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“Welcome to Green Bay”

Sep 14, 2007, 12:31 AM EDT

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Last August, I read a Bill Simmons column/running diary about his mancation to Lambeau Field. In it, Simmons quotes a friend (I’m not lying, he really did) as saying that every true football fan should go there once. After that, I half-assedly said I’d someday go, but then thought about how unbearable it would be to sit in a driving wind and snowstorm no matter who was playing what. Paying for airfare, a rental, and a hotel room would add wallet insult to physical injury. But then I heard there was a good chance that the Eagles would play at Lambeau this year, and that it might be in September. Then the schedule was released, and it was the opening game for the ’07 season. Well… when’s the next time the Eagles will play at Lambeau with a gametime temperature of 64º? 

For the last 5 years, my uncle and his two sons have picked an Eagles away game to make a short vacation out of, and this year I joined them, along with my cousin’s fianceé. These are great Eagles fans, but they just flat out love football in any form. Between the full college schedules on Saturdays–especially Penn State, multiple fantasy leagues, and various other spread-related interests, almost every play has significant meaning. I’ll take 72 hours with these guys over Simmons’ pop-culture-
referencing sewing circle any day (don’t get me wrong, I do like Simmons. I just think he uses parenthetical asides too much).

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The Eagles are known for having one of, if not the, best traveling fan groups in the NFL. It wasn’t long before the flights to the Midwest started filling up. We had to book our flights and hotel rooms in late April because they were going so fast, which meant we had to get to the airport early, because the time of Penn State’s showdown with Notre Dame hadn’t been scheduled yet, and we couldn’t take any chances. When I got the airport at the crack of dawn on Saturday, I had to get some breakfast. Right behind me in line was Chester’s own Jameer Nelson, who was back in town for just about the saddest reason I could imagine. He looked drained, with red, puffy eyes. He still said what’s up and thanks for the condolences people offered him. It was kind of a sobering start to the morning. When I got to the gate, I saw some Birds fans ready to get on the plane, sleep, and get on the road to Green Bay.

We rented a car in Chicago and took the long, boring, farm-riddled drive through Wisconsin. My uncle woke up at one point to comment that it was pretty country–pause–but he’d probably shoot himself if he had to live there. When we got to Green Bay, we could hardly tell. It was like driving into a suburb, only there was no "urb" nearby.  We found a nearby beer distributor, which despite its small size, had a great variety. I even found some Victory Fest Bier, which I couldn’t pass up. After we put the beer and the other game day supplies in the bridge, we went to find a good bar for watching Penn State kick the shit out of Notre Dame. Fuzzy’s #63 was the first stop. Owned by an old-time Packer, it sounded like it had promise. Once inside though, I thought I’d been teleported to Macdade Blvd. After a can of beer we were out of there in a hurry.

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Next up was Titletown Brewpub. Great beer. Decent food. Big projection screen. We caught the first half in style, but were told we’d have to give up our table because our section was reserved. After bitching it up for a while to no avail (these dairy types can’t be swayed), we had to find another bar. A few calls around produced some good intel—Coach’s Corner was packed with Eagles fans watching the PSU game. We hustled over there, opened the door, and it was nuts. I felt like Mitch Kramer walking into the Emporium to "Hurricane." The whole place was wearing midnight green or nittany blue. The Eagles fight song never sounded better. Leinenkugel. Jagermeister. Grand Marnier (mistake).

Because the game started at noon local time, we had to move faster than we’d have wanted to after a solid bar night. A few quick stops for more supplies and some breakfast were needed, and everyone we encountered was nice to us despite our wearing the colors. In Fargo accents, they commented that we were everywhere. They said it was cool we came all this way. They thought Eagles fans were nicer than they’d heard. Except one guy who saw a Packers game at the Vet and left because he had beer and batteries thrown at him. After having all these Packer Backers be so incredibly nice to us, it was kinda disappointing to hear that, but it’s not like we haven’t heard it before.

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Parking was a weird situation. Lambeau is smack in the middle of a residential neighborhood, with yards literally across a small street from it. Lots of cars were parked on lawns, with girls collecting money at their front steps. We picked a private lot behind a local business, a varicose vein center (either a gold mine or a bust in this town). Before we got out of the car, we prepared to be heckled, yelled at, told to go home. But people barely looked twice at us. They just said hello, like we had blank outfits on. There were a few "Uh-oh, here come the Eagles fans" generic razzes, but everyone was just really nice. Most of the fans seemed to be older than the average lot scene at the Linc, in their 40s and 50s. Some wore hunting jackets, and there were 4′s everywhere. Lots of men brought their wives. 

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An older guy in a kelly-green Eagles hat and a Members Only sweatshirt rode his bike up to our spot. He knew the Packers fans next to us, but was originally from Philly. We talked it up with him and his Packers friends, and I traded a Victory for a Leinenkugel. A pretty big guy walked kind of close, and stopped short when he saw me wearing my Westbrook jersey. I figured it was coming. He cocked his head, put up his open hand, and calmly said, "Welcome to Green Bay." An old timer sang polkas while playing an accordion across the way. More Jager. Time to go in.

From the outside, Lambeau is surprisingly modern. It was recently updated, with an atrium area added. It looks brand new but fairly classic. First stop inside was a ten-deep-at-the-urinal bathroom. Eagles fans were everywhere, but still no harsh words. The fire alarm was going off, and a prerecorded voice was telling everyone to leave the stadium. As far as I could tell, no one so much as acknowledged the sound. Age of Terror my ass.

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Our bleacher seats were awesome—right on the 40, about 50 rows up. It was a great view of the field and the bright-yellow-detailed stadium. The crowd was a lot quieter than I’d anticipated though. Even when the game started, it still didn’t get too crazy—nowhere near the intensity of the Linc, or even Citizens Bank Park during a big Phillies game. I saw the Phils get smoked on Wednesday, but when Ryan Howard was up with the bases loaded and no outs, I remember thinking that the 3/4-filled stadium was louder than Lambeau had been for opening day.

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I’m not trying to say Lambeau wasn’t amazing. It was. But for the first half, the most life we saw from the Packers fans was when Cotton-Eyed Joe came on and literally everyone started clapping in surprising unison.

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I won’t go into the game on the field. You already know that part too well—probably better than I do. It’s hard to walk out of an opposing stadium after your team loses, but I imagine Green Bay is one of the easier places in the country to do it. The worst we heard, and we heard it from about five different people, was "Ha! Have fun driving home!" Right, because we were driving back to Philly.   

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The Green Bay fans and residents couldn’t have been nicer. It was surreal. It was like they enjoyed the fact that we were there and they had the opportunity to compliment us about our running back. It was nothing like Philadelphia. Although we did get pulled over for speeding by Wisconsin’s finest. When the cop said, "Have a nice day," my uncle responded, "Yeah, I hope the Packers lose." It was good to get home.

 


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