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Lambeau Field - The NFL's very own Wembley Stadium

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Neil Reynolds | 10:45 UK time, Thursday, 12 November 2009

I'm off to Green Bay this weekend as myself and Greg Brady kick off the Stateside commentaries on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra with the Packers' clash against the Dallas Cowboys.

On a personal note, to be part of the first British broadcasting team to cover a live regular season game in the United States on the radio in the UK is a real thrill. It is going to be an absolute blast and as someone who is still relatively new to broadcasting, I feel very privileged to be involved.

I won't turn this into a 'Neil looks forward to his busman's holiday' column but I will just say I am very excited. Green Bay is a special place and a city that is pretty unique in world sport. For a start, it is tiny. It is more of a town than a city with a population of just 100,000. In UK terms, that would see Green Bay dwarfed by the likes of Slough and Stockport. And being an industrial city, it is not much to look at.

The Packers, who have played in the NFL since the inaugural 1920 season and won 12 league championships, are pretty unique themselves. They are the only publicly-owned team in American sport. The fans own the team. Think Ebbsfleet United but on a much grander scale.

This weekend, for the 282nd game in a row, more than 71,000 fans will pack into a sold out Lambeau Field, which in itself is a special place. The iconic stadium is the longest-tenured in the NFL as the Packers are now playing out their 53rd season on the famous frozen tundra that has graced some of the greatest names in the sport - Brett Favre, Bart Starr, Vince Lombardi.

lambeau_ap595.jpgThe Packers fans are well known for creating a fantastic atmosphere

I have been to Lambeau Field once before for a Monday night game between the Packers and Vikings in 1998 and I felt every hair on the back of my neck stand on end as I walked out of the tunnel and onto the field during the pre-game warm-ups. The atmosphere is always electric, the fans are right on top of the action and the history associated with Lambeau Field seems to hang thick in the air. To me, this is the mecca of NFL fans.

But we will quickly have to recognise we have a game to call and that we are broadcasting to an intelligent and enthusiastic audience.

I have done the odd quarter or two of colour commentary during the past two Wembley games but this will be my first full contest. Every young American football fan with dreams of a career in broadcasting has turned down the television set and had a go at commentating in the past. I remember doing just that with the 1987 AFC Championship Game between the Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns, although I should have known better at 15! This weekend, I get to do it for real and I cannot wait.

When I arrive in Green Bay and at Lambeau Field on Sunday, I am keen to gauge the mood among Packers fans because there seems to be a hint of desperation about them after two straight losses.

As galling as it was to lose to the Favre-led Minnesota Vikings, what has Packers fans more worried is the fact they handed the previously-winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers their first victory of the season last weekend.

And there seems to be growing discontent towards quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who I happen to think is a decent player saddled with the misfortune - as so many have been down the years - of replacing a legend.

On a very basic level, you can understand why Packers fans are growing disgruntled. The current starting line-ups in Green Bay feature 18 of the 22 players who were on the field when Green Bay came within one overtime period of reaching the Super Bowl in the 2007 season.

Jason Spitz has replaced Josh Sitton on the offensive line and Johnny Jolly and Clay Matthews are the new additions to the defence in place of Corey Williams and Brady Poppinga.

The other change? Rodgers for Favre.

And that is the one difference many Packers fans are pointing to when discussing the reason that 2007 team was a Super Bowl contender and this 2009 version is currently middle of the pack.

While he is guilty of not being Favre - and that is enough to dislike him in the eyes of some fans - Rodgers has been pretty good since taking control of Green Bay's offense. He has a strong arm, his throws are accurate and he can make plays on the run when things break down around him.

In 24 career starts, Rodgers has eclipsed the magical 100-rating mark on 13 occasions. He has six career 300-yard games and has thrown three touchdowns or more in another six contests. Like him or not, it's hard to argue with that big-time production.

Now, Rodgers is not perfect. He holds onto the ball too long and takes too many sacks as a result. But Favre himself holds onto the ball a tad longer than recommended and so does Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger - but by doing that, they risk taking a sack but also extend plays that split second longer to allow their receivers to find an opening downfield.

