When you visit a random city like Milwaukee, here’s the most common question you get: “Why are you going there in August, did somebody die?”
Nope. I went to Milwaukee last weekend to see some friends, hit two baseball games, abuse my body, do some tailgating and make the holy pilgrimage to Lambeau Field. Call it an old-school male bonding weekend, the kind of thing guys did before Vegas became popular. I even kept a running mega-diary. Here’s what transpired.
6:00 p.m. — My buddies Chip (Milwaukee native, serial babbler, host for the weekend), JackO (Hartford resident, Yankee fan, raconteur) and Gallo (San Fran resident, Vikings fan, Lambeau admirer) pick me up at the airport. First stop: Miller Park. As a monkey wrench, Chip is driving us with a broken right ankle suffered during a softball slide gone horribly wrong. Now we’re trying to decide what we’re more excited about tonight — the sausage race, or Chip having a few beers, then spilling down an aisle on his crutches. Frankly, it’s a toss-up.
6:30 — Gentleman, start your tailgates! We’re drinking outside the ballpark, which looks like a giant Space Vulva from the outside (as I described in detail back in 2002). In just 30 minutes, we’re about to see …
(Wait, let me give this a Fox baseball setup … )
“Backe! Ohka!!! It’s the Astros and the Brewers, live from Miller Park!!!”
6:45 — Gallo toasts Chip for remembering to bring a cooler of ice-cold beer for the 40th time. The number of Brewers fans tailgating is staggering — it feels like a football game. Can you blame them? Who doesn’t love tailgating?
7:15 — We’re headed to our seats one inning late … but not before ordering the first round of brats. Love the prices: $5 for a beer, $4 for a brat, $2.75 for a hot dog. JackO eagerly orders the “cheese fries in a [mini-Brewers] helmet,” vowing, “I’m just using the helmet as my plate all weekend. Every time we eat anything, I’m eating it out of the helmet.” I think he’s serious.
(Note: You have to appreciate any baseball stadium that offers a “special sauce” along with mustard and ketchup. That’s one of those terms where you immediately assume that it IS special, kinda like when a restaurant throws in the phrase “world famous” to describe any of their foods, even though it’s impossible for some random seafood joint in Cape Cod to have “world famous” clam chowder. And yet if I see the phrase “world famous,” I’m always stepping in. Needless to say, I’m knee deep in the special sauce right now. I’m that easy.)
7:24 — Guy on third, two outs, grounder back to the mound … and Tomo Ohka chases the runner back to third, quickly realizes how moronic this is, then whips the throw 10 feet over his first baseman’s head. We’re tied at one. Ladies and gentleman, Quadruple-A baseball!
7:29 — While monitoring a certain AL game on my Mobile ESPN phone (available in stores everywhere!), JackO pumps his fist after a Johnny Damon RBI single. “He’s been unbelievable for us,” he says, throwing 500 pounds of salt into the wounds. “Great in the clubhouse, everyone raves about him.”
That leads to a spin-off discussion: What in God’s name makes Damon so great to have in the clubhouse? Does he walk around telling knock-knock jokes and handing out mix tapes to his teammates? Does he organize the bachelor parties and bring in homemade chocolate chip cookies on Sundays? When A-Rod is down in the dumps, does he crack him up with his imitation of Jame Gumb’s tuck dance? And if he’s that great for everyone, why doesn’t he host a daytime talk show or something?
7:44 — We’re so titillated thinking about the Sausage Race (still three innings away), we decide to wager on it. I claim the Italian first, followed by Geoff picking the Polish, JackO the brat and Chipper the hot dog. Five bucks apiece, $20 to the winner. Although we’re all winners, really.
7:48 — Not to sound like legendary Hollywood producer Bob Ryan, but what if I told you that Gabe Gross uses a Christian song for his at-bat music that includes lyrics like “help me Jesus!” and “Hallelujah!” Is that something you’d be interested in?
8:03 — Just noticed Dale Sveum is coaching third for the Brewers. I will now try to suffocate myself with a helmet of cheese fries.
