I get a certain feeling when I go to Lambeau Field in Green Bay. ~John Madden~
I was looking for a hugely prolific quote about Lambeau Field, but soon realized there’s not much more one can say about that place. If you’re a tried and true, die-hard Green Bay Packer fan, you get that certain feeling every time you step foot onto the grounds of this historic venue. That feeling came to me this past Thursday evening, when I attended the last pre-season football game of 2015 and walked into the bowl.
In an instant, a warmth and smile enveloped this fan. I had not been inside Lambeau, to a game, since before Brett Favre left the Packers in 2008. And, yet, it felt that the gap of eight years absent had never happened. Magical.
Before I continue on, for those not familiar with the stadium, here’s a very brief tidbit about Lambeau from Wikipedia.
“Lambeau Field is an outdoor athletic stadium in Green Bay, Wisconsin, the home field of the Green Bay Packers (National Football League). It opened in 1957 as City Stadium, replacing the original City Stadium at East High School as the Packers’ home field. Informally known as New City Stadium for its first eight seasons, it was renamed in August 1965 in memory of Packers founder, player, and long-time head coach, Curly Lambeau, who had died two months earlier. The stadium’s street address has been 1265 Lombardi Avenue since August of 1968, when Highland Avenue was renamed in honor of former head coach Vince Lombardi. Lambeau Field is the oldest continually operating NFL stadium. In 2007, the Packers completed their 51st season at Lambeau, breaking the all-time NFL record set by the Chicago Bears at Wrigley Field. Only the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley have longer active home-field tenures in American professional sports.”
There’s much more to the story, such as the seat expansions and renovations that have occurred to allow for additional fans. The stadium is far different than what it was at its birth in 1957, the same year I came into this world.
My earliest memories of Green Bay Packer football was listening to the game on the radio, in the days of coach Vince Lombardi and quarterback Bart Starr. Those were the days of smash-mouth football, without the protective gear of today, and frozen tundra Ice Bowls.
Early last week, the neighbor texted Natasha and I and asked if we wanted to go to the Packer game. Free tickets. She would bring the grill and food, we would bring ourselves and adult refreshment. How could we refuse?
The start of our adventure was a bit frustrating. An accident occurred on Hwy 41, in between home and Green Bay. We moved at a snail’s pace for what seemed like hours until we eventually exited the highway and hit the country roads. We arrived an hour later than our good intentions, but still managed to grill out in the old K-Mart parking lot. This is the 34-acre site of a future park-like, public development by the Packers, that will include a Kohler hotel, Hinterland brewery, fitness-related activities, cultural opportunities, a winter ice skating rink, along with game-day festivities. I wondered, as I stood munching on a bratwurst, where all of the cars on the west side of the stadium would park in the future.
From where we parked, we could see one of the new jumbotrons from the 2013 renovation. Even though we didn’t get inside for kickoff, the jumbotron and car radio provided us with first quarter action. We missed the not-so-great part of the game, so nothing lost. Besides, there was chocolate cake to be eaten. (There’s no evidence of said cake because, well, we ate it.) Tailgating in Titletown is a special event that is not to be rushed. Fans line up in their vehicles before they are allowed to park on the stadium grounds three hours before game time. Veteran tailgaters are well-prepared with food, drink and special games like “cornhole.” Fans who don’t tailgate can come early and walk around the parking lot, chatting with others they know and don’t know, being offered food and drink by generous grillmasters. There’s music playing and chants of “Go Pack Go!”
Our ragtag group finally made it into the stadium and I’m pretty sure that we were the good luck charms for the team. The New Orleans Saints got off to a 10-0 start, but they didn’t score a point after our arrival and for the rest of the game. The turn of events could have also been the other 73, 858 cheering fans or the delicious odors from the concession stands or the many rounds of “the wave” or simply that this is a good team that wants to hear Todd Rundren sing to them on a particularly frequent basis.
“I don’t want to work. I want to bang on the drum all day…”
It’s the theme song of a Green Bay Packer touchdown and a que for the famous Lambeau Leap into the arms of end zone fans – a tradition started by Safety Leroy Butler.
“The Leap began the day after Christmas in 1993 on a frigid day at Lambeau (the third-coldest ever at the stadium). The 8-6 Packers were looking to clinch a playoff berth for the first time in a full season since 1972 and were in good shape, holding a 14-0 lead. While on defense against the visiting Los Angeles Raiders, LeRoy Butler forced a fumble that was picked up by the late Hall of Famer, Reggie White. After running for 10 yards with the ball, White lateraled to Butler, who went 25 yards for the touchdown. When he reached the end zone, Butler says he spontaneously jumped into the crowd in celebration. A new tradition was born.”
The players on both sides of the ball, the coaching staff, the cheerleaders, security staff, and the almost 74,000 fans heard the song five times. We heard the roar of the crowd cheering deeeeeefense!, the quiet of the Packer’s offense, the loud and soft sounds of a green and gold wave, and the jump-up-and-down music coming from a band up in the stands, and the referees explanation of why they threw the yellow flag.
During play, the jumbotron would alternately read “Get Loud” or “Quiet Please, Men at Work.” The latter made me chuckle.
The music, the sounds, the screaming fans add to the aura of Lambeau, a northern hemisphere stadium without a roof. The players here are exposed to early-season heat, rain that changes to snow, and frigid temperatures in December and January. I stand by the belief that this is how football should be played…outside, in all types of weather. I love snow bowls, when the players try to run, pass and tackle while sliding around as if on an ice-staking rink without skates.
Inside Lambeau Field, names of historic players and coaches appear around the bowl – Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Brett Favre, Curly Lambeau, Reggie White, Vince Lombardi (to name a few) – along with the years of the team’s world championships. The seats are metal benches, which always require a blanket or padded stadium chair in the winter to prevent butt frostbite. Yellow goldposts stand at either end of the field, while a big “G” holds court in the center. Fans are colored green-and-gold during warmer months, but blaze orange jumpsuits (hunting gear around here) dot the landscape on colder game days. There are homemade signs everywhere, even inside the towering sky boxes, where the fortunate stay cool or warm while partaking in catered food and drink. While I would love to hang out in a sky box at least once, I have to believe that the special feeling of being outside among other crazy fans, is preferable. While at Lambeau, I prefer to not have a glass window between me and the circling waves of an almost spiritual fan experience.
There’s so much more to say about this place, about the history and the physical building. I haven’t even touched on the long lines at the concession stands and ladies’ bathroom. Or the Atrium, where special events are held and you can get a ticket to tour Lambeau Field. Or the Packer Pro Shop, where you can buy cool and crazy Green Bay Packer’s everything. Or the occasional visit by the Wisconsin Badger Marching Band, complete with a tuba march and 5th quarter. But that would take days and a three-part post.
Instead, I will leave you with a video. It’s difficult to portray the feeling of a forever Packer fan while at Lambeau Field for a game. It’s that certain feeling that cannot be expressed by mere words. No…rather, it has to be experienced.
For those of you wondering, the Packers won their last pre-season game, 38-10. Five touchdowns and a 55-yard field goal. The third-string QB, Brett Hundley, was amazing, as well as many of the 2nd and 3rd string players. I’m anxious for the season, which starts Sunday in Chicago against da Bears. I predict a victory, much like the one I experienced at Lambeau Field on Thursday. It can be no other way.
Are you a diehard football fan? Which college/pro team do you support? What is the atmosphere like in your favorite team’s stadium?