I flew into Chicago Midway Sunday evening and my friend Morgan picked me up and took me back to her apartment. She and her husband Tony had held off eating dinner until I came in and we got gyros and fries down the street. I’m going to gain like a million pounds after I’m done with this record quest, I swear. Please stop feeding me delicious food friends; I need to fit inside the stadiums! I hadn’t seen them since we did the Kentucky Bourbon Trail the end of December last year, so there was much catching up over a mini spa night (sorry no pictures of our face masks).
The following day I borrowed Morgan’s car to drive up to Green Bay for the game. Morgan and Tony are my official sponsors for my visits to Chicago and Green Bay and I love them for their help! The drive is very easy, just up I-94 to I-43 most of the way. Once I hit Milwaukee there was heavier traffic as others were making their way up as well. We drove together as a pack of Packers fans the rest of the way up to Green Bay.
Now I was told the stadium was in the middle of a neighborhood, and I knew they were a small market team, but that still didn’t prepare me for how traditional and nice said suburban neighborhood actually was. You can park in lots around the stadium or in the neighborhoods. I found free street parking near Liberty St. and double checked with the people getting out of the car in front of me to make sure I was ok. There were a few signs in the area banning street parking on games days and some houses were charging to park by them. They said it was fine and I tagged along with them the short walk to the stadium. They were a brother and sister, Josh and Tessa, lifelong Packers fans that grew up north of the city. Josh still lived near his parents with his family and Tessa lived in Jacksonville and was visiting.
Even before I decided to do this trip, Lambeau Field was high on my list of stadiums I wanted to visit. One of my most distinct, early football memories was seeing a woman accept the Lombardi Trophy on behalf of the organization after Green Bay won Super Bowl XXXI. That woman impressed the hell out of 11-year-old me and I’ve liked the Packers ever since. Back to present day, I was trying to take my level of excitement for this visit from a 10 to a 2, as to not scare away my new friends or get too high of expectations. I’ve found when visiting places if I’m overzealous about them, I tend to be disappointed and that wasn’t what I wanted in Green Bay. At least Tessa was on a similar level and we darted around the stadium like little tourists, taking pictures with the large Vince and Curly statues and successfully making the “Lambeau Leap.” Josh was a bit more even-keeled, but kept up!
They asked if I was hungry and told me I needed to experience a brat at Kroll’s across the street. Yes please, but first I needed to meet my stadium witness to check in. We made plans to meet back up and I headed around the stadium to meet Katie at the American Family Insurance Gate. I met with her and her colleague Aaron and talked to them a little bit and made meeting plans for after the gate. After saying goodbye, I high-tailed it to Kroll’s for this infamous brat. It was everything I wanted and more. Who knew pickles, butter, sauerkraut, onion, mustard, and ketchup all together were necessary on a brat? Wisconsinites do and they are correct. Now about those cheese curds, you can keep all of those to yourself!
As we walked over to the stadium, I was amazed by the variance of cheeseheads. Not the people, the hats! I was only aware of the standard cheese block, but here I saw crowns, sombreros, top hats, even some cowboy hats. Creative and stylish! We entered into the stadium quickly and with extreme ease. Once in, we made our way over to the atrium thinking the Team Shop was through there. It wasn’t and the large mall like area was packed with fans trying to escape the rainy weather. We lost Josh, and I later lost Tessa in the crush of people. It’s hard to keep track of people when they’re wearing the same colors as everyone else! Despite the large opening, I was feeling very claustrophobic and tried following a stream of people up thinking it would at least give me a better view. I ended up in the suites, which if I wasn’t looking for people (and the field), I might’ve been a little more happy about it. Sure I could’ve made some friends for the game, but I wanted to get back down to the main level. Now that was a little hard as I’d come up on an escalator and there was no way down from that spot. I walked around the club level a little bit before finding some stairs and headed back down.
Finally, I came out into a less crowded concourse and walked out into the stands to see the field. I wasn’t expecting to fall in love so quickly, but I was smacked in the face with the intimacy and pure football aura that is Lambeau Field. It was pouring by then and I was glad I had grabbed a Jim Beam beanie out of Morgan’s trunk. I threw it on and stared starstruck at the field, I was in complete awe. There had been some doubts in my mind- when I was walking up to the stadium, I thought it looked average and when I was in the large atrium, I thought I was in a Green Bay-themed mall. But the actual field, that was where I felt the Lambeau magic.
