London to Lambeau – Living the Dream
Sport. I used to frequently wonder why I am so obsessed with it, and in particular, sport that is contested thousands of miles away from my humble abode in London. Why do I get more emotional during the run up to Packer playoff games than on the week of my exams? Why do I attach myself to people and places I have never been to or have no connection with? Why do I stay up till “stupid o’clock” most weekends watching it? I didn’t have an answer to all those questions, until September 2012.
December 1st 2004, was the day that I became a sports fan and was a day that changed my life. I didn’t know it at the time, but when my dad bought me a copy of NHL 2005 for the Nintendo GameCube, I would slowly but surely turn from someone who wasn’t interested in sport, to a totally obsessed Football, Hockey, Basketball, Baseball and College sports fan. It’s hard to believe that only nine years ago I had no idea that American sports existed, and now my life revolves around it. I may not be close to the super-fans that most of you in the States are, but for someone who lives so far away from the sport, I consider myself die-hard.
The first ever football game I watched, was the Steelers and the Seahawks in Superbowl X(tra) L(arge). Looking back, I have no idea why, but for some reason, I liked it. I watched it on my own, I knew none of the rules, I was 11 years old, I didn’t even know what the Superbowl was and the game was truly awful. I still don’t know what it was about that game that kept me interested, I don’t even remember much about watching it, but that may have been because the game was terrible more than anything else.
My luck at selecting games to watch didn’t get any better after the 2006 Superbowl either. The first regular season game I watched was the Bears @ Packers during the 2006 season, when the Bears beat us 26-0. All I remember about that game is two words, Brett, Favre. He threw two interceptions with only 170 yards in that game, but my god I loved that hillbilly! From then on, I became a Cheesehead, and I am so proud to be one. After seeing that game and becoming attached to the team I have come to the conclusion that I didn’t select the Packers, I think the Packers selected me. (I consider myself the luckiest man alive that they did.) I am also thankful each night before I sleep that I didn’t select the Bears as my team, because they suck.
Up until two years ago, I was of the belief that I would never make it to Green Bay, but when my Dad (now also a Packers fan, who after taking me to see an NFL game at Wembley in 2009, became seriously ill with NFL-itus) told me that if I saved up for a trip, he would too. So like any determined Cheesehead would, I put away almost every penny I earned for over a year in order to pay for a dream weekend at Lambeau.
Our first stop on the trip, would be Minneapolis (good city, bad NFL team) to see the Twins play a Friday night game against the Tigers, I don’t support the Twins, but since becoming an MLB fan, had always wanted to experience a baseball game live. It didn’t disappoint, we saw Ryan Doumitt hit our first live home run in what turned out to be a 3-2 win for the Twins. My Dad has since become a massive Twins fan after that experience too, he will tell you he isn’t, but I know deep down he is. (I only bought a souvenir cap godammit – Ed)
The next day though, was one of the best days of my life. The proverbial tear rolled down my cheek as we caught our first glimpse of Lambeau Field. It was hard to take it all in; the street names, the flags outside people’s houses and the great community feel that Green Bay has. It really showed me how the sports culture in the USA is different to Britain and how special it is. Both of us live very close to an English Premier League club (Tottenham Hotspur), but there are no clues in our area that we do, unlike Green Bay where the Packers have a presence everywhere. That’s why the United States is in my opinion, the Mecca of sports. It was clear that day that the Packers are not just a team, they are a community. The Packfam hashtag that flies around twitter during games is not just a silly charade, it’s an actual relationship between fans that I didn’t think could exist, until I walked through the Lambeau Field atrium for the first time that is.
During Saturday, we spent hours taking pictures of everything in the Packers Hall of fame and getting told off for doing the Lambeau leap on the mock up wall. The history of the team and the place really hit home. It would however be the kindness and generosity of the people of Wisconsin which would once again stun me the most. After eating at Curly’s pub, we hooked up with someone my Dad had been speaking to on Twitter, who presented me with a Packers football covered by signatures of Packer players, as well as Dom Capers and Bob Harlan. Only a Packer fan would go to all the effort of collecting signatures for someone they had never met. I can’t thank him enough as I just didn’t think a place could be so welcoming, but once again I was wrong. That ball sits on our mantle piece and constantly reminds me of not only our trip to Lambeau, but of the Packers and how much they have impacted my life.
Game day arrived all too quickly, but that’s what happens when you are having so much fun. Tailgating was just awesome, the food, the music (in particular dancing and singing to the Bears still suck song) and the people were just amazing. I have been to lots of sporting events in my young life, but none compare to it. When we weren’t dragging our jaws across the floor, taking pictures of every square inch of land and chatting about the Pack, we were grinning from ear to ear. Just thinking about it gives me butterflies in my stomach!
The next key milestone for me and my dad, as with all Packers fans, was walking out to the stands for the start of the game. The atmosphere, oh my god, the atmosphere, I have no adjectives worthy of it! The game happened to be special too. Seeing Rodgers vs Brees, (both with over 300 yards each and four touchdowns) Matthews get a sack, Driver catch a ball and Nelson and Jennings catching touchdowns! It was almost too perfect. The score line was 28-27 to the green and gold, and to those who remember it, (I do quite well) was an intense game all the way till the end! We didn’t want to leave when the game was over, but when we were finally dragged out by security, we went straight to the parking lot to continue partying! I can’t think of a time in my life that rivals that day in terms of pure happiness, it was just that special.
The last part of the weekend would be our tour of the stadium. Getting a look behind the scenes was unbelievably interesting, with the highlight being shouting “Go Pack Go” at field level and listening to it echo, which if you have never done, is hard to stress just how effective it is.
My trip to America, which will likely always be a contender for “best weekend of my life” was one I will never forget. The people, the games, the food, the Packers Pro Shop, were all just unbelievable. For someone who lives so far away, making the trip was maybe just that little extra special. The Packers will forever hold a place in our heart, they really are the best team, with the best fans, at the best location on the planet.
So what exactly was “the dream”? It wasn’t hearing “Bang the Drum” after a Packer touchdown, nor was it seeing Lambeau Field, it wasn’t even seeing the Packers play. The “dream” was to truly feel a part of the Packers community, if just for two days, at the promised land: Green Bay Wisconsin. I know what you are thinking, and the answer is yes; we are already saving our pennies for later this year, because It would be considered rude to us, not to go back and do it all again.