At the corner of Lombardi and Holmgren, late last Saturday night in Green Bay, sits the Weather Channel's StormTracker satellite truck: It is a meteorological vulture, hoping for a feast of foul weather on Sunday, when the Packers will host the San Francisco 49ers, those pantywaists from the West Coast.
Seven miles from the StormTracker is Vince Lombardi's old house, a redbrick ranch on a quiet cul-de-sac in suburban Allouez. If it weren't for the indecency of the hour—it is now just before seven on Sunday morning—you would knock on the door and endeavor to have a drink at the basement bar, where Saint Vince entertained, win or lose, after every Packers home game. Four miles from there is St. Willebrord's Catholic Church, where Lombardi was a daily communicant while coaching the Packers to five league titles in seven years. The priest inside, Father Albin V. Veszelovszky, has a name like a '60s linebacker and a Bela Lugosi accent, and presides over a Mass on Sunday that should resonate with every tailback who tells you that God was on his side today: "In truth" said the apostle Peter, "I see that God shows no partiality."
Or does he? Two miles from St. Willebrord's, at 1265 Lombardi Avenue, is Lambeau Field, far more blessed than any other in football. Dale Jaeger is a parking attendant in lot B, but he might as well be the maitre d' at a three-star Parisian restaurant. "People try to bribe me for the best spaces," Jaeger says of the scarce end spots that are ideal for tailgating. "They offer me beer, food, condiments. Some of them give me Christmas presents and year-end bonuses." Despite the prodigious drinking by thousands around him—it is now 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, and the lot has been open for a full hour—Jaeger hasn't seen a fistfight today, nor in 25 years of parking cars. "These are," he says, "good-hearted people from the Midwest."
Van Nguyen is a Midwesterner by way of Vietnam, from which he emigrated to Green Bay at age 15. Now 32, he speaks in a disarmingly hard-voweled Wisconsin accent. "Most Vietnamese people like the warm s—-, so they move to California, Florida or Texas," says Nguyen. But he lucked out and landed near Lambeau. "Every time I walk in, I tell myself I'm not going to get emotional," he says. "Then I see the players run onto the field and hear the roar and the national anthem and then the planes fly over and...my eyes well up."
Indeed, Nguyen is welling up as we speak, but that may be from the eye-watering fumes that are everywhere: bratwurst and cheddar links, grilled steak and boiled lobster, the scent of buttered cheeseburger wafting over from Kroll's West restaurant, a timeless Packers haunt whose slogan is Where Butter's King—and, one assumes, angioplasty's queen.
Bart Boyden, 39, drives a green-and-gold '72 Cadillac Fleetwood that's emblazoned with PACKERS logos and the Wisconsin license plate 01PACK. In his trunk he has the plates 87PACK, 88PACK, 89PACK and so on, through 99PACK and Y2KPACK, and the Mississippi plate FAVRE, which he talked off a woman in New Orleans five years ago. To set the tone for today's game, he is playing—on a loudspeaker lashed to the Fleetwood—the theme music from vintage NFL Films.
Retiree Rich Mossing drives nine hours from Toledo for every Packers home game, despite having no tickets—he always scores a pair—and no ties to Wisconsin. His green-and-gold GMC Savannah is festooned with Packers helmets and carries the Ohio plates PACKVAN. " Detroit fans are especially bad," he says of the Michigan motorists he passes en route. "Many of them nearly get into accidents while turning around in their seats to flip me off."
Inside Lambeau hours later—on a dyed dirt field, with the temperature a disappointingly warm 28�—the Packers lay waste to the Niners, and a Fox camera isolates on 45-year-old fan Larry Primeau. In 1990, for reasons he can't adequately explain, Primeau lag-bolted to a vintage '60s Packers helmet a set of antlers from a deer that he'd shot in northern Wisconsin. The antlered helmet was a hit at Lambeau, Primeau dubbed himself the Packalope, and in 1997, when the helmet was enshrined in Canton, Ohio, in a display about pro football fans, he built himself a replacement, which he wears to this day.
Former Packers linebacker Brian Noble told Primeau that his Packalope helmet seemed a waste of perfectly good deer antlers, but Primeau would hear none of it. "I put that deer," he told Noble, "in the football Hall of Fame."