8:09 — Milwaukee’s Billy Hall ties the game with a homer, followed by Bernie Brewer sliding down his slide in right field and landing, feet first, on a catwalk. Wait, why didn’t he land in the mug of beer? Chip informs us that they jettisoned the mug a few years ago for PC reasons. You know, because Bernie Brewer landing in a mug of beer was causing the teen drinking rate in Wisconsin to skyrocket. I’m beginning to hate living in this country.
8:12 — Biggest disappointment of the weekend: Brewers rookie Corey Hart not using “Sunglasses at Night” as his at-bat entrance music. That hurts. He ends up crushing a ball toward the wall that brings the crowd to life — as well as JackO, who starts screaming, “Never surrender! Never surrender!” — before it dies at the warning track as the crowd groans. On the bright side, that leads to five minutes of, “Now batting, the shortstop, Colin Hay” jokes.
8:16 — A spirited discussion: How many guys in this game could have started for the Yanks and Red Sox? Definitely Lance Berkman and … yeah. That’s the list.
Just like the Sports Guy, you can visit Lambeau Field (if you can come up with tickets!). ESPN Travel has the details on a “Power Weekend” dream road trip:
Friday, Sept. 15: Wrigley Field, Reds at Cubs
Saturday, Sept. 16: Michigan at Notre Dame
Sunday, Sept. 17: Lambeau Field, Saints vs. Packers
8:20 — Just ran up to get another brat. John Hollinger has me on pace for 19 brats per 48 minutes right now. Hey, you know those T-shirt jerseys that every team sells? Only three are available at the concession stand behind Section 119: J.J. Hardy (out for the year), Derrick Turnbow (lost his closer’s job two months ago) and Carlos Lee (traded to Texas three weeks ago). They don’t kid around with this “small market team” stuff, folks.
8:25 — Chip points out the gigantic Pepsi sign in center field that Sammy Sosa struck during the 2002 Home Run Derby. It’s about 600 feet away. We were both there that night. I kinda miss the days when someone could belt a 600-foot homer and nobody in the park would think it seems fishy at all. Simpler times, you know?
8:45 — Time for the Sausage Race! You can feel the electricity — it’s like those last few moments before the Kentucky Derby gun. The Italian quickly breaks out to a big lead, scurries away from the pack and wins by five lengths as I’m screaming like Jeff Bridges at the end of “Seabiscuit.” Twenty bucks, baby! That’s the Italian’s 22nd win of the season, nine more than the second highest sausage. JackO quickly wonders if they need to start drug-testing the special sauce.
8:48 — Gallo is convinced that I had inside info for the sausage race. He’s actually sulking. Come on, like I have time to Google something like that. Um …
8:54 — Did I mention that the 7-8-9 batters for Houston tonight are Adam Everett (hitting .239), Eric Munson (.207) and Brandon Backe (.139)? Let’s just legalize performance-enhancing drugs in the National League. It’s time.
9:03 — Starting a “What would you use as your at-bat music?” discussion, JackO picks U2’s “Unforgettable Fire.” Chip goes with “Take Me Out” by Franz Ferdinand — the second part of the song, not the first part. Gallo picks the instrumental song from “Halloween” when Laurie walks across the street near the end of the movie right before she finds out that Michael Myers killed her friends. As for me, The Who’s “Eminence Front” has always been enticing, but that’s more of a closer’s song … so I’m going with “Hate It or Love It” by The Game. I’d want to be the first white baseball player who crosses the at-bat music racial barrier. Like the Reverse Jackie Robinson.
9:05 — Reason No. 792 to love Milwaukee: During the seventh-inning stretch, cheerleaders dance to polka songs on top of the Brewers dugout. They’re like the Bizarro Laker Girls.
9:20 — I’m downing another brat. Why? Well … why not? I’m still one of the 10 skinniest people in Miller Park right now. By the way, we’ve already had two gift shop purchases: A blue hat with the current “M” logo for Gallo, as well as a throwback yellow-and-blue Brewers hat for JackO. Did you know that the baseball glove on the old Brewers hat was really an “m” resting on top of a lower-case “b”? Everyone’s incredulous that I didn’t know that. Come on, I’m the same person who was shocked when George Michael came out.
9:24 — JackO takes some sports bigamy heat for purchasing the Brewers hat. “There’s no sports bigamy potential,” he argues. “When will the Brewers and Yankees play in a World Series? Come on. That’s never happening!” Almost on cue, the dude in front of us wearing the Yount throwback jersey turns around and nods glumly.
