My head is by the window in Bertha and ever since the break of dawn I could hear voices outside. Chattering away in excitement but I put this down to the steak sweats and bad dreams. We were finally woken up by banging on Bertha’s door at 8am. Emma went an answered to find a large police officer there. He was after payment for our spot in the tailgate. One of the reasons we stopped in the Kmart car park is that it lends it to the local police department on game days to raise money for a good cause. The county police run a D.A.R.E (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program which helps educate children as to the dangers and consequences of drugs. Our $40 gets put in the pot that pays for the officers and the materials they use. Seeing as Green Bay games are the primary source of income for D.A.R.E, that’s why we chose this tailgate over the others as many as there were and well done to Kmart for doing their bit.
“I think you need to get up Luke.”
“Why? What’s going on?” I rolled over and looked out the window.
“Because we are missing it all.”
She was right, it was 8am yet there were buckets of empty beer cans and burgers being eaten all around us. What the hell was going on? It was 8am not 8pm, what time did these weirdos start?!?! When we went to bed the night before we were alone in our area of the car park, with only one vehicle within 20 yards. I got up, put on some shorts and my Navy Football t-shirt and grabbed a fresh cup of tea (so British). As soon as I stepped out I saw that the whole car park was full and in full swing already. I walked round to the front of Bertha and instantly the group of men next to us all wished me a ‘good morning’, and offered me a beer or a hotdog.
“Hiya buddy you want a hotdog or a beer?”
“No thanks I got some on the way”
“Heh, we thought you had already gone to the stadium.”
“Nah we overslept, the cop woke us up!” They all laughed.
“Sorry we have stolen a bit of your lot we will move the BBQ.”
I told them to not worry about it as we weren’t bringing anything out. They offered more beer and hotdogs but again I refused mainly due to still being half asleep. I was taken aback by their friendliness. All the vehicles were back to back so I walked behind Bertha to find another row. The same conversation happened with the couple to Bertha’s rear. I got chatting to them, their names were Andy and Dora. Andy worked on a farm that produced the hops for beer and Dora was a schoolteacher. They lived and worked deep in Michigan, Detroit Lions territory and had driven 8 hours to get to the game. We spoke about how they found it being Packers fans in a rival state. Dora said that there was a lot of banter with the 16 year old boys in her class over the game and she was hoping for a win so she could go back and rub it in their faces. Andy was a big quiet man and sipped away at of Blue Ribbon while I gossiped with Dora about the road trip. She was very chatty and smiley and reminded me of someone, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
When Emma had finally dressed and drank her cup of tea she put on all her attire and we went for a walk around the tailgate. It was quite reserved and family orientated. Everyone was cooking up a storm and drinking while not being obnoxious. We stopped along the way and talked to a few people, my favourite was the guy who had modified his cheesehead to perfection.
Packers Hall Of Fame
We went back to Bertha and regrouped. There were three hours to kickoff and we needed to pick up my jersey and Emma wanted to see the Packers Hall of Fame. We chatted a bit more to Dora an Andy and walked in the direction of the stadium. I knew we wouldn’t see them again and wished I had told them about the website or dropped them my email, instead quite rudely we had rushed off. We followed the direction of walking fans past the endless line of tailgating fans. Some were watching college football from the day before, others were playing games, some were throwing footballs around. Mostly people were just having fun, eating some BBQ and drinking beer. It made such a change of scenery to attending an English football match where the crowd is predominantly male, unfriendly and the police presence means you never quite feel 100% comfortable.
Nearer the stadium I noticed that I was getting very odd looks from people. It appears I had made the same mistake as when we saw the baseball in LA. I was wearing items of clothing which were unaffiliated but were in the away team colours. Detroit play in silver and blue. So my Navy Football shirt which was grey and blue signified the away team yet I was wearing Packers shoes and a cheesehead. There were a few Detroit fans around but not many, and those there were seemed to be with friends or relatives who were Packer fans. The reason behind this is Green Bay’s unrivaled history of selling out their home games. The streak itself is debatable as to whether it started in the 1950s and 1960s but it is at least 50 years old next year and will break 400 games. There are many things that make this town and this team odd and the sell out streak even more impressive. Firstly the capacity of Lambeau Field is just under 81,000, the population of Green bay is 105,000. Think about that for a minute. That is like having a stadium the size of Twickenham in the town of Basildon and having Basildon rugby club sell it out every home game for 50 years. It doesn’t make sense I know. Green Bay is also the only team that is owned by the community. I am a part owner of the Packers having bought one share in the last sale of stock two years ago (the first in over a decade).
