What an excellent adventure it was. As I sit down to write this, I realize that at this time last week, I was on Texas I-30, driving to Cowboys Stadium. A battle between two teams with the most respected organizations in sports awaited, and the game did not disappoint. Especially if you were a Packers Fan.
Since returning to reality back home in NJ, work has kept me inundated and unable to properly enjoy or reflect on that weekend (really, I could have used a week off after the game – I’ll have to remember that if there’s a next time).
So as I sit here on this football-less Sunday, I’m going to look back and properly reflect on my experience. And as Elton John said, “I hope you don’t mind if, I put down in words…. how wonderful life is when the Packers are Champs.” Sorry Elton…
3:00AM Saturday, Feb 5th. RING! RING! RING! The alarm goes off. “You have got to be kidding me”, I think to myself. But there was no hesitation. I jumped out of bed and into the shower. I was on the road by 3:45 to catch a 6:20 flight out of JFK airport in NY.
Just getting into Dallas had been a huge concern all week. I closely watched weather.com and accuweather.com to check on Dallas weather and NY weather. I followed the series of storms hitting Dallas, and the multiple airport closures. I had just paid more than 3 times face value for a Super Bowl ticket, what if I can’t get there? Not to mention there was a storm predicted for Saturday morning in NY. What if I’m delayed there and miss my connecting flight? Ahhhhhhhhhh!
Fortunately, I’m really not the worrying type, so I put all of this out of my head and convinced myself all would be OK.
As I hit the road, I leave to light flurries. The latest weather report predicted a 7:00 start to the snow in the airport area. So basically, I am racing the snow east to the airport, and if all goes well, I’ll be in the air by the time the first snow hits in NY.
I make it to JFK in 45 minutes, which if you know NY traffic, is an impossibility at any time of the day other than 4:00AM. I can’t even remember the last time I drove up to the George Washington Bridge and didn’t have a single car in front of me at the toll.
Anyway, all went well, the flight left on time and I was on my way to Charlotte to catch my connecting flight. There were plenty of open seats on the plane. I sat in an aisle seat as I always do and in the window seat next to me was a young lady (late 20’s maybe) who was able to sleep most of the flight in what for me would seem like the most uncomfortable of positions. I’m insanely jealous of people who can sleep on planes.
I spoke with her briefly near the end of her trip. She was going to the Super Bowl, which was going to be her first football game ever, a birthday present from her boyfriend who lives in Texas. She didn’t have a real rooting interest, but was going with the Packers – liked the whole community-owned small town team vibe. This would be a recurring theme all weekend – seemed like the vast majority of “neutral” fans I spoke with were going with the Packers for those same reasons. Helps to have a unique story.
I exit the plane at the Charlotte airport, and it looks like I landed in Pittsburgh. Black and Yellow everywhere. I had to double check the board to be sure I was in the right place. Get to the gate for my connecting flight, and it’s like I wandered into a Pittsburgh Steelers pep rally. Not much later, a flight attendant comes running out in a Polamalu wig and jersey and starts leading cheers for the Steelers fans. I see one other fan wearing Packers gear. I catch his eye and we both just kind of shake our heads in unison. This was going to be a loooooong flight.
During the flight, I have a little give and take with a few Steelers fans – all friendly stuff. Across the aisle was Troy Palamalu’s agent, who was being peppered with questions by a Steelers fan sitting next to him. I broke into the conversation a few times, once to show them Bob McGinn’s “The Ultimate Super Bowl Book”, which I was reading on the flight.
The Steelers fan kept repeating “six Super Bowl wins” to me in practically every sentence, as if that would shut me up. I finally hit him with the “The Packers have 12 NFL championships – they just weren’t always called the Super Bowl.” He made a motion with his hand, nodded his head in acceptance, turned around and didn’t speak to me again the entire trip. Haha.
