49ers tight end George Kittle born on a game day in Madison
His expectant parents got stuck in traffic en route to the hospital
Long before star tight end George Kittle was shredding defenses and scoring touchdowns for the San Francisco 49ers, his mom and dad engineered their own miracle play through the clogged streets of Madison.
At stake was whether George would be born in a hospital or his parents’ car.
Bruce Kittle and Jan Krieger are in Miami this week to see their son play in Sunday’s Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs.
In 1993, the couple was in Madison, having moved to the city a year earlier when Bruce, a University of Iowa law school graduate, joined the Michael Best & Friedrich firm.
Oct. 9, 1993, was a football Saturday in Madison. The Badgers were hosting the Northwestern Wildcats.
Ordinarily, the game would have held interest for Bruce and Jan. They were both athletes: Bruce had been an offensive lineman at Iowa when Barry Alvarez was an assistant coach for the Hawkeyes. Jan was an Iowa high school basketball star and played at Drake University.
The morning of Oct. 9 was not ordinary, however. Jan, pregnant, began having serious contractions.
“We knew it was time,” Jan recalled this week, by phone from Miami Beach.
They lived on Western Avenue, near the Odana Road end of Monroe Street. Bruce and Jan got in the car for the drive to Meriter Hospital. They turned off Western onto Monroe, at which point traffic began to crawl.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Jan said. “Bruce, it’s a football Saturday!”
“Don’t worry,” Bruce said. “It’s OK.”
Bruce wove in and out as best he could, but it was slow going. Finally they reached the turn onto Regent Street, near Camp Randall Stadium. But cars were backed up on Regent.
“We were just stuck,” Jan recalled.
Bruce asked, “Are you OK?”
“I don’t know,” Jan said. “It’s getting uncomfortable.”
Bruce spotted a Madison police officer standing in the street, directing traffic.
“Bruce waved at him to come over,” Jan recalled.
Bruce said, “Sir, we have to get to the hospital. My wife is going to have a baby.”
The officer rolled his eyes. “That’s a good one. I’ve heard it before.”
“Then he leaned in, saw me, and said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry,’” Jan recalled. “And he gave us a police escort to the hospital.”
When they got to their room, Bruce looked out the window toward the football stadium.
“There’s no way this isn’t a boy,” he said.
He was right. George weighed in at 10 pounds, 10 ounces.
“You know those little hats they put on babies when they’re born?” Jan recalled. “It wouldn’t fit his head.”
As a boy, George was a Badgers fan.
“We had a little stuffed Bucky Badger that he would always take to the games,” Jan said. “It was pretty cute.”
During timeouts, young George would run down the stadium steps and dance in front of the famed University of Wisconsin–Madison band.
“People would throw him quarters,” Jan said.
George had a Ron Dayne jersey and was at Camp Randall the day in 1999 when Dayne broke the NCAA rushing record.
The next year, the family moved back to Iowa, where Bruce worked for a restorative justice program.
After high school, George got a football scholarship to Iowa. Wisconsin hadn’t offered.
“I think if the Badgers came calling, he would have loved to play in Madison,” Jan said. “But we’re happy where he ended up.”
George did play once at Camp Randall, on Oct. 3, 2015, when the Badgers hosted the Iowa Hawkeyes. It was a week shy of 22 years since his mom and dad got the police escort down Regent Street. George caught a pass and the Hawkeyes beat the Badgers, 10-6.
George was drafted by the 49ers in the fifth round in 2017 and in the 2018 season emerged as a true star, breaking the NFL record for most receiving yards by a tight end.
He trains in Nashville in the off season, and that’s where Bruce and Jan recently relocated, with Bruce taking a coaching job at the Lipscomb Academy, where former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer is head coach.
Of course, Madison will always be where it all started for George Kittle, complete with a siren and flashing lights. Jan said they still have that little stuffed Bucky.
Doug Moe is a Madison writer. Read his monthly column, Person of Interest, in Madison Magazine.