Sunday, October 21, 2018

Samantha West

Reporter's first Packer pilgrimage showcases fan community

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    Samantha West and her dad, Greg West, pose for a photo at their seats five rows up from the south end zone Sunday, Dec. 3 at Lambeau Field.

    Contributed photo

Since I can remember, I’ve been awaiting the day I could make the iconic Wisconsin pilgrimage to Lambeau Field for a Packers game with my dad leading the way.

After two decades of waiting and waiting, writing “Packer tickets” at the top of my Christmas and birthday wish lists, a pair of tickets gifted to me for my 16th birthday that I wasn’t able to use because I couldn’t miss a rehearsal for our high school production of “Annie,” I can now tell you with absolute certainty: Little orphan Annie was right. 

The sun did come out. Perhaps I shouldn’t say “tomorrow” as I sang countless times in that role. But you can bet your bottom dollar that it did five years later.

Thanks to two tickets our newsroom’s own Eric Lindquist wasn’t using, my dad and I were finally able to get to our first Packers game last Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — and, miraculously, on his birthday. (Thanks, Eric!)

After all those years and Dad’s countless tales of the two games he’d attended at what he calls “The Shrine,” the experience didn’t disappoint. I was reminded for the millionth time how proud I am to be a Packers fan. 

As a lifelong Minnesota resident who was born in Wisconsin, and a member of a split household — Mom and my older brother Alex are Vikings fans — I’ve always had to defend my team. 

Sure, I could tell them how my dad grew up in Hudson and how “I just have good taste” as I point out the Vikings’ usually dismal season record and lack of Super Bowls. 

But really, this is what I think it comes down to: We Packers fans are a true community in a way that no other team is. And, we extend that community to non-fans if they made their own pilgrimage of sorts to Lambeau. 

When Dad and I sat down, just five rows up from the south end zone, I remember first taking in the incredible view — the field, the 80,000-some people crammed into the stadium, the players who somehow seem so much larger in person, beer everywhere. The most iconic Wisconsin image.

Second, I noticed a Buccaneers fan right in front of us. I remember immediately thinking to myself, “Ugh.” 

Maybe on the inside other Packers fans around us were thinking the same thing. Outwardly, however, several folks nearby struck up a conversation with the guy, who apparently had attended the game by himself. They asked him where he was from, other small talk. Because it was his first time to Lambeau, they closed the conversation genuinely wishing him the best in the experience.

That was pretty dang nice — nicer than all the Minnesota Vikings fans who taunted me relentlessly for being a Packers fan living in the land of “Minnesota nice.”

The community-feel didn’t stop there. As most Packer game veterans know, any good play warrants high-fiving and celebrating with not just the group you came with, but everyone around you. Bad plays and calls illicit collective groans and booing, too.

When my dad was in the bathroom for defensive tackle Dean Lowry’s interception and 62-yard sprint to a touchdown, I still had plenty of people to scream and high-five in celebration with. You’re never alone at Lambeau — you’re celebrating and booing as a beautiful collective.

When I first moved to Eau Claire for college nearly four years ago, it was a relief to be surrounded by more Packers fans for a change. I had more than just my dad to watch games with and I didn’t get picked on for my Packers attire on Sundays. 

Now, as I prepare for graduation and wherever that takes me, I think I truly understand what it is about this team that I love so much — to be a Packers fan, or simply around them, is to be part of a community. I’m grateful to be part of that.

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