The Steeler fan flight attendant got on the PA a few times and led some Steelers cheers – I kid you not. With a seriously straight face, I later asked her how I go about filing a complaint about her behavior. She froze for a few seconds and I let her hang there, before telling her I was just busting her cohones. I’m sure her heart skipped a beat. I had my quiet revenge.
I finally make it to Dallas (without any more Steelers cheers from the flight attendant) and spend an hour there waiting for my cousin Pete (also a huge Packers fan), whose flight was delayed due to de-icing needed in Cincinnati. As I’m waiting, I’m serenaded by a group of women in what I assume were ethnic Mexican costumes, singing and playing instruments. I then sat there staring at a souvenir stand, wondering if I should buy my Super Bowl souvenirs now. Nah, I decide, they’re always more expensive in airports. I do pick up an official Super Bowl program for $15, figuring now I wouldn’t have to carry one around at the game.
My cousin makes it (ahhhh, I can finally talk Packers with someone…), we get our rental car and head for the Hampton Inn and Suites in Mesquite. After a few unplanned circular tours of the area, we find the hotel which is quite nice and new and right next door to the Mesquite Rodeo. I’m told the area is hopping during a rodeo weekend, but this week, being on the opposite side of Dallas as that than the Stadium, it’s quite quiet and perfect for getting away from the madness in the Arlington area.
Our plan was to hit a Packers pep rally or two going on near the Stadium from 2:00 – 4:00 and then head to dinner at Pappas Brothers Steak House, where we had a 5:30 reservation. We make it into the Arlington area by 2:30, and sat in traffic for 2 hours. We never got out of our car, never made it to a pep rally, it was awful. I have to say, the police officers directing traffic at each intersection seemed to have no idea what they were doing. Stick them in a Manhattan intersection and the entire city would be gridlocked in 15 minutes.
It was a total mess. Once we cleared the area, we decided to just get the hell out of Arlington and head to the restaurant. We pull up to the restaurant in our rental car and hand the keys over (valet parking only) and entire into a still rather empty, but just gorgeously decorated establishment.
Lots of dark wood everywhere, fancy accents, ornate and leather upholstered chairs, waiters dressed to the nines – we definitely a bit under-dressed with our jeans and Packers sweatshirts. But they didn’t care. In NYC, a restaurant like this would have pretentiousness written all over it, but all we received was just a healthy dose of Texas hospitality.
We had fun with our waiter. He kept recommending seafood-inspired dishes and I feigned indignation, “we’re in a Texas steakhouse, dammit bring us our steak!”, or “Why would I want to ruin my steak by putting a mound of crabmeat on it?”. Anyway, it was all in good fun, and he enjoyed our Jersey accents and sense of humor.
After we finished our fantastic steaks and equally good desserts, the waiter comes over to me and whispers in my ear, “I shouldn’t tell you this, but Aaron Rodgers is having dinner with his family right now in our private dining room. Please don’t tell anyone.” I gave him the official NJ “no problem,” and got up to go to the bathroom.
As I walked to the bathroom, I noticed the private dining room door right where the waiter said it would be and proceeded past a vary large Texas trooper or Dallas police officer (I didn’t check credentials) standing guard by the front of the restaurant. I went into the spotless bathroom, and got rid of the remnants of the California Red Zinfindel I had with my steak. After washing my hands (always, people!) I head for the door and in walks yet another huge Texas law officer. Wow, I think to myself, I doubt if a classy place like this usually needs police protection in-house. There MUST be something special going on.
So I attempt to make my way back to our table, but take a wrong turn and end up in the wrong room. I turn back and head back the right way. As I am about to pass the private dining room door (it seems like this was in slow motion), the door swings open and a waiter comes out. As the waiter leaves the doorway, I get a quick glimpse of Rodgers sitting at the center of the table, with his family around him, and the door swings closed. It took all of two seconds, yet in my mind, it feel like a Matrix-style slow motion happening. Had I not made that initial wrong turn, I would walked by too soon and missed this perfect moment – talk about fate!
