Sneaking through enemy lines

One ring to rule them all. That’s what Green Bay Packers fans have been holding above the Minnesota Vikings’ and Detroit Lions’ faithful for the past five decades.

Green Bay has won four Super Bowl rings, but all they need is one to quiet their NFC North Division rivals.

Growing up in Minneapolis, it could be quite a miserable experience when football season began. My friends, family members and I would hope that some good in the world would occur and that our beloved homeland would finally rise above those evil forces in Wisconsin, but it never happened.

Seriously, the rivalry between Vikings and Packers fans is something out of “Lord of the Rings.” While the Packers fans I know and various middle-aged sports writers see Green Bay as some perfect piece of 1950s-era Americana, it’s not the same for Minnesotans (the Hobbits).

A journey across the St. Croix River into Wisconsin is seen as an unappealing venture with Green Bay seen as the dark region of Mordor and Lambeau Field as the dangerous Mount Doom, rising above the landscape with the rabid Orcs (Packers fans) surrounding the structure ready to unleash their wrath on any poor soul who enters the area.

Well last weekend, I decided to make that treacherous journey to Green Bay. The Northern Michigan University hockey team was hosting Wisconsin for a series there and that provided the perfect opportunity for me to set out on my trek with my loyal wife (my Samwise Gamgee if you will) by my side.

While Friday’s hockey game was the primary part of the voyage, it was just as important to experience the forbidden land that is Green Bay.

For those fans who have never been, Green Bay is an unusual place for an NFL franchise, but in a good way. While the rest of the North Division franchises lie in big cities, the Packers are in a town that has just over 100,000 people and every person seems to live and die with that team.

Streets are actually named after fabled former Packer players and coaches like Vince Lombardi, Brett Favre, Bart Starr, Reggie White and Donald Driver. Mike McCarthy recently joined the list as well, which makes me laugh considering how many Packers fans despise the guy. My theory is that when he gets fired, it will be renamed after Jordy Nelson.

After watching NMU upset Wisconsin Friday, my wife and I approached Lambeau Saturday morning and took photos of the intimidating behemoth (we also sent one picture to my mother-in-law, one of the shameful Orcs living amongst the Hobbits).

I’ll admit it is impressive to look at, but I was kind of hoping for more of a folksy charm considering the size of the town it’s located in. As I got into my car, I told myself to truly take in the experience of game day on Sunday.

When the Packers play at home, it’s as if a cloud covers the area and captures everyone in an escapable fog. That image was clear on Sunday as it started raining early in the morning and didn’t stop until I had arrived back home in the Upper Peninsula.

My wife and I slowly made our way from the hotel to Lambeau and after three trucks almost ran directly into us (I’m not being biased. Wisconsin has the worst drivers I’ve ever seen), we arrived at a massive traffic jam one mile from the stadium.

As we moved slowly toward Mount Doom, we were quickly surrounded by rain-soaked Orcs sporting foam blocks of cheese on their heads. Eight out of 10 of them were wearing green Packers jerseys and of those eight, seven were wearing Nelson’s No. 87. You guys know that he isn’t the only player on the team, right? Brett Hundley needs your support.

About a block away, our road was blocked by the Lambeau guards and we were diverted to a side street. Once on the street, residents started waving us into their yards to park like crazed airport personnel. It was nice to see people so willing to accommodate your needs, for a price of course.

Some of them weren’t the sharpest of businessmen, though. One man offered prime space for $30, but only had two cars on his lawn, while the guy across the street was offering his for $25 and had six cars on his property. You’d think the first fellow would lower his price, but he stuck to his guns and the vehicles kept passing him by.

Now before you get too enthralled, I’ll say it now: I didn’t go to the game.

Not because I didn’t want to, but the price for two tickets was just a bit out of my price range as an hourly sports writer. I was OK with that, though, because I just wanted to see what the hoopla was all about. As we drove away from the stadium that morning, I realized that I couldn’t get away from it. The gas station I stopped at sold Cheeseheads and the girl at the register sported a Packers shirt and was sad that she was missing the game.

When we arrived at a museum, the woman in the gift shop was intently watching the game on her iPhone and groaned when the Saints tied the game. There were even Packers’ giveaways at the zoo.

Even when you have the chance to feed a giraffe, the Packers will take over that experience. It’s truly incredible.

Even I, a Packer hater, couldn’t turn away. I can’t stand that franchise, but I couldn’t help myself and I listened to the game on the way back to the U.P.

In the end, of course, Drew Brees and the Saints were too much for the Packers to handle and Hundley didn’t exactly rise to the occasion in his opportunity as starting quarterback.

I smiled at the conclusion (hey, I can’t forget who I truly root for), but I left with a sense of respect. The Orcs were truly loyal and even as a torrential downpour drenched them and their gear, they smiled and flipped their burgers and bratwurst.

I’ve seen strong fan bases before, but Packers fans take it to a whole new level. If it weren’t for Lambeau and the Packers, nobody outside of the area would know that Green Bay existed. So the Orcs take things seriously and devote themselves wholeheartedly to Mordor and their leader, the dark lord Aaron, who although injured, will never truly go away.

I will still devote myself to despising Aaron, Mordor and the Orcs, but I respect them and I give them credit for sitting through a loss while rain constantly peppered their jerseys. Not many fans would do that, so kudos Packers fans.

When I arrived back in the U.P., I looked at the photo I took of Lambeau and reflected on my journey. I had made it to Mordor, stood at the black gates, scouted the Orcs and came up with a plan.

Now it’s time for me and the Hobbits to invade and we will. Someday.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.