Most of us have a bucket list. Whether it’s in our minds, or on paper, we have things we want to do before we are no longer able to do them.
I’m about to put a date stamp on my forehead. I grew up watching Hawaii-Five-O starring Jack Lord as Lieutenant Steve Garrett, James MacArthur as Danny “Book Em Danno” Williams and Kam Fong as Chin Ho. That classic program aired for 10 years from 1968 through 1978 and left an indelible impression on me. I liked everything about that show. I thought the casting was perfect, the episodes were captivating and the location was extraordinary – the land of big waves and white sandy beaches. Even the intro music was cool. The more I watched the more my expectations grew and subconsciously, a visit to the Hawaiian Islands was becoming an item for my bucket list.
Fast forward to the early 80’s. I went to work for Trans World Airlines as a flight attendant. One of the many perks included travel passes. I could literally go anywhere in the world for free. There was no doubt where I would go on my first trip. The moment I became eligible and had a few days off I grabbed a couple buddies and took off for the islands. As one might imagine my expectations were through the roof. As a faithful viewer of Hawaii-Five-O, I had this glorified vision. It just had to be paradise…
Hawaii was more magical than I had imagined. When we arrived at our rented condo on Maui, I paused for a moment to take it all in. The ocean was bluer, the waves were bigger and the beaches were more pristine than I had remembered from many days of viewing Hawaii Five-O. The experience of being there blew my enormous expectations to smithereens.
A few weekends ago, I had a different kind of experience with a similar result. I’ve been a Green Bay Packers fan since forever. When I was a kid it was Vince Lombardi, the Green Bay sweep, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, Ray Nitschke, Boyd Dowler and of course legendary quarterback Bart Starr. There was the Ice Bowl, the frozen tundra, the first two Super Bowl Championships and this mystical arena called Lambeau Field located in Green Bay Wisconsin. I knew I had to figure out a way to get there one day…
I’m such a devout fan I suppose my boys (Jeff and Bryce) never had a choice. It was out of the womb and into a Packers jersey for both of them. Guys like Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers helped cement their loyalty to one of the most legendary franchises in the history of professional sports. If you’ve ever watched a Packers game on TV, the announcers will typically go on and on about Lambeau Field and how special it is to play and watch a game in Green Bay.
The Packers are an anomaly. The team is owned by the fans, making them the only publicly owned, not-for-profit, major professional team in the United States. The Pack have been a fan-owned operation since the primitive pro football days of the nineteen-twenties, when NFL teams could be won in card games and no one foresaw the awesome power this sport would hold over both the American imagination and the American wallet.
In 1923, the Packers were just another hardscrabble team on the brink of bankruptcy. Rather than fold they decided to sell shares to the community, with fans each throwing down a couple of dollars to keep the team afloat. That humble frozen seed has since blossomed into a situation wherein more than a hundred thousand stockholders own more than four million shares of a perennial playoff contender. This model can’t be replicated. In 1960 Pete Rozelle officially made the Packers an exception to the NFL by-laws which require teams to have single entity ownership. This unique history adds to the lore of The Green Bay Packers.
As my boys have grown older, we’ve talked numerous times about making the trip to Green Bay; just to have another season pass us by. This past fall, it took a text from Jeff’s amazingly wonderful girlfriend, Suzanne, to spark the flame. In her text She said she wanted to treat Jeff, Bryce and I to a game at Lambeau! I said YES with 2 caveats – she must go with us and I must pay! She agreed and we set our sights on a trip to the football mecca. Suzanne deserves all the credit. Without her influence we’d probably still be saying, “One of these days, we’ve got to get to Lambeau!”
Our dream finally became a reality. On Friday October 20th, I flew to Milwaukee where the kids picked me up at the airport. We did Milwaukee that night and found it to be surprisingly metro, charming and fun. One thing is for certain, they are loyal to their sports teams. The place was swarming with all things Packers, Badgers, Brewers and Bucks.
The next day we were up early and chock full of anticipation. Next stop – Green Bay. In less than 2 hours we were on the outskirts of Wisconsin’s third largest city. Choose your description – the boondocks, the middle of nowhere, east bum —-, the town is surrounded by farmland. It’s a beautiful rural area. As we continued to travel north we were stunned to catch our first glimpse of Lambeau! It was similar to the feeling I had when I first saw Mt. Rushmore. The stadium seemed to rise up out of nowhere. It made my heart skip a beat. Finally, after dreaming about it for a lifetime we had arrived in Titletown, USA!
We quickly checked in at the local Sleep Inn, piled back in the car, and headed in the direction of the stadium. The rest is difficult to describe. The people, the place, the moment – Spectacular! For me it brought back all the Packers memories of my childhood and one in particular…- watching the NFL Championship game better known as The Ice Bowl at Lambeau Field vs. the Dallas Cowboys. I was with my Dad at our home in New Jersey. The temperature was -18 degrees in Green Bay and the field was like an ice rink. As expected the game came down to the wire. As the final seconds ticked away the Packers, trailing 17-14, had the ball 1st and goal on the Dallas 1-yard line. After 3 failed running attempts the Pack decided to go for the win on 4th and less than a yard to go.
“Starr under center, the ball is snapped, Starr keeps and behind right guard Jerry Kramer sneaks into the end zone – TOUCHDOWN GREEN BAY!”
I went completely nuts! I’m sure my Dad was thinking, this kid needs a straight-jacket.
Little did I know, that Packers dynasty would be coming to a sudden end. After winning the Super Bowl that year, they’d be in for a long drought. From 1968 through 1996 the Packers made two playoffs appearances but never sniffed the Super Bowl. That all changed with Holmgren and Favre in the early 90’s followed by McCarthy and Rodgers. Since 1993 the Pack has made the playoffs 19 times and won 2 Super Bowls. Yes, it’s good these days to be a Packers fan.
Game day was considerably cooler with occasional rain. Good thing we were well prepared with layers of clothes, ponchos, etc. Walking into Lambeau through the atrium out the gate into the stands was an out-of-body experience. I guess that happens when a dream you’ve had for 50 years comes true.
The game was a tale of two halves. Two picks in the first quarter kept Drew Brees and the Saints offense at bay. The “Rodgers-less” Packers played okay and went in at halftime sporting a 7 point lead. The second half was agonizing. The Saints won going away 27-19. For once it wasn’t about the Packers winning or losing. It was all about the experience of watching a Packers game live from the stands at Lambeau Field.
There was something extra special about sharing this incredible experience with Suzanne, Jeff and Bryce. Suzanne who is not a Packers fan, screamed and yelled for the Packers in full cheese head gear throughout the entire game. She was the catalyst for the trip and for a weekend – a true Packers fan. As for my boys and I… I cherish every moment I get to spend with Jeff and Bryce. Sharing this dream-come-true weekend, watching them take it all in… That, my friends, is the definition of true joy. I’m thrilled we were able to create a memory that will last a lifetime.