Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Chicago Bears 27 at Green Bay Packers 20 - November 4th, 2013

The one city that I was really looking forward to visiting on this season-long NFL road trip was Green Bay, simply because I had never been there before. Every other NFL city has at least one other sports team that I have seen, so they would all be repeat visits. More importantly, Lambeau Field is considered the best NFL venue for its unique combination of history and the small-town community that supports the team, something that simply doesn't exist anywhere else in the big money world of professional sports.

As I drove in over the Fox River, completing my 1,587 mile journey from Miami, I could see Lambeau rising majestically just a mile away. Green Bay is mostly flat and the stadium really stands out, as you can kind of tell in the panorama shot above.

I arrived early and parked on a neighborhood street across Lombardi Avenue. Surprisingly parking is allowed here at any time, but be forewarned that it can be difficult to get out after the game if you are not familiar with the streets in the area. From there, I made my way to the atrium, in front of which are statues of Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi (above).

The Atrium was already open, several hours before the 7:40 pm kickoff for Monday Night Football. Due to the security screening, there was even a small lineup to get in six hours before game time, a testament to the dedication of Packer fans. The atrium is a relatively new addition (from 2003) that allows fans to stay warm and engage in a number of activities before the game as well as learn about Packer history, such as the five retired numbers.

Make sure to visit the incredible Pro Shop, the largest of its kind in the Big 4 sports and the place to pick up an article of green and gold clothing in order to fit in. The Packers lack a lot of the revenue streams that other teams enjoy, so they rely on the largesse of their fans in areas such as clothing and other memorabilia, and no other NFL team sells as much.

Above the Pro Shop is Curly's Pub which takes up much of the second floor and has games for kids as well as a large bar-only area. The shot above is the view from the restaurant side of the brewpub, you can see the two statues towering over arriving fans. The Packers' Hall of Fame is downstairs, but this is better saved for a non-game day, when you can combine a tour of the stadium for $19. I did that on Tuesday and will talk about it later in the post.

Some food concessions open here in the atrium before the gates to the field, and you might want to try eating here as there are some tables at which you can relax. All of the food here is also available inside, and it will stay warmer in the atrium, which is completely protected from the elements. I ended up eating at Curly's, which has a limited game day menu, but the Pac'n'Cheese with Bratwurst for $10 is pretty good and includes three of the four Wisconsin food groups. Have a beer to complete the quartet.

Before the game, I tried the Tundra Tailgate Zone on Oneida Street, which is another indoor party zone with live music and $6.25 cans of beer, which was quite busy as well.

With game time approaching, I returned to the atrium and waited for the gates to open. With both the security process and tickets scanned in advance, there is no waiting at all when gates are opened, and I was soon in the seating bowl. All lower deck seats are benches, usually with 24 per row in each section. If seats were installed, only 18 would fit, so it is a tight squeeze, but there is no way the Packers are going to change. Don't expect your seatmates to not show up either, the Packers sell out every game and fans show up and stay for the duration; the picture below was taken with just a couple of minutes left in the game.

As usual, I took pictures from different angles, all on the lower level as I was told the upper level in the south end zone is not accessible without a ticket.

Concourses are very wide and allow for easy movement during and after the game.

I should note that some fans rent portable seats with backs for just $6. You don't have to return them after the game and as you can see below in the shot taken on Tuesday morning, the rentals are a popular item. Note the championship years on either side of the scoreboard above.

As this was a Monday Night Game on ESPN, Ray Lewis was in the house. That's him below enjoying a joke with Chicago QB Josh McCown.

I was really looking forward to seeing Aaron Rodgers, but sadly the picture below was all I was able to take as he was suffered a fractured collarbone when he was sacked on the last play on the first drive.

Seneca Wallace took his place, and the Packers used a blocked punt, an onside kick, and some strong running from rookie Eddie Lacy (below) to keep the game close.

With 5:33 to go in the 3rd quarter and Green Bay up 20-17, underused Devin Hester returned a punt 23 yards to the Green Bay 46 (below).

This was close enough for McCown (above, now in uniform), who completed a couple of 12-yard passes to get close and then connected with Alshon Jeffery on a 6-yard touchdown pass (below) that gave the Bears the lead.

When Green Bay punted with 9:56 to go, they probably assumed they would get the ball back, but Chicago had other ideas. Led by Matt Forte (running from the left below) with 5 rushes and a reception, the Bears put together a 17-play drive that took 8:58 and resulted in a field goal. The key play was a fourth-down gamble on their own 32, something that almost never happens in the conservative NFL (three times since 2000 in similar game circumstances). The gamble succeeded, and essentially clinched the game for the Bears, who had no trouble moving the ball against a tired Green Bay defense.

Green Bay was forced to use all of their timeouts during the drive (and also accepted a holding penalty, giving Chicago more time to run the clock), and Wallace couldn't do anything with less than a minute on the clock. Two sacks ended the game, and the Bears escaped with a 27-20 win. This game features prominently in Bill Barnwell's Thank You for Not Coaching column.

The outcome would doubtless have been different had Rogers not been hurt, but such is football. I won't see Green Bay again on this trip, unless they make the playoffs and play near New York, otherwise I will try to see them in Buffalo in 2014.

Lambeau Tour and Packers Hall of Fame

On Tuesday morning I headed back to Lambeau to take the tour and see the Hall of Fame. The tour culminates in a visit to the field, where you enter via the same tunnel the Packers use with the same music playing. It is a pretty cool experience. Below is a shot from field level.

The Hall of Fame presents details on every championship season and other special games, which is great if you are a Packers' fan. Otherwise you just get jealous.

The highlight is the four Super Bowl Trophies, including the first two. They include the logo of the AFL; remember that the leagues did not merge until 1970. The one below is from the 1967 Super Bowl, won by the Packers 35-10 over Kansas City. They weren't Lombardi trophies at that time either, the league changed the name after Lombardi passed away in 1970.

The combo is definitely worth the $19 if you are an NFL fan, you can see the most successful franchise in league history and step on the same field they have used for over 50 years.

All-in-all, Green Bay was exactly what I expected, a bit of a trek back in time, when sports were still more about the fans than the corporations. There are several minor league and college teams here, so I'll plan a return visit at some point for a full weekend of sports.



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