From 1973 through '92 the Packers languished, qualifying for the playoffs only in the 1982 strike-shortened season. But Green Bay fans still laugh about the 1980 season opener at Lambeau in which the Bears blocked Chester Marcol's overtime field goal attempt, only to see Marcol catch the ricochet and scoot 25 yards for the winning score. Marcol looked like an accountant in his thick, black-frame glasses, and he ran as if he had pails on his feet.
Nitschke's finest Lambeau moment came in the 1965 NFL title game against the Cleveland Browns. He was assigned to shadow the great Jim Brown, who finished with just 50 yards rushing on 12 carries, and his diving, fingertip deflection of a sure touchdown pass intended for Brown sealed the Packers' 23-12 win. Hornung outdid Brown with a scintillating 105-yard performance. After scoring a third-quarter touchdown, Hornung ran to the sidelines shouting, "It's just like the good old days!" That led Lombardi to crow, "Did you hear that? Just like the good old days, boys!"
When Harlan, a member of the Packers' front office since 1971, looks at the sports world today, he notes that the Bears are talking about abandoning Soldier Field, that Boston Garden is no more and that if George Steinbrenner has his way, Yankee Stadium may soon follow. "Eivery time I see another old ballpark bite the dust, I think, That's too bad," Harlan says. "There will never be another Yankee Stadium. Regardless of what you name the new one, it will never be the Yankee Stadium. It's the same with Lambeau Field. There have been just too many world championships and glory times here. I think for the NFL to lose a story like the Green Bay Packers would be a disaster."
But Harlan says it could happen—if the NFL ever changes some of the fundamental ways it does business, especially revenue sharing. No less than 86% of the Packers' revenue comes from shared sources—63% from the league's television contract and another 23% from ticket receipts, licensing agreements and other income that the NFL divides among its teams. Right now, business is booming. The Packers have a rainy-day fund of $21 million. Beginning last year they picked up an additional $2.5 million in annual skybox revenue by dropping an arrangement under which they played three games a season at Milwaukee County Stadium. For the first time since 1932 the Packers played all their home games in Green Bay. There's talk of boosting revenue from Lambeau by staging concerts there, increasing sales of stadium advertising, opening concourse restaurants and raising by $5,000 the prices on the bargain-basement skyboxes, which go for $19,000 to $25,000 per season.
However, Lambeau's structure won't support further expansion. Green Bay has the second-lowest average ticket prices in the league, and even with the long waiting list, Harlan doesn't believe the market can bear an increase. And what if when the collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2002 season, there is no longer a salary cap and teams have no restraints in pursuing free agents? "We know there could come a time when, first, we just won't have the money to stay competitive." Harlan says. "And, well, I can't sit here and say that for 10, 15 or 20 years this stadium is going to be fine. Because I'm not sure it is."
In the 1970s some businessmen approached the Packers' board of directors with plans for a dome. Smiling bemusedly, Harlan says, "The idea didn't go over very well." And he doubts it would now. "When you go out in our stadium and sit in the stands for a game, you just get the feeling this is football the way it's supposed to be played," he says. "Somehow those voices just sound louder in that terrible chill."
When Thurston is asked what Lombardi would think of playing in a dome, his eyebrows arch like those of a startled cat. He smirks. "Lombardi would say, 'No dome—no, no, no,' " he says, his chin jutting out. "He'd say, 'Football is meant to be played outdoors. Now and forever.' "