Rodgers is not to blame for the Packers' recent slump. The men charged with protecting him - the offensive linemen - are the ones who should be feeling under pressure to perform, starting this weekend against the Cowboys.rodgers_ap226.jpg

The anti-Rodgers group believe Rodgers has inferior leadership skills and lacks that something special that Favre possessed in the locker room. They still feel things would be different with Favre under center. I genuinely don't think the situation would be any better.

Both men hold onto the ball too long, both would be playing behind a porous offensive line but Rodgers has superior mobility. That suggests, to me, that the Packers might have the best man under center right now.

There is a lot of dross around the NFL when it comes to quarterbacks. Just ask fans in Oakland and Cleveland. The Packers might not have their legendary fan favourite, but they do have a very good passer in Rodgers.

And with half the season to go, now is not the time for panic in Green Bay. They are just one game out of a playoff place at 4-4 and have plenty of time to put together a decent run.

I think they'll make a good start to the second half of the campaign by putting on an offensive show to beat the Cowboys on Sunday night.

Prediction:Dallas Cowboys 24 Green Bay Packers 31

You can catch Neil commentating on the Cowboys against the Packers live from Lambeau Field this Sunday on BBC 5 live sports extra from 2100. (Available online to UK users only).

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    Great read Neil...your a lucky guy!

    Like you said its the OL thats at fault, Rodgers seems gets flushed from the pocket far too early and needs to make plays outside the pocket too often.

    "captainlazytim"
    Generally when one of your best players moves to a rival team the fans are mad. Tevez to city?
    Hardly shameful...its part of sport

  • Comment number 3.

    Is this a one-off are are you planning other commentaries - I think it would be good to mix occasional BBC commentaries with those from US broadcasters
    PS Whoever you support, you have to respect the Green Bay Packers. The idea that a publicy owned, small town team can still survive (and thrive) in the NFL is almost incomprehensible, and yet it's true! It's wonderful that teams who are not run and resourced like the NY Yankees, Chelsea etc can compete in a big league, and this says as much about the NFL and its draft system as it does about the the Green Bay franchise. Anyway, let's hope they win another Superbowl soon.

  • Comment number 4.

    Best recent match in Lambeau was the Giants-Packers play-off game in 2007, played in -25 degrees without the windchill. Legendary, and I rather feel that for you to experience pure Lambeau, the mercury needs to head a bit further south! Looking like it's going to be a balmy few degrees above freezing this weekend and no snow...

    Still, I'm very envious. And partly because this has the makings of a pretty exciting game. The Cowboys are in great form, and this is a must win game for the Pack.

    Unfortunately, though, I don't see it happening for the Pack, after the Tampa debacle does anyone want to bet on their defense coping this weekend? Romo has been passing very accurately, and now has a full set of weapons in the backfield as well. The Pack's only chance is if Rodgers plays a blinder and Jennings and Driver are on the end of a whole lot of big plays... the kind of odds which get Cheeseheads all nostalgic for Favre, and for which Rodgers is very unfairly expected to be a replacement.

  • Comment number 5.

    Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Packers by 7? Do me a favour! Have you seen their OL recently? How about the Cowboys' DL and linebacker core's sack record in the last 5 games after a fruitless start to the season? It's going to get messy and Rogers will get desperate leading to a few picks for the backs. Easy win at against a poor team: America's Team 38 - 13 Cheeseheads.

  • Comment number 6.

    I hate to be pedantic and point out to Mr Reynolds that Josh Sitton was only drafted by Green Bay in the 2008 NFL draft. Jason Spitz started at Right Guard.

    Although the o-line is struggling in its protection schemes and blown assignments, there have been a number of injury disruptions and players playing below expected levels (Daryn Colledge. Also, for all his impressive statistics, Aaron Rodgers has had a tendency to hold the ball longer this season, forcing him to take sacks. Couple this with the lack of confidence in receivers who are dropping an above average number of passes, it is not difficult to see why the Packer offense is struggling for confidence and consistent production.

  • Comment number 7.


    I can't believe that you really are covering the NFL that closely this season if you think that Green Bay will beat Dallas.

    For one, do you even know how good the Dallas defense is? They have one of the few nose tackles that actually provides a sack threat up the middle and that's even before we get to DeMarcus Ware, last season's sack-leader.

