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Be the 74,659th In Line!

Posted: Tuesday October 9, 2007 8:12AM; Updated: Wednesday October 10, 2007 12:50PM
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No team in professional sports has more loyal and passionate fans than the cheeseheads of Green Bay.
No team in professional sports has more loyal and passionate fans than the cheeseheads of Green Bay.
Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Let's say you went to Starbucks, ordered your double espresso mocha half-soy grande and didn't get it for 37 years. Might you be a tad... bitter? So tell me, why are the 47 people who got their Green Bay Packers season tickets this year so freaking happy? Some of them have been waiting since 1970! My God, that was the year the Beatles broke up.

"I remember I was a high school freshman," says Paul Yaeger, an Air Force fireman who got back from Baghdad a year ago. "Me and my buddies went to a game and had the best time. And we made a pact that day that we'd all put our names on the waiting list. We figured we'd have them by our senior year."

Maybe they meant senior years . Yaeger finally got his four tickets this spring, 33 seasons later. Tickled, he called up his old buddies to compare seats. On the other end, he heard only sheepish grunts. Uh, we never signed up, they admitted. Now the Pack is 4-1. Sucks to be you!

"I put my name on when I was 18," says Gary Larson, a custodian in New Franken, Wis. "I never dreamed it would be 37 years."

The waiting was torture, because Larson grew up six blocks from Lambeau Field. As a boy he worked at Sneezer's Snack Shop, on Ashland Avenue, where the Packers held their team meetings in the cellar. "I used to sit there by the basement window," says Larson, now 55, "and listen to [coach Vince] Lombardi chew those guys' asses."

Larson lived so close to Lambeau that his teenage necking ground was the football field itself. "Let's just say the 50-yard line was consummated," he says. So close that he worked on the grounds crew for 17 years. "[Placekicker] Chester Marcol came running into my arms after his touchdown!" he says. So close that he put each of his two sons on the waiting list 25 minutes after they were born.

Now Gary's really close. His seats are in Lambeau Leap territory.

I love the Packers because they're like a one-horse buggy on I-95. Los Angeles, the second-largest city in the U.S., doesn't have an NFL team, and Green Bay, the 257th largest, does. It's like putting the United Nations in Ogallala, Neb. The Packers are a franchise that couldn't be, shouldn't be, but miraculously is. It's not just your team, it's your life . More than any other pro team's, a Packers ticket is precious.

The club does not sell single-game tickets, which means the only way to get in, short of parachuting, is to buy a season ticket. The problem is, season tickets can be transferred within families, even to first cousins, which means the line moves slower than the one at the Kabul DMV.

For instance, if you put your name on the waiting list today, you would be number 74,659. An average of 70 people give up their tickets every year, which means you'll have your tickets by the 3074 season. Luckily you'll still catch Brett Favre's last year.

"Here's how dumb we were," says Monica Johnson, a 64-year-old beekeeper from Two Creeks, Wis. "We had three little boys when we got on the list in 1971. We figured that each Sunday my husband and I would take one of the boys. You know, as a treat." As if. Thirty-six years later she got the tickets, though those boys now have boys of their own, one of whom plays on a Green Bay high school freshman team.

For one person on the list, though, the tickets didn't bring all that much joy. "My dad put all his kids' names on the list when I was 11," says Tom Stoller, 46, of Algoma, Wis. "Didn't tell us, either. Just wanted to surprise us." That was in 1972. Last year Tom still wasn't in, but he was getting close enough to smell the brats. The Packers' ticket office sends all people on the waiting list a postcard every October telling them where they stand, and Tom's card said 11. He was so pumped that he took it over to show his 68-year-old dad, Joe, who was thrilled. "Next year for sure, son," a beaming Joe said.

But just before Christmas, Joe died in a car accident. Six months later Tom got the gift his dad had picked out for him 35 years before. He hasn't been to a game yet -- partly because he's been busy following his son's college football team and partly because it's not as much fun to open a present when the one who gave it to you can't watch.

When Tom finally goes, "it's going to be kind of bittersweet," he says. "Kind of emotional. I don't know when I'll go exactly. I mean, my dad took me to my first-ever Packers game."

Guess some Lambeau Leaps are harder than others.