As a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan, I have impressions of certain American cities based solely on their football team. The fact that both Philadelphia and Washington D.C. were integral locations for the birth of our democracy barely makes a dent in my consciousness. Instead when I think of these cities a slow indignation fills my stomach as I remember lost games, obnoxious fans, and stupid bird dances.
Other cities evoke less of a visceral reaction. Green Bay, for example. Who doesn't love a fan base that is willing to sit outside to cheer on their team in sub-zero temperatures with fake cheese strapped to their head? There might have been a time when I would have cheered on the Packers. Of course, that was before the infamous 2014 NFC Championship Packers versus Cowboys game when the officials ruled the game-winning catch wasn't a catch, costing the Cowboys a win that surely would have led to a Super Bowl victory.
Despite what will likely become a lifetime grudge against the Packers because of one call, I kept an open mind when visiting the hardy, cheese-loving, beer-drinking industrial city for the first time.
Green Bay is a football fan’s town. The strong bond between Green Bay’s 100,000 residents and their beloved football team is well-known, so it should be no surprise that the whole town revolves around the team. Green and gold cheese wedges fill grocery store freezers, green dinosaurs with blocks of cheese on their head stand outside gas stations, and plaques with Packer history decorate buildings.
The Packer’s Heritage Trail is a self-guided walking, biking or driving tour through the Packer’s most memorable locations, from their humble beginnings in 1919 as sandlot team through the Vince Lombardi years when the league’s smallest city won a record 11 championships.
The newly restored Hotel Northland is one of the 25 stops along the trail. The hotel’s long history with the Packers started in 1927 when it was the spot for the NFL’s first meetings. In 1959 the newly hired Coach Lombardi held a press conference where he famously said, “I have never been associated with a loser, and I don’t expect to now.”
The hotel's lobby has been restored with original elegant woodwork, intricately tiled floors and crystal chandeliers. The clock behind the historic reception desk is 15 minutes fast to pay homage to one of Lombardi’s favorite quotes: “If you are on time, you are 10 minutes late.”
While Lambeau Field is not officially on the heritage trail, it's a must-see for anyone with even an inkling of interest in football. The stadium hosts tours every 15 minutes. During our hour-long tour of the stadium’s suites, back rooms and field, our guide Joel regaled us with fun tidbits about the Packers. The fact that grass on the field is mowed every 24 hours. The fact that Packers home games have been sold out every season since 1960, longer than any other NFL team. A ticket equals an 18-inch spot on a backless aluminum bench. Lambeau is the only NFL field that still has aluminum seats.
The coolest fact about the NFL’s third-oldest team? It's the only team in American professional sports that doesn't have an owner. Instead, the 360,000 fans who have purchased shares own the team.
Although I was not there to witness it, based on what every single person told me about game days in Green Bay, these people might be the best tailgaters in the world. On home game days this quiet town turns into a green and gold madhouse. All order is thrown out the window. Streets around the stadium close down to make room for tailgaters. Public busses abandon normal routes and head to the game picking up people along the way. Imbibers are allowed to carry open containers of alcohol on the streets near the stadium, but only until kickoff.
Sports bars surrounding the stadium run out of room inside, so they pitch tents outside to accommodate the 80,000 fans headed to the stadium. Between 10,000 and 15,000 partygoers flow through the Stadium View Sports Bar and Grill alone.
Some say Miller is the only beer that should be consumed before, during and after a Packers game, but craft beer lovers never fear. There are two local breweries within a block of the stadium. Badger State Brewing Company is a microbrewery on the east side of the stadium that serves pints of local brew like Chili Gordo Smoked Jalapeño Porter and Mean Green IPA. Hinterland Brewery is on the west side of the stadium in the new Titletown development. The giant beer hall sits in the middle of a large public park with outdoor games, fitness activities, a winter skating rink and tubing hill.
Spending three days in Wisconsin’s oldest city was an eye-opening experience. Does the fact the Packers's have 360,000 of shareholders instead of a money-grubbing owner warm the hippie parts of my heart? Of course it does. Do I wish more football teams had such a positive influence on their communities? Of course I do. Did I lean down on the field at Lambeau to whisper into the newly mowed grass that the Cowboys were going to win next time they visited the frozen tundra? You betcha.