He called it “the frozen tundra” and I remember thinking that was where all football games should be played. I also think it was snowing. If it wasn’t, I imagined it was because in my mind it should always be snowing at Lambeau Field.
For years, my dad and I talked about Lambeau Field as the mecca of the NFL. It was where Vince Lombardi coached and where Bart Starr and Paul Hornung and, for me, Brett Favre played. It had the best fans (for a six-year old) and this mystique that only comes from having hosted a game called “The Ice Bowl.”
The Jets last visited Lambeau in 2006. I don’t remember why we didn’t go. It probably had something to do with college or cost or some annoyingly practical reason. Or, if my dad and I are being honest, it may have been a worry that the Jets, under the direction of rookie coach Eric Mangini, would get housed by Favre and Co. That didn’t happen. On a sunny early December day at in Green Bay, Chad Pennington outplayed Favre and the 2006 Jets reached probably the high point of their season, a 38-10 thumping of Green Bay. I remember thinking Pennington and Mangini were heading somewhere special, or at least somewhere better than they’d been under Herm Edwards. And I remember my dad and me vowing not to miss another chance at Lambeau Field.
Of course, Mangini and Pennington never went anywhere special. And eight years, five quarterbacks and one coach later, the Jets are heading back to Lambeau. There was no doubt this time. Even our annual trip to Buffalo would be sacrificed, if necessary. When we had Easter dinner Sunday, the first thing my dad said to me after hello wasn’t, “How’s work?” or “How was your weekend?” He wanted to tell me the schedule was coming out this week and said we needed to talk as soon as it did because we had to book a flight and a hotel immediately.
The one thing we always talked about was the weather. My dad wanted to go in September. This is a man that lives for even moderate warmth. He wears shorts 10 months out of the year, puts the top down on his convertible as soon as it hits 45 (if the sun’s out, of course) and spends six to eight hours a day (almost every day) on the beach from June 1 to the middle of September. I wanted December, of course. I wanted snow and seven layers and the kind of cold even bourbon can’t cure. It’s the frozen tundra, dammit, not the sun-drenched grass of Augusta.
There are still some iconic NFL stadiums left on our bucket list. Candlestick was one, if only for its history and unbelievable decrepitude, and we got to see it in 2008 at the tail end of the Mangini era. And Ralph Wilson Stadium is still one of my favorite places in all of sports to watch a game. We’ve never been to Century Link in Seattle or Jerry World in “North Texas,” the latter of which I’m not sure my dad has any interest in seeing. I have to see the Saints in the Superdome and the Chiefs in Arrowhead, both of which are as much for the tailgate as they are for the game. And call me old fashioned, but there’s something about the idea of seeing a good Raiders team in the rinky-dink Oakland Coliseum that just makes me feel all tingly inside (and slightly terrified, if we’re being honest).
The truth is in today’s cookie-cutter stadiums, it’s hard to create atmosphere. The feeling that used to exist in The Vet, Shea Stadium, Foxboro and definitely in Giants Stadium just doesn’t really happen anymore. The NFL has priced out so many of the fans that made those places special and the stadiums just keep getting bigger and bigger, while the fans get further away from the field. So when you have a chance to go somewhere special, you’ve simply got to do it, especially with your dad or your mom or your brothers or sisters or whoever is special to you on NFL Sundays.
When we found out Wednesday the Jets and Packers were playing in Week 2, I’ll admit my heart sank a bit, but I still couldn’t get over the idea of sitting in Lambeau Field with my dad watching the Jets take the field. It’s going to be awesome, more awesome than I can probably imagine right now. And even though it’ll be September 14, in my head, it’ll probably be snowing. Because that’s how it’s supposed to be.