Atlantic Coast Conference 2019 “Football Legend.”
UVA Today caught up with Majkowski, a Buffalo, New York, native who starred at Fork Union Military Academy before arriving at UVA.
Q. What were your emotions watching UVA’s win over Virginia Tech?
A. First of all, it was an incredible game. It was really fun to watch and great for TV. But as a former player, I was really proud of the way the team kept fighting back and competing and finally finding a way to pull it out. It was a great moment, a great win – especially at home. I wish I could have attended the game, but I had guests in town.
But it was a proud moment for alumni because we’ve been hoping to see the program get turned around. It looks like this year they’ve made some huge strides, so I was very happy for them.
Q. As a former quarterback, what do you make of what Bryce Perkins has done this year?
A. The kid’s an unbelievable athlete. He’s a good thrower of the football and just an incredible athlete as far as running the ball and making some incredible plays with his legs. On those touchdowns [against Tech], you don’t really see long runs like that from a quarterback too often. He kept us in the game. The guy was a one-man show there for a while.
Q. Are you surprised, given his size, athleticism and obvious leadership skills, there hasn’t been more hype around him as an NFL prospect after he graduates this year?
A. I don’t know where he’s been ranked and so forth, but when the season ends and the combines start, I’ll watch it a lot closer. But he’s got to be making some teams notice. I think he has a lot of learning to do as a pocket passer and some other things that a quarterback needs to do.
When I had just come out of college and was playing [in the NFL], I could run really well and would rely on my legs a lot, which can help you at times. But my quarterback coach, Lindy Infante, told me, “You need to become more of a manipulator than a gunslinger,” and I think that’s probably the case with Bryce. If you get a chance at the next level, you need to learn how to use your mind more than your athletic ability, which just comes with experience.
He definitely has the ability to play at the next level. I hope he gets a shot.
Really, in the modern NFL now, a lot of the NFL systems are looking toward having more athletic quarterbacks. It’s changing toward that trend, which I think will work in his favor. He’s in era now that I think will bode well for him.
Q. Is there an NFL game you played in that really sticks out?
A. The turning point of my career that definitely hasn’t gotten a lot of acknowledgment or publicity is the second game of the 1989 season. We had lost our home opener to Tampa Bay. We were home against New Orleans, and down like 24-3 at halftime. I didn’t have a particularly great first half. But the second half was by far my best half of football that I played in the NFL. I set a club record with 18 straight completions and threw for close to 400 yards and four touchdowns and we won with me at the helm.
There was also the famous 1989 Bears game that they now call the “After Further Review Game.” I threw a last-second touchdown pass against the [Chicago] Bears that would have been the game-winner, but I was initially ruled over the line of scrimmage. It was the first year that they had instant replay in the NFL, and so they reviewed it for four minutes and reversed the call. They allowed the touchdown, we kicked the extra point and we beat the Bears for the first time in eight games. That was a big moment for me as well.
But really the signature moment for me was that second game against New Orleans. I really proved to myself, my teammates and maybe even the fans that I was a guy capable of leading the team in the way they wanted.
Q. Where did you get your “Majik Man” nickname?
A. It’s been around a lot longer than people know. It really started when I went to Fork Union Military Academy. My teammates and coaches had a difficult time of pronouncing my last name. They would pronounce the “J.” Instead of “Ma-COW-ski,” they would pronounce it, “Magic-COW-ski” and they just started calling me “Magic” for short. I kind of ran with it. I started spelling “Magic” “Majik” and it kind of became a trademark.
When I got to college, my teammates continued to call me that. Then when I got to the NFL, with the national media and exposure, it kind of really took off.
Q. What was your time at Fork Union like?
A. Fork Union was the turning point that saved my dream of playing college football. In high school, I didn’t even start at quarterback my junior year. Then I got hurt in my first game of the season as a senior and missed the whole year, so I didn’t have any scholarship offers.
A lot of colleges told me to attend Fork Union Military Academy and you get kind of a senior year over again through the postgraduate program. I went there with one mission: to keep my dream alive and earn a scholarship to a Division I school. And it truly was a life-changing year. Fork Union played an important role in my career. I’m very thankful to them.
Q. Looking back on the 1984 Peach Bowl win all these years later, what are the things that stand out?
A. The entire year was just so much fun. It was the first time in a long time that UVA football became exciting again. We had so many really good athletes on that team. Under Coach [George] Welsh, we really started getting the program rolling in the right direction.