(Brewers baseball … feel the excitement!)
9:45 — This seems like a good time to mention that (A) this place is almost sold out tonight, (B) it’s the bottom of the ninth, (C) nobody has left yet and (D) Brewers fans are like over-supportive Little League parents. It’s an old-school baseball crowd, like those super-supportive WWF crowds from the ’70s. Anyway, bases loaded, one out, potential franchise player Prince Fielder at the plate … and he comes through with a single as the park explodes! Brewers win! They’re four games out of the wild-card. Fielder gets mobbed by teammates at first base as JackO jokes, “I can’t wait to watch him playing for the Yanks in five years.” Actually, that wasn’t a joke.
10:15 — More tailgating as we wait out the postgame traffic. Did we ever figure out who came up with the idea to tailgate at sporting events? Seriously, there had to have been one guy in the ’40s or ’50s who said to his buddies, “Hey, what if we show up early for the game, park the car, bring an Igloo of beer, and we’ll just hang out in the parking lot, listen to music and make fun of each other until the game starts?” And everyone else was, like, “Wait, that’s a great idea! That might work!” Shouldn’t this person be identified and properly deified? He’s the Jonas Salk of drinking in public, right?
11:15 — We head downtown for beers at Mo’s Pub. Unfortunately, they’re showing baseball highlights and … well … even I’m willing to concede that Derek Jeter might be the MVP this season. He’s the undisputed leader of the Yankees, A-Rod’s on-field shrink, the guy every Yanks fan wants up there in a big spot, and if that’s not enough, he’s hitting .341 and gets to tell Nick Lachey, “sloppy seconds.” Impressive résumé.
11:16 — Scratch that, I’m just buzzed. Don’t listen to me.
11:45 — You know, going to Milwaukee is almost like climbing in a time machine. It’s OK to eat bad food and drink heavy beer. It’s OK to smoke inside bars and restaurants. It’s OK to make small talk and smile at complete strangers. All we’re missing is an NBA star causing an HIV scare and it would be 1992 all over again. Screw it, let’s play Soundgarden on the jukebox and turn off the condom machine. Nobody’s getting laid tonight, folks. Nobody!
12:45 a.m. — We make the obligatory five-minute ride to Potawatomi, the local casino in town. That’s right, casino. You heard me. Casino. Cah-see-no. And you had the gall to question me on this Milwaukee thing?
2:00 — After some moderate losing in craps, someone throws out the “Is anyone hungry?” bait. Within five minutes, we’re sitting down at the casino’s sports bar, watching USA-Japan and ordering drinks and food. Our waitress (not svelte) can’t vouch for the quality of the chowder because, “I’ve had just about everything on the menu, but I’ve never tried that,” which is loosely translated in restaurant-speak to mean, “By all means, don’t order the clam chowder, you will be crapping for the rest of the weekend.” Somehow, this leads to us ordering four bowls, as well as four pulled pork sandwiches. We’re on a collective death wish at this point. Nothing can stop us.
2:35 — Should we get colonics tomorrow morning? Nahhhh.
3:15 — We’re all treading water at a $15 blackjack table. If the dealers in Vegas are like Mariano Rivera, then our current dealer is more like Vicente Padilla — hot-headed, erratic, not that effective, not a closer, but you definitely don’t want to lean in against her. She might be the least friendly person in Milwaukee. By a landslide. At least she’s busting occasionally.
3:45 — We touch up Vicente for a few winning hands before making the “We need to leave now or we’re compromising the pilgrimage tomorrow” call. Time to go. Lambeau beckons.
5:22 — Pee.
6:52 — Pee.
8:29 — Pee.
9:30 — Ugh.
9:45 — My God.
10:45 — Slowly starting to feel human again, although I might need a C-section.
11:45 — Somehow we’re showered and ready to roll. Chip picks us up in his minivan. And why? Because that’s how we roll, beyotch. JackO and I are delighted by something that happened in the Hyatt elevator: We were headed to the lobby with a guy in his 20s, as well as the guy’s parents, when the guy’s cell phone rang. He quickly answered it in a heavy Wisconsin accent (“Hah-low?”), had a brief conversation with someone and hung up. And that led to one of those monotone exchanges that can only happen in Milwaukee.
