Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Wisconsin part 2... Lambeau Field

One of the highlights of our return to Wisconsin was to be able to attend a Green Bay Packers game at Lambeau Field. The day was flawless, perfect blue skies and a beautiful fall day. By the time the game finished in the early evening the sun had gone down and the night autumn air had become decidedly chilly. But the warmth of sharing this day and experience with Charlie, family, and so many friends made our smiles broad and our hearts warmed through...and a Packer victory at Lambeau of course helped a bit too!

Charlie and I before the game at my sisters house. 
To grow up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, is to be a Green Bay Packer fan. Much like my current home of New Zealand, lives and dies by the actions of our rugby All Blacks, Green Bay is dominated by the presence of the Packers and the ultimate symbol of that is the looming forbearance of Lambeau Field. For a city the size of Green Bay, the population of which even now struggles to reach much over 100,000, to even have a professional team, much less a gem of a stadium like Lambeau, is an amazing story in itself. And if you have grown up there, suffered and celebrated the lows and highs, but have always loved and supported our team regardless, it is a story we actually feel a part of in our hearts. The team and stadium are without an actual owner and instead are an incorporated part of the city itself. It is a unique and special relationship between city and team.

Charlie had watched many a Packer game with me in New Zealand. I took him out of school when he was 7 in 2010. The Packers were playing in the Super Bowl. Far more important than a day of school in New Zealand. It was his heritage and history. He has seen me rant and rave at the television as I despair at times and delightedly roar at others. He has become familiar with his own favourite players, and tracking the results on his own. But for every story I can tell, and I can tell a few, for every game we can watch from over here, nothing speaks more than a trip to Lambeau itself on a game day. A world class sporting experience. The pageantry, the place, the people, the sights and sounds of 75,000 people in such a place. To be able to share that with my son from halfway around the world is a whole series of dots I needed to connect for him. For me.

Our tickets. 40 yard line behind the Packer bench. I sat in these seats on a snowy Christmas Eve with Charlie's momma in 1995. One those dots I wrote about above.

My sister, Trish, Charlie, Robb, and brother in law Steve in the Lambeau parking lot. What a day to tailgate!
The one part of this which I cannot explain to my son is how deep this connection reaches into the lives of those of us whom have grown up in Green Bay. Even those few whom are not football fans are certainly aware of the Packers and Lambeau, especially during football season, but also in our daily lives when our travels bring us down to the south west part of town and Lambeau comes into view. It is always there casting a giant but quiet shadow over the events of our lives....such as this event I commented on before the Super Bowl in 2010. An event that rocked my world and still does....

 1975 Bishops Charity Game Packers vs. Giants:
 It was summer 1975, I was 15 about to be a junior in high school and though school had not yet started two a day football practices had. My friend Kevin, who was born and lived across Tommark street from me his whole life, was out for football but was injured and had stopped attending practice. kevin and I had been best friends from day 1, but in the past year or more we had grown apart. Well more like he was just in a different orbit than me, a faster crowd, a better athlete, better looking, he had just moved beyond me in the stratified teenage world. SoI was surprised and delighted when he rang me that hot summer evening and said he had gotten to tickets to the Packer game that night and would I go with him. We walked from Tommark street to Lambeau Field , 15-20 minutes, one of the beauties of a small town having an NFL team. I recall now being almost overwhelmed at how happy Kevin seemed to be in my company, laughing and talking about old times, things we had gotten up to in the neighborhood with our mates, and how much fun we were having at Lambeau Field watching a meaningless exhibition game sitting high up in the stands. It is a beautiful place to watch a football game, and that night it was spectacular, warm, a gentle breeze, and in the company of my best friend. After the game we walked back to our street, and as I had practice at 7:00am bid Kevin goodnight. But he insisted I come into his house and we sat around his kitchen table, as we had so often done, and continued talking. I finally insisted I had to go, and it was almost reluctantly Kevin walked me to the screen door leading to the garage and street. As I walked out the door he suddenly grabbed his very cool brown denim jacket and handed it to me, telling me he didn't need it anymore and wanted me to have it. I remember walking across the street to my house, the street lights casting those golden shadows and thinking what a great night.
A couple days later the phone rang around 5:00 am. As my bedroom was downstairs and had an extension I picked up the phone at the same time as my mom did upstairs. All I heard was Kevin's mom screaming to my mom that Kevin had shot himself and was dead. I hung up the phone and went to sleep, as if refusing to believe what I had just heard. I went to football practice as if nothing had happened, and it was not until Coach Miller gathered us around as a team an announced what had happened ad he broke down, that the truth of it, the enormity of it hit me like a sledgehammer blow and I lost it. It is still hard for me to write this. I still miss my friend. The last time I shared with him was at a Packer game. My life unfolds and the Packers weave in an out as a constant presence, marking good times and bad. That is how it is when you grow up in such a place. It doesn't matter if you like football or not. The Packers mark time and events in our lives and that is one of the reasons I hold them so dear. I will think of my friend as I watch this game, and I will remember him.

