Green Bay is a special place

sports@macon.comDecember 10, 2013 

Falcons Packers Football

Brett Blada eats a brat before an NFL football game between the Green Bay Packers and the Atlanta Falcons Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Tom Lynn)

TOM LYNN — AP

If you are a football fan, there’s a good chance you’ve taken a road trip at some point in your life. You’ve certainly been to your team’s home stadium plenty of times, but it’s not bad to see what life is like for the other side once in a while.

This past weekend I went to Green Bay to watch the Atlanta Falcons play the Packers. It’s one of those things you need to do, so put it on your bucket list.

I’ve seen plenty of football, but I’ve never seen anything like Green Bay. Imagine replacing Henderson Stadium in Macon with Lambeau Field and having an NFL team play there 10 times per year.

Green Bay is in Brown County, and the population is a little more than 250,000. The combined population of Bibb County and Houston County is more than 300,000. So basically, our immediate area is even larger than the county that has an NFL team.

Of course, it’s Wisconsin’s team. You find that out driving from Milwaukee to Green Bay on game day.

The best part about the trip -- it was cold, really cold. Why go to Green Bay and have it be 50 degrees? The temperature at kickoff was below 10 degrees, and it snowed all day long. If I was going to visit the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, I wanted it to be frozen.

Now I was not around when Vince Lombardi was winning championships. I was only a few months old when he died in 1970. When I first started watching football, Lombardi’s quarterback, Bart Starr, was actually the Packers’ head coach. And Green Bay was not very good in the late-1970s.

But if you know football, you know the names, the legendary names. Lombardi, Starr, Paul Hornung, Ray Nitschke, Willie Davis, Max McGee and Jerry Kramer. There were others later on, like Brett Favre and Reggie White, but those older names almost define the existence of the NFL.

The first thing that’s easy to notice about Green Bay is the similarity to a college town in the South. Sure, Falcons fans and other NFL fans tailgate and do it well, but the Packers’ fans just looked like the type we see in Athens and Tuscaloosa on Saturdays in the fall.

It was freezing outside, and everyone was tailgating. It might have just been another cold day to them, but if it had been 10 degrees in Atlanta, the Georgia Dome might not have been half full. The Packers’ fans were bundled up, and they know how to do it well, but they were cooking and, of course, drinking.

And believe me, they weren’t brewing hot chocolate. They had something cold and bubbly in their hands. Plus, everyone, and I do mean everyone, had a brat. That’s just what they do.

The area around Lambeau Field is interesting. There are homes that looked like they were built in the late-1960s or early 1970s all around the area. The stadium is slap dab in the middle of a neighborhood, with a K-Mart and all just down the street.

People in the homes rent space in their yard for people to park, and from talking with a few, it’s usually people they know by now who have done it for years. And they’re invited in to tailgate. There are even businesses that rent space, but interestingly, some of that money raised goes to charities in the city.

You see Lombardi Drive, the main street by the stadium. Then there’s Ray Nitschke Field, the practice facility. Brett Favre’s Steakhouse is just down the road. There are monuments that line Lombardi Drive of the legendary players.

And then the game was awesome. Forgive me for not really caring about the Falcons on this day. They are long out of the playoff picture, which made it easier to enjoy the day and not be overly concerned about the game. There were a few pockets of empty seats, but it was probably because those fans had snuck indoors somewhere for a while. The stadium was packed, and when they had to, the fans got loud. They weren’t paralyzed by the cold and snow. It instead seemed to energize them.

Yes, I stepped on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. It was rather surreal, and only a football fan can understand that. Others might think I need a psychological exam. I felt like I was at the exact spot where football was born, even though it wasn’t. But that field has had so much history, with so many legends who have played there, that it’s something difficult to explain.

I came back with a sore throat, and I think I can grin and bear it and not really care. It was worth it. I saw a football game at Lambeau Field. It’s one of those things that as a football fan, you really need to do.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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