MERRILLVILLE | Mike Neal won’t be on the field this evening when his Green Bay Packers host the Chicago Bears in the National Football League’s first installment of Thursday Night Football.
As a matter of fact, the Merrillville native and Purdue graduate won’t even be on the sidelines at Lambeau Field as his favorite childhood team travels to take on his current employer. If last week is any indication, Neal’s next appearance at a football stadium could come Friday night at Demaree Stadium when Merrillville hosts Michigan City.
Neal is currently serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance enhancing drugs. Neal maintains that he took the attention-deficit disorder drug Adderall without alerting the NFL.
“I can’t be at the facility, I can’t talk to any of my coaches for the next four weeks,” Neal said last Friday night during halftime of Merrillville’s 42-38 win at Portage. “I can talk to the players, but I can’t talk about anything related to football.”
Neal turned in perhaps his best game in a Green Bay uniform in the final preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday, Aug. 30. Fueled by the frustration of two years of injuries and an upcoming suspension, Neal was all over the field during Green Bay’s 24-3 victory and registered a sack of Kansas City backup quarterback Brady Quinn.
“This is the first time in years where I’ve felt that my body was ready to go and now I’ve got to sit out until October,” Neal said.
Neal isn’t feeling sorry for himself, but instead the 2005 Merrillville grad has decided to check out his alma mater on the football field for the first time since he graduated. More importantly, Neal got the chance to watch his brother Ryan, now a junior at Merrillville, put on the pads.
“It’s some unfortunate circumstances, but they have helped me out to be able to come back home for a little bit,” Neal said. “I still have people that stay on my tail from back home and they’re all Chicago fans, but now some of them are starting to cheer for Green Bay.”
Merrillville coach Zac Wells jumped at the chance to have Neal come back and watch the Pirates play against Portage in what turned out to be an emotional victory. The Indians edged Merrillville 17-16 at Demaree last season, but with Neal watching from the sidelines, the defense made a big fourth down stop to preserve a four-point win at Portage last Friday.
“It was just awesome to have Mike back talking to our guys,” Wells said. “He gave a really good speech to the defensive line and he inspired them tonight. He’s a truly great man.”
When Neal is finally able to return to the active roster, he’ll become the second member of his family to play at Lucas Oil Stadium this season when the Packers travel to Indianapolis on Oct. 7, the first of three straight road games.
“People say that there are warm games at Lambeau Field, but I haven’t been able to play in any,” Neal said. “I was hurt at the beginning of the year before and now I’m out. We don’t play another home game until late October and by then who knows what it will be like.”