Cheeks and the Cheeseheads
By Dr. Cheeks
Special to NFL.com
(Dr. Cheeks will contribute his "man-on-the-street" commentary throughout the season. A post-college, pre-middle-aged former high school football player, Dr. Cheeks now enjoys his role as a professional fan. He lives and works in New York City and will share in all of your highs, lows and general love for the game.)
(Oct. 8, 2004) -- I apologize for the delayed report on my maiden voyage to Green Bay and Lambeau Field. I was just released from the Byron Leftwich Weight-Loss Camp after gaining 25 pounds in only 24 hours in Wisconsin, and the unexpected sunburn that I suffered on the left side of my face has finally subsided.
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Did I have a terrible time, you ask? Heck, no! How can one have a bad time in the football equivalent of Las Vegas and New Orleans combined? It's not possible.
You see, after recently attending two "rock" concerts in New York City in which people yelled at us to sit down as if we were in a movie theater showing Before Sunrise, I needed a fast remedy to make me feel alive again. Going to the "Football Mecca" of Green Bay for the first time would hopefully provide the antidote.
If you have ever been lucky enough to attend the Super Bowl before, you know that for the entire weekend the host city is filled with the hoopla of countless fans in team colors, ticket scalpers and hordes of souvenirs. Green Bay gives off the vibe that football is everywhere just like the Super Bowl does, but you don't feel quite so filthy from the spectacle and grandeur. I had a difficult time believing it was just the fourth week of the regular season.
From the moment you walk off your airplane in Green Bay, you are reminded that you are in Packer Country. There is even a banner in the terminal that tells you so, and let me tell you, unlike some other NFL cities I can think of (umm, I don't know, like maybe Oakland or Philadelphia?), it is not an intimidating place to be for an outsider.
After a nice Saturday dinner with the extended East Coast crew and our resident Green Bay friends, where else were we supposed to go except for the establishments surrounding the main attraction, Lambeau Field?
(Incidentally, we were nice enough to talk one of our Green Bay friends into playing "Credit Card Roulette" for the entire dinner tab and he was gracious enough to lose -- some hospitality, huh?).
It's not a stretch to say that the entire city surrounds Lambeau, which stands majestically in the middle of the town like a castle perched upon a mountain. It is literally like having an NFL stadium in your suburban hometown. Unlike the unwelcoming "metropolises" of NFL towns like East Rutherford (Giants/Jets) and Landover (Redskins), Green Bay is an active town with real people instead of traffic spirals and cops.
I never visited a city where the stadium itself has an actual powerful presence on a Saturday night. Lambeau Field is almost magnetic.
The first destination was even called the "Stadium View Bar," because I guess if you can't be inside the stadium, you might as well have Lambeau in your sights at all times.
I compared it to that older cool girl in high school, who is always in your head or "around" but never talks to you or your crew. As long as you see her in the halls or at the same party, you somehow think everything is right with the world. The good thing is that Lambeau never leaves (though as Packers fans have found out recently, it sometimes breaks your heart).
You can't help but see green-and-gold everywhere, and this was just Saturday night. One of my hosts laughed when I told him that I couldn't believe how much color there was in the bar. He told me to wait until Sunday, but I really couldn't. The anticipation was killing me.
(So, of course, I went home immediately and got my eight hours of beauty rest. You don't believe me? Isn't that what most warm-blooded men do when they travel with four other dudes to a lively city for the first time and have to find accommodations in one "suite" at the airport's finest hotel, which is so close it is almost on a runway?)
That part is unimportant because we were really in Green Bay for Sunday's tailgate and game experience. When we met our tailgating hosts at the ripe hour of 9 a.m. on Sunday, I couldn't help but bask in the fact that we were parked between the actual outdoor practice field the Packers use everyday and the indoor practice facility named after Don Hutson, the legendary Packers wide receiver.
It's safe to say I basked in more than just that. The whole aura compared to a high school Thanksgiving game on a crisp, bright day, but we were lucky enough to have an NFL spectacle to look forward to.
After a few token bratwursts, some interesting cherries, and a plate of potatoes and cheese that gave instant blood clots, we knew that we had to explore the outside of Lambeau before the game started.
Vince Lombardi still has a prominent presence at Lambeau Field.
