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What a weekend in Titletown!

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Neil Reynolds | 13:07 UK time, Tuesday, 17 November 2009

I was in Green Bay over the weekend with BBC 5 live sports extra - as part of the first ever British commentary team to broadcast live from the US - to witness the hometown Packers record a much-needed win over the visiting Dallas Cowboys at Lambeau Field.

And from the moment I arrived in the tiny town with a population of just 100,000 people, I knew I was in a special place rich in American football history.

When I landed in Chicago on Saturday night it felt like a normal American city with lots of different things going on and people coming and going for a variety of reasons.

But as soon as I boarded the plane for the short hop north, there was only one reason to be heading into the place they call Titletown USA (courtesy of the team's 12 NFL championships): the Green Bay Packers.

Fans tailgate around Lambeau Field

The short internal flight might as well have been re-named the NFL Express. It was packed with American football fans. There were Packers fans from Los Angeles, Packers fans from Dallas and Chicago. Heck, there were even a couple of Green Bay die-hards from Stoke-on-Trent who were kicking off a month-long NFL holiday in the States.

And the Cowboys fans were also in attendance, flying into Green Bay from Dallas (as you would expect), Nashville and New York.

The moment when our plane circled Lambeau Field was particularly special. I have been on flights that have gone directly over Giants Stadium, Raymond James Stadium and the Metrodome in Minnneapolis. And all the passengers have done is given them a cursory glance out of the window.

Not Lambeau. Everyone was clamouring for a look at the stadium that has played host to the Packers for 53 years and is considered the spiritual and emotional home of the NFL. Those on the left side of the plane had a perfect view. Those on the right side looked about ready to rip their seat belts off and jump on some laps for a better look at the 71,000-seat stadium.

And the desperation to see Lambeau Field and the Packers was also evident on game day. I was in the lift on the way down for breakfast at 7am on Sunday and was greeted by a Packers fan in full garb - game jersey, cheesehead hat and even some Packers trousers. He was off to start tailgating already. He was even carrying his toothbrush and a bottle of water with him, so he could clean his teeth in the car and save time. This was more than eight hours before kickoff!

Along with our BBC production team, I arrived at the stadium several hours before the important game got under way. And the car parks around Lambeau Field were already teeming with activity. The tailgate parties were in full swing. The crisp air - which held just a threat of the harsh winter sure to come to Green Bay soon - was filled with flying footballs, friendly insults among Packers and Cowboys fans and the unmistakeable smell of bratwurst sausages smoking away on portable barbeques.

The fans were so friendly and really did a good job of explaining to me how much the Packers mean to them and their community. At least, most of them did. I asked one guy about his game day experience and this is how our conversation went.

Me: "What do you like to do on game day here at the stadium?"

Fan: "Drink."

Me: "What is so special about a game day experience in Green Bay?"

Fan: "The drink."

Me: "But there's some good food out here as well. Is that an important part of the day?"

Fan: "Sometimes it can be. But if you eat too much, you get full - and then you can't drink."

Moving swiftly on, I found some more people to interview and continued to work my way around the exterior of the stadium. About 10 minutes later, drunk guy's friend came running up to me and apologised terribly. They had not asked me to join their group and have a drink with them and they felt really bad about it.

It was mid-western, small town American hospitality at its finest and I would almost certainly have accepted the kind offer had some of the fine-smelling food been on offer.

But this 'drink-first, eat-later' band were probably not the wisest bunch to hang out with just an hour before you're scheduled to go on air to call a live NFL game.

The stadium itself is not much to look at and doesn't offer much in the way of luxury for the fans. About 90% of the stadium features metal bench seating - there are no luxurious padded seats here. It's all about the product on the field - the Packers.

And looking around the stadium at some of the great names adorning the walls it's easy to understand why fans consider a visit to Lambeau Field to be something of a pilgrimage. Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke, Reggie White, Curly Lambeau - some of the NFL's greatest players and coaches and most famous games have been played on the field's 'frozen tundra'.

