Hot Read: Trading hats for a game

Every once in a while, a sports reporter needs a fresh perspective on the game. I got that last Sunday, when I traded in my press pass for a rain poncho and took my seat in Section 102, Row 40, Seat 15 for the Packers' matchup with the Lions. For those of you without a seating chart handy, that's straight up from the 'R' in 'Green Bay' just beyond the north end zone.<p>

While I've had the privilege of covering more than 100 games from the cozy confines of the press box, this was just my fourth game at Lambeau Field as a fan (though I saw a few at County Stadium in Milwaukee) and the first since my dad and I took in the Packers-Dolphins preseason game after getting off the 'Gold Package' waiting list in 2001. It rained back then, too, which could be a sign that I should stay in the press box.

But the rain on Sunday dampened neither clothes nor spirits, and along with my best bud Lincoln Gregory and the two Jims -- Carlson and Sisko, we set about celebrating my 32nd birthday with 70,000 others who were ready for some football. So how is watching a game from the stands different than covering it from the press box? Well, the action on the field might be the same, but that's where most similarities end. The differences, however, jumped out even before I arrived at Lambeau Field.

I encountered my first dilemma deciding what to wear to the game. When you work for the media, there's an unwritten rule that you don't show up to games decked out in green and gold. No hats, no jerseys, no shirts with Brett Favre's grinning mug. You'd be hard pressed to find even a polo shirt with a Packer logo up there. When you cover the team, it's all about being objective. As a result, you end up not owning a lot of Packer clothes.

That said, I found myself sifting through some Lindy Infante-era items the night before the game. Though my favorite Tony Mandarich tee was nowhere to be found, I found a "Property Of Green Bay Packers" shirt and a corduroy Packer hat that did the trick. I'm pretty sure I first wore that combination back when Nick Barnett was making tackles on his Pop Warner team. Based on the latest fashion trend, my attire could best be defined as 'Retro' or 'Old School.'

Upon arriving in Green Bay, I was hit with my next reality check. Parking is expensive! I'm not sure who's paying $10, $15 or $25 to park for the game, but I can tell you who wasn't: the reporter who's used to having a media parking pass. To those paying $25 to park, you're getting worked over as bad as Detroit's defense was on Sunday. There's free residential parking to be had if you know where to look and it's within a block or two of the stadium.

Once we parked, it didn't take long to spot the main advantage Packer fans hold over the media on game day: Tailgating. As far as the eye could see their were brats cooking, beer flowing and the sounds of live music wafted up between the rain drops. There was a time back in the early to mid 1990's when a small refrigerator full of Special Export Light was available in the press box, but that was phased out long before the green sheet metal came down from Lambeau Field. And the sheer presence of Homer Simpson's favorite beverage did not produce anything resembling a party atmosphere.

After walking past the giant statues of Lambeau and Lombardi for a closer look and some inspiration, we were properly amped to enter the stadium. In passing through the Atrium, we were greeted with more live music and a St. Vince sighting, one of the Packers most famous fans, decked out in his green and gold bishop attire. No doubt Vince was praying Green Bay wouldn't begin the season 0-2. Soon enough, those prayers would be answered.

When hunger struck, I was once again brought crashing back to the real world of attending a game. It seems easy to believe what people pay for parking when a brat is $4.50. Many years and even more pounds ago I set an unofficial press box record with seven brats and 13 cans of Coke consumed during a single game day. That would soak me around $100 at current stadium prices.

It wasn't long after we took our seats that I faced my greatest challenge as a displaced media type. Ahman Green broke loose for a 65-yard run and as he crossed the goal line and the crowd erupted I found myself engulfed in screams and high-fives. After freezing momentarily, the energy of the crowd jolted me back to life and I joined Lincoln, the Jims and anyone else within arms reach in celebration. You see, in the press box, there's no cheering allowed. Not only is that a written rule but it's an official announcement in the press box before the start of every NFL game.

In the stands, however, cheering is addictive and against Detroit, there was plenty to shout about, whether it was Antonio Freeman making his return, Barnett notching his first career interception or Al Harris running back an interception for a score.

Prior to the renovation, the press box was right above the last row of seats in the bowl and it was much easier to feel connected to the frenetic energy the crowd exudes. If you were seated in the front row, small windows by your feet let crowd noise, music and the occasional expletive drift in. And when the crowd got rambunctious, the pounding on the outside of the press box would have your soda vibrating across your desk top. While the new press box is much bigger and much improved by most accounts, it's perched far above the seats and has lost some of that connection to the crowd. But down in Section 102, I had all the connection I could get.

About the only time I wasn't cheering along with the crowd was when ex-Packer receiver Bill Schroeder had a ball tipped away in the end zone. A former Sheboygan South High School teammate of myself and Lincoln, I still root for Schroeder to do well and wouldn't have minded seeing him pull in that touchdown late in the game.

By the time the game ended, the rain had cleared and so had most fans' doubts about Green Bay's ability to perform up to expectations. I don't think they're as good a team as they appeared on Sunday, but they're better than they looked the previous week against Minnesota. Afterward, I traded a post game press conference and writing on deadline for cheese fries, live music and, as fate would have it, free drinks on your birthday at Anduzzi's Sports Club, near Brett Favre's Steakhouse, just south of the stadium.

I'll be back in the press box for the Packers next home game against Seattle on Oct. 5, but I'll be keeping an eye on Section 102. And after a big touchdown by Favre or a key interception by the defense, I'll be cheering – on the inside. Remember, that's not allowed where I'm sitting.

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