One year ago today, on February 5, 2011, three of my displaced Wisconsinite friends and I took the three-hour drive from Austin to Dallas just to get a glimpse of Cowboys Stadium prior to our beloved Packers battling in Super Bowl XLV the following day.
It was a wonderful piece of fortune that the Packers happened to be playing in a Super Bowl taking place a mere three hours from us. None of us had tickets (or the money to buy one), but how could we ever live with ourselves if we didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to go breathe the air around Jerryworld and see the sights? We are hopelessly in love with our Packers.
We left my apartment at 7:00 in the morning. When we arrived in Arlington, we were greeted by a giant image of Clay Matthews III hunting down Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Hines Ward plastered on the side of Cowboys Stadium. There was a gaggle of Sconnies in the parking lot across the road taking pictures of themselves in front of that giant place, so we pulled over and asked one of them to take a picture of us.
Let’s not forget the weather in Dallas for last year’s Super Bowl. I mean, this is Texas we’re talking about, but if you look at our picture in front of the stadium, you would swear that was taken in Wisconsin! There’s snow on the ground, for Pete’s sake! The roads were icy and I remember all the local Green Bay beat writers I had interviewed earlier in the year for my documentary Last Day at Lambeau complaining about it on Facebook and Twitter (they had come all the way south from the frozen tundra to encounter… another frozen tundra?).
We also found it interesting (if not entirely disappointing) that in the immediate vicinity around Cowboys Stadium there is nothing. And I mean nothing. We thought we’d at least see a similar sight to what one would find around Lambeau Field in Green Bay — a series of sports bars and cool local restaurants — but we were sorely mistaken. The best we could find for a late lunch was Buffalo Wild Wings (which was delicious as always, but one would hope for something more exciting when visiting the site of the forthcoming Super Bowl).
We approached the stadium with the hope of visiting the gift shop to acquire some Packers Super Bowl gear. But as we got close, we were turned away by security because they apparently don’t have the gift shop available the day prior to the game (we assumed due to last minute arrangements — but how can this possibly be fiscally wise? Don’t you want a place for people to purchase this stuff the day before?). So we shrugged it off and made it our goal to find another independent sports shop in town which would hopefully be fully stocked with all the Super Bowl swag we could hope for.
But first… the team hotel. We had heard the Packers were taking residence in the Omni Hotel in Dallas, so we headed that way. The geography of that area in Texas is such that Dallas and Fort Worth are roughly 30 minutes away from one another with Cowboys Stadium smack dab between the two, so it took us about fifteen minutes to get to the Big D. When we arrived, we were surprised to find a massive photograph depicting the Steelers defense on the windows of the hotel. There were Steelers fans all around us. No green as far as the eye could see — only black and gold. We had heard wrong. The Packers were in Fort Worth! We jeered at a couple Steelers fans, flipped the giant James Harrison graphic the bird and bounced.
But before we did, we noticed a small sports memorabilia shop across the street with Super Bowl XLV logos all over it. This is what we had been searching for. We picked up some T-shirts, a couple game programs, and one or two Title Towels. It felt so weird to be able to buy so much Packers merchandise in Dallas, Texas!
By the time we made it over to Fort Worth, we saw that it was much smaller in stature than downtown Dallas. No big buildings. It reminded me of the west side of Madison when I was growing up. Suburb-like. My disappointment at this revelation was quickly replaced by adrenaline as a single flagpole appeared in the distance displaying our beloved green and gold G.
We found the Omni Fort Worth and a smattering of Packers fans huddled around the blocked-off entrance. We watched the likes of Greg Jennings, Brandon Jackson and B.J. Raji arrive or leave with family members and friends. It felt a lot like sitting behind the fence at the Don Hutson Center during training camp in Wisconsin — only in Texas.
It’s a pretty cool thing that being a fan of your favorite sports team can create such wonderful personal memories for you. That’s part of what being a fan is all about. It’s not about the players or even the team as much as it gives you a community to rally around and share life experiences with.
We all know the rest of the story. The Packers defeated the Steelers the next day in Super Bowl XLV and secured their fourth Vince Lombardi Trophy. Today we Packers faithful will be seated on our couches watching the New York Giants and New England Patriots duke it out in a rematch of Super Bowl XLII, widely considered one of the most entertaining and competitive Super Bowls ever. You know, I wasn’t going to watch the game today. I thought I was going to sulk, never able to remove the nagging thought in the back of my mind — The Packers ought to be here.
But now that the game is a mere five hours from kickoff, I’m kind of excited. Sure it’s not my football team, but it is football. And it’s the last competitive game of football we’re going to see until September. Who do Packers fans root for? You don’t root for the Giants — they are one of the reasons the Packers aren’t in Indianapolis in their place. And you certainly can’t root for the Patriots — they’re the evil empire. So who do you root for?
You root for the game and hope it’s every bit as entertaining as XLII. The Pack will be back next year, friends. And Super Bowl XLVII will be in New Orleans, a mere nine-hour drive from us here in Austin. More great Packers fan memories are ahead of us.