As game time approached, the stands started to fill up. These people have sat through way worse, a little rain wasn’t going to scare them away! Since the seats in the lower bowl are all bleachers, I squeezed in and watched the team come out before heading to the walkway around above the seats. The ushers were laid back and let me and a few other people stand and watch the opening kickoff from this area. I had bought a standing room only ticket and knew this wasn’t the right area so made my way over to the south end zone where I thought I’d be able to walk up to it. While I walked over I stopped along the way watching Green Bay’s opening drive. Pretty nifty to see Aaron Rodgers in person!
Back out in the concourse, I was shocked by its complete lack of people. I’ve never seen a place so empty. No one was in line for concessions or even taking a bathroom break. Momentarily I thought, am I not supposed to be out here right now? It was that empty and foreign to me on my trips thus far! I walked back and asked an usher how to get to the standing room area and he didn’t just tell me, he showed me the way by taking me over to the elevator. The stadium staff was incredibly friendly and helpful. I was like you guys know you work of a professional football team and a really good one? I guess that’s just Green Bay hospitality. In the elevator, I got grouped with some people and taken to the wrong level. It was all good because seeing the view from the 7th floor was cool and I snapped a couple pictures before finding my way down to the 400 level and perched myself behind a short guy to watch the game. For once I was glad to be tall!
The standing room only view of the field was great and it was covered by the stands above, so the rain wasn’t an issue at all for me. I stayed there for the first three quarters and wasn’t disappointed by the Packers (kicking some Chiefs butt) and the atmosphere. A gentleman standing next to me mentioned we were getting a slightly watered down version of the crowd since we were back a little bit from the outer bowl. He ended up telling me that he was a Green Bay season ticket holder that normally sat close to the field, but since this was a Milwaukee game he had to purchase another ticket and had decided to try out the standing room since this area is closed off to non-ticket holders. I marveled at that one. You’d think they’d close off the rest of the stadium to us the bargain ticket holders, but it’s the opposite. From talking to him I got a little Packers history lesson. He was like everyone else I had met during my visit, super friendly.
Once the fourth quarter started, I decided I would go down and see what the lower bowl was like, figuring I could catch the game from the section entrances. I went down to the 100/300 concourse to see where I could stand. The concourse was still a ghost town and I found that I could stand and watch the game at this level from the little alcoves. I did this around the stadium, spending some time in the north end zone where they let you go up to the bleachers to take pictures and watch a play or two. They were loosely regulating that, probably because it was near the end of the game. I ended up watching the final four minutes on the game clock a couple sections over and watched the Chiefs punch in a late touchdown. I think it was during the two-minute warning break that they played “Jump Around,” a big tradition at Camp Randall. Some people got into it, but it was nothing like a Wisconsin Badgers game. The Chiefs made the game interesting late, but the Packers ended up with the win and the stands began to clear out with about a minute to go.
As a college football fan first, I’ve always thought the NFL games felt a bit more corporate and I’ve accepted that aspect because it is one. Here at Lambeau Field, I felt like I was part of this small town coming out to the stadium to watch our team. Despite it being a professional football team, it had high school football vibes. The entire time I was there I felt like I was in a sports movie. It never felt real. I almost didn’t want to leave, but with a three and a half hour drive ahead of me, I quickly met Aaron at our meeting location and hightailed it to Morgan’s car. I was relieved to see the car was still there and ran into Josh and Tessa one last time. We talked briefly about the game and I told Tessa I would see her when I visited Jacksonville later this fall. Hooray for making a new friend during this trip!
The drive back to Chicago was brutal so I would recommend staying in Green Bay if you’re planning a visit in the near future. The freeways are two lanes and I was in snail pace traffic until I took a Google Map detour to I-43. Even after the detour, it wasn’t that much better, and the heavy rain sure didn’t help. The closer I got to Milwaukee, the more the traffic thinned out… not many people making the trip up from Chicago apparently. I arrived back at Morgan’s apartment at 3:30 in the morning completely exhausted, despite a late coffee stop. Travel following the games either using public transit or driving myself has been a bit of a struggle that I wish was avoidable. When is teleportation coming?
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Special thank you to Katie and Aaron for their time and assistance during my visit!