Category Archives: Green Bay Packers

Super Bowl Memories

We didn't have tickets, but we didn't care.

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 didn't want anyone questioning our loyalties.

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.

Natalie flips off James Harrison.

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.

Outside the Packers' team hotel in Fort Worth.

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.

Bryan Bulaga enters the Omni Fort Worth with friends and family.

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.


The Great Missed Opportunity

“4th and 26.” “The Catch II.” “The Randy Moss Moon Game.”

All are fan- and media-created monikers for NFL playoff losses by the Green Bay Packers over the years. Will last night’s debacle at Lambeau Field be known by a pithy title ten years from now? Or is it so painful that it will merely retain the dry, official game tag spoken with requisite distain and disgust (The 2007 NFC Title Game, The 2009 NFC Wild Card Game)?

I submit to you that the most appropriate alias for this game is “The Great Missed Opportunity,” or “The Missed Opportunity Game.” The Packers’ 37-20 loss to the Giants was not caused by any one play or player, so that makes the three examples at the beginning of this piece inadequate (I mean, what are we gonna do, call this “The Rodgers-to-Finley 3rd Down Disconnect Game”?).

No, this game was just a big, fat wasted opportunity. You could call it “The Choke Game,” and although the image of someone writhing on the ground with both hands over their throat serves as a good visual analogy for this game, the “choke” concept doesn’t fully express what I feel this morning. I feel like the Packers’ season genuinely shouldn’t be over. Yeah, I know the Giants showed up to play, but the Packers did too, right? Oh, they didn’t? Wait… after a season one loss away from being undefeated the team didn’t even show up? For the playoffs?

In my opinion, last night’s comedy of errors in Green Bay most closely resembles the 2004 playoff loss to the Vikings a.k.a. “The Randy Moss Moon Game”. Yeah, that’s right. I just compared a game played by a Mike McCarthy team with a 15-1 record and the presumptive league MVP to one prepared by the train wreck of the Mike Sherman regime. The truth hurts.

So all we as fans can do at this point is ask why. How the hell did this happen? Let me list my reasons:

1. The Giants Are Good – As fans of the losing team it can be easy to forget that the other team gets paid too. The Giants are on a roll mirroring the Packers’ last season and their own from 2007. I’m not saying the Packers weren’t the better team every other week of the season, but yesterday, the Giants took that mantle.

2. Lost the Turnover Battle – Simple. You lose the turnover battle and the road to winning the game morphs to a steep incline.

3. Dropped Passes – I don’t really understand this one. The team started to drop passes with James Jones last season and then almost everyone had one in Super Bowl XLV, but I always kind of assumed McCarthy and receivers coach Bennett would get it under control. It seems to be a widespread mental thing among all the players at the position on the roster.

4. Rodgers and McCarthy Both Lost Composure – You can debate me on this one and I might be wrong, but McCarthy’s play-calling felt reckless (and possibly panicked and/or desperate) all night. Yes, if they recover that first half on-side kick I’m jumping up and down for joy, but I’d still be thinking in the back of my mind, “What the hell was that?!” That might be the highest-risk, highest-reward play a coach can call… and you call it when the game is tied in the first half? Why? As for Rodgers, he appeared on television to have completely lost his mind midway through the third quarter. His passes were errant, he looked flustered constantly and he never checked down to the underneath routes which were almost always wide open. He seemed to want to make up a ten-point deficit with one throw.

5. Resting Players Ain’t the Way to Go – I trust McCarthy. So when he decided to rest the majority of the starting roster the final regular season game of the year I gave him the benefit of the doubt even though I openly stated it wasn’t the way I would go. Yes, I realize hindsight is 20/20, so with that in mind, instead of blaming McCarthy for resting players, let’s just take a lesson from hindsight for the future. McCarthy made a huge deal in 2009 about how he wanted momentum going into the Wild Card game against the Cardinals even though nothing good could come from winning their final regular season game. So he started everyone. Yes, the Packers lost the playoff game the following week, but I don’t think anyone could argue it was due to the Packers not resting players. The team showed up and played well. The game went to overtime and a fluke turnover (and uncalled facemask penalty) lost the game for them. Last night, the Packers resembled a team whose two primary playmakers on offense have been resting for 3 and 5 weeks respectively. Rust exists.

You’ll notice I don’t list the defense as a reason the Packers lost. Ironically, they weren’t. The defense played the way they have all year – not great, but not deplorably either. They were constantly given short fields to defend after turnovers by their offense. They forced multiple three-and-out series’ for the Giants. They forced a turnover. No, the defense did not lose this game. The offense played its worst game since the Sherman era, and I’d like to see the Ravens or 49ers defense try to extinguish that dumpster fire.

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.

Interviewing Wayne Larrivee (Third Time’s the Charm)

A still frame from Wayne's interview in my film, "Last Day at Lambeau".

I want to tell you a little bit about how cool Wayne Larrivee is.

