Thursday, November 15, 2007
American Football Mecca
For the National Football League fan, there is one place that requires a visit once in a lifetime. It is Green Bay, Wisconsin, the home of the Packers. In that city you will also find Lambeau Field, and that is where the Packers play their home games.
Once you get within a hundred miles or so of the city of just over 100 000, you quickly realize you are in Packer Country. There are no other games in town, of much significance. There is a Junior hockey team in the USHL called the Green Bay Gamblers which plays out of Resch Arena, adjacent to Lambeau Field. There are the Badgers at the University of Wisconsin with teams participating in a wide variety of sports.
But the Packers make the whole thing go, and when it goes, it is a breathtaking experience. No matter what the team brings to the field, Lambeau Field will be filled to the brim, and they will be there to support the team wearing Green and Gold. This season, somewhat surprisingly, the team is in the very upper echelon of the NFL-only one loss in their first ten games.
Much of that is due to team play, offensively and defensively. But a significant amount of their success is due to the stellar play of their quarterback, Brett Favre. Supposedly in the twilight of his career, he has rekindled the fire that has driven him to become a future Hall of Fame inductee-first ballot, no question.
Number Four on your program is number one in the Packer fans’ hearts. Shirts with his name on the back outnumber all others by a ten-to-one margin. The parking lot at his restaurant is jammed with fans at the tailgate party a couple of hours before the game. There is at least an hour line up at his restaurant the night before the game. It is an almost frightening thought how the Packer faithful will cope when Brett decides it is time to go. He is now in his mid thirties, and the clock is ticking. But ever so slowly this year. There is a stand-in in the wings, but as long as Favre keeps playing the way he did against the Vikings, we will not see him start for some time.
The tailgate party has become a rich and necessary football tradition. There is an article in the Sunday, November 11th edition of the Green Bay Press-Gazette about a man named Jay DiEugenio. Not only does he tailgate every week, at a different stadium, he has also written a book about it. He sets up his grill with Bar B Cue ribs and Southwest grilled avocados and holds court before the game. He also has a nationally broadcast radio show called-you guessed it-“The Tailgate Guy”.
On his last visit to Green Bay, DiEugenio sampled the fare of local tailgater Steve Muck. Steve was serving up a Wisconsin hunter’s specialty-BBQ racoon. His recipe? “You got your onions, mushrooms, garlic, jerk seasoning…look through the cupboard, throw stuff in, and taste.”
The fare at Favre’s Party was a little tamer: burgers and brats, cole slaw and macaroni salad, and all the Bloody Marys and screwdrivers and beer you could drink for $25. At nine o’clock in the morning. After a relatively long night. This is indeed a hearty crew.
A local radio DJ was there to warm up the crowd. He played tunes from his favourite new CD. The best loved tune caught the attention of the entire crowd; a little ditty called “The Bears Still Suck”.
Only a few of the party goers dared to wear the purple and white Minnesota colours. Faces were painted, green and yellow everywhere. Mike Swick makes the trip faithfully with his friends from the band Harley Packers. Mike is a dead ringer for Vince Lombardi, the venerable Hall of Fame coach who won the first Super Bowls for the Pack. He spent the entire morning posing for photos
And yes, there was a football game. The Packers laid the worst beating the Vikings have ever suffered in Green Bay, 34-0. The faithful went home happy. Although not entirely satisfied. The fan sitting beside me wanted the offence to reach the 500 yard mark. In the dying moments of the game, they let the clock run out a few yards short of the mark. Yet another disappointment. I pointed to the scoreboard. He shrugged his shoulders.
Favre completed 35 passes in the game. He began slowly, and threw more than his share of errant passes in the first quarter—behind the receivers, in the dirt, out of reach. But he did settle down, and ended the game with more than 60 000 yards total thus far in his career. He is now only 20 000 yards short of the mark set by Damon Allen of the Argonauts. Ah, but that is another story, and another league, and another series of arguments.
We caught a break as far as the weather was concerned. The sun shone upon the Packer faithful most of the day. It reached the sixty degree mark, almost 14 here in Celsius. The benches throughout the stadium area test for tiny rumps; you would have though that they would have installed seating when they refurbished the place in 2001. I do not believe there were benches in the recently added luxury boxes.
The cheapest ticket in the house is $59, but scalpers were asking $ 300 for the same ticket at the gate. There are a couple of web sites attainable through the Packers’ NFL site which explain a method for procuring tickets. Good luck.
With a little less than half a season remaining, the Packers will be tough. But they do play home games at Lambeau Field, with Brett at the helm. And it is getting colder, much to their advantage. Not exactly frozen tundra, but not too hospitable.
November 15, 2007