It has been 15 years since I saw my first and only NFL Playoff game. On January 4, 1997, the Packers, on their way to a victory in Super Bowl XXXI, took on the San Francisco 49ers on a chilly, rainy afternoon.
I remember only a few things from that game; Desmond Howard’s scintillating punt return for a touchdown; the fact that the 49ers quarterback was inexplicably named Elvis; Reggie White running around the field postgame urging the crowd to cheer louder for the victorious Green Bay Packers; and the mud. Mostly, I remember the mud; it covered the players’ jerseys, caked on their helmets and allowed them to slide across the field, carried on by their forward momentum, when they were tackled or knocked down.
Which brings me to this past Sunday; what will I remember about this game 15 years from now? There was no electrifying, Howard-esque touchdown, no exhilarating post win celebration. No strangely named quarterback or weather-related anecdotes, it was just a cold, winter Sunday at Lambeau.
So, I think what I’ll remember is the people who shared the stadium with me. The fans. And I wish I could say that was a good thing…
My brother called me after work on Friday to ask if I was interested in going, he had someone willing to sell him three tickets. He suggested we get Dad a ticket for his birthday.
I know from past experience that there is nothing more exciting then making this phone call, having your hands on prized tickets and being able to offer them to some you care about. The only thing that was holding me back was the price; after all, I am getting married in September.
However, Michelle knows how much I love the Packers, and she was supportive of me going. Also, Dad generously purchased tickets for both Michelle and I and my brother and his wife to attend Brewers playoff games, so he more than deserved to be there.
I’ve been to Lambeau twice in the last year, neither time for games. First, Dad and I went to the Super Bowl celebration, then this summer, I took the stadium tour with some friends, but I was excited to finally go back for a game, and a playoff game, nonetheless.
While some doubted the Giants, I was nervous about them. Nonetheless, my excitement lasted from the second I got the call, through Saturday and on Sunday morning, I laid out the warmest, most Packers-centric outfit I could find and I was off.
I met my brother and Dad in Mequon. I love heading up to Packer games and seeing people in the cars next to me with their gear on, knowing we share a destination and a purpose.
I stopped at McDonald’s and saw a number of Giants fans inside, unlike certain fans of other teams; I have no ill will towards Giants fans. The group seemed to be two older fathers and two sons.
We arrived in Green Bay at around noon for the 3:30 kickoff. We prefer to park on Lombardi Avenue because it is much easier to get on and off the freeway. Dad packed some sandwiches and some snacks and we bundled up and embraced the elements like so many other Packer fans, and some Giants fans, did.
We ate, drank a few beers and smoked cigars. I took a photo for another group of fans and one of them took our photo. I good-naturedly joked with a female Packer fan who was accompanying a Giants fan, telling her she could sit with us. She laughed and said it was her dad.
I stood in line for the Porta-potty and listed to an older Giants fan talk to a Packers fan about how nice people in the Midwest are. Then, the person in the Porta-potty the Giants fan was waiting for held the door open for him. He thanked the man, who returned his gratitude with a “F— Eli!”
I put this unsettling incident behind me as the private jets flew overhead into the airport. I had a short but friendly conversation with a Giants fan about the relative merits of each of our teams. We were differential to each other. It was time to head into the game with excitement and nerves in the pit of my stomach.
Lambeau was bustling with excitement. I had a seat on the end of a row in the end zone and immediately when the people next to us arrived, it was clear that they’d budged my brother over and I’d be sitting half on/half off my bleacher seat. Oh well, that is Lambeau.
As the game approached, I eagerly looked forward to the fly-over. It didn’t disappoint!
In front of me was a fellow in his mid-twenties. He was half-on, half-off the bleacher too, but as the game began, it was clear he didn’t plan to spend much time sitting. At least he was nice enough to tell me to tap him if I wanted him to sit down. As the Packers struggled to put a meaningful drive together and the Giants continued to covert third and long situations on the Packers hapless defense, the tone of the crowd changed.
The fellow in front of me couldn’t complete a sentence without three f-bombs. Meanwhile, a row lower, a woman seemed determined to just stand in the aisle next to someone she didn’t know. Everyone was just staring at her, so finally, I told her in the most polite way that I could that she was in my way. This seemed to be a revelation to her and she moved.
The beerman kept coming, and each time, my friend in front ordered another, letting the f-bombs fly. He was by himself and getting loaded. Around me, people were bumping into each other, talking trash to each other and being nasty.
As halftime began, the team was booed off the field. Down 20-10, the offense had been punchless and the D had just given up a 37-yard hail mary TD. A man a row in front of us yelled out that this team is “shit” and “not champions.” I told my Dad I couldn’t believe people were booing and this guy turned around and starting yelling at me! My Dad just said to him, “Hey, they’re 15-1.”
Things went from bad to worse in the second half, on the field and in the stands. The cops came by and removed several Giants fans. The lady next to my brother kept trying to dance with him. A guy fell on the ground and had to be helped up, continuing his stumble down the stairs. My buddy in front of me kept standing and drinking and swearing. A Giants fan stood next to him, barely able to open his eyes, and my buddy put his arm around this guy, who said something and moved on. My buddy turned to me, “That guy is f—‘in drunk! He’s probably gonna get his ass kicked.”
Finally, as the last gasp efforts of the Packers began to fail, fans started calling Coach Mike McCarthy and idiot an suggesting replacing reigning Super Bowl MVP and leading MVP candidate, Aaron Rodgers, with Matt Flynn, his backup.
We got out of there before the final whistle blew and I tried to understand what the deal with all these people was. I don’t understand the trashed ones who’ll remember even less about this forgettable game than I will.
Alone in a Crowd
More and more often, I find myself in crowds of people and I don’t like it. I don’t like how others are able to impose their will on you (even though I don’t like it, it is their right do so, to a certain point). My friend TJ and I have talked about this in regard to Miller Park, where I saw him wage war for part of his seat while a fat man sat next to him, legs spread wide, taking part of TJ’s seat, not a care in the world.
I’ve remembered Lambeau as a fun, friendly place, but some of that luster was tarnished by Sunday. This isn’t a Wisconsin thing, as some of the less intelligent people I know would suggest. It just seems part of a general apathy towards others in crowd situations, especially those that include close proximity and drinking.
It seems like every concert I go to, my friends and I end up next to someone who does something that is either incredibly annoying or inexplicably rude.
People often accuse me of being a curmudgeon. Sometimes I wonder if people have really gotten more rude or I just notice it more. Either way, I don’t like it.
I am still glad I returned to a Lambeau playoff game, especially with my Dad and brother. Next time though, I might suggest we sit in Dad’s cozy living room, with a fire going and the only crowd around being us and two or three dogs. That is a crowd I can handle.