January 12, 1997 in Sports

No Excused Absences In Gb

Bill Plaschke Los Angeles Times
 

In the small brown frame house a mile from Lambeau Field, a long week is finally ending for Chuck Mathys.

Today, the Green Bay Packers are playing for the National Football Conference championship, and he will be there.

He will happily climb 30 rows to his seat and joyfully spend four hours in ghastly weather.

Unlike last week.

When - for a playoff game played in pouring rain and near-freezing temperatures - he was one of three announced no-shows.

Three out of 60,790 tickets sold.

“Wish I’d never told anybody,” he said.

He nearly went. He was dressed and at a pregame party when he began to feel sick.

As friends and relatives were walking out the door into the downpour, he stopped everyone.

“I’m chickening out,” he said.

They groaned. They tried to persuade him otherwise. He didn’t feel well enough to listen. He watched the victory over the San Francisco 49ers on TV.

Later, he unwisely confessed his decision to a friend, who told the world.

For the next several days, everywhere he went, he was chided and kidded and half-seriously asked, how dare you? “A lot of people called me this week, telling me I was a wimp,” said Chuck Mathys.

Who is 71 years old.

And a couple of months removed from major surgery to correct a lifethreatening aneurysm a bulge in the wall of a blood vessel - and circulation problems.

And was missing his fifth game in 65 years.

“I feel bad, I really do,” he said. “I truly hope it never happens again.”

Around Green Bay today’s NFC title game is is being billed as the coronation of a football team.

But it will instead be a celebration of its followers.

The Green Bay Packers could be be impressive against the Carolina Panthers.

But their fans will be better.

The Packers will be doing something they have not done in nearly 30 years.

The fans will be doing something they have done during every Lambeau game for 38 years, filling hard seats in an aging stadium despite weather that is sometimes enough to scare folks from church.

One hundred seventy-five consecutive sellouts.

A cold, soaking playoff game with three official no-shows.

Which brings us to today, which forecasters say could be the coldest Packers home game since the last time they played a title game here.

That was in the infamous “Ice Bowl” after the 1967 season, when the Packers defeated the Dallas Cowboys with the thermometer reading 16 below zero and the wind chill at minus 46.

Packer fans can’t wait, mostly because many of them were at the Ice Bowl.

After that, every day is summer.

“I was in Row 2, and standing next to me was a girl in a cocktail dress and fur coat,” recalls John Ebert, a local businessman who runs Martha’s Coffee Club for longtime Packers fans.

“After a while, she turned blue. Seriously. She was blue. Somebody finally came and carried her away.”

It was so cold, fans warmed themselves with charcoal grills.

“And to think that these days in the stadium, you can’t even smoke,” longtime fan Merle Brander said.

It was so cold, the fans watched from inside sleeping bags.

It was so cold, when they stormed the field after the Packers had won, they couldn’t pry loose the frozen goal post. So they removed it with torches.

“Who would have thought somebody would actually come to a game with a torch?” Ebert said. “They appeared out of nowhere.”

Homes in the city have dozens of lamps made from pieces of that goal post.

But nobody dares rush the field anymore for fear that season tickets would be revoked.

It would be a mistake that could haunt a family for 50 years.

Stadiums everywhere abound with legends of sellouts and waiting lists, but the Packers’ reality is this:

They have a stadium full of 60,790 season-ticket holders - for every game.

They have a waiting list of 28,000.

Last year, only eight people failed to renew their season tickets.

One of the happy folks plucked off the waiting list had been there for 30 years.

It still cost him less than $40 a game for the best possible seat.

On Feb. 22, 1982, heavy equipment operator Jerry Cousineau welcomed new son Don into the world. Then he went to the phone and called the Packers to put him on the waiting list.

This year, the boy turns 15, and the Packers have still not called back.

“Good thinking, Jerry,” Irv Johnson said during Friday’s daily coffee club meeting. “The boy will be 225 years old before he gets a ticket.”

And all for what?

To be able to put on long underwear, wool pants, a snowmobile suit, a ski jacket, mittens and a hood? Maybe an extra poncho when it rains?

One reason there are not many incidents of rowdiness at Lambeau Field is that there is not the usual overindulgence of alcohol during the games.

This is because it takes nearly a quarter to undress and use the bathroom.

Which is not to say there is no imbibing. There is plenty. Most of that, however, is done during tailgate parties before the game, and potty stops are made before kickoff.

“You go to a lot of games, your body adjusts to its environment,” Brander said. “You learn to hold it.”

Their environment is another reason Packers fans can stand such elements.

An end zone seat during a December football game is not much colder than the woods during a November deer hunt … or the ice during a January fishing trip.

“A lot of fans spend time in the woods, in the early morning, in tight quarters, not moving in the freezing weather,” said Brander, a structural engineer. “Just like at a game.”

And although fans may look cold from the other side of a TV screen, they are not. Or at least, that’s what some say.

“On Sunday, you come over to Section 38, Row 29, and shake my hand,” said Mike Blindauer, a roofer who has seven season tickets. “It will be one warm hand. We don’t sit out there freezing.”

And sit they will, for long stretches of meaningless afternoons, for no other reason than they think the Packers need them.

Considering the Packers have won 26 of their last 27 games at Lambeau - including 16 consecutive games - maybe the fans are right.

Considering some of those fans are also owners of this publicly held team, who can blame them?

Blindauer has not left a game early in 40 years.

“My father would come down from heaven and make sure I had a stroke before I got out of the stadium,’ he said.

He also distributes his six remaining tickets to relatives based on who can stick it out.

“A couple of years ago, we were putting in a septic tank at our cottage, and one of my son-in-laws left early,” Blindauer said. “He doesn’t get tickets much anymore. And everyone in town still kids him about that septic tank.”

And so when there are only three no-shows - even on a day so horrid that most stadiums would only be half-full - everyone wants to know their identity.

The problem is that during last week’s witch hunt, more than three slackers were discovered.

There was the local car dealer who was holding two for a buddy who didn’t show up at a pregame party. The dealer forgot about them and left them in his wallet.

There was the woman who fell into a 2-foot ditch of rushing water outside the stadium and walked away in a huff. Hundreds of others who fell into the same ditch shrugged.

“There was obviously more than three no-shows … maybe people dragged those big ponchos behind them and set the turnstiles off twice,” ticket director Mark Wagner said.

Then there was Mike Pakanich, a window washer whose friend from Dallas had flight problems at the last minute and could not make it in time.

Pakanich was worried about letting a perfectly good - if not wet - seat go to waste. So he asked his wife, Judy, to join him.

They debated for a while before she declined. He hurried to the game alone, eating the other ticket.

“Judy and I really thought about it,” Pakanich said. “Except, well, she is eight months pregnant, and our seat is 56 rows in the air, and you just never know. You know?”


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email