- Dad (even heavier Wisconsin accent): “Who was that?”
Son (barely conscious): “Brian Logan, he’s meeting us later.”
Dad (after a beat, practically flat-lining): “Great.”
Now we’re trying to figure out who’s less excited: Everyone in the elevator, or Brian Logan driving to meet everyone in the elevator. Probably a toss-up.
12:00 p.m. — During a stop for coffee, I order one of those pre-made yogurt/granola cups to incorporate a healthy moment into the weekend. “Why even bother?” Gallo wonders. Good point. I order a sourdough coffee cake muffin as well. Who am I kidding?
12:30 — Chip gives us a brief driving tour of Milwaukee and the surrounding villages, babbling the entire way as we take turns busting his chops and making fun of the fact that only 9-10 people were running along Lake Michigan on a sunny summer afternoon. Remember the scene in “Airplane” when Ted Striker is telling various passengers about World War II, and they would come back from the flashback and they’d either be hanging or pouring gasoline on themselves? That’s how Chip gets when Milwaukee’s involved. Sadly, I’m forced to plug in my iPod to his car radio and crank Bloc Party at 70 decibels to fend him off.
12:40 — We’re on the road! Two hours until we hit Green Bay. Vegas just listed the over/under for farts on this ride is “139.5.” Take the over.
1:00 — The running Brian Logan joke has evolved to the point that we’re now pretending that (A) he’s meeting us at Lambeau, and (B) it will be the first time we’ve seen him since the funeral for his father, Brian Logan Sr. Who imagined that a Hyatt elevator could bring four guys so much joy?
1:15 — Just a beautiful drive: No hills, farmland on both sides, sun shining up above.
Feels like being in one of the cars at the end of “Field of Dreams.” It’s legitimately a pilgrimage. There’s no other word that fits. “This is great,” Gallo keeps saying. He’s beaming from ear to ear. If the NFC Central was Scientology, he’d be Tom Cruise.
1:30 — We’ve passed at least 10 signs for cheese-related stores or foods so far. You have to hand it to Wisconsin: The people here have listened to every health-related study from the past 25 years — watch out for fried foods, butter and cheese, beware of heavy beer, make sure you eat enough vegetables and fruit, try to exercise as much as possible — and basically said, “You know what? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I love Wisconsin.
1:45 — Highlight of the trip so far: A car of beefy females wearing Packer jerseys passes us on the left, followed by a beat, then JackO announcing, “I call shotgun on Reggie White.”
2:10 — We were a little worried about rain today, but we just passed a herd of cows, all of whom were standing. According to Chip, if cows are lying down, that means rain is coming. If they’re standing, you’re OK. These are the things you learn in Wisconsin. Twenty-five miles to go.
2:35 — After working the iPod (plugged into the car radio) like a champ for close to two hours, I finally make a mistake: Playing a rap song right as we pass one of those “NOW ENTERING GREEN BAY” signs. That’s just wrong. Three miles to go.
2:40 — Now we’re giddy. Just got off at Exit 32 (Oneida Street) and we’re working our way through downtown Green Bay. During our ’93 pilgrimage (just Gallo, Chip and I that time), we got lost near Lambeau and asked for directions, followed by a local telling us, “See that K-Mart over there? Drive up to that, take a right and you’ll see the stadium.” He wasn’t kidding, either. I loved that moment. Unfortunately, they’ve since built up the area with the usual suspects (Best Buy, Barnes and Noble, Target, etc.) and more restaurants (including an I-Hop, which Gallo calls it “the Whole Foods of Green Bay”). But the stadium still stands out on first glimpse. Imagine driving through a small town where you live, then stumbling across a state-of-the-art, 60,000-seat high school stadium. That’s what it’s like.
|America’s Drunkest Cities|
According to Forbes.com, Milwaukee has been crowned the “Drunkest” U.S. city.
Great work, everyone. Truly a team effort.
Here are the rest of the Top 10.
9. Providence, R.I.
Since we’re early, we land a prime spot in the main parking lot ($30), open the trunk, pull out lawn chairs, set up the grill, crack open the Igloo of beers and get to work … um, sitting and drinking. Chip pulls out an impressive array of brats, brats and brats, as well as some vegetables that look far too healthy. Then he starts cutting up red peppers and potatoes while we look on in disbelief. It’s like he turned into Rachael Ray. What a host!
