Lambeau or Bust (continued)


• Photo gallery: Lambeau Field | City Guide: Green Bay | If You're Going … | Buy Packers tix

Beneath the Atrium sits the Packers Hall of Fame, and its subterranean location is apropos, given that it's a repository for all manner of buried treasure. The HOF, which spreads over 25,000 square feet, attracts more than 100,000 visitors annually and offers an in-depth history lesson. We learn that:

• Curly Lambeau was the team's founder and first coach.

• Then-Vice President Richard Nixon was on hand at the stadium's original dedication, Sept. 27, 1957.
• Lambeau Field is the oldest NFL stadium and is among the elder statesmen of all major American professional sports' homes.

The payoff to the self-guided tour is the site of the Packers' three Lombardi Trophies, and if the significance and history of this franchise's place in NFL history hasn't hit, yet, the name on the trophy offers a vivid reminder.

Meanwhile, in the stands, seemingly every single seat is filled by the time the two teams line up for the noon kickoff. There are no stragglers at the concession stands, and absolutely no one is stuck in traffic because the streets are deserted.

This alone offers a nice insight into how it is that Green Bay is home to a thriving NFL team while Los Angeles has lost two.

Even if you're not a Packers fan, chances are you have a personal connection to Lambeau Field. There are reminders of history everywhere. Yellow, grated railings separate the fans from the field, and they look just like they did during the famous Ice Bowl game in 1967. And the diagonal chalk striped end zones are right out of the Paul Hornung era.

My own passion for the NFL has been dormant since 1994, when the Rams left southern California for St. Louis. I'm now a neutral observer of pro football, interested but not engaged.

And, yet, a trip to Lambeau Field stirs old passions. Just being in the company of Lambeau offers a connection to the late, great L.A. Rams. A visit here somehow feels like meeting up with an acquaintance with whom I share in common a dearly departed mutual friend.

The Packers are lining up against Brooks Bollinger and the Vikings on this day, but, for the life of me, I can't help but see ghosts of Roman Gabriel and the Rams.

The Packers, of course, aren't going anywhere. Given that 112,015 stockholders publicly own them, there is no threat of a Georgia Frontiere or Al Davis selling out the locals for greener grass.

Across the aisle from me sits a gray-haired man who's pushing 80. Clad in a vintage Bart Starr jersey, and one of the interlocking "GB" caps that was favored by Dan Devine, he's taking full advantage of the opportunity to grow old with his team.

To my left, a fan wearing an ensemble of cheesehead, Packers dress shirt and green and gold, tiger-stripped Packers Zubaz pants straight out of 1990 chows down on green-and-gold nachos. Then he makes a first quarter announcement:

"Seriously, I love watching Adrian Peterson," he says, "but today, we're gonna break his neck!"

Thankfully, the Packers show a little more restraint. They knock Peterson from the game in the third quarter, but the diagnosis is a torn knee ligament that would keep him out for a couple of games.

For a crowd that is so impassioned and well lubricated, most of the rowdiness is good natured, and no fights break out. The rivalry with Minnesota, I'm told, is friendly. If you want to see real hatred, come back when Chicago is in town.

Halftime offers an opportunity to sample the chili John Madden raves about. Chili John's has been a Green Bay intuition since 1913, when Lithuanian immigrant John Isaac opened a restaurant adorned only with a sign that read, "Chili." Locals soon began calling the place "Chili John's" in honor of the owner, and the name stuck.

The chili comes in mild, medium, hot and extra-hot recipes and, as in Cincinnati, comes with spaghetti. As a broadcaster, Madden might have become a caricature of himself, but he's still spot on as a food critic.

Lambeau Field's unparalleled offering of pro football pageantry – and beer & brats – is timeless. At a balmy 54 degrees at kickoff, the tundra is nowhere near frozen today, but it's still hard not to see Bart Starr's breath rising in the air near the goal line he crossed to the win the Ice Bowl in 1967. The players change, but the uniforms – and the passion – remains the same.

Still, there is a reason to make your Green Bay pilgrimage sooner than later: The opportunity to see what has become the NFL's version of Sinatra at Carnegie Hall won't last forever.

The name on the building says Lambeau and the name on the street is Lombardi, but, for now, Green Bay is Brett Favre's town.

Like Lambeau, the 38-year-old Favre appears to have undergone a recent renovation. In this, his 246th consecutive start, he completes 33 of 46 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns.

His three-yard pass to running back Vernand Morency in the second quarter gives him more that 60,000 career passing yards, which, it seems, correlates perfectly with the number of Leinenkugels consumed at Lambeau on a Packers game day.

In the fourth quarter, Favre throws a pass that either Darren Sharper or Cedric Griffin could easily intercept. But the two Vikings collide, and the ball caroms right into the hands of Ruvell Martin for a touchdown. Martin then Lambeau Leaps his way into the stadium's front row, getting lost in a celebratory mob of green and gold humanity.

Given that many in the crowd are Packers shareholders, the Lambeau Leap amounts to the boss giving one of the employees a pat on the back for a job well done. So much for Mark Cuban being the coolest owner in pro sports.

The Packers, their quarterback, and their community ownership are having one of those afternoons where nothing can go wrong. When it's over, the Lambeau scoreboard tells the tale: Next to a Sargento Cheese ad, the score reads, Green Bay 34, Minnesota 0.

"Today," Favre says after the game, "was awesome."

Spend a day at Lambeau Field and you'll know the feeling.

Doug Ward is a southern California-based free-lance writer.

Editor's note: This article originally was published in December 2007.