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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.