Friday, October 9, 2009

Wandering in Wisconsin

I found myself heading to Milwaukee, Wisconsin one early Sunday morning in the middle of a three-week business trip around the country. Having once lived in Chicago the extent of my travels in Cheeseland included Kenosha for dinner at a German restaurant and one weekend at Lake Geneva, a popular lake retreat for suburban Chicagoans and locals alike. Much of Wisconsin remained undiscovered country.

I'm of the mindset that no matter what team is your personal favorite, a trip to Lambeau Field is about as compelling a pilgrimage for a true fan of football as traveling to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. As a fan of the Dallas Cowboys the idea of going to Green Bay, site of the infamous Ice Bowl, was one born entirely of respect for the game and the history. I am in no way a "Cheesehead," counting the Packers as one of the Cowboys' three great sibling rivalries.

In 1960 the Dallas committee owned the rights to "Hail to the Redskins" and forced George Marshall to vote the Texas expansion franchise in to the league before they would sell the song back to him. The Cowboys were born and followed Green Bay's lead to the New York Giants to find a new head coach. Vince Lombardi went north to Green Bay in 1959, Tom Landry down to Dallas the next year know the rest.

Off to the northlands I went along I-43 for the two hour drive from Milwaukee and, upon arriving in this hallowed hamlet, the smallest NFL market in the country, I promptly got lost! I figured it was small enough and the stadium large enough to see that dead reckoning alone would do the trick. I'd passed a few signs that said "Arena Stadium" and dismissed those as belonging to some local community college or high school field. Those were the signs I should have been paying attention to all along. After driving along the waterfront I stopped in to a gas station and was told I was only a few blocks off the mark.

I discovered the needed intersection at, naturally, Lombardi Avenue and noticed a large green edifice off my right hand shoulder. Not quite as big as I thought it would be as I drove up to the longest serving professional football stadium in the land. Still, a pleasant chill ran through me as I gazed at the unassuming, quiet and yet somehow still energized building. I was and then again wasn't surprised to see tailgaters in the parking lot despite the fact there was no game that afternoon.

Tours were available for $11 every 30 minutes starting in the Hall of Fame on the lower level but I deferred; Cowboys fan, remember. Most of those names would have meant precious little to me and I preferred not to pay for a tour reminding one and all of Bart Starr's exploits over my 'Boys that cold winter day in '67. Still, the extensive pro shop was truly a model for other franchises, offering enough clothing and gear to cover every occasion, including custom jerseys stitched on the spot for truly discerning fans. Outside the stadium I saw the practice field across the parking lot between which players ride the bicycles of the youngest fans, a singular ritual among many created on these grounds.

Green Bay in the off-season of late Summer is a pleasant small town and the people friendly and accommodating, richly steeped in Upper Midwest accents, Packers green and hospitality. On game day I don't know that they'd be as welcoming to a Cowboys fan but for that one day in August, the football swords were sheathed for the plowshares of comrades. I'm glad I went.

Gotta go!

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