I journeyed to Jacksonville for the Packers opening game. Traveling to a packers road game is an experience that is probably very similar to a steelers or cowboys road game. I want to share a first person account of what it’s like to spend travel with one of the largest fan bases in the nfl.
1pm. Ventured out of my hotel room for the first time. Went to Jacksonville beach. 9 packer hats or swimsuits sited. 3 people yelled go pack go at me….
4:30 pm The crowd is beginning to get big here, they are expecting 1500 people, looks like they only have room for 1200. Still no shade. The Wisconsin style buffet is complete with usingers brats and fried cheese curds a huge plus…but lacking spicy horseradish ground mustard and the potato salad is American style not German style, another reminder were in Florida not Wisconsin (as if the 95 degree heat on blacktop wasn’t enough of a reminder).
6pm Mark Murphy takes the stage. He says nothing of importance. The Packers are notoriously tight lipped and never let anything slip. Soon after former packer greats (and Jacksonville area products) Leroy butler and nick Collins take the stage. It becomes clear that Leroy has a radio show in retirement, and that nick has used his retirement to grow an awesome beard.
8pm I have yet to see a jaguars jersey, shirt or hat. I’m not sure green bay has as many people in packer gear as are currently roaming the bars and clubs of Jacksonville tonight.
10:30 am it’s a 1 o’clock game. We’re running late for tailgating. As we drive to the stadium I spot my first jaguars jersey of the trip.
12 noon. The Jacksonville fairgrounds (which is adjacent to the stadium) is nothing but packers fans. It’s a sea of green and gold and brats and beer. The few jaguars fans (my count is now 17 jaguar hats/jerseys/t-shirts) seem confused. I’m pretty sure they are used to frolicking in open fields as they tailgate. I think the fact that all the packer fans are offering them a beer and brat and wishing them good luck confuses them more.
1pm so my seats are really really high up. Like I have to look down to find the uecker seats. It’s also hot as the Devil’s balls in this stadium. It’s a fairly well designed stadium until you realize it’s designed to keep the wind out, not allow a breeze through. It’s the afternoon of a 95 degree day with no breeze and no shade. I’ve sweat through my Bart Starr jersey by opening kick off. There are 6 jaguars fans in my section. As I look over the field I guesstimate it to be a 60-40 packers to jags fans crowd. I’m impressed with Jacksonville I was expecting 75-25. Especially after the ratio tailgating.
1:45 pm. The heat is becoming unbearable. I’ve seen two older ladies succomb and have to be carried off already. I must get water instead of beer now.
1:5o pm the main concessions stands have already sold out of water and Gatorade. Apparently even though they new the temperature forecast and that the game would be a sell out they didn’t think anyone would drink it. They were wrong.
2 pm I arrive in the end zone restaurant/bar and vip party area. There is shade. The vendors have water and Gatorade. There are pools. More importantly there are bikini clad female fans in and out of the pools. My opinion of this stadium is changing for the positive rapidly.
2:25 pm I manage to sneak into the pool area despite not having the $100o wrist band. I wrap my Starr jersey around the wrist that’s supposed to have the wrist band and enter the pool. The view from the edge of the pool is amazing. As I watch Rodgers connect with Jordy Nelson for a touch down while floating in a pool surrounded by bikini clad beauties I begin to question if this, not bundled against the cold of Lambeau, is the perfect way to watch football.
3pm apparently the rest of my group does not have the skill to get past security into the pool. As I go to check in with them the security guard makes me show him my jersey wrapped wrist. I’m now kicked out of my pool football Shangri-la.
3:45 pm as the game winds down into its dramatic finish the sun still beats down with horrible ferocity. There is probably a 80-20 ratio of packers fans to jaguar fans in this area. Those 20% are vocal enough to make up for it though. I am now accompanied by my football bff, my friends 16 month old child who’s only words are mama and go pack go. He is easily the most popular person (amongst both fans) in the area. I’m pretty sure he has been photographed as much as the players on the field.
4:10 pm victory! The jags fans were polite in defeat and the packer fans I saw were modest in victory. Beers and waters (did I mention it was hot) were shared back forth. No one talked trash and there were no fights. Just a lot of fans who had survived insanely hot conditions to witness a well fought game on both sides.
5pm We find a lost older gentleman in packers gear. He is suffering from some heat type disorientation. He wonders by our wait for traffic to thin out post game tailgating. We give him water let him sit down then drive him to find his car.
6pm Jacksonville landing. This city has impressed me. It’s reputation as a white trash armpit of Florida is completely false. The beaches are beautiful, the people nice and educated, and this area is hip and fun. We go to a riverfront steak and seafood house. It’s fine dining, we’re wearing packer jerseys. It’s OK so is everyone else in the restaurant. It’s surreal to see white tablecloths and packer jerseys in another state.
Jacksonville impressed me as a city, although the stadium has a lot of work to do. The teams getting better fast and larger crowds like this may soon be the norm, not just when the packers or steelers are in town. They really need to know how to prep for a sellout in the heat. I came to this city thinking the jags should go to london. After seeing the fans and the people of this city my opinion is they deserve to keep their team. The fans are loyal and respectful, and more then wonderful hosts.