Was the Packers-Steelers game last Sunday really played at Lambeau Field or was it Heinz Field? A more appropriate description may be Heinz Field West.
While Packers' fans are becoming all too familiar with their team losing games at home of late, the sight in Green Bay on Nov. 6 was an unusual one at the venerable old stadium off Lombardi Avenue. Pittsburgh Steelers fans came out in droves for the matchup, populating the stadium with more fans than any other opposing team has maybe ever had at Lambeau Field.
The scene was one more strange occurrence in a season's worth of them for the Packers, who cannot seem to "get things fixed" this season or make Lambeau Field the monstrous advantage it once was, particularly from 1992-2002.
For the record, the Packers are 1-3 at home this season. They have lost eight of their last 13 games (including the playoffs) there.
Those above numbers are more fitting of Packers' teams of the 1970's and 1980's, but even in those days, the visiting team never had as much support from the "home" crowd as the Steelers did this past weekend. Back in those losing decades for the Packers, there were always small pockets of non-green and gold supporting patrons throughout the stadium, but with certainly much less coverage over the entire panorama. Instead, they stuck together like packs of wolves and generally drew some ribbing from Packers' fans, primarily because they were so outnumbered and perceived as social outcasts.
On Sunday, the crowd was congenial and surprisingly non-partisan. The Steelers starting lineups were introduced, and the fans cheered. The Packers were introduced, and the fans cheered. The Steelers scored, and the fans cheered. The Packers scored, and the fans cheered. When Duce Staley broke off a run to close out the game on the Steelers' final drive, chants of "Duuuuuce" were so loud that they were audible enough to be picked up on broadcast radio.
Even John Jones, the soon-to-be successor of Packers' president and CEO Bob Harlan, said on Monday that he could recall only one game at Lambeau, a Sunday night game against the Vikings in 2002, that could come close to having the opposing team atmosphere that was displayed on Sunday. He also said that atmosphere carried over to Monday morning, normally a slower day at the stadium, as Steelers fans again filled the parking lots to visit the atrium and take in the Lambeau Field experience.
The Steelers have won 11 straight games on the road, the longest streak in team history. Their fans invaded Lambeau knowing they would likely come out with a victory. Maybe they just wanted to make a weekend of it, as Jones indicated, because the Steelers have not played in Green Bay since 1995. Maybe their fans travel just as well as Packers' fans. Maybe Packers' fans are starting to dump some of their tickets this season in response to what the Packers have become this season. After all, who could blame them? They have become accustomed to winning, and tickets for the game were drawing top dollar - almost enough to pay back the hefty seat license given to season ticket holders before the stadium renovation in 2003.
The best solution for the Packers to gain back the Lambeau edge and the overwhelming majority of fans at the stadium is to field a better team.
Quite frankly, Sunday's game was a draw when the season began, but with the Packers decimated by injuries, the likes of ReShard Lee, Sam Gado, Andrae Thurman, and Jeremy Thornburg gave the game more of a pre-season feel. That is not to say those players did not give great effort or did not contribute, but because they were playing, it gave some Packers' fans a reason to take Sunday off. The others who were at the game were scrambling for a roster to figure out who exactly they were watching.
Lambeau Field will always be one of the NFL's best experiences, and on a gloriously sunny November day, it certainly was that for all those in attendance. It is just that the Packers do not always win there any more, and for this one afternoon, the opposing team and their fans felt uncommonly right at home.
Editor's note: Matt Tevsh lives in Green Bay and is entering his 10th season covering the Green Bay Packers for Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.