If there is one thing I have learned growing up in Wisconsin, it’s that when someone offers you a free ticket to a Green Bay Packers game you must say yes or face terrible consequences.
Even on Christmas Day.
First a little background: I work two jobs, both in retail. Obviously the arrival of Christmas was a big relief to me as it’s the sign that the craziness that began the day after Thanksgiving was finally coming to an end. With both employers being closed, I was looking forward to the day off and quiet time with family and watching Packers vs. Bears on TV before going back in at 5:30 am on the 26th.
Then the phone rang at about 9 am.
You don’t expect too many phone calls Christmas Day aside from relatives outside the area calling to say “Merry Christmas.” This one, however, was a very different (and honestly a much better) phone call.
It was cousin, ironically from Illinois but a Packers season ticket holder. He had a spare ticket to the game Sunday night and asked if I wanted to go along, no charge at all. If ever there was a stupid question, this is it.
Of course I’d go! Any Packer fan needs to have their Cheesehead confiscated if they turn down the opportunity to see the oldest rivalry in the NFL in person. Still, it was Christmas and I knew family was coming. Like a child excited to be invited to the best party ever, I sheepishly asked my dad if this would be an issue with the family coming over. Since he’s a Packer shareholder, he borderline chastised me for even asking and said go and have fun.
So I went about the rest of my day wound tighter than a clock in anticipation. When family arrived at 2:30, I explained my departure and all understood even my other cousin who is a Giants fan (I have the best family ever). After a communication hiccup involving who was driving and when to leave, we arrived in Green Bay about 6:00 and parked about 4 blocks away from Lambeau Field.
I’ve been to many games in my lifetime, but this was the first one at night and Lambeau is spectacle to behold at night. The lighting inside the bowl added a whole new level of mystique to a stadium that had enough to fill the other 30 NFL arenas. We sat down at about 6:45 and talked with other fans as we awaited kickoff.
With all that out of the way, let me just give you some of the more memorable experiences of watching the 35-21 victory in person.
Aaron Rodgers-If you think it’s a treat to watch Rodgers on TV, you have got to see him play in person. I already knew he’s a special quarterback but watching #12 in action up close and personal was an even better experience.
Our seats were on the Bears sideline at the 50 yard line and 14 rows up. I mean, I could verbally bash the Bears and have them actually hear me! The most memorable play of the game for me was the Rodgers 55-yard bomb to Jordy Nelson and seeing this play unfold literally right in front of me is something I will never forget.
Seeing Rodgers drop back and do his little spin move to his right almost seemed like a blur. Actually, it WAS a blur. Once we saw this, it seemed every fan in the building knew Rodgers was about to unload. I swear there was an actual audible holding of the breath inside the bowl!
As Rodgers rolls to his right, and he is literally directly in front of me at this point, he cocks back and fires. Unlike with his predecessor, there was no heart attack when this happened. We just watched a perfect spiral launch, and at about its aperture we saw Nelson down the middle with a couple yards on his receiver. We knew it was money and Nelson walking into the end zone a few seconds later confirmed it.
I just stood there and shook my head during the celebration. Seeing that happen was incredible and it showed me up close and personal how special Rodgers really is and at the level he has been playing at basically since he took over in 2008.
Bears fans-This was my first Packers/Bears game so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect out of the Bears fans in attendance. Would the holiday atmosphere alter the behavior and the mood of the biggest rivalry in the NFL?
On the whole, the Bears fans were pleasant. During the first half and the first drive of the third quarter, they got a little rowdy and said the Packers had been exposed. As the Packers offense caught fire as the third quarter went on they got subdued and knew their slim playoff chances had disappeared. They were classy afterward, wished us luck in the playoffs and said how proud we should be of Rodgers. They wished the Bears had a quarterback like that.
Wow, Jay Cutler gets burned even when he’s hurt (and legitimately hurt this time!)
One Bears fan, however, was a total pain the butt.
At one point, with the Packers up 28-10, the Bears began moving the ball into Packers territory. A fan in his 20s about four rows in front of me sporting a Gale Sayers jersey kept standing up, turning around, spreading his arms out like “how do you like us now?!” and pimping out his jersey. It was probably the beer talking.
Anyway, behind me three Packers fans (in perfect unison) all shouted the guy down to “Hey, a**hole! SCOREBOARD! SCORE. BOARD!”
Once the fourth quarter rolled around, the man was permanently subdued by 70,000 Packers fans chanting as one “THE BEARS STILL SUCK!” on national TV.
This just goes to show you how psychologically damaging it is to be a Bears fan. They are further proof denial is NOT just a river in Egypt.
Packers fans-I tweeted after the game that only at Lambeau Field can you go to a game, meet total strangers, and three hours later feel like you’re ready to take a bullet for them.
Maybe that’s a bit overdramatic but it speaks to the bond and kinship shared by Packer fans all over the world. Every fan of every team thinks their team and the bond with the fans is special. However, even Bears fans concede that what the Packers and their fans have is unique.
Nothing else matters once you walk into Lambeau Field. Even in this age of intense political polarization, it all gets left at home when you come to a Packer game. If you’re Packer fan, male or female, white, black, Asian, Latino, Democrat, Republican, it does not matter.
You are a Packer fan and you are family.
So aside from my cousin, it looks like I got to spend Christmas with family after all. It was just my extended and rather large and diverse family.
History-Sitting in those bleachers, looking out onto the field and getting chills as you reminisce about Vince Lombardi and Packers of the past is an unforgettable experience in and of itself.
However, as has become the habit with the 2011 Packers, we were watching history and records fall before our eyes.
During this one game, we saw Rodgers’ first five touchdown game of his career as he continued to put distance between his 2011 season and Brett Favre’s best. We saw Donald Driver eclipse 10,000 receiving yards, the first Packer ever to do so. The team won 14 games in the regular season for the first time in franchise history.
Oh yeah, and they locked down home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. The road to Indianapolis and Super Bowl XLVI now runs through Lambeau Field in January.
Then there was the game itself. It was Packers/Bears after all. How much more historical can you get?
Once the game was over, we lingered in the stands and took some pictures before heading back to the car and went home. I set foot in my house around 12:45 am and had to wake up at 4:15 to get ready for work. It all translated to a little less than three hours of sleep.
I didn’t care. Was I exhausted that morning? Absolutely. I had no voice.
But I didn’t care. It was completely worth it. The fact that I got to see this team in action in a special year (regardless of ultimate outcome) for a franchise chock full of special moments.
It was a Christmas I will never forget. You point to years in your childhood when you remember getting that one toy you will never forget and will always cherish. This year, as an adult, will be one of those moments as I got the phone call that morning.
I feel very blessed. Many Packer fans never get a chance to see their beloved team in person at the Frozen Tundra, let alone against the Bears.
Many thanks to my cousin (you know who you are) for the opportunity of a lifetime and thanks to my family stuck at home while I was at Lambeau for being so understanding.
I am the part of two great families: my biological one and my Packer one.
It was a blessed and great Christmas for me. I hope it was the same for all of you.
Happy New Year and let’s enjoy watching the Packers roll to another Super Bowl title.
GO PACK GO!
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke