Four games in four cities in three days. Two thousand miles away from home. Easy as an Aaron Rodgers touchdown pass. Sometimes everything just falls into place and a simple trip to see a football game turns into an epic guys weekend. Here is the story of how my buddy Eric and I shared an unforgettable 96 hours together in mid-September. Back in 2011 I moved with my family from Wisconsin to Washington state. Despite moving into the heart of Seahawks territory I remained true to my Green Bay Packers. I can say “my” Packers since I’m an actual team owner, one of the thousands of people who purchased a share of stock to support the Packers. Well, in 2012 the Packers had a visit to Seattle scheduled for a Monday Night Football game. My oldest daughter and I wanted to go to the game, but tickets online were pretty pricey. On a whim I called the Seahawks ticket office and found out that I could get a half-season ticket package (four games) for about $25 more than it would cost me to buy the ticket online to the one game. While I’m no math major, that decision was pretty simple. Even though the now infamous “Fail Mary game” ended on one of the most controversial calls in NFL history, I thoroughly enjoyed myself at the Clink (CenturyLink Stadium). I was able to bring my friend Eric to the final two home games at the Clink. He’s a native of Tacoma and a life-long Seattle sports fan. During one of those games together I told him that we should plan a trip to Lambeau Field in Green Bay the next time the Seahawks played there. Eric was concerned that we wouldn’t be able to find reasonably priced tickets to the game, but I assured him that I knew people who had tickets. One of the perks of growing up 35 miles south of Green Bay, I guess. I also knew that one of my long-time friends from college days had access to his mother-in-law’s tickets, as she had finally gotten four of them after waiting on the season ticket waiting list for nearly 40 years. One way or another, I was confident that I could get us tickets to the game.
Despite the heartbreak of the NFC Championship Game
in January, in which the Packers practically handed the game to the Seahawks, Eric and I remained friends and continued to discuss the possibility of a road trip to see a Packers-Seahawks game in Wisconsin. While the dates were not set, the NFL had released the opponents for the 2015 season, and, sure enough, the Seahawks were slated to visit Green Bay. I emailed my buddy, Todd, to see if we could stake a claim to two of the tickets for the Seahawks game, whenever it would be. His MIL graciously gave us access to all four tickets, and the NFL released the date for the game in April. The Seahawks would travel to Green Bay for a Week Two matchup, on September 20th. Eric was relieved that it would be early in the season, as he didn’t relish the prospect of a freezing cold December game. After checking with our wives one more time, we bought tickets to fly in and out of Chicago. Other than one layover at O’Hare Airport, Eric had never been in the Midwest in his life. He told me that I was in charge of pretty much everything since I had grown up there and knew what we should see and do. Challenge accepted.
Over breakfast this summer we were discussing our upcoming trip and I mentioned that my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, might have a home game in Madison that weekend. A quick glance at the schedule confirmed that there was a game that Saturday afternoon at 2:30 pm. Since it would be a non-conference game against Troy I figured that we could secure tickets for less than face value. So, that pretty much would take care of our plans for Saturday, but we still had to figure out what to do on Friday. I suggested some of the tourist sites in Chicago (Millennium Park for the Bean, Navy Pier, Michigan Avenue, Ed Debeveck’s, Sears or Hancock Tower tour) and then casually asked if he’d be interested in a Cubs game at Wrigley Field. That perked him up right away. As a former college baseball player, It’s on Eric’s sports bucket list to attend a game at every MLB park. This would be a perfect opportunity to cross another one off his list IF the Cubs were home that day. Thanks to my handy iPhone I was able to see that the Cubs would be hosting their long time rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals, that afternoon at 1:05 pm. Bingo! This was shaping up to be a pretty fun weekend if we could manage to pull it off. Cubs. Badgers. Packers. Three games. Three iconic venues. Three days.
A few weeks before our trip I made a hotel reservation for our first night after our cross-country flight at a cheap Super 8 motel that provided a free shuttle from the airport. I also reserved a car. It was nice not having to worry about having enough space for car seats and luggage. Just two guys and two bags. My mom, who still lives in my hometown in Wisconsin, was gracious enough to agree to host us Saturday night. Everything was falling into place as we met for breakfast a couple of days before our trip. As we were eating, it occurred to me that we might be able to sneak one more game into our trip. About 75 miles north of Chicago is Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the home of the Brewers. Turns out that the Brewers were hosting the Cincinnati Reds that evening at Miller Park at 7:05 pm. If we left Wrigley around 4 pm we could probably make it to Milwaukee for the Brewers game. Eric and I were pretty stoked at the idea of a two-city, four team, MLB doubleheader. Cubs. Cards. Brewers. Reds. We could do this.
Day One, Thursday-Travel
Armed with a pocketful of cash, a couple of reservations and a carry-on bag, Eric and I made the short drive to SeaTac airport. Of course we were each wearing the shirts for our respective teams while we walked through the airport, so we looked like an odd couple, I’m sure. I, the Packers fan, endured a fair amount of ribbing as we passed through security. Once in the waiting area for our plane it became apparent that we were not alone in our plans for the road trip. There were a lot of Seahawks AND Packers fans waiting to board the flight to Chicago. High fives and fist bumps and good-natured smack talk flowed abundantly. “Hey Packers fan, how about that onside kick?” “Yeah, how about that goal-line pass in the Super Bowl?”
On our way!
Once on the plane one of the flight attendants quietly came by and gave me a fist bump, telling me that she was a life-long Packers fan. Eric and I ended up talking sports with a mega Seahawks fan seated in front of us, a woman who was going to the game with a relative who’s a Packers fan. They had had a wager on the NFC title game, in which the loser had to buy tickets for the game in Green Bay for the two of them. Nice how sports brings us together like that! Once on the ground in Chicago, we found our hotel shuttle and made it to the Super 8 about 20 minutes later. Thanks to the kindness of the gentleman checking in after us who swapped rooms with us, Eric and I got a room with two beds instead of just one king. (Thanks for nothing, Hotwire.com.) Because of the three hour time difference we had a little trouble falling asleep. Either that or the cheap beds which weren’t exactly comfortable. I guess we got what we paid for. Eric had astutely commented on our way to our room that his wife wouldn’t have stayed in this kind of hotel. I agreed that mine wouldn’t have either. But neither of us particularly cared. $74 for a room and breakfast was pretty cheap.
Day Two, Friday-Baseball Doubleheader
Friday morning was a little overcast, as the storms from the previous night cleared off to the east. I got our rental car and we hit the road just after 9 am, headed to downtown Chicago. We had fun counting the numerous Dunkin Donuts stores along the way, although we didn’t stop.
View north up Lakeshore Drive from Hancock Tower-Chicago
Eventually we made it to Lake Shore Drive and parked at the Hancock Tower ramp. We made our way to the basement of the tower to buy tickets to go to the observation floor. Several of the attendants gave me some grief for wearing my beautiful Packers shirt less than a week after the Pack had come to Soldier Field and beaten the Chicago Bears to open the season. Eric tried to join in the ribbing until the guy taking our tickets informed us he was a Patriots fan. Ouch! Those Super Bowl memories are so painful! Even though it wasn’t a super clear day, the view from near the top of the Hancock Tower was still pretty impressive. I suppose it was the short and sweet tour of Chicago from above. It was pretty cool to see all the roof top pools and lawns and gardens. After about 30-45 minutes we made our way back to the car and drove toward Wrigley Field, arriving in that neighborhood just after noon. I dropped Eric off to work his ticket-scalping magic while I parked the car. He managed to find us a pair of upper deck tickets on the first base side for $50 and we made it to our seats with 20 minutes to spare before the first pitch. It was enough time for us to get some Chicago dogs for lunch.
