For art lovers there’s the Louvre. For opera aficionados, La Scala. And for those who are passionate about America’s favorite sport, football, there’s Lambeau Field. The Frozen Tundra. Where legends like Hornung, Starr, Lombardi and Favre have helped the Green Bay Packers win 13 world championships. It’s a pilgrimage every football fan must take at some point in their lives and one I enjoyed a few weeks ago.
Lambeau Field and the Packers are unlike any other venue and team in the NFL. First, the stadium is situated in the middle of a neighborhood. While there is a stadium blacktop parking lot that surrounds the venerable bowl, those in the know park on the lawns of the houses that surround the field. Not only is it more comfortable standing on grass for three hours before game time, but each house is a party in and of itself. Almost everyone who arrives at the stadium brings a cooler full of adult beverages and while you’ll still find plenty of brats on the thousands of grills that are smoking on game day, that too has become a competitive sport where the participants cook everything from thick, juicy steaks to chili, stews and a unique concoction called chicken booyah.
The Packers are different because unlike every other NFL franchise, there is no majority owner who uses the team as an extension of his outsized ego. And unlike the teams in Cleveland, Baltimore, Oakland, St. Louis, Minnesota and Jacksonville whose owners have used the threat of moving as a way to extort more tax money from their communities, the Packers are actually a public, not-for-profit corporation owned by the people of Green Bay. This means it would be nearly impossible to move the team to another city. In fact, in the unlikely event that were to happen, the team’s articles of incorporation state that any profit, “would go to the Sullivan-Wallen Post of the American Legion in order to build a proper soldier’s memorial.” If that ever happens, that’s going to be one hell of a memorial.
In order to raise the money necessary to improve the stadium over the years, the team has used operating profits and sold stock. The stock has no actual market value but is priceless to the millions of Packers fans who own a few shares. I was attending the game with a team owner and neighbor of mine, Robert Lux, who like most owners, has just a handful of shares and the certificate is proudly framed on a wall in his home. That’s about all the stock is actually good for. Owners don’t receive tickets, earn dividends and they are not allowed to sell the shares for profit.
I picked Rob and three other friends up for the two-hour trek to Green Bay in a 2015 Infiniti QX80 AWD, a large, capable SUV that competes with the Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator and Lexus LX. Our first task was to load the large SUV with all manner of tailgating supplies including a table, chairs, three coolers, a grill and several bags of culinary delights that would allow us to properly partake in the pregame activities.
With all this equipment, I was a little concerned about space because there were five of us in total making the trip. But with the QX80’s split folding, third row seat, the big Infiniti was easily able to comfortably accommodate our quintet of fans, our cold weather clothes and our tailgating gear.
Comfortable is the operative word here. Because while the QX80 is more than capable of fording streams, climbing mountain trails and clambering over fallen trees, its intended purpose is much more civilized. The lawn we parked on in Green Bay was about as much off-roading as most of these vehicles will see in their pampered lives.
The ride in the Infiniti was as you’d expect from a vehicle this size, comfortable and quiet, but because its an Infiniti, a bit more on the sporting side. The 5.6L V8 engine delivers 400 horsepower with a very useful 413 lb.-ft. of torque. The QX80 is both quick off the line and has enough grunt to tow just about anything. In addition to advanced standard features that are a must in a vehicle like this – adaptive cruise control, a 360 degree around-view monitor, and a Bluetooth hands-free phone system – our vehicle had the Deluxe Technology Package which included the hydraulic body control system minimizing roll in corners, lane departure warning and blind spot monitoring. For our purposes, however, what was most important was its interior comfort, which it delivers on a championship level.
The QX80 has standard leather seating, but by spending just $5,500 more you get the upgraded comfort of semi-aniline leather, heated seats, something you come to appreciate when you travel to a place nicknamed, “The Frozen Tundra.” And this applies not just to the front seats, but those in the second row enjoy the benefit of climate controlled seats as well. Other nice touches in our car were the elegant application of Stratford burl wood and matte chrome trim. The overall effect is an elegant space that’s not just roomy but easy to spend time in. And with the theater package included, this is a great vehicle for road trip.
Our drive through rural Wisconsin was smooth and uneventful and we arrived in Green Bay, parking a mere two blocks from the stadium for just ten dollars on the front lawn of a modest ranch home. We quickly unloaded our gear, fired up our Weber Q2000 portable grill and had steaks over the fire in no time. Our coolers were filled with two of Wisconsin’s finest beers, Spotted Cow from the New Glarus Brewing Company and Ale Asylum‘s bold Hopalicious American Pale Ale. Sold only in Wisconsin, Spotted Cow is a lighter, easy drinking cream ale that gained some national notoriety a few years ago when several New York establishments were busted for selling it illegally. Both were excellent choices for our tailgate party and we enjoyed them along with steak sandwiches, a variety of sides and good company before heading to the stadium for kick off.
As you walk to Lambeau Field you pass house after house hosting parties. Garages are decked out to resemble sports bars with big screen TVs, astroturf floors and memorabilia gracing their walls. Then there are the assorted custom vehicles painted green and gold. You’ll see everything from full-size busses to vintage VW bugs, ambulances and hearses wearing the Packers team colors. To say the citizens of Green Bay are obsessed with their team, would be an understatement.
The stadium itself is a masterful blend of old and new. While luxury boxes, huge modern video screens and a multipurpose Atrium complete with gift shops, restaurants and interactive gaming areas have been added over the past 10 years, The original bowl remains intact. Aluminum benches – there are no high-backed padded seats for these hardy souls – ring the lower tier of the field. Though on the day we attended, they were rarely used as fans stood for most of the game, which was an exciting contest with the rival Lions from Detroit.
If you choose to tailgate outside before the game, you could spend up to six hours in some pretty harsh conditions. The key to not just surviving, but enjoying the entire day is having the right gear. There’s nothing more important than a great pair of boots. Fashion isn’t the primary concern for footwear when the temperatures dive below freezing. I’m a big fan of the Maine Pac Boots from L.L. Bean, but insulated boots from Sorel, Red Wing or any other quality manufacturer will do. The cold weather uniform of choice for locals is either a snowmobile suit or hunting gear. Looking around the stadium one gets the impression that blaze orange is the Packers unofficial third color. I chose Carhartt insulated overalls and an Eddie Bauer down parka for the day, along with a good pair of gloves and a hat to cover my thinning pate and ears. While far from fashionable, I was toasty all day long.
For those who’d rather not stand outside over a grill before the game, there are several bars and restaurants a stone’s throw from the field. My favorite is Kroll’s, a family restaurant with naugahyde booths and linoleum table tops that aren’t retro vintage, they’re authentic. In addition to mixing a perfect Old Fashioned, they grill their burgers over charcoal, and because Wisconsin is the Dairy State, top each with a pat of butter. Pro Tip: if you’re planning on eating at Kroll’s, make an appointment with your cardiologist before you leave for the game.
All in all, the fan experience at Lambeau is one of the best in sports. The crowds are generally very friendly. The stadium still feels authentic while offering the modern amenities big dollar sports fans won’t do without these days. And on a sunny December afternoon, you can almost hear Ray Scott’s call of Bart Starr’s game-winning quarterback sneak against Dallas in the 1967 NFL Championship Game, aka “The Ice Bowl.”
It’s even better when the game is over and you have a luxurious Infiniti QX80 waiting for you all warm and toasty, thanks to the Infiniti Connection App that let me start the car from our seats in the stadium. And after a quiet, comfortable and smooth two-hour post-game drive home, it was clear that this was the perfect vehicle for this pilgrimage.