As kickoff approached, the atmosphere grew electric and the crowd was whipped into a total frenzy as two fighter jets roared over the stadium at the conclusion of the national anthem.

Greg and Neil don their Cheesehead hats
Commentators Greg Brady and Neil Reynolds get into the spirit, donning Cheesehead hats

It was a wonderful display of American razzmatazz at its very best and was stirring stuff. It's hard to imagine the likes of Tottenham and Hull getting the fly-over treatment for a regular league match in the Premiership. Maybe for the Carling Cup?

When the game kicked off, the fans were really into the contest. The Packers had lost two in a row and really needed the win. And they got it, scoring two fourth-quarter touchdowns through quarterback Aaron Rodgers and tight end Spencer Havner to record a 17-7 victory.

Cue the wild celebrations.

One thing I noted outside the stadium and throughout the game was that the Packers fans had a varied mix in terms of age groups. I'm not sure if that's normal across the NFL but there were some ladies and gentlemen of advancing years who were dancing around and jumping up and down like someone had poured hot chillies down their pants. They must struggle to get out of bed on a Monday morning.

That older fan base might have something to do with the fact that Packers season tickets stay in families for generations and die-hard supporters never want to give them up. We were told during our broadcast by Packers chief executive Mark Murphy that 82,000 fans are currently waiting in line for season tickets. He also pointed out that there are quite often season tickets left in wills for family members to continue the tradition of supporting the Packers for many decades to come.

After a truly memorable weekend in Titletown, it's easy to understand why.


  • Comment number 1.

    I enjoyed the story Neil, although there's precious little about the 4 hour game - are you sure you didn't partake of the tailgating?!?!

    One of the funniest things I've seen was at the start of the season with the drama surrounding Brett Farve going to Minnesota. Apparently there were t-shirts going round Wisconsin saying "We'll never forget you Brent"!

  • Comment number 2.

    Probably because there was little of the game worthy of commenting on, Stramash! Except, maybe, Nick Folk's awful short field goal attempt. Or, perhaps, the weekly pounding of Aaron Rogers behind a woeful offensive line.

    Not that I can access BBC coverage anymore but it's a shame, for UK interest in Gridiron, that the Beeb hadn't gotten rights for Pats v Colts clash. Still, hindsight is a wonderful thing and I would be a wealthy man if I could predict results.

    Nice blog, Neil, and refreshing to see the spectacle itself being covered. My first trip to watch the Cal Bears in a Pac-10 match-up taught me that there's much more to this game than the four quarters seen on TV.

  • Comment number 3.

    The game was a little bit sloppy, to be honest... 22 penalties from the 2 teams and not a whole heap of scoring.

    The Packers still have their problems along the offensive line, but I just felt they played like a team who needed it more. This is the part where I say 'I told you so' in picking the Packers to win. But they are far from fixed in terms of their problems.

    Dallas were disappointing and will miss RT Marc Colombo, who broke his leg during the game.

    Both teams came out of this game with question marks surrounding them and I don't think either will be in Miami on Super Bowl Sunday.

  • Comment number 4.

    Well, as noted by Kevin Cadle in the Sky coverage, Dallas have headed the NFC east at this stage in each of the last 4 seasons, and so far they have blown it every time. Theres no reason why this one should be different.

    I know it was a scrappy game with a lot of penalties, but I do also think that the Packers carried out their game plan pretty well, and actually they didnt commit all that many penalties until the game was pretty much over. I agree they don't look like going to the Superbowl, but then again, who picked Arizona this time last year?

  • Comment number 5.

    Sounds like a great weekend Neil, and you called a Pack win I seem to remember (much to the surprise of a few posters here !).

    Question - do you think The Packers can go on a run now and make the play offs ? With the Ravens at home and tough road trips to Steelers and Arizona, they might come up a game short - making that inexplicable loss at Tampa all the more crucial.


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