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Finding a way into Lambeau

Two years ago, I went on an amazing journey.

Like Frodo Baggins from Lord of the Rings, I embarked to a place that was unappealing and intimidating, but it was necessary that I completed my adventure.

That place was Green Bay, Wisconsin.

As I said in my column back in 2017, growing up in Minnesota, the idea of voyaging across the St. Croix River to Wisconsin, let alone Green Bay, wasn’t something us Hobbits (Vikings fans) looked forward to. After all, I heard horror stories of how the Orcs (Packers fans) treated us Hobbits and that Mordor (Green Bay) was a cold and miserable place that would destroy you physically with its icy grip and then mentally with the taunts of the Orcs. These weren’t your generic Orcs either. These Orcs wore foam wedges of cheese on their heads as a sense of pride and honor, a strange sight to behold.

Yet, I had to go. When I left two years ago, I used the Northern Michigan University hockey team’s game against Wisconsin in Green Bay as the excuse for me trying to enter Mordor. This time, my excuse was my anniversary. Yes, you read that correctly. I used my sixth wedding anniversary to scope out a football facility and try to better understand a fanbase. You might be thinking how did I convince my wife to go along with this? I didn’t take much. I promised good food, even second breakfasts, and an escape from the boredom of The Shire (her job). So my loyal partner (my Samwise Gamgee, if you will) willingly traveled with me as I tried to get through the Black Gate of Mordor once again, not knowing what we might encounter this time around.

After experiencing some delays, as we can never escape road construction, we arrived in Green Bay mid-afternoon and almost immediately, we saw Mount Doom (Lambeau Field) rise out of the earth. There was a haze surrounding the stadium as it was a surprisingly hot afternoon, so as we walked around it to our hotel, we were almost overcome by the heat coming out. Our spy mission would resume in the morning. To be able to enter, we must act like these mysterious Cheeseheads, so we decided to learn their ways.

We ate at a distillery that night where I dined on a burger that had bacon, Nutella and fried chocolate chip cookie dough on top. Yes, this was an actual meal and it was surprisingly delicious.

We briefly explored the area and I noticed that former head coach Mike McCarthy still had a street named after him. The last time I arrived, I wondered if that would still be the case when I returned, or if Packers fans would demand that the street be renamed after former wide receiver Jordy Nelson as loudly as they demanded McCarthy be relieved of his duties. As it turned out, they either weren’t loud enough or they simply pretend the street doesn’t exist. Or maybe it was a little of both.

As we arrived back to our hotel, I gazed out my window at Mount Doom. We got upgraded thanks to our anniversary and instead of staring at a parking lot, I got to look directly at the stadium. Tomorrow, I would make my way into the imposing structure and see if it lived up to its reputation.

When we arrived at Mount Doom, there was a drizzle in the air. The haze was still surrounding the stadium, but the intense heat was replaced by a cool breeze. Outside the stadium, two massive statues of legendary coaches Vince Lombardi and Curly Lambeau guarded the area. There’s also a statue of four Orcs pretending that they’re about to collect one of the Packers’ players performing the Lambeau Leap, which my wife excitedly posed next to. I began to wonder if my loyal Sam would betray the mission, but instead, her performance drew smiles from the Orcs near us. They thought we’re one of them.

We walked through the pro shop, which was quite large and the Packers famous “G” logo was plastered on just about everything. Not just helmets, T-shirts or hoodies, but even pizza peels and fuzzy pink unicorns. I thought this was ridiculous at first, but when I watched a little girl run toward the unicorns and grab one, I was impressed and had to smile. Well played Green Bay, you’ve converted another child.

We rode the escalator up to the atrium and even as a Vikings fan, I’ll admit that it’s impressive. It’s massive and it’s enticing. It’s like they packed (pun intended) in a bunch of history and it makes you almost hear the echoes of past games. There was a line for tours that I was tempted to sign up for, but the price was quite steep. Instead of doing that, we decided to check out the Packers Hall of Fame. I heard the Orcs were obsessed with their past and now I’d see if that was true.

We watched a movie talking about the majesty of Mount Doom and how much the Orcs loved not only their stadium, but the team that plays in it. We found out how a typical week plays out for the Packers leading up to Sunday’s game, which was labeled on a display. It’s weird that the Orcs would leave their plans available for all to see, but this was during the McCarthy era. Now that Matt LaFleur is in charge, maybe things will change.

There’s also the impressive 100 Seasons exhibit, which was created to commemorate the Packers’ 100th year as a franchise this season. Apparently, Green Bay played a team from Ishpeming that season and won handily, 33-0. I’m guessing that outcome would be even worse these days. No offense to my Ishpeming readers.

Then we rode a second set of escalators to the next level where the majority of the artifacts were and there was some cool stuff there. There was equipment from famous players and memorabilia from the four Super Bowls the Packers won (very little, if any, from the Super Bowl loss to the Broncos though). There is also a fascinating display about last year’s Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Jerry Kramer that said that he once was chasing a loose calf, which stamped on an old board and sent a sharp, splinter of wood into the former lineman’s groin. I grimaced thinking of that kind of pain.

As I walked around, I couldn’t help but be enthralled. It was all really interesting and I could feel the history come alive in my head. I was defiant when I entered Lambeau, vowing that the Orcs would not convert me, but now there was this tiny part of me that wanted to join.

That’s when something creepy happened. The Packers have a replica of Lombardi’s office up on the second floor as well as a replica 1960s telephone. I sat down in a chair to take in the experience, so I could understand it better and once I got up, the office phone rang. I’m not kidding. I’d been up there for 45 minutes and that thing didn’t ring once for anybody and several people sat in that chair. I picked up the phone and I heard a recording of Lombardi welcoming me to the Packers and saying that I would have a great time being part of a franchise that has so much pride. I thought that was a cool effect, but then I didn’t hear it ring for anyone else the rest of the time we were there. It’s like the Hall of Fame was taunting me and I, somehow, was going along with it.

The final part of the Hall of Fame was the room of jewels, i.e. the Packers’ trophies. All 13 league championship trophies were inside, including the four Lombardi trophies for each Super Bowl win, and there was even triumphant music playing in the background. It was enticing and somehow, it was making me sort of want to become an Orc.

Seriously, how do you do this to people?

To get out of the stadium to our getaway car, we had to walk back through the pro shop and after purchasing a gift for my mother-in-law (one of the Orcs shamelessly living among us Hobbits), we made it safely outside. After all that, I have to admit that Mount Doom is pretty cool and the passion and history inside it creates a fun experience. It even got my wife to take a photo of me at the Lambeau Leap statue.

However, I’m still not an Orc. I even gathered your secrets. You Orcs focus so much on your history that you shrug off that Aaron Rodgers is aging and the Packers’ window for success is closing. You still don’t have a reliable No. 2 wide receiver and although you’ve made some improvements to your secondary, it’s not reliable yet. All of that doesn’t matter though if Rodgers goes down with an injury like what happened two years ago. You know, the last time I was in Green Bay.

The football season kicks off next month and us Hobbits have perfected our plan to defeat you. We attack on September 15 and I’ll be watching. Maybe not in person, but now that you’ve let me inside Lambeau, it’ll feel like I was.

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