Fans READY for football

About 15,000 turn out for rookie practice

Surreal, unreal, nutty, whatever you want to call it, but Green Bay Packers fans continue to back their team in large numbers. On Wednesday, thousands of fans took a mid-week break to attend the annual shareholder's meeting and subsequent practice for rookies in Lambeau Field.

The large turnout was a surprise but very welcomed by the Packers. The team had entertained about 2,000 to 3,000 shareholders in recent years inside the Resch Center across from Lambeau Field. This year's turnout was the largest since the post-stock sale meetings of 1998 and 1999 when about 18,000 shareholders filed into Lambeau Field. An estimated 3,000 fans were turned away from the shareholder's meeting on Wednesday.

"Now we have to sit down and take a serious look because we'd like to do something for (shareholders) every year," Packers President Bob Harlan said. "If we're going to keep doing that, and announcing it ahead of time, we're going to have to consider moving back into Lambeau Field."

Maybe it was the free hot dogs and soda provided by the team at practice. Maybe fans who were shut out of Family Night tickets welcomed the free opportunity to go inside Lambeau Field and watch the Packers rookies practice. But they turned out in big numbers and made the most of it, especially at practice, where an estimated 15,000 fans showed up.

Rookie free agent tight end Steve Fleming dropped a pass during a routine drill and was loudly booed. When he went out again and caught a pass, he received a Bronx cheer.

"I found out pretty quick that they're unforgiving, but they get behind you," Fleming said. "They just want you to do good."

At another point in the practice, energetic defensive coordinator Jim Bates chewed out a few defensive lineman during a drill. Bates, who is normally loud and clear with his instructions, received a big cheer from the crowd after his rant.

"Nowhere in football, can a rookie practice generate such interest, and nowhere in football are fans like the Green Bay Packers" Packers Coach Mike Sherman said amid loud cheers as he addressed the crowd after practice.

"We are so looking forward to this season, and the opportunity to be the only team in Packer history to win four straight division championships," Sherman said to more loud cheers. "That's just the first goal we have. We have other ones that go beyond that, as you well know. With the season upon us, the only predicition I'm going to make is you're going to be proud of your Packer football team this season. You can be proud when you come to a football game in Lambeau Field, you can always expect us to win, and we will win."

The Packers begin full-squad practices on Friday. They are using today for physical exams and testing. The "Railbirds" no doubt will be out in full force at Clarke Hinkle Field along Oneida Street through the end of training camp.

"This is amazing," said rookie linebacker Kurt Campbell. "It tells you about the town and how much they love the team and everything. This is wonderful to be in this atmosphere."

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