Sailing the Seas of Cheese: It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!
Attention Campers, lunch has been cancelled today due to lack of hustle. Deal with it. —Tony Perkis, Heavyweights
Okay, I’ll be the first to admit I have never seen Heavyweights. Maybe it’s because I was already a grow’d up when it came out in 1995 (unlike an unnamed quarterback who was twelve and very much its target age demographic at the time who loves to quote it over and over again.) But the quote is rather appropriate because it is camp season. Yes, the most wonderful time of the year (cue the holiday music!) Training camp–time when a
half-way to eighty young girl’s fancy turns once again to football.
Considering we have survived the valley of the shadow of no football darkness, it is more than refreshing to know the Packers report to camp this Friday at St. Norbert College in my hometown De Pere and will be gunning for a road trip to Indy in February. There’s always something wonderful about open practices that you can watch from the sidewalk on Oneida Street. And there’s the ridiculously sublime images of 200 pound athletes riding little Barbie bikes complete with a set of training wheels (Way to take one for the team, Ginger Wolverine!) Sure, the Summer Scrimmage is no longer free like it was when I was in high school and has been rebranded as “Family Night.” Standing room only has been replaced by now seats to watch practice along Oneida, but aside from that, not much has changed since I was a kid.
Training Camp brings back a lot of memories for me. Though I have never suited up nor set foot on the turf at Lambeau Field, I am a four-year veteran of Training Camp, or as we have been called over the years, one of the many bona fide Packer Slackers. As everyone knows, the Packers don’t travel to some far off destination for camp. They practice and run drills in the same location they practice during the regular season. But for the handful of weeks they are at camp, they eat, sleep and go to class at St. Norbert College. They have all three meals there whether they want to or not. They complain about the food because, well, it’s cafeteria style stuff (though worlds better than the swill I had to put up with at my undergrad in Indiana which was, wow, truly horrible.) And to staff three meals and a late-night snack there is always a gaggle of high school and college kids composed of a combination of SNC faculty brats (present company included) and other assorted SNC students and local kids. Like any college food service jobs, it paid pennies but I was able to make enough to pay for my room and board each year in college.
My first year in camp was the summer of 1988, and my stint oddly enough covered the entire Lindy Infante tenure. Can’t say it was a bright period in the Packer’s history as the team always on the bubble–never quite good to make a run in the playoffs, but never the worst team in the league. (Though the Pack came close the year before. Remember that spring we picked second and
chose poorly and took Tony Mandarich so we were a little below happily mediocre at the time.) Anyhow, the Packers were not football juggernauts by any stretch of the imagination. But they were still the Packers and we always treated them with respect, addressing them as Mr. So-and-So (except Chuck Cecil who would threaten death because Mr. Cecil was his dad, and don’t ever f’ing call him Mr. Cecil. Hokay, Chuck, as long as I don’t get fired, I’ll call you whatever you want.)
Lindy Infante, while not the greatest coach to ever grace Lambeau Field, was truly a nice guy. Same goes for Randy Wright. My first year in camp was the same as Sterling Sharpe’s. The guy to this day continues to crack me up. Tim Harris, no surprise, was the bad boy of camp and relished this badass persona, though he never truly was a badass compared to whizbangs like Plaxico Burress and his poor handgun skills or PacMan Jones and his even worse skills at life in general. Needless to say, Harris’ bark was tons worse than his bite.
The mullet ruled the world at that time, and the Business in the Front, Party in the Back award would have to go to placekicker Chris Jacke who rocked the permed-in-back look.
It was back when the Offensive Line was truly offensive (and not just from a skills standpoint, they truly were offensive yet laughably hilarious.) Still remember laughing at the stupidity as Keith Uecker thought he was was going to die after drinking an entire bottle of Tobasco Sauce (one of the small ones for the record) on a bet. And then there was Tony Mandarich who, at the time, had declared that Green Bay was a village. I took some pride pointing out the irony to him that he chose to live in Pulaski which truly was a village. No room to criticize when you willing set up house in BFE, Wisconsin.
Some of the coolest players were ones that never made the cut. I have forgotten a lot of their names. The one’s I do remember were named Roger, Kirk, Scott and Erik. Some were not much older than the kids staffing camp, and sometimes–maybe it’s because of that reason–they would even come and say goodbye to us as they were packing up their belongings. It was heart wrenching to see the agony on their faces as they realized their dreams were coming to an end. Some would get a hug from our boss Kathy who was their den mom as much as she was ours. It was never fun watching the team start shrinking from the bloated roster that marked the beginning of camp.