the next generation

Or this memory...................
I was 27 when my dad died. Like all fathers and sons we had our ups and downs, he had his demons, I have mine. Sport was the one thing that always connected us, the Packers were always a big part of that.
He died a few months before Christmas on a holi
day with my mother in South Carolina. I had to fly from Minnesota where I was then living to SC to pick up my mom, make some arrangements, and drive mom back to Wisconsin, a near 20 plus hours drive, then go through the funeral. Before I knew it, I was back in Minnesota at work, and wandering around in a sort of a daze wondering what all that had been about. Christmas came, and it was a not a happy time as I recall, I was still not really together, it was our first Christmas without our dad, my mom's without her husband. For those whom have lost parents or loved ones you understand the difficulty of those first holidays - a representation of life ahead, of change, of moving on, of acceptance.
Christmas day came, and early in the morning there was knock upon the front door. I answered it sleepily, and probably a bit hungover, and there stood my old wood working teacher from West high where I attended school and my dad taught. I could see he was a bit nervous and uneasy. In his hands he held a great big package. He said, "Robb, I don't know how to tell you this, but this is a Christmas present for you from your father. He gave it to me shortly before he died to be made into this". He handed it to me with his eyes tearing as I stood there stunned, said "Merry Christmas" turned and left. I sat on the couch alone and opened it. Inside was a beautiful wooden plaque upon which was mounted half a genuine real Packer helmet, and below which was mounted two pieces of the original goal post from the very first Superbowl the Packers won in 1967 and that my dad had procured and saved all these years. It was if he reached out and hugged me, and I could finally let my tears go and miss my dad. I still miss him. It was the best present he ever gave me. Go Packers Go!

My friends Greg and Phils on my left. They had driven the two plus hours from Milwaukee without even having tickets. They were coming simply to enjoy the pre- game tailgate atmosphere and knew I was in town from New Zealand. great friends. I have attended many games over the years with these fine gentlemen. On my right is my old comrade Rick Parduhn. A fine man and I have shared many adventures with him near and far.

On the way into the stadium we ran into many old friends. This is James, and high school friend and former team mate at Green Bay West high school. He is now a teacher himself.

My beautiful sister Trish surprised Charlie, myself and Rick by getting us passes to actually go onto the field prior to the game. A pretty stunning development. I have been at many many games at Lambeau, seen some of the all time great players and games over the years. There has never been a time when I have walked from the stadium atrium to the actual field that I have literally not gasped at how incredible it really is in person. The fabulous green of the grass, the colours and sight of the chalked lines and uniforms of the players. The massive lit up scoreboard. It always feels like the first time. To share that moment with Charlie, and then be able to actually go onto the field was spectacular. A moment we will always have together. Lambeau Field!

Charlie with a couple of the Packer Cheerleaders. Look at that smile!

nephew Max and Steve  in their seats

In our seats with my other nephew Benjamin. Family and friends. What a spectacular day!
It was a great game! The Packers were not playing particularly well but stayed in the lead as the Chargers marched up and down the field. The warm afternoon faded into the slightly windy and growing cold of an early fall evening. The crowd grew restless as the game came down to final play from the Packer 3 yard line. See the video link below the last photo to see what happened....

A few days later we were privileged to dine with and meet the Packers coach, Mike McCarthy. I have been honoured in my time in Green Bay to meet such Packer greats as Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr, Ray Nitchske, Tony Canadeo, Charley Brock, Ted Fritsch,  Dave Hanner, Fuzzy Thurston and a host of others. It is always a pleasure and they have always been accommodating and kind. Must be a bit of a fishbowl experience for them at times so I appreciated the coach making my son feel a bit special. Go Pack!


Marja said...

The story about the present from your father made me tear up. It is amazing how people can bond through a sport. It makes me understand things a little bit as I come from a no- sport family, simply for the reason because many in our family were born ill-equipped for sports and the last one to be picked for teams. I have followed your trip a bit on facebook and I am touched by the bond in general you have with family and friends. I admire that. Also it is so cool that your nephew was in that video and that your son goes there. A very impressive video so he goes to a good place.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Marja...yes. The fabric of our lives gets tied up in events that flow around us. If nothing else as an historical timeline. Pleased you tagged along and enjoyed the sharing. And yes, Boys High is a very good, very demanding school. My oldest son did not make it through there. I think Charlie is of a different temperament and might well get the best from it. Kia kaha e hoa.