There aren't too many stadiums that you treat like a museum, but we walked around and stumbled upon the area where the statues of "Curly" Lambeau and Coach Lombardi stood. I have never been to Mount Rushmore, but this promenade has to be football's equivalent.
We should have known that taking a picture in front of the Lombardi statue would be tough considering the blue colors that some of the crew was wearing (especially after a young Packers female fan refused to let my friend, Chris, hop in a picture with her and her friend because of his Giants jacket). We persevered, and our picture was finally taken amongst some playful jeers and we ventured inside.
How cool is this venue? They even hand you small cards with complete rosters for both teams and a green-and-gold Lambeau visor on the way in.
When we sat down, I expected the legendary John Facenda to be the P.A. announcer and NFL Films classic songs to be the filler in between plays, but I think my expectations were a bit high. Sitting down proved to be a little difficult because, despite the beautiful renovations to the exterior of the stadium, Lambeau still features the "cold, silver-steel bench" motif for seating. And the space is not exactly spread out, which we were guessing is a tool to keep everyone "packed" in and warm in the wintertime.
It did add to the jovial vibe because everything you say is heard by everyone in your section (whether they like it or not), and by the first half we were friends with everyone (including the undercover Vikings fan in front of us). We all laughed when the PA announcer once stated that the ball carrier was tackled by "everybody" up front. Everyone was wowed by some classic Brett Favre action on one play as he literally ran around in circles and threw an amazing completion down the field.
Got a football problem or just want to talk chalk? Feel free to share your thoughts and insights with Dr. Cheeks. After all, football fans need football fans to lean on.
Otherwise the game started a little slowly for both teams and it was the first scoreless first half in Lambeau since 1980. I hardly noticed, but I started to think that maybe I was a jinx for Lambeau field, too.
Little did we know, but the show was just starting.
The Giants knocked Favre to the ground in the third quarter and he missed the next two plays. You could hear a bratwurst drop in the stadium. Facing a fourth-and-5, Favre raced back on the field and waved backup Doug Pederson to the sideline. He somehow proceeded to float a 28-yard touchdown pass to Javon Walker for a 7-0 lead. Did that just happen? I will never forget it.
That turned out to be Favre's last play of the game as the doctors realized that he probably had suffered a concussion earlier. What gets lost in the shuffle is that after this heroic touchdown, we later saw on replay that Favre ran 30 yards to the end zone, tried to jump on Walker's back in celebration and fell to the ground as Walker toppled onto him.
Brett Favre was left woozy after suffering a concussion.
I'm not sure that's a good cure for a concussion. Not quite like Gus Frerotte running into a wall headfirst, but at least Favre probably wasn't thinking too straight.
The rest of the game belonged to the Giants as Pederson showed why he is a career backup. I started to feel bad for the Packers fans, who had all been so nice to me the entire weekend because the Packers now faced 1-3 for the first time in 11 years and an 0-2 start at home. They have a 6-6 record in their last 12 games at home. Someone sound the cheesehead alarm.
(I shouldn't say every Packers fan was nice to me. Some were just weird, including the guy who thought I was cutting him on the concessions line before the game. When I graciously apologized and let him go in front of me, he responded by turning and offering me a hot dog. This would have been fine except he stared me down as he gave it to me and said, "Thanks for being so cool" and walked away. Not your typical response, right? I stashed the wrapped hot dog in my jacket to have it examined later.)
The game flew by unlike any other NFL game I have been to, and I literally didn't want to leave the stadium when it was over. I will hopefully be back at some point in my life.
Monday night's matchup of the Packers and Tennessee Titans will make me a little nostalgic as I reflect on last weekend, but I will feel more a part of the action.
The game features two supposed playoff teams who have had their fair share of injuries and bad fortune. Both have All-Pro quarterbacks who are struggling, great running backs and mediocre defenses. Both are 1-3 and probably one loss away from planning for next year. Favre is nicked up, but will play (of course), and his backup, Pederson, is now out for the year. Titans QB Steve McNair is banged up again and expects to play. I have personally struggled with rooting for McNair this season. His struggles are hurting my fantasy football team and my love life at the same time. I think Tony Soprano could have offered me some advice about mixing "work" with pleasure, but I probably wouldn't be able to repeat it.
My guess is that the Packers summon the ghosts of Lambeau and Lombardi on Monday night and get back on track.
Yes, they won me over in Green Bay. I admit it. Now where do I possibly go from here? Feel free to help me figure it out.