I know it’s upsetting to you purists, but we put ketchup on our dogs. The game was fun even though neither of us had a rooting interest. The Cards jumped ahead early and the Cubs came back and took the lead for good. We stayed through the 7th Inning Stretch and sang “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” along with (a video of) Harry Caray and the packed stadium of fans. We got back to our car and started making our way toward I-94, which would take us to Milwaukee. Of course, Chicago traffic on a Friday afternoon isn’t known for going particularly smoothly, and this was no different. We finally made it to the interstate only to find it slow down again a miles later. We passed a bunch of signs for “Golf Parking” near the Six Flags exit in Gurnee, IL. We had no idea that there was a PGA tournament there that same weekend until one of Eric’s former colleagues texted him later that afternoon. His friend had seen pictures that Eric had posted of Chicago and wanted to know if we were still in town. His buddy happens to be the caddy for a popular young player and would’ve been able to hook us up with tickets to the golf tournament if we had been able to use them. It’s probably a good thing that we didn’t know about the golf tournament until it was too late, otherwise we might have tried to fit that in our already-packed schedule.
We arrived at MIller Park about 15 minutes before the first pitch.
It was just beginning to rain but that didn’t matter since there’s a retractable roof to keep everyone dry. We didn’t see anyone scalping tickets but found a “Goodwill” special for $12 bleacher seats right next to the bullpen in left center. Cheap is good. The game itself was pretty forgettable as the Brewers and Reds were basically fighting for the basement of the NL Central division. About the only remarkable thing was the three homers that were hit to the bullpen right next to our seats. The people-watching was pretty fun as both Santa and Elvis made an appearance in the stands and there were a lot more people wearing Seahawks gear at the ballpark than I had anticipated. We obviously were not alone in our idea of taking in a Brewers game in advance of the big Sunday night showdown. We moved around the stadium and were allowed to sit in the lower level for a couple of innings before taking off after the 7th inning. After we left the game I took Eric for a true Midwest experience. Frozen custard. The FroYo in the Pacific Northwest is nice and all, but I really miss the deliciousness of frozen custard. We decided to make the 90 minute drive to Madison that evening so we could sleep in the next morning.
Day Three, Saturday-Madison
Saturday morning was bright and beautiful. It was Badger game day. After a hearty breakfast we drove to pick up the tickets from a dear family friend who had given us a pretty sweet deal. We visited for a few minutes before heading toward downtown Madison. On the way there I drove Eric through our old neighborhood on the near west side,
Abe Lincoln statue in front of Bascom Hall
the beautiful and sprawling University of Wisconsin campus and State Street. Our destination for lunch was The Old Fashioned, a well known establishment across the street from the state capitol building. Despite living in Madison for nearly 20 years of my life, I had never been to The Old Fashioned. We were heading there on the advice of Russell Wilson, the quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks and a former Badger. Eric and his kids had met Wilson during training camp in August and Eric had asked for a recommendation of some place to eat on our trip to Madison.
The “Wurst Platter”
Without missing a beat, Wilson’s rapid response was “The Old Fashioned”. If the star QB of your team tells you to go eat somewhere then you know you’re going to go there. We weren’t alone in our desire to eat there and had to wait 45 minutes for a table. Eric got the “wurst platter”, an artery-clogging collection of four German sausages on top of a bed of some greens. The best part of our trip downtown was the sideways
glares glances Eric kept getting for wearing a Seahawks jersey. At least he was smart enough to wear the #3 of Russell Wilson, who is pretty much adored by all Badger fans for his one season in Madison.
After finishing our lunch we drove toward Camp Randall Stadium and parked in the driveway of the co-op house I lived in as a freshman.