3:15 — Did I mention Chip brought a boom box that gets XM Radio? And they have live baseball broadcasts? In fact, we were listening to a certain AL game before I told Chip, “Change to a music station before I smash that boom box over JackO’s head.” Now we’re listening to “Fascination Street” on the XMU station. This has to be the first time that the Cure has ever been played in Lambeau’s parking lot. “Did you know this is a song about fellatio?” JackO asks. He’s serious. I love tailgates.
3:43 — Strolling around the parking lot to peruse various tailgating setups with JackO, we’re staggered by the number of Favre jerseys. Six out of every seven jerseys has a No. 4 on the back. “What’s gonna happen when he retires?” JackO wonders. We decide it’s going to be like when Kurtz gets beheaded at the end of “Apocalypse Now.” Just complete chaos and anarchy.
3:49 — Our favorite tailgate: An SUV covered in Packers flags and logos, with a “TIX 61” license plate and a banner that reads, “OEDENHOVEN’S OASIS: SEASON TICKET HOLDERS SINCE 1961.” Intrigued, I walk over to meet the guy running the tailgate, leading to this exchange:
–Me: “1961, huh? You go to the Ice Bowl?”
–Guy (thick accent): “Oh, yahh.”
–Me: “How was it?”
4:00 — We’re transfixed by the cover photo of new Packers coach Mike McCarthy on their 2006 media guide. Why isn’t he looking at the camera? Where’s he looking? It’s like a high school yearbook photo gone horribly wrong. “I’m into it,” Gallo decides. “He’s staring off and thinking about the history.” Whatever.
4:05 — The lot’s filling up. JackO glances around and wonders, “Which business would close faster in Wisconsin — a vegetarian restaurant or a gym?” Everyone laughs. Meanwhile, we’re about to start throwing down brats like Kobayashi. Somehow this all makes sense.
4:20 — I’m holding an overcooked brat and mangling an impersonation of a Wisconsin accent right now. Everyone decides I sound like Bono for some reason, leading me to scream, “We’re sittin’ here drinkin’ beer and eatin’ brats, meanwhile, people are dyin’ in Africa!” Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week.
4:45 — Discussion topics over the last 30 minutes: Best song that’s really about masturbation (either “She Bop” or “Turning Japanese”). … What would happen if Nicole Richie moved to Green Bay for 12 months? (It would be like when they crossed the streams in “Ghostbusters.”) … Why a black free agent would ever sign with the Packers? (We narrow it down to money, money or money.) … Which guy in the parking lot looks most like what Brian Logan probably looks like? (We decide it’s the 250-pound guy in the Donald Driver jersey.) … How would you explain to a foreigner why Green Bay has an NFL team and Los Angeles doesn’t? (Probably impossible).
4:50 — Chip gets voted MVP of the weekend for his grilling performance, although there’s still time for him to screw it up by getting us kicked out of Lambeau or something. It’s like when Bruce Hurst was named the ’86 World Series MVP headed into the 10th at Shea. You never know.
5:00 — Three great things about the parking lot right now. First, just about everyone’s too heavy to play catch, so you never have to worry about getting inadvertently struck by an errant football. Second, a polka band is walking around and playing requests for tips. (Sadly, they didn’t know “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails.) Third, three Miller Lite girls are walking around giving taste tests … and they’re about three tailgates away from us.
(By the way, remember how I described the phrase “press box hot,” how there are so few females that cover sports that the ones who do become disproportionately hot to everyone else sitting in the press box? And how this happens on a much more distorted degree at any NESCAC school? Well, wait until you drink in the parking lot at Lambeau for two hours. These three Miller Lite girls look like Jessica Alba, Vanessa Minillo and Scarlett Johanssen right now.)
5:10 — My first port-o-potty trip. Don’t look down. … Don’t look down. …
5:20 — Here come the Miller Lite girls! We have to drink blind samples of Bud Light and Miller Lite and decide which one is better. The girls swear that the Miller Lite sample will be better. On a personal note, two decades of drinking experience is on the line for me — I’ve always been a devout fan of Miller Lite and Coke and refused to drink Bud Light and Pepsi unless there were no other options. I just feel like you have to make choices in life and these are two of them.