    Also, if Josh Freeman, in his first game as a rookie after coming out of the NCAA early can toss three TDs, how can you confidently predict that the Tampa defense (which has recently changed from it's unique "Tampa 2" style to a more traditional 3-4 or 4-3 formation) will be able to hold Dallas' offense, led by a resurgent Tony Romo? Add in the fact that there are numerous receiver options - Witten, Austin, Williams, Crayton, Hurd, Ogletree, Barber to name but a few in addition to the three-headed running back core of Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice - the Packers just don't have the defensive coverage to account for all the threats.

    Sorry, I just can't see it happening.

    There are too many negatives on the Packers side, and too many positives on the Cowboys side to make that confident prediction. Makes me wonder what NFL you're watching...

  • Comment number 8.

    Great post Neil. Im a lifelong packers fan and think that Lambeau probably is one of the best stadiums in the nfl along with pittsburgh due to the number of years both have been used in the nfl. I watched a regular season game against the Redskins two years ago and it was great to witness the atmosphere of a gameday (plus the redskins fans had a great laugh in the stadium aswell).I have a feeling that the packers might just beat the cowboys on Sunday but it might just take another season or two for Rodgers to get used to the Offensive Line and Wide Receivers around him before we start to see regular playoff appearances.

  • Comment number 9.

    Favre put the organization in a terrible position. He chose to retire after 16 years with Green Bay, so the organization did the sensible thing and moved on without him. Only after the Packers passed the torch to Rodgers did Favre decide he wanted to return. His behavior was classless, and it has made life difficult for Rodgers ever since. Further, Favre has chosen to play for Green Bay's foremost rival, the Minnesota Vikings, so that he can "stick it" to GB's general manager Ted Thompson. The Green Bay fans who chose to boo Favre for his behavior over the past two years were not off the mark, Lazy Tim.

  • Comment number 10.

    >> America's Team 38 - 13 Cheeseheads

    Heh, a Cryboy fan getting all excited in November.

    To be fair, your lot will win this weekend, about 35-27, having been in control throughout. But I won't regard Romo and friends as the real deal until they start showing up in December.

  • Comment number 11.

    Err how is this related to Wembley? Have you been at Wembley?

  • Comment number 12.

    Neil - good read that, great insight into life in Green Bay and what the football team means to locals.
    I think you make some valid points but what stands out for me is that you refer to the Packers having 18 starters from the championship side two years ago, and that there is some discontent with Rodgers as a leader.
    You make these separate points but I believe they are very much linked.
    A young guy taking over from a legend is hard as you say, any new QB will find it tough leading 'Favre's' team.
    And whilst I agree that Rodgers does hold the ball for too long and therefore spends too much time on his backside, he must take confort from the management team who effectively told Favre that Rodgers was the franchise QB and his services were no longer required.
    Rodgers will get better and with the targets he has he's in the right place to shine.
    Like you I'm backing the Packers to overcome Dallas this weekend

  • Comment number 13.

    Can you please do this more often? It would be better if you just provided your own commentary on your match rather than squeezing yourself into advert breaks!

  • Comment number 14.

    Being a Pack Man, I'm mega jealous! Second of all I must say amazing article that really displays the high times as well as the low times of the franchise. This season has been extremely hit-n-miss for us as starting with high hopes with a shift to the 3-4 defense, and the amazingly deep and high-impact receiving corps, this was a season like no other in recent times. But the case still seems to be Rodgers holds onto the ball too long, doesn't step into the holes, and the O Line just seems to be struggling. It's got to be one of the toughest places for a rookie or a man with not much experience to play, and it shows as with the days of Tauscher, Rivera and Clifton a distant memory, the QB just doesn't feel safe.

    I seriously worry about DeMarcus [Be]Ware as he's a demon when putting pressure on the Quarterback, and our own Pass Rush is being questioned as Aaron 'THE Man' Kampman has admitted to finishing the Tampa Bay game with a concussion picked up late in the proceedings.

    This game is like every other, Rodgers needs protection, the D needs to pressure the QB, and the running game needs to step up. Glad to see Ahman Green 'so good they named the Bay after him' is back in green, and with an average of 7.5 yards per carry vs. Tampa Bay, is the help Ryan Grant needs in the backfield setup.

