Michael and the Packers Factory

Me sitting in Lori Nickel's chair in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel office inside Lambeau Field.

Roald Dahl’s classic novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a wonderful allegory for our collective wish to visit the home of our heroes and be granted a view behind the curtain. The 1971 film adaptation is also a cautionary tale of what can happen when you take advantage of your privilege. Charlie Bucket and Grandpa Joe sneak into the Bubble Room and sample Fizzy Lifting Drinks in opposition to Willy Wonka’s deterrence, resulting in the initial withholding of Charlie’s lifetime supply of chocolate as punishment.

While filming my documentary Last Day at Lambeau I nearly had my own Bubble Room moment.

The media parking lot at Lambeau Field.

It was October of 2010, the week prior to Brett Favre’s last game at Lambeau Field, the epic showdown we were centering our film around. I had appointments to conduct on-camera interviews with Lori Nickel, Greg Bedard and Tom Silverstein (all reporters of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) at the stadium. Lori instructed me to park in the media parking lot and to enter through the media entrance.

We parked, gathered our gear and headed for the door. I had been to Lambeau Field before as a fan, entering through the Lambeau Field Atrium or some other main entrance, but I had never stepped through the “back door,” for lack of a better term, of this hallowed place. That was thrill enough in itself.

Lori let us in and guided us to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel office. This was a Wednesday, so the weekly telephone press conference with the Packers’ opponent was about to take place. Lori’s office was right next door to the conference room, so she told us if we stayed in the room, we’d probably be able to eavesdrop on the conversation. And what timing – today’s press conference was with the subject of our film, Brett Lorenzo Favre.

We listened as Brett had virtually nothing but kind words to say about the object of his 2008 hatred, Ted Thompson, and his rising star successor, Aaron Rodgers. I also heard the present voices of other Packers reporters with whom I had forthcoming interviews scheduled in the coming days (Mike Vandermause, Rob Demovsky, Pete Dougherty).

The Jeff Blumb memo.

While awaiting Lori’s return to begin her interview, I couldn’t help but look around the room at all the pieces of Packers history. There were old game tickets, programs, media guides, and sports almanacs, but the most “geek attack” inducing of them all was a memo pinned to a cork board. It was from Jeff Blumb, the former PR director for the team, and it concerned an incident in the early 2000’s when former head coach Mike Sherman was furious over a cell phone going off among the media during one of his press conferences. The memo threatened that unless the “offender” come forth and “admit his or her mistake,” a scheduled Brett Favre press conference would be “cancelled for everyone.” I had vague recollections of reading something about this episode at the time it occurred, but seeing the actual memo was a peek behind the curtain indeed.

When Lori returned, she sat in her chair and gave us a spectacular 30-minute interview. We thanked her, packed up our gear and relocated to an empty room across the hall where we would interview Greg Bedard for 15 minutes during his final week as a Packers reporter before taking up his new job as sports editor of the Boston Globe (we are forever indebted to you for finding time for us, Greg).

After we finished Greg’s interview, we had one more to conduct: Tom Silverstein. I knew the location I wanted but doubted the likelihood of acquiring permission. I asked him if we could film in the Packers’ media auditorium where the star players and coaches give their press conferences after games. Tom said he didn’t see a reason why we couldn’t.

A still from our film - Tom Silverstein in the Packers' press auditorium location.

Tom led us to the auditorium. In order to get there, one has to weave one’s way through a number of other rooms and hallways, eventually arriving at the tunnel that the Packers players take out to the playing grass! We could only grab a glimpse before we breached the entrance to the press auditorium. It seemed smaller in person, as most things do, but I immediately recalled all the famous moments which took place behind that podium. All the post-game interviews. The announcements of draft picks. The training camp updates. Most relevant to our project was the Brett Favre trade press conference with Mike McCarthy, Ted Thompson and Mark Murphy.

We finished our wonderful interview with Tom and he went back to his office, leaving us in the auditorium to pack up our gear. In order to get back to the media entrance to exit the stadium, we had to pass through the players’ field tunnel again. This time I got a better look.

I was Charlie Bucket in the Bubble Room.

I looked over both shoulders. No one was around besides me and my two crew members. We started to walk up the tunnel to the grass. It was like the moment in the David Anspaugh film, Rudy, when the title character first steps foot on the grass at Notre Dame. But I wasn’t going to walk on Lambeau Field — I just wanted to get a good look. I wanted to peer through the large garage-like door porthole looking out to the bowl.

We grabbed this snapshot of the field tunnel opening as we dashed away.

We approached to about ten yards of the field anticipating someone coming from around the corner to exclaim, “Get the hell out of there!” Suddenly a loud, mechanical growl exploded in the tunnel. The three of us jumped and immediately speed-walked away from the field back toward the press auditorium. After a second of panic, we realized it was the sound of the tunnel door opening (we had evidently activated the motion sensor). We bolted anyway. We were there as guests of Lori, Greg and Tom, and we were not about to make them regret it.

But I will always wonder what could’ve been — if I had tasted the forbidden Fizzy Lifting Drink and continued through the open tunnel door and out onto the field. We were wearing badges and carrying equipment. If we had just acted like we were supposed to be there, would anyone have stopped us? We will never know.

As is, my Bubble Room experience is a memory I will carry with me forever.

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