But the best memories had nothing to do with the actual players but came from the Slacker antics which made a minimum wage job fun. I don’t care if you’re 300 pounds and can bench a VW Beetle, if you’re mean to us, we will reserve the right to blend a hard-boiled egg into your strawberry malt (never did it, but the threat was there!) The elevator in Boyle Hall will break down when you’re hauling a bunch of juice up to a classroom. It’s an old building. It wasn’t air-conditioned at the time, and the facilities kids would come rescue you only when they’re good and ready. So as payback, the Packer Slackers were pretty good at whomping the Ops/Facilities kids (aka Op Slacks) in pick-up games of football that usually degraded from a two-hand touch game into body-slamming tackle football on the empty field that has since become the new SNC stadium.
It’s one of the few times in my life I’m glad I rarely had to pull juice duty The former chef had a hair up his rear that the Packers needed Freshly!Squeezed OJ for breakfast, because god forbid it ever came from a carton. So the only time this stupid contraption would get hauled out of storage would be during Training Camp. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a picture on the interwebs of the actual juicer. But it was something from the dark ages that resembled a ferris wheel. It was tall like the one in the picture, tippy as hell. And it sure as heck wasn’t as efficient as the one in the picture. Unlike the one in the photo that had a hopper on top, you had to load it one orange at a time while it spun them around in a circle, barfing spent orange bits into one bin and literally dripped OJ out a nozzle on the other end. It was a mess and took a bamillion oranges to make a pitcher. It was slow. It got clogged up. And it kind of smelled bad, because the only way to clean it was to kind of take it apart and hose it down in the mop closet in the back hallway. By the end of a shift–after making gallons and gallons of juice and power-washing it, you’d be soaked to the bone and usually covered in dead orange entrails. Not exactly fun if your uniform includes white pants. Getting sent to purgatory was a more thrilling prospect that pulling Juice Patrol. We all hated that thing and plotted its demise on a daily basis.
And to top it off? The players could care less that the juice was freshly squeezed. They were just as happy to get reconstituted OJ from the juice dispenser that served lemonade, fruit punch (that some put on their Cap’n Crunch) and grape juice served at any other point during the day.
Fortunately the current generation of Packer Slackers don’t have to deal with that horrible contraption. Rumor has it (NO! I wasn’t the guilty culprit. For that matter, no I’m not the one who has put bubbles in the East De Pere fountain either. You’d know if I was ever the fountain bomber, because it would be instant mashed potato flakes instead of bubbles!) that the juicer from hell met its maker in the early 90′s. (Why yes, I have an alibi. I was doing immunology research in Madison at the time and have witness and a time card to prove it. But I may know who did it.) Anyhow, the juicer was beat to hell by ninjas. Or did it vanish? Maybe it’s sitting at the bottom of Lake Michigan. Nobody knows! And if they did know, nobody’s going to squeal! If Dead Men Tell No Tales, then Dead Juicers Say Even Less.
I worked there for four summers. By the summer of my senior year in college, my Slacker experience had been replaced by a lab job down in Madison. I still have one of the green and white polo shirts that is embroidered with the words Green Bay Packer Training Camp Staff and still have my hat that is autographed by a lot of the 1991 Packers. I refuse to give them up. Lots of great memories are tied up in those things. The last Packer to retire from my time in camp was LeRoy Butler, and part of me was sad to see the last of that era hang it up. Glad to know he hasn’t stopped smiling in the 20+ years in between.
As camp is about to open so will another chapter in the lives of the Packer Slackers. And to the rookies (slackers and players alike) I’d like to point out a few things that will make your lives much easier:
1. Victor McCormick Hall is not haunted. It’s a butthead quarterback running around wearing a mask because he has way too much time on his hands. If you want haunted, get one of the Op Slacks to let you into Burke Hall on the river. Now that is one old and scary dorm. Well, not so scary now that they refurbished it. But it’s still old.
2. There are no poisonous snakes indigenous to Northeast Wisconsin. Anything jumping out of your locker is most likely made of plastic. (See #1 and his band of merry men for prime suspect list.) Someone is waiting with a Flip camera to record you peeing your pants and/or shrieking like a little girl. It’s such a time-honored tradition in Green Bay, they shared it with the Seabirds in Seattle.
3. It’s pronounced ash-WAH-ben-non if you’re wondering. And yes, it’s a real town. Oh, and it’s AL-lu-way not AL-oo-ezz while we’re at it.
4. If any veteran is trying to convince you that Copps, Festival or any grocery store in the greater Green Bay area is going to give you a free turkey the week of Thanksgiving and you fall for it, you are a bigger idiot than advertised (see #2 and the use of a Flip camera.)
It’s a jungle out there, campers. I suggest you abide by the advice given to you in kindergarten and hold hands and stick together!