Cheeseheads of Green Bay
The people here all live with one thing in common: a rabid obsession with the heartbeat of the city
It’s Green Bay Week at The MMQB: Our staffers are embedded for a game week, doing a deep dive into the NFL’s most tightly knit community. We’ll explore the dynamic between the players and the people of Green Bay and provide a glimpse into what makes it a bucket-list destination for football fans. Follow on Twitter for updates and Facebook for live streams.
In Green Bay, everyone has a Packers story. About the time he met Favre before he was Favre … about the time Vince Lombardi served as an altar boy … about attending a school named after the legendary coach, with his quotes painted on the wall at the entrance. The MMQB talked to people from all walks of life in this tight-knit community to hear what they had to say about their favorite memories of the town’s beloved Green and Gold.
Rick Harnowski, 64, owner of Tattoos by Rick
I opened my first tattoo store in 1980 in Green Bay. This is my third location, which we opened in 1997. How many Packers have I tattooed? I lost count. Ever since Chester Marcol, he was my first Packers client, and from then on—Al Harris, Mike Daniels, Donald Driver, Charles Woodson—the list is long. Brett Favre is a friend, but I never tattooed him. He only has one tattoo, I believe, a Superman tattoo that he got in college. Some of my favorites I’ve done recently include Sam Shields; he has a beautiful chest piece that I did on him, it’s kind of an Egyptian theme. I think the reason they still come to me is that I’m trusted. The word in the locker room is that I’m a guy who will do it right. They’ll come during the season, but we’re very cautious about it because the players are so active. We do it on their day off often, and we give it four to five days before a game and they’ll usually be OK.
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Norbertine Father Brendan McHugh, 94 years old
During World War II, I was sent to New Guinea and our camp was in a jungle, nothing but jungle. And I knew the Giants and the Packers had just played the title game. I knew that. After the evening meal, an officer would give us the news that he had received by shortwave radio, what was going on in European theater and Pacific, and what was going on in the United States. I went up to him afterwards, this was Dec. 18 and the game was played on the 17th. I said, “Sir, the Packers and the Giants played for the 1944 NFL title yesterday.” Oh yeah, he says, I remember that, I think the Packers won, or was it the Giants? Then later I was shipped up to the Philippine Islands and it was Holy Week—[the week before Easter]—before I found out that the Packers had indeed won the game, 14-7. Holy Week!
Norbertine Father Roland DePeaux, 90 years old
Vince Lombardi was my altar boy. The first time he was standing there waiting for me to get all ready; he had everything ready and then he asked, “Father should I light the candles now?” Like a little altar boy, but I was kind of shaking, because here is Coach Lombardi. I saw his religious commitment and saw him with quiet time. So many people only saw him on the field when it was shouting and yelling and that ferocious coach. I saw the other side of him, his human side. A lot of people didn’t realize he had that.
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Jerry Parins, 77
I am a Green Bay native. I began working for the team as a policeman in 1965 for Coach Lombardi—doing security for him was a part-time job for me. Then in 1992, Bob Harlan hired me as the head of security, and I still work for the Packers today. The Packers relationship with the community has changed over the years. The adoration and support from the people from Green Bay has always been strong, but players have to be more careful when they interact in public. Obviously media and technology is a big factor that brought the players and the fans closer together. Now players have to be so much more aware of their surroundings and what they’re doing. You still see them around town, but I tell the players, you can’t just show up at a bar anymore without the idea that someone could have a cell phone out and publish it to who knows where.
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Allen Johnson, Lambeau groundskeeper
I’m the field manager at Lambeau Field, and it’s my 20th season. All NFL fields are challenging, but playing in Green Bay presents big obstacles—especially at this time of year, when the growing season is done. The grass is dormant. We’re not growing any grass from this point forward. I take a lot of pride in the way the field looks on game day, but playability is the most important. I know everything it takes. I see it in the spring what it looks like, and what it looks like on game day, and to get it to the point it needs to be takes a lot of maneuvering and decision making. It takes hours to change the field, even days. It takes planning ahead of time, but a lot of times it’s an educated guess of what the weather is going to be. You have to use your past experience to make decisions because once the whistle blows, it’s too late.
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Gary Baranowski, owner of Lambeau’s Shadow, a home across the street from Lambeau Field
I was driving by Lombardi Avenue one day and there was a “For Sale” sign, and I thought it was going to be really expensive. But it was for sale for $119,000, so I bought it. I couldn’t believe it, I was shocked. So I wrote an offer, not knowing what I was going to do. I mean to me, Lambeau Field is our oceanfront property here in Green Bay, it is pretty unique. Lambeau is on a lot of people’s bucket lists. My wife and I have never stayed a night here, because we have to clean it. We’ve had parties here, card games, but we’ve never spent the night here. Never, ever. We haven’t rented the Vikings game this year because it is Christmas Eve. So if no one rents it, we will probably go to the game, have some friends over and maybe sleep here.
