Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Carrying the Flag at Lambeau Field

Friends Anthony and Jen joined us for the New Year's game at Lambeau, and we had a ball.  This was going to be a really unique weekend in that, not only were we going to be in a suite for the game, but we were actually selected to carry the flag onto the field for the Star Spangled Banner ahead of the game. Not exactly your typical NFL experience.

I acquired a parking pass for the Oneida lot at Lambeau itself, so our location was going to be really good for tailgating.  I called for wheels up from the house by 8:00, and while we got a bit of a late start, we still got an outstanding parking spot to start.  We were basically right outside the indoor tailgate area, so we got live music plus a lot of foot traffic.  Add in a little wind and snow, and it was the prototypical Lambeau tailgate experience.

First thing was first, and that had to be the Bloody Mary bar:

With that set up, we enjoyed some fine egg bake that Vera had concocted, along with some sausage links that I cooked up on the charcoal grill.  After a nice breakfast, we hustled over to the Packers' practice facility - the Don Hudson Center - for our 10:00 practice session with the flag.  This was a pretty unique experience in and of itself, as the Packers are really protective of their practice facility during the season, and getting access is difficult.  

Here we are, working on our flag drill:

After about an hour's worth of practice, we needed to move the flag from the practice facility over to Lambeau.  The walk over, in and of itself, was a remarkable experience:

After a thorough security screen, we entered into the stadium proper.  There was a bit of hurry up and wait, as the start of an NFL game is a highly orchestrated event, and I'm sure they were wanting to build in extra time in the event something went sideways and they needed the extra minutes.  We hung out there, and were warned that cameras were forbidden.  I kind of figured they would be, but also figured I'd try to sneak a shot or two where I could.

About 11:45 we were finally moved toward the field.  It was an incredible experience to exit that tunnel, the same one where so many Hall of Fame players have trod, and to enter into that screaming crowd.  As we walked the visitor's sideline all I could do was look around and try and take it all in.  I think every kid that ever played football wondered what it would be like to walk out onto an NFL field some day, and while there was never any threat of me playing, it clearly was as close to that feeling as I could get.  It was chilling.

We moved to the end zone to await the players coming onto the field, and as we were standing there, I snapped this quick video:

The wind, snow, crowd, players, the Frozen Tundra.  Incredible.

With the Lions and Packers on the field and at their respective sidelines, it was now our time to carry the flag on the field.  Again, this is really rare as the Packers are very exclusive about who gets to go on the field, and that list is comprised of basically nobody.  I'll never forget the scene as we marched out with the crowd cheering and PA guy announcing.  I looked over to the Lions' bench fifteen yards away and just marveled at how huge those guys were.  On my other side to my right less than ten yards away Lions' kicker Jason Hanson had just finished his warm ups and was moving out.  The same guy that won me a couple of fantasy games a few years back was just right there - incredible.

We got our place, the song started, and we executed our choreographing flawlessly, despite the wind blowing so hard that it nearly blew away the flag when we first unfurled it.  Seemingly before it started the song was ending, and that's when the F-18s shot over our heads for the pregame fly-over. The crowd went crazy, and I was right there with them, screaming like a little girl.

Could it get any better?  I don't think so.

We were soon hustled off the field where we stored the flag and headed off to the suite.  While the suite was great, as was the game, pretty much everything after the time being on the field was just kind of ho-hum.  Being on the field was literally was all we could talk about.

I know what you're thinking - some Vikings fan I am, huh?  Listen up, chump: as a fan of the NFL, you would have had to have been an idiot to not want to have that experience.  Would you turn down the chance to throw out the first pitch at Yankee stadium just because you're a Twins fan, or pass up the opportunity to drop the puck at Joe Lewis Arena out of deference to the Wild?  I think not. This was a once in a lifetime deal, and it was literally awesome.

Likewise, it was nice to be at least one guy that loved the Vikings that stepped onto that field this year and actually did his job correctly (except Jared Allen, who had a hell of a game this year).

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