The new Lambeau Field
By Steve Woodward
Special to Page 2

I have an admission. I see dead people. Not just any old, decaying former humans. I see icons. I see legendary NFL head coaches, titans of a bygone era when a man could wear dress shoes and a cashmere overcoat to the ball yard because there was no way football players were going to pour electrolyte replenishing liquids over a head coach dressed like that.

So when I heard that the Green Bay Packers are opening their 2003 season on Sunday against Minnesota at the "newly renovated" Lambeau Field, I summoned Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi for a quick therapy session. I needed to talk. Renovating Lambeau Field sounded all wrong to me.

SW: "Do you mind if I refer to you both as 'Coach'?"

CL: "Do you mind getting on with this? I'm having lunch later with Grantland Rice."

Lambeau Field
An overhead view of the newly renovated Lambeau Field.
VL: "Call me anything you'd like, kid, as long as it's delivered as an impersonation of John Facenda's NFL Films voice. I really like the way he said, 'Laaahhmbaaahhhdi'."

SW: "Coach Lambeau, Coach Lombardi, you're not going to believe this. Those Cheeseheads up in Green Bay have just finished spending $295 million -- $160 million from taxpayers -- to spruce up Lambeau Field."

VL: "I figured they'd be calling it Lombardi Field by now."

CL: "Dream on, Mr. I-Split-Town-to-Coach-the-Washington-Redskins. You're lucky the street outside is named Lombardi Avenue. Probably ought to be Bart Starr Avenue, you know."

VL: "I'd tell you where to go, but I see you're already here."

SW: "We have a crisis, gentlemen. Lambeau Field is all fancied up, and for what? Isn't renovating that garish old shrine sort of like slapping a rec room and tennis courts on a double-wide? I'd dare say it's akin to putting a retractable roof on the Coliseum in Rome. It cost $960,000 to build the place in 1957 -- or about what Maurice Clarett pays for his personal audio equipment - and now they've gone and spent hard-earned, meatpackers' money on an atrium with a food court.

"Fellas, that would be as ill-advised and inconceivable as renovating Soldier Field."

CL: "Well, we know that'll never happen."

SW: "It's like finding brie, not cheddar, on a cheeseburger. It's like boiling a brat in Chardonnay."

VL: "Hey, kid, stick with the native tongue."

SW: "Chardonnay, Vince. It's a buttery, full-bodied white wine. Great with grilled fish."

CL: "I hear they let some team called the Dolphins in, speaking of which."

SW: "Anyway, Coach, this new Lambeau Field has restaurants in it now, and something like 556 women's restrooms. Martha Burk could have a convention inside this place."

Clearly, it was not going to be easy to get these Stalwarts of Yesteryear Discipline to grasp the severity of the situation. The great, frostbitten, windburned Green Bay Packers are playing in a shopping mall, and there's no Jiffy Lube or even a Sizzler in the adjacent parking lot. Sure, Lambeau is an eye-popping architectural marvel; but for eight or so Sundays a year, it will be surrounded by bare-chested, beer-guzzling man-boys charring pig parts from 9 in the morning on. (Send this bunch to Afghanistan tomorrow and Bin Laden not only is in custody but is dropping to give them "20.")

Lambeau Field
Vince Lombardi's daughter stands by his statue at Lambeau Field.
C'mon, we know Packers fans would stand up and cheer their team even if you take the seats out and provide a lone port-a-john. They arrive at home games equipped for survival. What the rest of the world calls excess body fat, they think of as insulation. These people do more variations on potato salad than an Idaho Rotarians luncheon committee. They practically invented spreadable cheese. Spam is their culinary clay. (It can be sculpted and infused into many delectable pre-, mid- and post-game treats, you know.) They think of Green Bay as one large beer cooler. You don't buy five-pound bags of ice up there; you just chip it off of whatever's at arm's length -- your car, your Winnebago, an aging relative ...

I didn't know how to get it through to Coaches Lambeau and Lombardi, that something disturbing has transpired up in Brown County, Wisconsin. There is no way I want to tell them that fans are paying $75 and up to buy a brick inscribed with their names and sentiments, and that these commemorative bricks will be located in and around the Lambeau Field walkways. Coach Lombardi's brick, if he were here to pay for one, would probably say, "Get Me the Hell Out of Here."

So we said goodnight and I promised to get back to them. I wasn't about to say anything about a 20-7 exhibition loss to something called the Carolina Panthers in the first game at the "new" Lambeau. I can hear Coach Lambeau now, lamenting his beloved green-and-gold boys losing to a collegiate squad.

And I was worried Coach Lambeau would find out that the "Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field" has had underground heating elements since 1967 -- installed with the blessing of Coach Lombardi. (Apparently, the new system is much better than the one that broke down during the epic 1967 Ice Bowl, a Packers victory.)

I told them we'd talk again soon, perhaps this winter. I want it to be really, really cold when I explain the stadium-naming-rights concept.

As we said good-bye, I tossed out one more fascinating fact about the new Lambeau.

"Listen to this, guys. Lambeau Field has 166 private, enclosed luxury boxes."

Coach Lombardi shrugged and looked at Curly.

"Take it from me," he said. "They're nice. I'm buried in one."

Steve Woodward is a freelance writer who covered a 1986 Monday night game at Lambeau, where he was saddened to learn his thermal hunting cap with wool earflaps wasn't necessary in the heated press box. Worse, open-flame grilling and face paint were strictly banned in the box, negating his weeks of meticulous preparation.


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