The Packers team is, in itself, quite a phenomenon. They compete successfully with teams that represent much larger cities, while surviving and thriving in their much smaller Green Bay, Wisconsin, a place that boasts only 100,000 people. All of their stadium seats are filled at every home game.
The team is not owned by a large corporation. And it is not the property or “step-child” of a wealthy family. The “Pack” is an independent non-profit organization wholly owned by its loyal fans. Many of these have plunked down hard-earned cash to buy shares of stock in the team; an investment that they were fully aware would never pay them a dividend or increase in value.
Many fans arrive early for a Packers game. A few of them express their loyalty by driving vehicles that are painted with the team colors of Green and Gold, and have been emblazoned with a giant “G” logo. As the jolly, fun loving crowd gathers, tailgate parties spring up and soon the delicious smell of bratwurst will come from a thousand grills. The crowd will represent not only the Midwest, but fans from all over the United States; transplanted Wisconsinites and others who have adopted Green Bay as their “home town away from home.” Usually at least several foreign countries will be represented.
Inside the large Lambeau atrium, fans are treated to a comfortable, welcoming atmosphere, complete with food stands and the opportunity to purchase sweatshirts, caps, foam cheese heads and tons of other souvenirs. Pictures and statues of ex-coaches abound, and no one need leave the area without receiving a full briefing on the team’s proud history.
Curly Lambeau first organized the team, and for many years acted as its coach. Other coaches whose names will live forever include Vince Lombardi and Mike Holmgren. Early stars included the “Golden Boy,” Paul Hornung, Don Hutson, and Willie Wood. Then Lofton and Lynn Dickey and others took over. As years went by, bright new stars, too numerous to mention, came and went, including Bart Starr and the unforgettable “Minister of Defense,” Reggie White.
An important part of “Pack” history is the “Ice Bowl of 1967.” A post season game played in sub-zero temperatures with a wind chill as low as minus 57 degrees and a frozen field that gave birth to a new football expression “the frozen tundra.” In a hard-fought game, played in ice and snow, the Packers were finally victorious when right guard Jerry Kramer out-maneuvered his opponent Jethro Pugh just enough to make room for quarterback Bart Starr to sneak the ball into the end zone for the winning score.
At Lambeau Field, the actual football playing is still done outdoors. And that is where the spectator seating is. Before a post-season game, it is often necessary to recruit a small army of workers to remove tons of snow from the spectator area and from the field. Fans come dressed in layers-upon-layers of clothing, with hand-warmers and any other gimmicks they can think of to keep from freezing. And as they fill the stands, there is no question as to their loyalty. The Green and Gold and “G” logos are everywhere.
In the Packers’ first post-season game of 2008, they met the Seattle Seahawks who were coached by the ex-Green Bay coach Mike Holmgren. The home team fell behind early, but finally got organized and gave their fans an afternoon of great football and a necessary victory.
The game began with cold temperatures, but no snow. As the game progressed, snowflakes began to fall, and soon the field began to turn white. Before long attendants were out with brooms whenever time permitted, sweeping the lines clean so they could be seen. Before long, they were using various kinds of scrapers, and before the game ended, they were resorting to scoop shovels. The same amount of heavy snow fell on the fans, but they didn’t even seem to notice.
On January 20, the Packers again took the field, this time against the New York Giants. And the Green and Gold crowd literally exploded as “Number 4,” quarterback Brett Favre, led the home team out of the tunnel. A few of the more experienced stars of past years were still in the group. Al Harris, whose almost-miraculous defensive moves have broken up so many passing plays, was there. And Donald Driver, whose athletic, diving receptions of Brett Favre passes still make him a serious threat to Pack opponents any time he lines up for an offensive play.
Most of the new and younger players had been looking OK in recent games, but were still mostly untested in games of this importance and intensity. And Green Bay’s top running back, Ryan Grant, was someone their opponents, the Giants, once tried and found lacking.
The game began at 5:30 pm, with the temperature below zero and the wind chill in the minus twenties. It was a hard-fought contest, with the lead changing a number of times. What had been predicted to be a contest of running games rather than passing games turned out to be just the opposite.
The Giants tight, tough defense completely closed down the Pack’s running offense. And put almost the entire responsibility on Brett Favre’s strong, but aging, right arm. The Giants were able to split the running and passing chores, and quarterback Eli Manning turned in a fine passing performance.
Farve threw for two touchdowns, one by Donald Driver who turned one of his receptions into a thrilling 90 yard touchdown play.
As the players of both teams began to tire and the temperature grew colder, there were occasional missed assignments and frustration that resulted in needless penalties that often stopped or prolonged scoring drives. Also several missed field goals that could have given the Giants the game. When official time ran out the score was tied at 20 all.
The Packers won the coin toss and the first possession of the overtime. With their hero Brett Favre at the helm, the fans could almost taste another “Ice Bowl” victory. But an intercepted pass gave them a rude awakening. And a 47-yard field goal put an end to their dream.
But the Green Bay Packers have been around for almost ninety years. And next year is another year. By today, the fans have most likely stopped discussing what went wrong, and are looking forward to next year. Will our 38-year-old star quarterback, Brett Favre, the last of the real honest to gosh super heroes, retire? And is his substitute, Aaron Rodgers, ready to take his place? Will Donald Driver, Al Harris, Charles Woodson, and the other vets all return in top notch condition? With the past year’s experience, all of the younger players should be ready to help mold a team that will take us right back into the playoffs.
One thing is for certain: when next year’s season starts, a jolly crowd will gather, and the smell of bratwurst will once again rise from a thousand tailgate party grills. And Lambeau Field will be completely sold out and all of the seats will be filled at every home game, as has been the case for more than forty years!
Go, Pack, Go!