Anyone I’ve gotten off track. Apart from being the oddest team in the NFL it is also the most successful. It’s 13 titles (including four Superbowls) are unrivaled in the NFL and with its steeped history and rabid fan base the teams own Hall of Fame gets a lot of visitors. We picked up my Raji jersey which fit like a glove and I was at peace. Emma led us down to the Hall of Fame where despite still being hours from kickoff was jammed with Green Bay Fans. The Hall of Fame is a shrine to the history and success of the team. I took my place at left tackle protecting Bart Starr’s blindside on a snap with some statues. They weren’t very fast off the ball. Emma declined to try for a Lambeau leap (another Green Bay oddity I’ll explain later) stating that there were other people around that might laugh at her feeble attempt. When I photographed the NFL Wembley game in 2011 they had a Superbowl trophy on display in the tailgate area. The queue was at least 100 yards long and people were queuing for over an hour just to pose for a picture with it. You can imagine my surprise when we walk into a near empty room to find on display all four of Green Bays Superbowl trophies with the accompanying rings. I stopped in my tracks temporarily and slowly lifted the camera, *click*.
The Hall of Fame trip was cut short by my desperate need for a wee, the beer and tea had gone straight through me. Once better we went upstairs to get a hotdog and a seat cushion. Lambeau Field doesn’t have many seats. Most of the capacity is in the form of bleachers, thick metal benches that can be quite harsh on the butt-ocks (Forrest Gump) so a cushion is needed. In typical Wisconsin fashion we got our Bratwurst and cheese curds on which was the best decision we had made all day. Cheese curds are very specific to areas that manufacture cheese and being in Wisconsin they were everywhere. A cheese curd is the fresh cheese that is unmatured and with a very short shelf life. It is squeaky to eat yet incredibly delicious when fried. We bought a portion to share and immediately went back for a second as they were a taste sensation. Wisconsin was starting to feel even more like home. We took our seats early to soak up the atmosphere and immediately annoyed the guy sitting behind us. He started talking to his wife quite loudly about how inconsiderate cheeseheads were. His wife reminded him that they both wore cheeseheads to a game last year which silenced him. Even so later before the game the cheeseheads came off so he could see which was a bad idea as I immediately kicked over Emma’s beer and soaked both of them.
Green Bay v Detroit
The stadium filled quite considerably yet we had a pair of seats to our right and our left. About ten minutes before kickoff the couple to our right turn up. The guy was bigger than me at around 6ft6 and 330lbs. I suspected he was still playing football as he was still quite young and noticeably athletic for his size. He was under the weather however and coughing his guts up every few seconds. It became quite a squeeze. With a few minutes to go the other two seats were filled by a couple running late. I looked over at them as they shuffled along the row and couldn’t believe my eyes. It was Dora and Andy. The trip to this point had been full of strange occurrences and coincidences but this took the biscuit. I can’t even comprehend the odds of tailgating next to a stranger and then finding your seats are also next to each other. After some excited confusion we settled down and were instantly arisen for the national anthem. Every NFL game has a fly over by the Air Force as the national anthem finishes. Due to the shutdown that fly over wasn’t possible but in true Green Bay fashion they managed to get a replacement. The local aerobatic display team did a great job.
During a break in the play they got a girl out of the crowd to have her throw a football into a hoop for a prize. A girl further down the row from us screeching in a banshee like tone “OH MY GOD THAT’S MY BEST FRIEND DOWN THERE!” While doing this she sprung to her feet and managed to spill the entire contents of her beer down the neck and back of the guy in front of her. A slight observation to me was that if that was her best friend then why weren’t they at the game together? I put it down to teenage girl excitement that in reality they were probably in the same algebra class and spoke maybe twice a day about the weather. We soaked up the unexpected sun and enjoyed the game. I got out the camera and snapped a few photos during the play and with the sunshine and our angle looking down I struggled to stop them being overblown.