For those of you who don’t know, Wayne Larrivee has been the radio play-by-play announcer for the Green Bay Packers Radio Network ever since taking over for Jim Irwin in 1999. His famous catch-phrase, “There… is… your… DAGGER,” has become a part of contemporary football legend in Wisconsin. Check out this YouTube video I found chronicling all of Wayne’s “dagger” calls from last season through the Super Bowl:

So when I began production on my documentary Last Day at Lambeau, I felt Wayne would have a wonderful perspective to include in the film. I also thought I would never get him to agree to be in it (had I known how friendly he was going to be, I would’ve liked my chances a bit more).

Needless to say, I got hold of Wayne’s email address, asked him to be in the film and he agreed. We decided to shoot his interview the week prior to Brett Favre’s final game in Wisconsin on October 24, 2010 inside Curly’s Pub, a sports bar atmosphere in the Lambeau Field atrium.

We arrived at Curly’s Pub an hour in advance to set up camera and lights. This was the most nervous I had been for any interview thus far in production. Wayne Larrivee is a celebrity to me! I’ve listened to his radio calls for years both live and on those NFL Films highlight reels! He’s practically the voice of God during Packers games! Well, once we were all set up, the “voice of God” called and left me a voicemail:

I didn’t mind that Wayne was running a little late — my thoughts immediately went to, “Which Packers player is Wayne interviewing before coming to meet us? Is it Aaron Rodgers? Clay Matthews? Donald Driver?” I was geekin’ out pretty intensely at this point.

So for the next twenty minutes or so, I kicked back and watched the replay of the Packers’ recent loss to the Miami Dolphins on the bar television screens. Of course, the highlights were appropriately accompanied by Wayne’s play-by-play audio.

And then, there he was. Wayne Larrivee. He warmly greeted me and the two crew members with me, shook our hands and took a seat at the table we’d chosen. I took my seat at the next table over in order to get out of the camera frame.

Me interviewing Wayne Larrivee.

It was a wonderful interview and one of the more pleasant and thrilling experiences during the production of the film.

Of course, it couldn’t be that easy.

The next interview we had scheduled that day was Bill Johnson, the co-host of the Packers radio show “Green and Gold Today” on 540 ESPN Milwaukee. This interview was to take place at Bill’s residence in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, just under two hours south of Lambeau Field where we interviewed Wayne. We arrived at Bill’s house and interviewed him for roughly an hour before we had to change data cards on the camera. The way our workflow was set up required us to download all the footage from another card before we could continue the interview with a blank card, if that makes sense. So we started to download the Wayne Larrivee interview.

I played the first clip. Then the second. The third. The fourth. It felt like my heart stopped — there was no audio.

We continued the download so we could finish Bill’s interview (it’s a tribute to Bill’s fascinating comments that he was able to get my mind off of the audio mishap for the rest of his interview).

The next morning I wrote the mortifying email every filmmaker writes from time to time when there is a technical gaffe requiring a reshoot. Luckily, as I’ve said before, Wayne Larrivee is a really cool guy (and he works in the media, so maybe some part of him sympathized with us), and he agreed to film the interview again. Unfortunately, I had to fly back home to Austin, Texas at the end of the week, so the film’s producer agreed to conduct the interview.

One week later, our crew drove up to Green Bay without me for the reshoot. I was in the middle of another job in Austin and monitoring the events via text message. Once they were ready for Wayne, I gave him a quick call. He answered and the conversation went something like this:

ME: “Hi Wayne, it’s Michael. My crew is all set up and ready for you at Curly’s.”

WAYNE: “Today?”

ME: “Yeah.”

WAYNE: “I thought it was next Thursday. I’m not in Green Bay today.”

I couldn’t believe it. Here I am with possibly the greatest sports radio announcer in the business having agreed to be interviewed in my film and I was totally wasting his time (not to mention that of my crew who had to drive to Green Bay and back for nothing). At this point, a lot of people in Wayne’s position and of his stature would’ve been fed up and told me to forget about doing another shoot. I checked our correspondence later and found out that we had actually agreed on that day for the shoot, but I don’t blame Wayne for getting his days crossed after our screw up complicated things.

But Wayne’s amazing generosity knows no bounds and he agreed to reschedule a third time. This time I double checked the date and time with him and my crew, they filmed the interview, double-tested the audio on set, and we had Wayne’s interview in the can. Ironically, the whole episode really ended up being a blessing in disguise, because we were able to ask Wayne to recall his memories from Favre’s last game at Lambeau Field, something we couldn’t ask the first time we interviewed him because the game hadn’t taken place yet. When you watch the film now, you notice that Wayne’s comments are all over the scene of Favre’s final game.

If you’re reading this, Wayne, I want to thank you again for reshooting with us. As you can see in the finished film, your interview was vital to the way we told our story, and I will forever tell everyone just how cool you are with people who may not always get everything a hundred percent right the first time. Or the second.