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Lori, Kroll's restaurant manager
I've been working here part-time the past 32 years and it’s actually fun waiting on the out-of-towners, the opposing teams. New York guys are the craziest fans; they are kind of wild to wait on. They are probably the most fun to wait on, instead of Minnesota or Chicago fans, our rivals. This past weekend against the Texans was fun, some guy from Houston said, “Why is everything so small in Green Bay?” Like our water glasses and things like that. Well, he couldn’t even finish his Big K, our half-pounder. He ate half of it and he was done.
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Tara Campbell, manager of the Springhill Suites across from Lambeau Field
I actually just moved here from Washington state: Go Seahawks! The first difference I've noticed is the Packers fans, they are die-hard for sure. Game days we have people that tailgate here next to the property and they start as early as 7 a.m. They come and they support in snow, rain, sunshine—they party all day. I have not met one disrespectful Packer fan. I will see some Seahawks this Sunday, my people are coming here. This past Monday we had 100-something checkouts, but we have just as many check-ins because we stay busy during the week. I try not to work on Sundays, but I do come by and make sure the hotel is running smoothly. I think the staff looks forward to the weekends and the crowd. A lot of people who stay with us have stayed with us for a long time and they look forward to coming to the hotel because we are so close to the stadium. And I have guests that ask if my bartender, Tim, is still working here because he has been here for eight years. I've met some incredible guests.
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Cliff Christl, Packers historian
The Green Bay Packers are the pro team with a college spirit. In the ’50s and ’60s the Bears claimed that when they came to town and stayed at the Hotel Northland on Saturday night, that groups of inebriated Packer fans would collect up a bunch of musical instruments and march the halls at 2 or 3 in the morning to keep them up all night.
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Dave Powers, owner of the comic book shop, Power Comics, a frequent haunt of Packers all time leading rusher Ahman Green
Ahman and I are mixed with sports and comics. We were at the Hall of Fame induction for Brett Favre this summer in Canton and Ahman said, “Let's go see Suicide Squad.” He could go all these events at night with players but he said nah, and decided to go see Suicide Squad instead. Football during the day and then comics at night.
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Four students at Vince Lombardi Middle School
Alex: My name is on the season-ticket list, but it will probably be about 40 years until I get them. My parents put my name down when I was born.
Addi: I went to camp at Notre Dame and people were asking all these questions, thinking it is so cool I am from Green Bay. They said, “Oh you must go to every Packer game.” And I was like, no. And they are like, “Well, don’t you live in Green Bay?” And I’m like, yeah, but for me, this is just normal.
Owen: I know Vince Lombardi has a statue outside of the Packer stadium and when I was coming into sixth grade here, I always thought maybe I can be up next to him some day. He represents us, and we represent him, it’s a two-way situation.
Emma: I thought about Packers’ history quite a bit when I was coming into sixth grade, just how cool it is to be coming into a school named after one of the greatest coaches in history.
Owen: I love seeing the flyovers on game days, they come really close.
Addi: This past Saturday I was in Hobby Lobby and I could hear the planes practicing and one lady was like, “Are they landing on the roof?” Because it was so loud in there, and everything was shaking.
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Lori Novy, 55, owner of a dry cleaning store
I am not wearing my uniform today because it’s Packer Friday. We have to show our support for the Packers somehow, so everyone who works here usually wears a jersey or T-shirt on the Friday of a game week. It’s funny: I actually don’t think the Packers help our business. You’d think fans would come in on Monday mornings with all of the stains that they have on their jerseys and clothes from tailgating, and some of them do, but most of our customers are business people dry cleaning dress pants or collared shirts.
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Brett VandeWalle, assistant director at a mental health treatment facility
I grew up a couple blocks from Lambeau field. Years ago, they used to have fan photo day and at each entrance of the field there was a player. At the time, Favre was a nobody and all the other players had huge lines around them. So my old man, he says, you’ve got to go this guy, there’s no line here. You never know, maybe he will be good some day. So me and my brother got our picture taken with Favre. I think it was his very first season there. I got it framed and autographed and it’s now in my man cave.
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Alissa Zaucha, 21, senior cheerleader at St. Norbert College (St. Norbert College cheerleaders also cheer at Packer home games).
I have to say you can’t do this because of how cool you think it is. You actually have to love what you do, like, today I have on three pairs of pants, three shirts. I wouldn’t be out here standing in the cold if I didn’t love my sport and love this team. You do this because you love it. I have two handwarmers in each mitten. I bought my boyfriend wool socks for Christmas to put in his stocking, but I actually wore them today.
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Mike Vesely, legal assistant
Our tailgate is known for a special cheese we serve that we call “Bread Cheese.” You warm it up in a frying pan and it is amazing. People come to our spot asking for it, because it’s so good. Anyone who comes to our tailgate will leave with a coozie with me and my wife’s name on it, leftover from my wedding reception at Lambeau Field. We’re still giving them away two years later.
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Mike Daniels, defensive end for the Packers
I am a bit sassy with some sarcasm thrown into the mix, yet stoic at the same time- and brash… I am definitely somebody who is going to vocalize how I feel, because I want my teammates to know how much I care. None of this was handed to me. I wasn’t a first round pick, I had one scholarship. I rode the bench quite a bit my first couple of years. I know how hard it is to just earn that one snap so that’s why I try to leave it all on the field.
—With reporting by Emily Kaplan
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