The Delach Pilgrimage to Lambeau
Early in February, 1991, serendipitous circumstances enabled me to make my first road trip and witness the Giants beat the Bills, 20-19 at Super Bowl XXV in Tampa, Florida.. Bitten by the call of the road, I have made almost two dozen football trips since then including two additional super bowls; XXXV and XLII. I’ve followed the New York Football Giants to Chicago, Miami, St. Louis, Phoenix, Kansas City, St. Louis, San Francisco, New Orleans, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Seattle, San Diego, Houston and Dallas; some of these destinations multiple times.
Like the Johnny Cash song…I’ve been everywhere man, I’ve been everywhere…well, almost everywhere but not Green Bay. It wasn’t for lack of effort or desire. Various factors conspired to prevent me from making it to a Giants away game at the home of the Packers.
When I first viewed the 2016 schedule, my heart sank. As expected, my team had a game in Green Bay and it was in October, prime football weather. But it was on a Sunday night and I despise night games. Another away game in London grabbed my attention but the reality of time needed and the cost eliminated it from consideration. Two others may have worked but a nagging thought whispered: How many more shots at Lambeau will you have?
I decided to pass this idea by my travel partner, my son, Michael, but just as I was about to call him, another light bulb illuminated my mind. I put down the phone to ask Mary Ann her opinion: “The Giants are playing in Green Bay on October 9 and I’d like to include Drew and Matt. What do you think?”
“Do it, the boys will love it,” Mary Ann replied.
And so, the four of us arrived at the Radisson in Appleton, Wisconsin just after 11PM on Friday night, October 7. Mike had driven the rental two-hours from Milwaukee following an uneventful Southwest flight from LaGuardia. Matt (14) stayed with me and Drew (16) bunked with his dad. We wolfed down two late night pizzas before hitting the sack.
Appleton is a college town 31 miles southwest of Green Bay. The Radisson has a solid reputation for privacy. Visiting NFL teams stay there which is why, The Giants Road Crew, our travel service, put us up there.
The weekend was all Lambeau oriented most of the time. Buses left at 1:30 on Saturday afternoon for a guided tour of this exquisite football palace.
Lambeau opened as a simple bowl in 1957 seating 38,000. It has retained its charm despite multiple renovations and additions that expanded capacity to 81,000. The original bowl was extended up and out while seating remained unchanged; backless aluminum bleachers. The entire circumference behind these bleaches has been walled off by a series of dark green structures containing club seats, luxury boxes, restaurants, reception areas broadcast and media centers. Bright gold paint highlights the aisles, railings and other fixtures providing a bright contrast to the forest green background. A perfect place to watch a football game.
A reception and buffet dinner inside Lambeau’s atrium followed a visit to the gift shop later that evening. While not exactly a culinary triumph, the choice of food sufficed thanks to an open bar.
Game time activities began the next day with a 2:30PM departure and a three-hour private tent party outside the stadium. The crowd surrounding us grew in a typical tailgate fashion and treated us with friendliness and polite humor. This experience continued as we entered the bowl. I had been warned to rent a padded seat with an attached backrest that hooked under the bleacher which I obtained from a sweet lady for $6.00. She advised, “You don’t have to return it. Just leave it on the bench.”
Like other concessions, these rentals are operated by charities who supply the man-power and keep 10% of the profits in return. The crowd remained friendly throughout and from my perspective, every Giants fan I saw behaved in like manner. Two young women who consented to have a photo taken with me did ask how New Yorkers compared to them. I couldn’t resist using this explanation: “How many New Yorkers does it take to change a light bulb? None of your f***ing business.” Their genuine laughter was my reward.
It was not the Giants night and the Packers cruised to a relatively easy 23-16 win to the delight of the home town crowd who happily chanted “Go Pack, Go” whenever cued to do so. As we worked our way to the exit, two local women offered their condolences to the boys. I reminded one that it was okay and only a football game.
Dawn witnessed the start of our return trip that was seamless and without drama.
On arrival at LaGuardia, it didn’t take long to lose Lambeau’s friendly aura. Michael alerted the off-site parking dispatcher that we were ready for pick-up. She directed us to the upper deck island outside Southwest. As we approached it, our Giants garb caught the attention of the uniformed attendant stationed there keeping traffic moving:
You at that game? Thought so; what is wrong with Eli? Damn, he’s too long in the league to play like that. What is up with those spiked balls, little baby passes? He knows better than that, he does. He’s gotta do better or we gonna have a long season.
Answering his challenges was not an option, but Drew noted: “Ah, New York anger, I missed that; I’m glad to be home.”
Amen, Brother Drew, amen.