A One Day Green Bay Getaway
by Mike Conklin
June 6, 2012
Every year, thousands of fans visit Green Bay to watch the Packers practice.
Last week, it was my turn.
I planned a road trip to watch one of the Packers' three public OTA practices. As a resident of Illinois, a trip to Green Bay is several hours away and just not that accessible. While there, I figured I would make a day of it, and visit the Packers Hall of Fame and do the Lambeau Stadium Tour. I know there are legions of fans that are not able to actually make this trip, so I wanted to really give you a feel of what it is like. As a result, this article is rather lengthy. If you are a native of Wisconsin and have made this trip before, this may be nothing new to you. But if you have not yet had the chance to visit the hallowed ground where legends are born, this was written with you in mind.
I had actually been to Green Bay to see a training camp practice once before when I was 15 years old. It was 1988, Lindy Infante's first year as head coach. It was also the year they brought in former Raiders quarterback Marc Wilson in hopes of having a spirited training camp battle with Randy Wright and Don Majkowski. Wilson didn't impress, and ended up being cut before the end of camp. I don't have a ton of memories from that practice, but I remember standing and watching Wilson from behind a chain-link fence, and that he seemed pretty far away.
This time around, I didn't feel far away at all. In fact, I was surprised how close we were to the players. But before I get into what practice was like, let me back up a bit because I want to share the entire experience for those who have not yet had the chance to do so themselves.
I actually drove up to Green Bay the night before, and had a hotel room reserved. By the time I reached Green Bay it was well past 10:00 pm, but I just couldn't help but pass by the exit for my hotel and go to the stadium first. As I took the exit for Lombardi Avenue and approached the stadium area, it was a surreal feeling. And part of the reason was it all seemed so strange was simply because I kept waiting for a city to show up.
We have all heard how Green Bay is the smallest NFL city, and that there is a residential area right by the stadium. Even though I knew these things, it never really sunk in until that evening. For someone like me who comes from a pretty populated area, there just isn't much to Green Bay. There are several suburbs of Chicago that are larger, if that helps put it into perspective. As I took the freeway exit and drove toward Lambeau, I was looking for something...anything...that would seem to indicate that I was getting close. There were no big buildings and no obvious commercial district. It seemed like all the businesses around had some reference to the team...Packerland Glass, Titletown Collision Center, etc...but the stadium still kind of sneaked up on me. Maybe it was the fact that there is literally a neighborhood right across Lombardi Avenue from the stadium. It really is the strangest thing.
Because it was late at night by the time I arrived, I was virtually the only person around. I walked around and took a few pictures. At the front of the stadium is the obvious main entrance, and it is undoubtedly impressive. The front of the Lambeau Field Atrium is an all-glass facade, and you can look inside to see an expansive open area. On the outside of the building, directly in front of the Atrium entrance, is a courtyard-like area that has massive statues of Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi that are about 20 feet tall including their pedestals. I found out later that this area is called the Bob Harlan Plaza, and there is a plaque there in his honor as well.
Before leaving for the night, I wanted to get a lay of the land for what to expect the next day. I went over and checked out the practice area, which is located across Oneida Street from the stadium. The first thing that you can't help but notice as you look across the parking lot is that there is a massive building that looks similar to an airplane hangar. This is the Don Hutson Center, where the Packers do most of their practicing throughout the season. It is set off from the road a little distance, behind a grass field that is called Clarke Hinkle Field.
What I really wanted to find was where the Packers were going to practice for their open OTA session the next morning, and that was actually located behind the Hutson Center. Ray Nitschke Field is adjacent to the Hutson Center, so the players come directly out of the building and on to the practice field. Although it was locked up at night, I could tell by peering through the gates that I was going to be closer to the players than I had imagined.
I probably spent about 45 minutes walking around outside the Atrium, driving around the parking lot, then scouting out the practice facilities. I walked around quite a bit, trying to get a few pictures and just generally snooping around to see what I could see. And that may have been one of the strangest things about that evening...not one time did I see a police car or security vehicle scouting me out. It seems to me that in most places in a situation like that, some type of security officer would have driven by, just to check out what I was up to and let me know they were watching. The fact that I wasn't approached even once really let me know I was in a small town.
The next morning I got an early start because I wanted to make the most of every minute of my one-day Green Bay getaway. I knew the practice was scheduled to start at 11:30, so I wanted to get to Lambeau as soon as they opened at 9:00 and visit the Packers Hall of Fame before practice. For $20, I purchased a combination ticket that included admission to the Hall of Fame, as well as a Stadium Tour. They run tours at various times throughout the day, and I chose one in the afternoon, after practice concluded.
As I walked around the inside of the Atrium and took everything in, one word came to mind over and over: "class." The design of the building, the look and feel of the Atrium were as good as you could get. I found myself thinking that everything about the Packers is first class all the way, and the Hall of Fame was no different. During the tour that I took later in the day, the guide said that the NFL Hall of Fame had sent representatives to visit the Packers Hall of Fame, and had taken some of their ideas because it is so well done. I could see why.
For any fan of the Packers, the Hall of Fame is definitely a must see. Some of the memorable exhibits include a re-creation of Vince Lombardi's office, a life-size display of the famous Ice Bowl goal line play that allows you to look over Bart Starr's shoulder and see the field from his view, a Legends room which is a room dedicated to the cream of the crop Packers of all time, and of course, the Hall of Fame room itself. The highlight of the Hall of Fame room is the display of the four Lombardi Trophies, each with an actual championship ring. They seemed to take steps to give the room the feel of a sacred place, with modest lighting and a reserved atmosphere. This made the trophies, which were more brightly lit, really stand out.
The Legends room was a special place as well. The shape of the room is round, similar to the Hall of Fame room, but instead of a plaque on the wall (as is the case for each of the 147 inductees in the Hall of Fame room) there is actually a pseudo-locker. Inside the locker are actual items that belonged to the player...shoes, shoulder pads, gloves, etc. They also give you the ability to press a button and listen to a short audio presentation about each player if you so choose. I found it interesting to look around and count that there were 25 players represented in that room, but there were empty spaces left for four more. I couldn't help but wonder who will be added into that room in the future. Brett Favre will be there soon, of course. Aaron Rodgers is well on his way. Donald Driver? Interesting question.
One of the other great things about the Hall of Fame was that if you want to invest the time, there are a lot of video presentations you could watch. In the Lombardi replica office, for example, there was a 60's era film projector on his desk, pointing toward an old screen on a tripod. On that screen played a video about Lombardi, with many interviews from his players from that period. Next to the Ice Bowl display, you could watch a feature about that game. There was another section of the Hall of Fame that highlighted each of the 13 championship teams, as well as various other interesting games and eras. You could watch several videos about those. There was another display about the Lambeau Leap, with a feature about that. I actually found myself wanting to know more about Packers history after leaving the Hall of Fame, which seems to indicate that they did a pretty good job not only sharing information, but also creating interest.
For Part II of this article, click here.