Pre-game at Union South-Madison
Yeah, I helped park cars there back in the fall of 1991-92. Fun memories. We walked to Union South where we watched the first couple of songs of the UW Marching Band’s pregame performance before walking over to the stadium. The game itself was only memorable for two Badgers being ejected for “targeting”, yet the home team still won, 28-3. The UW student section is (in)famous for having a lot of fun, and I’m pretty sure they did not disappoint. They did their vulgar take on the old Miller Lite “Less Filling, Tastes Great” commercial by chanting “Eat (Poop)” and “(Firetruck) You” at each other. Eric was proud to point out that the “Wave” had started at the other UW, the University of Washington in Seattle,
although he had never seen it done like they did at The Camp: regular speed, super fast, slow-motion, reverse and split. I bragged to Eric that the students would also join in singing the songs that blared over the PA during time-outs, so we were entertained when the students sang heartily along with the Foundations’ classic Build Me Up (Buttercup). What was impressive was how they continued on for an additional thirty seconds or more after the music had ended. (Check out this clip from a game a couple of years ago to see/hear what it’s like.) Of course, no Badger experience is complete without the famous end of Third Quarter Jump Around, during which the entire student section (and thousands of others who don’t care how silly they look) literally become a thrashing sea of red and white jumping to the music. I find it particularly fun to see how the visiting players on the field are watching the students and joining in the fun, even though they’re on the field. We left the Stadium just after the 4th Quarter started and right before a fire-alarm went off. Apparently an oven in one of the kitchens inside the stadium overheated and triggered the alarm, which delayed the game for a few minutes. I was glad that we were already out of the stadium. Before we left Madison for good I had to take Eric to one last truly Madison place. Michael’s Frozen Custard on Monroe Street, just a mile or so from Camp Randall. It’s probably good for my waistline that I live 2000 miles away from the decadent Turtle Sundae. My mouth is watering just thinking about the delicious concoction of creamy vanilla custard, rich hot fudge and caramel topped with amazing fried and salted pecans. Ok, I’m done.
I headed the car northeast from Madison as we were destined for my hometown of Neenah, about an hour and forty five minutes away. My mom still lives there and had graciously offered to let us stay with her that evening. As was the case for the entire trip, Eric was in charge of tunes so I could concentrate on driving. Since we both had iPhones we pretty much had an endless supply of songs. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that we listened to some Justin Bieber during this trip. Eric’s excuse was that his youngest son really likes the Bieb’s music. My excuse was that I had to attend a Bieber concert in Tacoma with two of my daughters in 2012. (Eric and his family also attended that same concert.) We jammed with Taylor Swift and belted out some old-school Phil Collins and Chicago. It was fun being crazy and not having to listen to one or more kid whining about what song was playing or that it was too hot or cold or queasy. We just drove. Since we had the frozen custard after the game instead of dinner, I decided that another midwestern treasure was in order for our dinner so we met my mom at the Neenah Culver’s where I enjoyed a Deluxe Butterburger with cheese (of course!) and some crispy onion rings. Thankfully my mom lives about five minutes from there so we were able to relax at her place and digest for a bit. But our night was not yet over, as we had decided to take advantage of our guys’ weekend and go see a late movie at a local theater. Our bodies were still on West Coast time so the 10:45 pm start felt more like 8:45 pm to us. We opted for Straight Outta Compton, which, for those of you that know me in real life, is not exactly in my musical wheelhouse. Eric, on the other hand, grew up on the West Coast and knew a lot of the songs and events portrayed in this musical biopic about the rise of N.W.A. and their influence on rap and hip-hop music and culture in general in the late 1980s and beyond. It was certainly an eye-opener for this Midwestern native, yet somewhat sad in that a lot of the depicted experiences of racism and police brutality in the film felt all too familiar. At any rate, we were glad that we hadn’t taken our wives to see the movie as it wasn’t exactly a date-night kind of film. We returned to my mom’s house for our final night of sleep before returning home on Monday morning.
Day Three, Sunday-Green Bay
We woke up “early” to go to church with my mom before taking a quick tour of the sights of my hometown. Much of the older historic part of town was closed to traffic for the day because of the Fox Cities Marathon that was being run that morning
Thanks for hosting us, Mom!
After a stop at Starbuck’s (Eric is native to the PNW, after all) we returned to my mom’s house for brunch and the start of the early NFL games. We both managed to change into our game-day jerseys just in time to get a picture with my mom before heading north again. This time we were headed to Pulaski, a small town west of Green Bay by about 15 miles, where my friend Todd lives with his family. We had been invited there to spend the afternoon with them and to indulge in another fine Wisconsin tradition: grilled brats! Even though Eric and Todd had never met before in person, we all enjoyed a relaxed afternoon of conversation as if we were old college buddies seeing one another after years apart. After we finished dinner and said goodbye to Todd’s family we made the short drive to Green Bay. Destination: Lambeau Field.