5:23 — So which sample did I like more? Naturally … the Bud Light. I want to kill myself. How is this possible? I feel like my whole life has been a lie. Gallo liked the Bud Light more as well. The girls seem testy. I had drunken hookups in college that ended better than this.
5:25 — Still shaken about the Bud Light revelation. Does this mean I should start drinking it? I mean, I LOVED Miller Lite. Even when I had the fling with Sam Adams Lite a few years ago, I never stopped loving Miller Lite and even was the guy who always interjected, “Can you switch mine to a Miller Lite?” after any buddy ordered a round of Bud Lights. I was always that guy, ever since college. Now? My whole world has been turned upside down. It’s like the drinking version of “Brokeback Mountain.” Should I come out as a Bud Light lover to my other friends? Was it a one-time thing? Were my taste buds burned off by the hot brats? Or is it time to divorce Miller Lite?
Can you tell I’m rattled?
5:45 — Final round of applause for Chip’s grilling performance. A tour de force, really. Let’s forget this Miller Lite thing. It’s time to enter … (deep voice) … LAMMMM-BOWWWWW FIELD.
5:55 — We’re walking in. I have goose bumps on my goose bumps. We spent the last 20 years ripping down nearly every stadium or arena that ever meant something — Boston Garden, Montreal Forum, Mile High Stadium, Chicago Stadium, etc. — and a hallowed few remain. This is one of them.
Six ways to know that you’re entering a transcendent stadium: (1) It’s more simple than you expected — shockingly so; (2) You feel the history everywhere you turn — retired numbers, statues, signs that look like they’ve been kicking around for 60 years; (3) The ushers and vendors are positively ancient; (4) When you find your section and see the field/court/ice for the first time, you get a major rush; (5) You can’t help but think, “wow, [fill in the game of a famous athlete] played here”; and (6) One unique quirk pushes everything over the top.
Number six is the biggie. At Fenway, it’s the Monster. At Wrigley, it’s the ivy. At the Rose Bowl, it’s the staggering size. At Yankee Stadium, it’s the symmetry of the upper decks and how they tower over the field. And at Lambeau, the clouds hug the top of the stadium, the sky always seems to be four different colors, you can’t see anything else for miles … it’s the real-life “Field of Dreams.” It really is. And unlike every other professional football stadium, the first three-fourths of the stadium is filled with metal rows (the seats) and the top fourth holds the luxury boxes. So all the real fans are in the good seats. I can’t think of a single negative about Lambeau. Not one.
6:05 — Did I mention we have pre-game field passes? And we’re standing ON Lambeau Field? Right behind the visiting uprights? All of us are walking around looking like Cruise and Bacon after Col. Jessup admits to the Code Red. I don’t know what to say. I’m speechless. I’m not a good enough writer to describe this. Metal rows, green jerseys, green grass and a blue-red sky. What else do you need in life?
6:07 — I grab a handful of end-zone grass and stick it in my wallet. Wow. The not-so-frozen tundra sharing space with my driver’s license and my kid’s picture. “I’m picking some up for Brian Logan,” JackO decides, following suit.
6:09 — Gallo looks like more overwhelmed than A.C. Green on his wedding night right now. T.J. Duckett is stretching his 57-inch calf muscles just 5 feet away from him. “I can’t function,” Gallo finally says. In his defense, Duckett doesn’t look human. None of them do. We belong to the same species as these guys?
6:12 — I notice only five Green Bay numbers are retired — Don Hutson (14), Tony Canadeo (5), Bart Starr (15), Ray Nitschke (66) and Reggie White (92). Sadly, no Don Majikowski. Those numbers run underneath the bigger scoreboard. Wrapping around the stadium is the Packers Ring of Honor, which has about 20-25 more names. Everything is displayed in the least ostentatious way possible. “It’s still a pretty pure stadium,” Chip says, right as a Chevy Impala ad comes on the Jumbotron. Oh, well.
