Nelson Knows Difficult Lambeau

Linebacker Jim Nelson spent two seasons in Green Bay before coming to the Vikings. He knows the fans' relationship with players is unique, and the atmosphere holds mystique.

The Minnesota Vikings' road rage is well-documented. Nowhere, though, is it more evident than on the road against Green Bay, where the Vikings have lost seven of their last eight games.

Except for the Boston Red Sox, who have played baseball at Fenway Park since 1912, and the Chicago Cubs, who have played baseball at Wrigley Field since 1914, the Green Bay Packers have the longest running marriage with their current stadium in the entire professional sports world. The Packers started playing football at Lambeau Field in 1957.

So what is it about Lambeau Field that gives the Green Bay Packers such a storied home-field advantage?

"I don't know what it really is, but it's just something when you step on the field. You feel like you're in this magical place," said Vikings linebacker Jim Nelson, who played two seasons for the Packers in 1998 and '99.

"Part of it is the fans. Part of it is the history," Nelson told VU. "Before they did all the renovations it wasn't a real fancy place, but the crowd has always been on top of you and they're always into the game."

Players on both sides of the field admit there is a certain "Packer mystique" that hovers over what started as a green-and-gold pole shed placed on a vast plot of eastern Wisconsin tundra. Vince Lombardi, one of the NFL's legendary coaches, roamed the sidelines from 1959-1967. Players like Jim Taylor, Bart Starr, Forrest Gregg and Ray Nitschke made Hall of Fame careers there.

Fans have embraced their football team like no other city. In fact, Green Bay fans consider many of the players part of their community, practically next-door neighbors.

"Anyone that's ever been there — like I have — understands that and realizes that the whole town is behind you," Nelson said. "In Green Bay, it's all football. They don't have a professional basketball team or anything like that. I don't think you can get a real appreciation for it unless you've been there and lived there."

Meteorologically speaking
More important than the Packers' fan support may be the unique Packers weather climate that greets visiting teams most harshly in late November, December and January.

Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper said the cold weather forces him to concentrate more on fundamentals, such as gripping the football and making sure he doesn't fumble. Considering his struggles this season, that will be a big factor Sunday.

"We practice more in the cold. Whether it's cold or not, everybody's got to be fired up and ready to play," Culpepper said. "If you've got the wind, that's a factor. Cold is a factor, too, because I have to keep my hands warm so I can take care of the ball."

The Vikings practice facility has an indoor field, but the team usually practices outside, especially when they're playing a game outdoors later that week. "We're used to the weather," Nelson said. "We're in it all the time."

Some players are tired of hearing about the weather.

"Too much is made of it," Vikings tight end Byron Chamberlain said. "As a football player, you deal with it. As a football team, you deal with it."

Inside the numbers
Mother Nature — not Brett Favre — may deserve more of the credit for the Vikings' woes on the road against the Packers. Despite what Chamberlain says, there is glaring evidence that the frigid weather and outdoor conditions are a huge factor in the Vikings-Packers rivalry.

From 1966-1981, the Vikings were 12-3-1 (.781) against the Packers on the road. The damning evidence is that since 1982, when the Vikings left Metropolitan Stadium and moved indoors to the Metrodome, the Vikings are 6-14 (.300) on the road against the Packers.

Just win, baby
During the 1980s, Green Bay wasn't a prime destination for NFL players. The team was a perennial loser, and the region was considered by most NFL superstars as an icebox in the middle of nowhere.

But in 1993, second-year coach Mike Holmgren lured Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Reggie White to Green Bay. A year before, the Packers acquired a back-up quarterback named Brett Favre from the Falcons. Their success changed the Packers aura and improved the entire perception of the Green Bay franchise throughout the NFL.

"Obviously winning affects it," Nelson said. "They have a good organization there."

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