We found a place to park in the driveway of my friends Keith and Karel, who live just a few blocks south of the stadium. I’ve known them since I first started going regularly to Packers games in 2005 and parked in their yard on a whim. Even though I hadn’t seen them since moving to Washington four years ago I was greeted with a hearty hug from each of them. It was here that the fourth and final member of our group met up with us: my buddy Gene, who I met back in 2005 when we moved to the area where he was living and our daughters became friends. As the four of us walked toward Lambeau, I had to keep from grinning too much from thinking about the fact that here were three really good friends of mine all in one place at the same time. How cool was that?
Behold, Lambeau. The foursome (L-R): Gene, Todd, Eric, Carl
We made our way through the throngs of people outside the stadium, taking in the sights and smells (bratwurst, again!). Eric even managed to meet a Minion who seemed a little perturbed at his outfit.
I also ran into an old high school friend who was in the area on a business trip and was able to use his company’s luxury suite to take his parents to their very first Packers game. Once in the stadium we made our way to our seats and watched the players go through their final warm-ups before the 7:30 pm kickoff. While I’ve never been to an actual NFL playoff game, the atmosphere inside the stadium is what I would imagine it to be like. The setting sun gave way to the bright lights which made the green on the field seem that much brighter. The fans for both teams cheered as their teams entered the stadium for the national anthem, which was wonderfully performed by a former Packers player
, Esera Tuaolo. Then it was game time!
Lambeau Field-Green Bay
The Packers dominated the first half but only led 13-3 at halftime. There was a bit of unrest among the Packers fans and a certain degree of smugness among the Seahawks fans; like we’ve seen this before but don’t want to think about it or say anything. As such, when the Seahawks came out and scored two touchdowns in the 3rd Quarter their fans became really loud and obnoxious again. Thankfully, this time Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the Packers dominated the 4th Quarter and sent the Seahawks back West with a 27-17 loss. Despite wearing “enemy” gear into the heart of Packers territory, Eric made it through unscathed. He wasn’t alone in his assessment that Packers fans were really quite nice. Green Bay is not like Oakland, where you literally fear for your safety and well-being if you wear the opponent’s jersey to the game. Once we made it back to our cars we gave final goodbye hugs to Todd and Gene and started our drive south to Chicago. We left Green Bay at 11 pm and our flight was scheduled to leave less than 12 hours later from O’Hare.
Day Four, Monday-Travel
We stopped once for a bite to eat somewhere between Green Bay and Sheboygan. The farther south we went the more the traffic thinned out until I drove right through Milwaukee with almost no traffic at all. At some point along the way Eric drifted off to sleep in the passenger seat while I enjoyed the post-game show on the Packers radio network. At about 2:45 am we pulled into an oasis/rest stop on the north side of Chicago. After a quick bathroom break we both fell asleep in the front seats of our car. After three short hours of “sleep” I woke up and a short while later we were back on the road to return our rental car before heading home to the airport.
Welcome back to Washington! This view of Mount Rainier never gets old.
Even though our flight was delayed in Chicago a little bit we made it back to Washington just fine. For some reason the flight home was a bit more subdued than the flight just a few days before. I know that gloating isn’t supposed to be celebrated, but you have no idea what it’s been like to be a die-hard Packers fan living near Seattle for the last four years as the Seahawks have risen to prominence at the expense of my beloved Packers. So, yeah, this was a pretty sweet plane ride home for me, proudly wearing my green and gold.
Now that a few weeks have passed since we had this epic guys’ weekend, I marvel that we were able to pull it off so smoothly. The long odds that all four of those teams (Cubs, Brewers, Badgers and Packers) would have home games that all lined up like that for us to attend in just three days was pretty fortunate. The fact that we were able to pull this off and pay only face value or less for any of those tickets was also pretty sweet. Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how grateful we both were to our wives for encouraging us to go on this adventure while they stayed home and took care of our kids.