  • Comment number 15.

    er, just a bit loose with the facts again Neil. Packers joined the league in 1921 (only Bears and Cardinals have been then since 1920). Also, Lambeau's only really been packing in 70000+ since the refurbishment, not to mention the years when Green Bay played 3-4 of their home games in Milwaukee.

    Anway, on the game itself, Dallas not due their meltdown until December... I think DeMarcus will be looking forward to catching up Jared Allen as sack leader on this one game alone.

  • Comment number 16.

    I spent 3 months in Wisconsin in the summer of 1996, in the Dells. Met many many Packers fans. As an Englishman that loved their sport and their team (I was already a follower due to Favre) they loved me and my brother and friends we were with. They looked after us so well and they are highly passionate.

    I think I can honestly say I have never met more crazy but genuinely nice fans than the cheeseheads. They begged us to come to a game, but we were gone before the season started and I think it's something I will live to regret.

  • Comment number 17.

    The company I work for has its Reasearch & Engineering HQ along with a number of manufacturing facilities in Appleton WI which is about a 40 minute drive from Green Bay.
    Over the last 10 years or so this has meant i have been in Appleton on about 20 seperate occasions (staying at the Paper Valley Hotel where all the NFL away teams stay prior to playing the Packers!) and almost without fail I visit Lambeau Stadium whenever I get the chance!
    There is something about the stadium atrium that just oozes class, its hard to believe its in such good shape when you think about the number of fans that pass through it on gameday. Somehow I always get drawn to Curly's bar for a pint and some food as it overlooks the players car park. Watching the players, coach (of the day) and training staff come and go is great fun. Its hard to believe how slowly they all walk from their cars to the players entrance yet on the pitch they are so explosive!
    As yet i've never been lucky enough to see a regular eason game although I have been to season warm up matches. The fans are just wild.... even in pre season!
    So, whats the point of my ramble..... Whatever the time of year, make sure you visit this place if you are close by.
    Oh, one little tip. Don't go when there is an election rally at the Resch Centre opposite (as I did in 2004 when ex President Bush was there) unless you love guns, police, helicopters, police, rolling road blocks, police, secret service and more police!

  • Comment number 18.

    Along with public ownership the other way that Green Bay can compete with larger cities in the NFL is the large scale revenue sharing and salary cap that exists in the league. Imagine if Manchester United had to share its revenue with Hull and were limited in terms of their spending by the league.

  • Comment number 19.

    RE: WisconsinMan

    I guess you paint a very different picture to what a lot of people know regarding Favre's departure. While I wouldn't say he was free from blame the Packers hierarchy has a lot ot answer for as well. The guy just loves to play football, in this day and age to see that passion from a guy who has already done it all and has nothing to prove is very admirable.

    Regardless of how he left the fact remains that what Favre gave to Green Bay over the 16 seasons he played is more than anyone ever has or could. Along with what he played through sometimes to wear the green and gold each week............the guy's earned a respect that should never be forgotten and a history that should never be traded in for his trade to the Vikings. In any case I think most of Lambeau were booing the Vikings as a collective unit, I'm sure a vast majority still love Favre and miss him.

  • Comment number 20.

    How did i break the rules? welcome to CBBC chat!

    and post 2: Favre did a bit more at Green Bay than Tevez did at Man U, methinks. So a silly comparison, more like if Henry got booed at Emirates. I think it shameful, and have backed up my opinion. Will you?

  • Comment number 21.

    I would disagree with your assertion that the Packers would not be any better off with Favre at the helm this year. To the contrary, I would assert that the Packers would be at least 6-2, and probably 7-1 right now if they had Favre. Without doubt, the Packers would have won both games against the Vikings, mainly because the Vikings would have been without Favre, and Favre carried them in both of those games. The Pack also probably would have beaten the Bucs without Rodgers' 3 interceptions and 6 sacks. Favre would not have gotten sacked six times by the Bucs' weak defense.

    I otherwise enjoyed the article and agree that attending a game at Lambeau is a near-religious experience.

  • Comment number 22.

    It's a good job i have you guys here to keep me on my toes.

    While the Packers were very much in existence in 1920, as Huw Bowen rightly points out, they did not join the fore-runner to the NFL until 1921... they were very much a semi-professional outfit in 1920.

    And I got my offensive linemen mixed up... Josh Sitton is in place of Jason Spitz, not the other way around as I stated.