6:19 — We’re starting to loosen up and feel human again. One of us even forced out some gas, just to say he farted on Lammmmmm-bowwwwwwww Field. I won’t say who. Now we’re studying the logistics of the Lambeau Leap, which seems treacherous because the field dips after the end zone and again at the wall. Plus, it’s an 8-foot jump. I’m predicting a horrific, Slamball-like knee injury for a Lambeau Leaper in the next 20 years.
6:25 — Watching Favre warm up at midfield from about 20 yards away … strangely captivating. Say what you want about Favre, but one quality separates him from just about everyone else: It always feels like a bigger game when he’s standing there. And yes, I know I just sounded like John Madden. This is what it’s all about, right here.
6:35 — The setting sun drapes a massive shadow over half the field. Just when we thought this couldn’t be cooler. Meanwhile, Gallo is becoming a legitimate threat to pull a Terence Mann and walk onto the field toward the Packers bench, then keep glancing back and smiling at us before he disappears into thin air underneath the stands.
6:45 — Regretfully, we head to our seats for the game. Wow. Just … wow. We cap off the experience with a round of beers and brats.
7:00 — Gallo stopped in the men’s room 15 minutes ago and hasn’t been seen since. We decide that he locked himself in a stall, and now he’s sitting on a toilet and weeping into his hands about everything that happened. He returns just in time for an incredible national anthem highlighted by a deafening fly-by from four jets that nearly causes about 23,000 heart attacks in the stands. Definitely the wrong crowd for a fly-by. I mean, they just showed a heart disease ad on the Jumbotron.
7:22 — The Packers roll down the field for a TD. And yes, I’m thoroughly enjoying the pseudo-porn music that leads to the “GO PACK GO!” chant. Bow … cha-wow-wow-wow … GO PACK GO!
7:35 — Gallo comes out of retirement to have his first dip in a few years. “I feel like Christopher on the Sopranos,” he says. “I wish I could sit in a car for the next seven hours and zone out petting a dog. Wait, don’t put that in the column.” Sure thing.
7:59 — The Pack scores again on one of those classic Favre moments when he whips a laser off someone’s hands, only it ricochets off six other guys and lands in a teammate’s hands for the TD: 14-7, Packers. The fans are going bonkers. What a crowd. This is insane. They’re just like an L.A. baseball crowd, only the exact opposite. Bow … cha-wow-wow-wow … GO PACK GO!
(I promise you, nobody gets more excited during an exhibition football game than Packers fans. It’s impossible. They even just went wild for a Jumbotron race between a Miller Lite bottle, a Miller bottle and a Miller Genuine Draft bottle, with the MGD Bottle taking it. Should we try to psychoanalyze why Sconnies enjoy watching inanimate objects race? Nahhhhh … too easy.)
8:12 — Rookie A.J. Hawk rips through the line and tackles someone for a loss as the crowd erupts. He’s the next BMOC in Green Bay if Favre ever actually retires. Etch it in stone.
8:22 — JackO reports that the Pro Shop has a sign alerting customers that, yes, they sell size 3XL and 4XL shirts. We’re all flabbergasted. This leads to a series of PA announcer jokes along the lines of, “Packers fans, don’t forget, there’s a defibrillator under each and every seat at Lambeau Field!” and “The Packers would like to welcome tonight’s sponsors — Miller Lite, Sony, Pontiac and Steve’s Stomach Stapling!”
8:25 — Starting for the Packers tonight, Najeh Davenport has gotten just about every carry. He just fell down for a 2-yard gain as JackO and I race to make the first, “he looks pooped” joke. That reminds me, for fantasy purposes, Donald Driver looked GREAT in this game. He’s the only guy Favre throws to. Hell, he’s the only guy Favre probably recognizes.
8:33 — Remember when Favre freelanced in the end zone and always avoided trouble? Well, he’s still doing it, only not nearly as well — in the last two plays, he almost took a safety and almost threw a 5-yard INT touchdown that the Falcon guy just missed. The Packer fans look rattled. Hey, I’ve been there — when Larry Legend declined because of his back in ’92, we were in denial the whole time, even as he was limping around with a giant back brace and getting lit up by guys like Mike Sanders. Let’s hope Favre retires after the season. It’s time. We can give him Joe Theismann’s job. In fact, I’m making the offer right now. No, really.
