Last summer, when some of us charter members of the Cool Guys Club decided to attend last Sunday’s showdown between the Vikings and the Packers at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, it had been announced that Brett Favre would not, after all, be wearing The Purple this fall. (The Cool Guys are a group which meets most evenings after work to partake of psychoactive beverage, and then to discuss various topics of philosophy such as situational ethics, e.g., whose turn it might be to buy the next round. We named ourselves after a particularly brilliant one of these sessions. The only entrance requirement for The Cool Guys is a belief that the superior efficacy of beer over coffee is settled science. Members must be at least 21, but there is no maximum age as our dean emeritus, Terrible Bob Cichanowski, is living proof.)
The day the news broke that Brad Childress had, at the last moment, recruited Favre as an upgrade to Tarvaris Jackson at the quarterback position, we congratulated ourselves more than usual. The game would surely be one for the ages.
At last, Sunday, Nov. 1, came and we were on the road to Green Bay, Wisconsin, on Highway 21, littered with deer carcasses as usual. Counting the dead ones, you will always see many more deer than people when you make this drive. Wyeville, Necedah, Coloma, Omro, you proceed through the bogs, flowages and pine wastes of central Wisconsin until you reach U.S. 41 and the relatively civilized northeastern strip of the state, Oshkosh, Menasha, Neenah, Appleton, and finally Green Bay. To avoid the worst of the crush, we entered the town through some back passage known to Spike Norris of the Walz Automotive Agency, whose family has owned for a generation the season tickets we were using.
Parking there is a little bit like rooming at Winona State, much of it provided by private citizens. Long before you can see the stadium, householders standing in front of their neat, modest ramblers and ranches attempt to wave you over to park in their front yards, typically about big enough to hold four cars arranged back to front from the sidewalk to the picture window of the house. The home we chose had differentiated itself from others by a value-added sign: “Restrooms available.” (These are always at a premium on Packer Sundays at Lambeau. The famously polluted Fox River originates here. Its waters are supposedly sullied by the paper mills. I think not.)
We walked down Oneida Avenue for a few blocks, and there, suddenly, loomed Lambeau Field over the neighborhood, like the alien space ship in “V.” A little airplane buzzed back and forth over it, pulling a banner which read, “Retire 4 Good.” I expected there to be a roaring cataract of hostility raining down on Favre, but as we funneled, shoulder to shoulder, into the stadium, that is not what I encountered. “He wanted to come back, but Ted Thompson wouldn’t let him...” was the general topic of most of the conversations that I overheard. The text of one sign went something like, “First Longwell, then Favre. Think you’re smart Vikings? Next year you get Ted Thompson.”
Inside the stadium was a crawling mass of humanity virtually impossible to maneuver through. I got to my seat just as the vocalist reached the last note of the national anthem, “home of the bra-a-ave,” and at that precise moment four F-16s roared over, blotting out the sky for a split second, as well as what had seemed the earsplitting din of the stadium. The thunder of boos when Brett Favre took his place under center, however, was a respectable answer.
Lambeau Field serves a populace fed on sausage and cheese washed down by beer, but you would never know it from the size of your seat, indicated by a stenciled number on the cold cement bench. Anyone with a waist larger than 34 must advance one cheek beyond the other and sit a little sideways, like the ancient Egyptians. Last time we were here a very stout woman occupied the end seat next to me and my associate at the Post, Mr. Patrick P. Marek, which made for a tight fit, despite her fastening half of her padded, clamp-on chair and back so that it jutted into the aisle. Today, miraculously, no one was in it, but just as we were congratulating ourselves, a guy slid in and directed us to scootch over. He looked at Patrick, then me, and asked him, “Who is that, your dad?”
I was missing the fat lady, but our new companion actually proved himself quite amiable. He informed us that the real reason behind Brett Favre’s departure from the Cheeseheads was that the Packer general manager was...less than a manly man (my words) and Favre had called Thompson out on it, thus provoking his ultimate exile. Our friend cited the Packers team doctor, a good friend of his, as the source.
In fact, the Cheesehead fans, despite their well-deserved reputation as soused-up beerheads, are generally very nice people, absurdly polite for being packed into their sardine can of a stadium. The most obnoxious spectators were generally wearing purple, I blush to admit, and the worst I heard from any Packer fan was when Ray Edwards went down and sprawled on the field for a minute. The guy bellowed, “Pull down your skirt, you sissy. We can see your XXX from here! He used the polite “v” word instead of the very rude “c” one, which seemed the height of civility to me. Maybe he was a doctor.
I asked our buddy at halftime if there was any point in trying to make use of the restroom, and was assured that there would be no problem. Sure enough, though the place was jammed five and six deep, people would actually pause and nod you ahead of them. Everyone washed his hands, I noticed. When I got back to my seat, the elderly gentleman to my left, who had obviously acquired his season ticket many years ago and was on a budget, produced a zip lock bag full of peanuts, and offered me some, trusting blindly, I suppose, in my bathroom habits. After Favre and Bernard Berrian hooked up for the winning touchdown and we got up to head for Curly’s Pub in the stadium annex, he offered a handshake of congratulations.
In fact, the only manifestation of sour grapes I encountered was in Appleton, where we spent the night. When the game highlights came on, the TVs in the bars were uniformly put on mute.