I grew up about forty-minutes from Green Bay, Wisconsin by way of an automobile. It was always a thrill and a delight to visit that city of 100,000 people. To me, it was a big city compared to the tiny town I lived in. Of course, I knew there were much larger metropolitan areas, which not only surpassed Green Bay in population but in entertainment facets.
Take the city’s professional football stadium, Lambeau Field, for instance. I remember that I didn’t think of it as historic, as a matter of fact I don’t think anybody did back then. My impression of the place leaned towards thinking that it was old and outdated. The seating consisted of bleachers and the exterior’s dark green metal siding reminded me of something I would see on a farmer’s barn. The team didn’t even play all of their home games in the venue. Back then, three games were played in Milwaukee’s County Stadium and the remaining five were played in Lambeau. I felt the team I loved, who at the time were a woeful bunch, simply couldn’t afford a better stadium.
Then the nineties happened. A general manager named Ron Wolf and a head coach named Mike Holmgren instituted a winning culture at 1265 Lombardi. One of the ways they did this was by teaching the players the history of the franchise, which stems from a player coach named Earl ‘Curly” Lambeau who founded the team in 1919. As these players discovered, the history of the Packers is a rich one, as the team has won more NFL championships than any other.
Along with that, the Packers made a publicity push that did much of the same. Lambeau Field was promoted as a historic venue. I bought into this because it’s pretty much true. One of the greatest dynasties of professional football played on the grounds when the stadium was still state of the art. As a matter of fact, probably the most iconic NFL game ever played, a championship game that earned the moniker the ‘Ice Bowl’, occurred in that stadium.
In 1997 the Packers won a Super Bowl, its first championship in nearly three decades. Yet, despite their new found success the team ranked 27th out of 30 teams in money earned. That brings me, finally, to my blog today. After considering the teams options, which included putting up a domed stadium, the Packers chose to renovate Lambeau field. The feat was partially funded by a half-percent sales tax in Brown County. Considering the city owns the team, it only made sense. Of course, the people of the community had a say about the renovation, which by and large was agreed upon through a referendum. This new facility would play host to more than football games, generating tons of Revenue. Not to mention, as it was erected in 1957, it is the oldest stadium in the NFL.
So on with my tour of historic and renovated Lambeau field.
I am waiting for Heidi on a fall like Saturday afternoon. While I do, as football season has just begun, I check to see if stadium tours of Lambeau Field are available today. I go to the Lambeau Field website and check it out. It turns out there are four different tours to choose from. One offers a chance to experience the visiting locker room. There is another, on select days, that includes an ex Packer player leading you through the hallowed walls, I wonder if they’d demonstrate the Lambeau Leap. I decide we’ll just stick to the basic classic tour for $15.00, which includes a visit to a luxury box, a walk through the tunnel and a chance to stand behind the end zone.
Heidi arrives and we head across town towards Lombardi Avenue. We bound into the spacious and freshly attractive atrium. Here, we find the Packer Hall of Fame and the 1919 Kitchen and Tap.
A simple stop at the Hall of Fame reception desk is all it takes to purchase our tickets. We could have bought them online also, but this way is just as painless.
After our purchase, we’re directed towards a spot in the Atrium where we meet our guide. He’s an exuberant, yet dignified, older gentleman that seems very passionate about the team and the stadium. Of his intro topics, one includes the atrium we’re standing in. He tells of all the revenue generating aspects that today’s Lambeau field presents. It hosts everything, including high school proms, weddings, luncheons and more. We learn of the Packer Pro Shop, the largest gift and souvenir shop in the NFL. Yes, the once scant Packer pocketbook is overflowing these days.
After that, we hop aboard an elevator and find our selves on the fifth level. It’s here that we discover a dining area, great art, an event center and luxury suites. After our guide points out some of the artwork hanging from the walls, we’re led to the alumni suite.
Here, we sit in plush seating and enjoy a spectacular view of the Stadium. The aluminum bleachers glisten in the sunlight as the scoreboard towers above the stadium in a back drop of blue. The paint on the emerald grass is faded, as its been cut a few times since the last pre-season game.
Speaking of grass, the guide boasts about Lambeau Field’s playing surface. He claims it is the best in the country and only soccer stadiums in Europe can rival it. It is ninety five percent Kentucky Bluegrass and five percent polyethylene fiber, creating the first SIS Grass field in the united states. The SIS grass creates stability for the field’s sand base. Why use a sand base? Simple, it’s suitable for drainage during a heavy rain.
After the cozy luxury box, we board an elevator and descend into the bowels of the stadium. Seriously, it appears to be a very large storm cellar. Here, we are led towards the vicinity of the locker room, but we are not permitted to enter. Instead we gaze upon a panoramic locker room photo, the dressing room being the shape of a football. The guide tells of locker room rituals and lore.
After we receive that info, we come to the most exhilarating part of the tour; a walk through the packer tunnel. It is not the original tunnel the Packers would have used in 1957, however there are concrete blocks from the old tunnel embedded in the floor. Along with that is a plaque boasting Green Bay’s 13 NFL championships.
Of course none of that is really thrilling. It’s interesting and makes me appreciate the team I’ve rooted for since I can remember, but it’s not thrilling. What is thrilling is that after we’re told how some player’s greatest memories were walking out of the tunnel, we get a taste of what those athletes experienced. Of course, the seats are empty but, as the automatic overhead door slides open, speakers simulate crowd noise, an announcer sounds as he introduces the Packers and Music plays to get the crowd pumped. I know it’s corny, but I felt a couple goosebumps, even if I practically rolled my eyes when the guide proclaimed it was ‘goosebumps time.’
We’re not allowed onto the playing surface but gallevant on the outer portion of the field. This is photo op time. We can get pictures of whatever we want. Heidi and I ask the guide to take one of us in front of the goalpost and another of us exiting the tunnel.
While we are level with the field and after the photo session, the guide asks us to perform a cheer. Again, I perceive this to be corny as all get out. Yet as we cheer that famous Lambeau Field cheer ‘Go Pack Go!’, I’m surprised by the echoes that undulate through the stadium. It seems hard to believe that so much noise came from less than twenty people.
After the cheer we return to the atrium, as the guide makes some closing statements and bids us Farewell. I think the group, which came from all over this country, enjoyed the tour. It makes me proud to be a Packer fan.
If you would have told nine year old me that one day Lambeau Field would draw people from around the world, I would have never believed you. I’m fine with the fact that it does. My fondest memory of my grandfather occurred in this stadium as I watched the Pack fall to the Raiders during a home opener. Like many Packer fans he has passed on, but his passion can be attested for by the Jewel of the NFL known as Lambeau Field.