We paid the bill and as we walked out, noticed Rodger’s brother Luke, returning from his own trip to the bathroom. The trooper at the entrance shot me a look that said, “no, son”, so we just kept walking. We jumped into the car and made it to Sherlocks Pub, the site of the CheeseheadTV tweetup. The place was hopping. We passed through an outside tent with people dancing and made it into the bar, where there were people six-deep, no exaggeration.
We needed to get to the back room, so we took an alternate route and finally made it back there. As I surveyed the room, I spotted them – the gleesome threesome, Brian Carriveau, Alex Tallitsch, and Jayme Joers. Handshakes and hugs ensued. They introduced me to other Packer fans at the table, Michelle, Curt (a fireman) and “Richard”, who I would later find out was the infamous “Dick Chang” – Gong! (A cheeseheadTV inside joke, if you don’t know)
A little while later, the big cheese arrived. Corey Behnke, co-founder of CheeseheadTV, came in wearing his uncle’s sport jacket that he used to wear to Packers games in the 60’s, a Gold Packers tie and lugging a camera with a big ass lens. Speaking of Behnke’s I also met Aunt Gert’s son and told him how much we all enjoy listening to Aunt Gert talk Packers.
I got to have some meaningful conversations with Brian Carriveau and Jayme Joers, but alas, Alex Tallitsch was busy most of the evening with some old friends he hadn’t seen in 20 years, so I never got to properly discuss Mason Crosby and a variety of other topics with him. We did take a pretty cool picture together, though…
As the night progressed, much beer was consumed and many great Packers fans were met. I met Kyle Cousineau, who I call the “Mayor of Green Bay”, because he’s one of those outgoing people that seems to know everyone and anyone connected with the Packers. It was one such connection (he had met and befriended Jason LaConfora of NFL Network when they were in Green Bay), that landed him a Super Bowl ticket with access to more than just the game.
Steve “The Owner” Tate was kind enough to fit us into his busy schedule. I call him the “energizer bunny of Packers fans”, because he is at EVERY event, always in full uniform, always wearing his “NFL Owner” cheesehead, and always, seemingly getting on TV. That night he was a non-stop whir of talking, taking pictures, posing for pictures, handing out cards, introducing people, etc. The guy never stops. Amazing spirit and energy. Also met Steve’s sister, who I had a nice conversation with about her kids in the service and her husband, sporting a cool-looking Packers leather jacket. Darth Packer, also with his own business card, stopped by to say hello and I had a good talk with fellow blogger Brandon, from AcmePackingCompany.com
Then the Cheddarhead invasion started. I spotted them across the room. AJ Grill and his Green and Gold “Cat in the Hat” style hat was the first sighting. Then Juan Anaya and his glittering Championship belt. The Cheddarhead Pack of Houston are the largest Packers fan club in the country (1300 members) and they represent quite well, thank you. I met AJ and Juan’s significant others, their friend Eddy and a host of other Chedderhead members who stopped in to say hello. Sorry I don’t remember everyone’s name. These guys really rocked.
Spoke at length with the twitter user known as @hammen. Now here’s a guy that can carry a conversation. With him was I believe his nephew, who was as quiet as @hammen was vocal. They drove down to the game from Wisconsin and had some interesting stories about the road conditions and delays they met up with.
Had a nice conversation with WiscoKid, who asked me to sign his football, my first ever autograph request. That felt strange. Also met his lovely wife who had some really cool Packers gear, including a Green & Gold football purse and light-up Packers earrings.
Eventually, the lack of sleep from the night before caught up to me, as I found myself yawning quite a bit during a conversation with Jayme, and not because she was boring me, either. I decided to head back to the hotel around midnight and catch up on some sleep before what would be another long day Sunday.
Sorry this turned out to be so long. I am going to make it a two-part story as a result. Part 2 will be all about the actual game day experience. And right now, I’m going to go re-watch the game on Tivo, as I still have only seen it in person.
Part two can be found here.
Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.