8:40 — It’s halftime and I’m going on a cheese curd mission. Earlier in the game, somebody returned in our aisle with something called “cheese curds.” Chip’s explanation: “When they cook cheese, they save the fatty part that burns off, then they cook that part again, then they deep-fry it. That’s how you get cheese curds.” By the way, I paraphrased that quote — Chip’s actual explanation was 45 minutes longer and might still be going if we didn’t cut him off. Actually, who am I to talk? This column is 6,000 words right now.
8:45 — Mission accomplished! I’ve captured the curds!
8:50 — As I’m plowing through the cheese curds, we have this exchange:
- Chip: “What do you think?”
Me: “Delicious! They should come with tomato sauce though.”
JackO (after a beat): “They can’t, that would count as a vegetable.”
9:10 — I’m not sure who’s hotter right now, the Packers (winning 24-7) or JackO (more on fire than Lisa Lampanelli at the Shatner Roast). As we watched everyone doing the Wave (I’m telling you, it’s 1992 in Wisconsin), JackO deadpanned, “Normally I’m against the Wave, but these fans need the exercise.” We really need to get him his own one-man show.
9:20 — Just switched my belt from the third hole to the second hole.
9:35 — We decide to leave after the third quarter — if we have any chance to getting back to Milwaukee in time for a few more drinks, we need to leave now. It hurts to go. Literally. I can’t move. I have about eight pounds of undigested food in my stomach.
Leaving our section for the last time, Gallo and I turn around and take one last glimpse at … Lammmmmmm-bowwwww Field. “There’s nothing like it,” he says. “Every true football fan should come here once.”
Or in our case, twice. And counting.
As it turned out, we made it back to Milwaukee in 150 minutes, although Chip shocked everyone by refusing to stop at Beansnappers, a strip joint located near Appleton. What do strippers look like in the heart of Wisconsin? Are they allowed to give lap dances, or is it considered a safety hazard? Sadly, we’ll never know. We skipped another casino trip and opted for an Irish bar in Milwaukee, where we spent the rest of the night drinking Smithwicks and vowing to make these sports trips a running tradition. We even picked our next location. I won’t spoil it for you. But it’s a doozy.
The following morning, Chip and I dropped Gallo and JackO off at the airport, said our goodbyes and headed to Miller Park for another Brewers-Astros game. One catch: Clemens was pitching and we were sitting four rows behind home plate. Just like old times! Honestly, it was like running into an ex-wife — awkward at first, some bad blood, but strangely good to see them because of the history. Hell, it beat watching Brandon Backe. At one point, when the Rocket was pitching to Prince Fielder, I remembered two things: First, Prince was born during Clemens’ rookie year, and second, Clemens OWNED his father. Of course, Prince couldn’t hit him, either: Two Ks and a weak groundout. Must be in the genes.
Clemens’ velocity is down (91-92 range), but everything else looks the same — same easy motion, same facial expressions, same gestures, same everything. Against these Quadruple-A lineups, he’s practically unstoppable. (No wonder he stayed.) He ended up pitching seven strong and getting the win, although he missed the ending because they probably whisked him away on a private jet. Other than that, the game wasn’t notable except for Chip spilling an entire can of Skoal on the bummed-out guy sitting next to him, then urging me not to include this in my column — yeah, right — as well as a surreal moment in the bottom of the eighth.
Here’s what happened: A Brewer popped a foul ball straight back, and we were looking up for it, and then we realized that — wait a second, that’s coming toward us!!!!!!! — and it started falling and falling, and the whole thing took long enough that I had time to put my notebook in my pocket and wait for the ball to ricochet toward us. Wouldn’t you know, it landed one row in front of us, four seats to my right, and the guy in that seat tried to catch it with his hat. So what happened? The ball ripped through the hat, bounced off the sidewalk in our row, then caromed one row behind us straight to the kid sitting RIGHT BEHIND ME. That’s right, my lifelong foul ball drought continues. I’ve never been that close. The Foul Ball Gods are officially taunting me.
“Damn,” I said to Chipper. “Catching a foul ball would have been the perfect ending to this column.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s pretty tough to top standing on Lambeau Field.”
This is true. And that’s why you go to Milwaukee in August.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His book “Now I Can Die In Peace is available on Amazon.com and in bookstores everywhere.