As you can see I struggled with the white balance and conditions. It became apparent quite quickly that the row of guys behind me had little knowledge of football. They were stadium based armchair fans. Having been a student of the game and coached a fair amount I could understand a lot of the tactical calls and penalties on the field, something they didn’t. Their lack of rule knowledge meant that they would celebrate a long pass and have no idea why there was a flag in the backfield and how it related to the 7 seconds Rodgers had to pass the ball. I had to make notes after a while so I could put them in here. At the time Detroit were quite a high scoring team and halfway through the third quarter Detroit had only three points on the board.
“Jesus Christ this defence needs to do something, they are just letting Detroit run all over them!”
Three points in three quarters….. One of my other favourites was motioning one of our best players Randal Cobb towards the middle so he could run with the ball. It went just like this.
*Cobb motions over, ball is snapped and handed to him.*
“OMG WHAT ARE YOU DOING……..”
*Randal Cobb runs for 67 yards and is only tackled short of a TD by the last defender.*
The refs were quite even throughtout with calls going to both teams but after a call that cancelled a Green Bay touchdown they were all in agreement that the whole crew should be under review and suspended the following week. I loved it and hated it at the same time. It was funny at first but after a while I wanted to turn round and tell them to just shut up and let the professionals do their thing. I didn’t of course because they paid their money just like I did and bar actually being rude they were harmless. In fact one of the funniest moments of the day came in a tight situation with Green Bay 3rd and 8 backed up in their own half. Detroit went to a defensive formation and all the guys behind were in agreement that it was all doom and gloom. I quietly whispered to Emma that the two outside receivers were going short and the two slot receivers were going to go deep and if either of the safeties messed up that was where the ball was going. I wasn’t confident of this but that is what I would have done in that situation. The oldest of the group directly behind at the point of the snap said.
“They have two safeties deep there’s nothing we can do here.”
James Jones the slot receiver went deep while Cobb turned short. The safety was slow and a perfect pass from Rodgers ended in a huge 83 yard TD. I think I wore my smug face for the rest of the game. The half time show was presented by the University of Wisconsin marching band. Emma is a big fan of marching bands and Wisconsin are one of the better squads. There were just so many of them and they were in step perfectly. It really was a spectacular sight to see. In the state of Wisconsin if you are a football fan you support Wisconsin and Green Bay there are no alternatives. Wisconsin recruits most of their players and students from instate which means the band were playing on home turf in more way than one and they really seemed to enjoy performing. They would pop up in game breaks all around the stadium and led the fans in a song or chant. Recently Green Bay played arch rivals Chicago Bears with the winner going to the playoffs. An amusing video surfaced of the Wisconsin football team watching it on TV the night before their big game. With Chicago winning and seconds left, Green Bay with their final play were up against it. Aaron Rodgers escaped a tackle and heaved it 48 yards for the game winning touchdown. Their reaction was basically my reaction. Except mine was around 1:30am involved waking up the whole street.
It would surface after Green Bay v Detroit game the Wisconsin band was on the receiving end of some abuse from on of the Detroit players:
You win some you lose some. In this case I feel Dominic Raiola lost on both accounts. Green Bay pulled away from Detroit and a touchdown led to a Lambeau Leap from James Jones. The Lambeau Leap is another oddity in the world of football. After each touchdown the scoring player gets rid of the ball and jumps the six foot wall into the fans. He then gets hugged and screamed at a lot and in some cases a cheeky grope from an overzealous female fan has been seen. Excessive celebration is banned in the NFL and leaping into the stands is certainly excessive. However due to the nature and history of the celebration the refs turn a blind eye and it has a kind of ‘grandfather’ ruling. One day I am sure they will try to ban the leap and they will be supported by the 31 other teams who aren’t allowed to do it.
Only once the game was over did I notice the sunburn. I had been sitting in the same spot for nearly four hours and facing west. Over the course of the game the sun had been shining brightly on the left side of my face. My right side was unscathed and as such was unburnt. I looked like some kind of weird clown who could only afford face paint for one side of my face. We bid farewell to Andy and Dora and headed back to Bertha. We failed to get their details so if they do eventually read this….. Hi!
We had paid for a spot in the Kmart car park but as I hadn’t drunk much all day and had spilled most of my beer over our cheeseheads or had it stolen by Emma we decided to head to a KOA. There was one 80 miles south west of Green Bay and as it was still only late afternoon we locked down and headed off to get Bertha hooked up to fresh water and electricity. It would mean our drive the next day to Milwaukee would be through some lovely countryside at a leisurely pace. Steak sandwiches for supper and some American Dad on the laptop was a great end to an awesome day.