Steve Sabol, president of NFL Films, has been coming to Green Bay for 30 years, or ever since he and his dad, Ed, used to preview their work for Lombardi on a bedsheet hung on the basement wall of Lombardi's house. While Sabol agrees that Lambeau is the "holy ground of the NFL," he adds, "When I think of NFL stadiums, there are so many other more eccentric places that come to mind.
"At Giants Stadium you've got the Hawk—that terrible wind. And Phil Simms can tell you how three fourths of his touchdown passes there came in the north end zone, where Jimmy Hoffa is supposedly buried. Texas Stadium has its shadows. Al Davis used to always complain that his Oakland Raiders could never beat those great Pittsburgh Steelers teams at Three Rivers because the sidelines freeze before the middle of the field, so Cliff Branch could never get open deep. To me, those are the stadiums that have a sense of mystery. Lambeau is just a nice, friendly, intimate place to watch a game."
It was built on a shoestring budget of $960,000 and opened at the start of the 1957 season. The Packers had outgrown their previous home—City Stadium, a 25,000-seat bandbox so primitive that it didn't have women's rest rooms and players used the facilities at adjacent East High for locker rooms. At a rally the weekend before the balloting on whether to build a stadium, George Halas, the legendary owner and coach of the rival Chicago Bears, told Green Bay voters that the only way the Packers could continue to compete in the NFL was with a new facility. The bond issue passed by a 2-to-1 margin.
A game-day walk around Lambeau's main concourse reveals no-frills concession stands, cinder-block rest rooms and metal framing that supports the grandstands. Over the past 15 years Green Bay has poured $40 million into stadium updates such as skyboxes, club seating and JumboTron replay boards. Seating has been expanded seven times since 1961, increasing Lambeau's capacity from the original 32,150 to 60,790. All of the outdoor seats are backless aluminum bleachers. Lambeau's single-level, bowl-shaped configuration assures that there are no obstructed views.
Inside the home locker room there's no cracking Naugahyde sofa on which notorious playboy halfback Paul Hornung might've slept off a hangover, no battered oak desk on which Lombardi could've propped up his cleats. Instead there's the usual wall-to-wall carpet, walk-in dressing cubicles and players-only lounge with a mammoth TV. Action photos line the walls of the Green Bay executive offices, and the Packers celebrate their 11 title seasons by listing the years in the southeast corner of Lambeau, at the same level as the names of the Hall of Famers.
And there aren't any claims of helpful gremlins blowing held goal attempts wide right or ghosts haunting Lambeau—though it has been pointed out that many fans have asked the Packers if their ashes could be scattered on the field after they die. "We always say no," says head groundskeeper Todd Edlebeck, "but, you know, it could've happened. Some mornings you can just tell someone's been on the field overnight. Carts that we left out will be moved. Equipment has been handled."
Lambeau's most famous feature—the Frozen Tundra—isn't all that it's cracked up to be. In the summer of 1967 Lombardi had the field equipped with a then newfangled underground heating system, which works something like an electric blanket. About 14 miles of plastic-covered cables, spaced one foot apart, run sideline to sideline and are buried six inches beneath the surface. A General Electric press release touting the system promised "September-like playing conditions throughout the season. Instead of a frozen field, the Wisconsin contests will be played on a green, soft, frost-free turf."
Meaning the Frozen Tundra isn't really frozen? "Well, the system doesn't do much good when the air temperature drops below 20," Edlebeck says. "But the field's not frozen nearly as often as it's said to be. I guess it sounds cute to say frozen tundra. And at least when ESPN's Chris Berman says it, he says it as a joke. What bugs you is when TV announcers say it's a frozen tundra and they haven't even been on the field. My mother used to watch all the games on TV, and, you know, that really used to burn her up."
It has been 40 years since quarterback Babe Parilli and tight end Gary Knafelc made opening day (Sept. 29, 1957) at Lambeau a success for the Packers, combining on a fourth-quarter touchdown pass that clinched a 21-17 win over the Bears. It has been 32 years since the name of the facility was changed from City Stadium to honor team founder and longtime coach Curly Lambeau, the bon vivant who won seven championships during his 31 seasons in Green Bay, married three times and in 1922 paid the club's $250 league entry fee with money he got from the sale of a friend's car.
Just as the 1967 championship game is rarely called anything but the Ice Bowl, some other games have been so compelling that Packers fans have slapped titles on them, too. The Snow Bowl was an '85 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; a 16-inch snowfall blanketed the city, and many fans drove their snowmobiles to the stadium, where, predictably, the Packers whipped their warm-weather opponents 21-0. The Instant Replay Game? That was the one in '89 during which Bears coach Mike Ditka went ballistic after officials reversed themselves and announced that Majkowski hadn't been over the line of scrimmage after all when on the last play of the game he'd tossed a game-winning touchdown pass to Sharpe. The hard feelings run so deep that the Chicago media guide still carries an asterisk next to the result of that game.