People visit cities to take in their depth of cultural offerings, like museums, theater, music, shopping, historical landmarks, architectural marvels, dining, and ethnic enclaves.
When people think of Green Bay, Wisconsin, culture isn’t exactly what comes to mind. Green Bay is wholly devoted to one thing—football.
But in this single-mindedness visitors might miss a unique culture that exists in Green Bay that won’t be found in destinations like New York or London. You don’t have to be a fan of the Packers, or even of football, to enjoy a visit to Green Bay. All you need is an appreciation for an authentic American experience.
Green Bay is tiny, with a population that barely exceeds 100,000. It’s the smallest city by far to host an NFL team, or any major sports team, for that matter. That fact, in combination with city’s remoteness from, well, anything, means that the Packers have residents’ undivided attention.
The sense of ownership residents have over the team isn’t just figurative. The Packers are the only community-owned franchise in the NFL. No billionaire owners here—just a whole lot of average Wisconsinites with a share or two of ownership.
A quick history: The city of Green Bay as we know it today grew up around two things: meatpacking and the Packers. The Packers are one of the oldest teams in the NFL. Earl Lambeau started the team in 1919 with a $500 loan from his employer, the Indian Packing Company, and named the team the Packers to show his gratitude. Meatpacking is still the city’s primary industry.
Aside from “Curly” Lambeau the other famous “L” is Vince Lombardi, the Packers’ coach throughout the ’60s who was so successful that the NFL eventually named the Super Bowl trophy after him.
Both of these men, along with current head coach Mike McCarthy, maintain godlike statuses in Wisconsin. A poll on the popularity of public figures last year had Jesus Christ just barely eke out a win over quarterback Aaron Rodgers among Wisconsinites. He beat Mother Theresa and Gandhi by a landslide.
So last summer we drove the five hours to Green Bay for a preseason game at Lambeau Field, the cultural heart of the city, to witness Packers fever firsthand. We supported the local economy by parking on the lawn of a nearby resident, a booming source of income for anyone within a mile or so of the stadium. We tried to find some other things to do while we were in the area, but aside from a railroad museum, we came up pretty empty. The city lives and breathes only football.
We’re not Packers fans, but we do like football an awful lot, and a visit to Lambeau Field is a must-do for any football fan. But it’s also a must-do for anyone who wants to witness authentic America. Packers fans have built a culture around their team. They participate in customs, shared social practices, and even practice a football-based religion of sorts. Lambeau Field ranks right up there with baseball and apple pie, and joining in Packer fever for a weekend is a fun cultural experience.