This will probably be a long one because I suspect it’ll read more like my love letter to the Green Bay Packers than a comment on the direction the franchise is heading.
I remember when I first fell in love with the green and gold. It was January 25th, 1998. I was 11. I was in my family room in Miami, Florida watching the Super Bowl pre-game show. Apparently the game was to be played by the Green Bay Packers and Denver Broncos. I faintly remembered seeing this same Packers team playing in the Super Bowl the year before and some dude taking off his helmet to celebrate a touchdown.
You see, I was young and not really a football fan. The Super Bowl was really just an opportunity to stay up late and eat pizza, but my youth led me to believe these Green Bay Packers made it to the Super Bowl every year. They seemed like winners. So I expanded my football view beyond the local Dolphins and Dan Marino (whom I never really liked) and hitched my wagon to the Green Bay Packers.
I immersed myself into this team. I used my family’s new computer to read everything I could about the team. I learned about Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi. I started to rattle off all the major names in Packer history to others: Brett Favre, Reggie White, LeRoy Butler, Don Majkowski, Sterling Sharpe, Bart Starr, Don Hutson, Lynn Dickey, Ray Nitschke, James Lofton, Paul Hornung, Dave Robinson and many, many more. Ron Wolf and Bob Harlan became two of my favorite people ever. I thought Mike Holmgren was the second greatest coach ever and was hurt when he left for Seattle.
Knowing the team’s history wasn't enough. I wanted to know about Green Bay. It wasn't long before I knew about the Fox River, 1265 Lombardi Avenue, Ashwaubenon, De Pere, St. Norbert College, Austin Straubel International Airport, and UW-Green Bay. I even kept up with the 2001 Lambeau Field renovations simply because it had to do with Green Bay and the Packers. I learned to hate Chicago and Minnesota (especially Minnesota).
I HATED being called a bandwagon fan, so I made sure I knew everything I could. I wasn’t bandwagon. I LOVED the Packers.
The team gave me a lot of memories – good and bad. My favorite? Antonio Freeman’s diving-off-his-shoulder-turn-on-his-back-make-the-catch-get-up and run for the touchdown in overtime against the Vikings on Monday Night Football. I yelled. Really loud. That barely beats out Al Harris’s interception. You know which one. The one that makes me most sick? 4-and-26. Like many people, I still get upset about it.
My dream was to visit Lambeau, but I never actually saw it happening. Then I met a young lady who suggested I just go. No need to keep planning – just do it. So we did it.
December 9th, 2012. Lions-Packers. Sunday Night Football. Cold. Snow. I was too excited. We flew into Milwaukee and stayed in Oshkosh. We drove up and spent all day in Green Bay – eating and walking around the entire stadium. We were so ill prepared. Thin jackets and socks and no hand warmers, but we LOVED IT. Between the game and the Packers Hall of Fame, I must have taken 500 pictures. The people were so friendly. I made friends and still write them to this day. I didn't know Mike McCarthy taped a show, so I missed it, but I promised myself I’d be back. And I did go back. Redskins-Packers, September 15th, 2013. I didn't think it possible, but I loved it even more. My girlfriend bought some of those fantastic Packers overalls, we got a flyover and we attended the Mike McCarthy Show. I love Green Bay, Wisconsin and I love the Green Bay Packers. I’ll be there again this year and every year until I die if I can help it.
Now, why do I bring this up? Well, I love this team and my interactions with the team have only increased my love for the team. Weirdly enough, it’s almost as if the team can do no wrong. That’s in direct opposition to some criticisms I've seen from other Packers fans recently.
I asked Packer fan Kyle Cousineau (@KCousineau09) about some of his thoughts concerning the direction of the team. “…the Packers need to be careful. In the blink of an eye the price for a family of 4 to come to Green Bay for a game at Lambeau Field is quickly approaching $1,000 when you consider ticket prices (via secondary market), parking, souvenirs, and something to eat & drink at the game. What worries me is that the Green Bay Packers organization is growing too fast for the local folks in Northeast Wisconsin.” While he acknowledged that as a business, the Packers are thriving, he stated his concerns for locals. Between the cost of games and the team purportedly planning to develop the area with shopping and hotels around the stadium, locals feel like an after-thought it seems – something I couldn't know since I've only been to the city of Green Bay twice. Kyle is born and raised in Green Bay, attends every home game, at least one road game and even regularly attends training camp. He knows.
I can understand his sentiment. Green Bay is small, which makes it perfect. It feels like family. The last thing I’d want is big corporations coming in and ruining my family. When it comes to the fan experiences, Kyle is also skeptical. Fan Fest? Gone. Draft party? Gone. The Family Night practice is different and he doesn’t like any of it.
I also wanted the opinion of someone who wasn't local, but wasn't exactly across the country, so I asked John Rehor (@jrehor) – who lives about an hour outside of Chicago to give me his feelings on the team. He only attends a couple of games a year, at most, but he showed dissatisfaction at the same things as Kyle. “I believe that the team has little connection with fans these days. Their canceling Fan Fest, theraft party, no video at training camp - all are examples of how out of touch they are. Their social media is also terrible.”
When I compare these thoughts and feelings with my own, something becomes evident – maybe the reason I don’t feel as strongly is because I’m not local. If the Packers reinstituted Fan Fest and the Draft Party, it wouldn't affect me. I probably wouldn't be able to go. The Packers realize this. The team realizes that they've become a worldwide brand. More and more of their game attendance are people visiting from other places of the country or the world. The Packers see this as untapped potential and, unfortunately, see a ceiling on how much money the city of Green Bay and the state of Wisconsin can bring them.
As someone who’s almost convinced himself that he’s a Green Bay resident, this makes me sad. I don’t want that city and it’s surrounding villages to become an after-thought. Being the NFL’s smallest market is only special because the team is proud of that distinction. Moving past those in the small market seems, well, mean.
I can’t identify with many of the complaints listed above, but no training camp video is terrible. If the team were truly pushing to engage its fans outside of a 300-mile radius, then you’d think they’d want fans to see as much of the teams as possible through social media. Twitter updates are nice, but Vine videos from Wilde, Demovsky and others would be much better. I understand “secrecy” because you’re installing defenses, but this is ridiculous. I didn’t realize how much I would miss them until I didn’t have them. If this is a fraction of the frustration local fans feel with the changes made by the team, then I feel for those in Wisconsin and surrounding areas.
Having said all this, it’s still important for us to understand how good we have it. I also went to a Dallas Cowboys game last year in Dallas, and I didn’t get the sense that Jerry Jones cares at all about his fans. Everything in his stadium, as beautiful as it is, is made to make money. There doesn’t seem to be much interaction between players and fans, there’s no coaches show and his training camp is in California. Compare that to players riding bicycles at Packers camp, being able to watch players drive away from the stadium after games, being able to ask Coach McCarthy a question during his television show. What we have is amazing and unique and the price isn’t comparable. The Fan Cost Index for every NFL team shows that the Cowboys are the most expensive ticket while the Packers are about average. Now, that’s probably not comforting to those living in the NFL’s smallest market, but again, I believe the Packers are thinking beyond the locals. The cost of a Packers game is astronomical if you plan on going to every game, but just one a year? People can save up for that. It’s a no-lose situation. The team has a 60+ year waiting list for tickets. They can charge what they want.
I love the Packers and so do millions of others. The team has done many things well, but it seems like for all they’re doing well, they have some major improvements to make. This article may never make it to the desk of Mark Murphy or anyone else in the organization, but I hope they never forget the city of Green Bay is tied to the Packers just like the Packers are tied to them.