    As for my prediction, I am asked to give a result... I am not asked to say who should win. Dallas should win. DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff should give that offensive line absolute fits.

    But since when did everyone who should win in the NFL actually win?

    Green Bay should have won against Tampa last week. Philadelphia should have beaten Oakland earlier this season. That didn't happen on either occasion.

    The Packers always have a chance to win because they can put a lot of points on the board, regardless of that line. They have good corners who should have an impact on Dallas' passing game.

    And football is an emotional game - the Packers just need this one much more because they are feeling ever so slightly desperate after two straight losses.

    Dallas are a very good team and, on paper, they should win... I just have a sneaky feeling I will witness a home win.

    Thanks again for reading and for all your comments.

  • Comment number 23.

    I am a hugely disappointed packers fan! and I am confused as to why the situation is so disappointing as here in the uk its hard to develop a deep knowledge of the game!

    My views are that the problem isnt to do with rodgers or our under performing offensive line.
    Firstly because the only real downfall with regards to rodgers vs favre, is that rodgers clock management has cost us multiple defeats with opposition scores within the final few seconds, which arguably would have been avaided under favre.
    secondly with regards to the offensive line, look at the facts, we are losing high scoring games! therefore, although they certainly arent covering themselves in any glory, the offense as a whole are putting more than enough points on the board to win games!

    The problem has to be the defence! we give up points in the air and on the ground! Offence, 8th highest scoring in 2008, 7th so far this term. So this is a defensive problem right? whas the problem and whys it continued in the same trend for one and a half seasons now?

  • Comment number 24.

    They have two straight losses
    ...So you're betting against the form book as well as the team rosters?
    Fair enough, because on any given sunday romo can have a meltdown and dallas can implode.

    Not sure I agree that they need the win more - both clubs need every win they can scrape together, because they're in similar positions. neither will win their divisions so they're vying with each other plus nyg or philly (whichever doesn't win the east division) & atlanta for the wildcard spots in the nfc

  • Comment number 25.

    interesting blog and follow up comments.

    go bears! time for a Bears-related blog; not seen one yet this season Neil?


    :-)

  • Comment number 26.

    G'day from Laos.
    First started following football as a kid listening to AFN (American Forces Network) on the radio - now it's courtesy of Fox Sports and ESPN. Never seen a live game but have learnt to appreciate the game over the years.
    The magic of the Packers for me is that they're a "small town team" owned by the community with profits going back to the community - not a business man (or Russian oligarch/Arab Prince) in a flash office - (sorry if I upset any Man U or Chelski supporters). If I'm ever in the USA for long enough the only ground I want to visit is Lambeau - although the old Mile High comes a close second.

  • Comment number 27.

    Grimsby-Bear... I am flying to Green Bay via Chicago on Saturday. Maybe a 3-hour layover in the Windy City will inspire me into a Bears-related blog soon.

    Some further explanation about my prediction, which I am growing less comfortable about as the game approaches. I am asked to give my supposed expert picks on another website here in the UK... I am about 4 games back in that competition so decided to take a risk or two this week. And the Packers are one of those risks!!

    Just in case you guys read both websites, I thought I'd better stick with the Packers :-) But I do like Rodgers as a quarterback and Donald Driver and Greg Jennings will always make the Packers a contender.

    They are the underdog but they have a puncher's chance of delivering a knockout... I think !!

  • Comment number 28.

    >> I am asked to give my supposed expert picks on another website here in the UK...

    The expert picks on the NFLUK site is tremendous. I am proudly standing on 87/113, but I know what you mean about picking up ground by going against the grain - I recently picked the Rams over the Lions and the Chargers over the Giants to get myself into the mix.

    This week, where I was very nearly tempted to take a flyer was on the Skins to beat the Broncos. But there's enough tight calls to keep it all very interesting, and I differ with your choices on Panthers, Eagles, Packers and Colts.... I think your Packers call is a bit of a long-shot... the others, they are all toss-ups.

  • Comment number 29.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 30.

    Captainlazytim.

    Henry being booed by arsenal is a good example...better than my tevez example. If you supported celtic and Larsson moved to rangers you trying to say you wouldnt boo him?
    Its comes with the soprt.

 

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