It was my sophomore year and my first year starting and we had some great wins. We didn’t throw the ball that much. We had some great running backs in Barry Word and Howard Petty and a great offensive line, led by Jim Dombrowski. We just did what we had to do to win games.
To this day, I’m still close with a lot of my teammates from that team. We’re really proud to have been a part of UVA football’s history, because that was the first time in history UVA went to a bowl game. It’s something we take a lot of pride in. That was really the turning and changing of UVA football going in an upward slope. After that, the program went to the next level.
Q. Do you see some parallels between your Peach Bowl team and this year’s UVA team?
A. No doubt. Bronco [Mendenhall] has got it going in the right direction now. The win over Virginia Tech was a huge hurdle. To finally do that was huge.
Hopefully now we can continue to get more big-time recruits from the area. And with the new facilities being built, I think we can really take it to the next level. It’s an exciting time.
Q. Whom do you keep up with from your time at UVA?
A. One of my best friends is Antonio Rice, who was a fullback and my roommate. He still lives in Charlottesville. Every time I come back, I stay with him and his family.
But there are a lot of guys I’ve stayed tight with – Howard Petty, Russ Swan, Charles McDaniel, Steve Dolan. It’s really cool to have that.
My quarterback coach when I was at UVA was Tom Sherman and he still lives in Charlottesville, and to this day is still one of my really good friends. He was such a special guy and had a big influence on my life on and off the field that carried over in life. His son played at UVA years after I graduated.
Gerry Capone [UVA’s associate director of athletics for football administration] is the only person still in the football office who was there when I played there. Over all the years, if I needed anything, Gerry was the guy. And I still keep in touch with him. He has a great relationship with all the former players. Everyone appreciates what he meant over all the years. It’s nice to have one guy who still remembers you from when you played!
There were also several families when I was at UVA who were really close to the program. And there was one family – Suzanne Haney and her husband, George – kind of took me in like a son. I used to go to their house and do my laundry. If I ever needed to get away and have a home-cooked meal, they would invite me to their house. I still visit Suzanne every time I’m in Charlottesville. She was a very important person in my life.
Q. Overall, how do you think your UVA experience shaped you on and off the field?
A. Obviously, UVA is an incredible school. I loved everything about it. I loved the atmosphere. I loved the Virginia lifestyle. Being from Buffalo, it was the first time I was exposed to the Southern ways of life, and I really enjoyed it.
Majoring in sports management and taking a lot of business and kinesiology classes in [the Curry School of Education and Human Development] – a lot of what I learned at UVA helped me in real-life situations as I got older.
“It was a proud moment for alumni because we’ve been hoping to see the program get turned around. It looks like this year they’ve made some huge strides, so I was very happy for them.”
- Don Majkowski
Q. Who was the best player you ever played with and against at UVA?
A. It’s hard to say, but [offensive tackle] Jim Dombrowski was the best player at his position. He was All-American and is in the College Football Hall of Fame.
The best player I played against was [defensive lineman] Bruce Smith from Virginia Tech. My freshman year I played against him and he knocked me out of the game with a hip injury [chuckle].
Q. You’ve been through the ringer health-wise since you retired. How are you doing now?
A. Yeah, I’ve been through a lot. I’ve had 21 total surgeries on different body parts. Right now, I’m having issues with my neck, so I think I’ll be having surgery in January. I have a lot of wear and tear from over the years that has caught up to me that I’m dealing with.
Q. Having played in Green Bay, and with your wife being from Milwaukee, have you crossed paths with [UVA basketball coach] Tony Bennett?
A. I’m good friends with Tony. Absolutely. When Tony was a player at Wisconsin-Green Bay, I was a basketball nut, so I would go to a lot of his games when he was playing there and his dad was coaching there. I got to know them real well. And they were Packers fans as well, so we became friends.
I text him all the time – especially last year during the run. I told him how proud I was of him. A couple years ago, I visited and he showed me around [John Paul Jones Arena] and we caught up a lot. It’s just crazy that he’s at UVA now. It’s wild how it worked out. But I couldn’t be more proud of him. He’s a first-class coach and family guy and Christian man, a man of faith, which I love. He’s just a good friend.
Q. With your son Bo playing baseball for Clemson, will you be torn at all about who’ll you’ll be cheering for on Saturday?
A. I got to stay with my school, man [laughing]. I’m a Cavalier – so he’s got to understand that, you know? I’ve got to pull for my school.