Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Soggy Family Night Experience

Well, I wished to have a much more meaty report today, after watching the Family Night scrimmage, then watching the DVR and trying to fill in the gaps between what most people saw on television and what the feeling was at Lambeau Field.

However, the feeling at Lambeau Field was mostly soggy. A lightning storm forced the bowl to be cleared before the scrimmage was scheduled to start, and fans were not let back in until just before 10:00 for a jersey giveaway (nope, I didn't win any) and a fireworks show set to music.

All in all, it was a bummer for me and my own family, but in talking with several fellow Packer fans in the concourse, my losses were minimal. One guy I spoke to drove all the way from Minnesota, and wasn't looking forward to a five-hour drive back after standing in the rain for nearly two-and-a-half hours.

We started out at a little before 5:00, walking from our parking spot behind Kroll's into the stadium area. It had a much more toned-down feel than when there are regular season Packer games. A lot of folks sitting in camp chairs, ladder golf games set up, many canopies sitting behind cars, and of course, far more little kids than you would ever expect to see during the rowdy and drunken pre-game festivities of the regular season.

We walked across the Lambeau Parking lot to get our first glimpse of the new Ray Nitchske field, which didn't disappoint in its majesty. I was a little disappointed they didn't have the bleacher areas open for families to explore, but in all, it was worth a look and a photo op with the kids.

We then walked back across to the stadium and looked at, again, some rather low-key parking lot festivities. Being we had never gone to the Tailgate Zone before, we went to see how much admission was. We were pleasantly surprised to find it was free, other than paying for your food and drink. However, there was a kids' tent with inflatable contraptions that we had to fill out a waiver for. So, we waited in line for about ten minutes, only to find that we had to wait until 6:30 for our "turn". We went into the food tent and got a couple of snacks (in retrospect, I wish we had gotten our actual supper food then, given how the rest of the night was to go).

We came out of the food tent as the kids were getting twitchy and were lucky enough to have the Tundra Drumline come in and give us a short performance as we waited. We got in line for the Kid's Tent at about 6:10 and got in right at about 6:30 (although they were letting groups from our time spot in early as the previous groups had families leave early).

The kids did a couple of activities before we were asked to leave early as the "inflatables were on a timer and they would start deflating, and they didn't want any kids on them when they did." So, we got our tickets and set out for Lambeau. The ticket reading was somewhat different this year. The lady had a laser that she pointed at our tickets, and eventually, it beeped and let us in. It took a while, and I understand when they opened the gates at 5:30 why the wait appeared to be so long. I am hoping they don't use this procedure for the regular tickets, because it was far from speedy and efficient.

Once we got in to our nosebleed seats in section 336, we did the wave a couple times and watched the players go through some of their warmups. We didn't get in until 7:10, a bit of a bummer because I like going down to the rail and getting a close look beforehand.

However, we had only been sitting for about ten minutes when they made an announcement that we had to leave the stadium due to a lightning storm coming through. The crowd on the upper concourse was pretty massive, and of course, everyone wanted to crush themselves into the part behind the press boxes that was roofed in. We didn't make it there, and given my youngest was in near-hysterics from the lightning that was going off, we didn't want to have claustrophobia added to her list of concerns.

So, we tried to order some food and eat out on the concourse, which was crowded and difficult to do. As time went on, the precipitation ranged from mist to drizzle to a light shower...but we never really got pummelled with rain. On the other hand, we were facing south and could see the storm going by, and the lightning strikes were pretty visible...I would say we got some sort of lightning strike every minute or two, and every five minutes or so we got a pretty big one with a good crash of lightning.

Now, I like a good lightning storm, usually from the safety of my screen porch. It's a little different to be stuck on the top of a football stadium surrounded by wrought iron. While I wasn't too nervous, the ladies in my family were literally starting to duck from some of the strikes that surprised us.

My girls decided to do some time in the bathrooms with their iPods and cellphones, as they felt a little safer there. My son and I spent most of our time "manning it up" in the drizzle.

Looking around, parents were playing what seemed to be a game of Survivor with their kids. Many of them toughed it out, letting the kids play swordfights with the seemingly endless supply of Thunder Sticks that were passed upon entering. But, as the minutes ticked by, families gave up as their children became frightened, bored, wet, tired, and/or irritable from waiting in a lightning storm.

I might have joined them, but we did ask and we were told that there would be no re-entry if we chose to leave. That was disappointing, as my youngest was quite shaken by the storm, and we had a relative close by that we could have crashed with until they made a decision one way or the another. The reason I was given for no re-entry was that there was no one working to check tickets.

Being this is the second year of a weather delay for Family Night, I am really hoping they start revising that particular policy. Many parents would have liked to at least gone to their cars and put in a DVD for the kids to watch while they were waiting. You could see some of the frustration on the parents' faces as they left the gates, knowing if they decided to let folks back in within five minutes, they had no way to turn around and come back in.

Another slight annoyance was the fact that there were no announcements made to the fans from about 7:45 until almost 9:00. I realize that they likely wouldn't have told us anything different, but when you are dealing with tired, nervous kids (and their tired, nervous parents), a little reassurance now and then would help a lot. Since my cell tower was knocked unconscious by the storm, I had no way to check radar to see if this was going to be over in 5 minutes or 5 hours.

Eventually, enough people moved out and we could get under the ceiling, so we all headed to one of the ramps to wait it out and people watch the folks in the parking lot. At one point, I was looking up the ramp, speaking with a fellow Packer fan, when I saw a huge crack of lightning behind him that looked like it struck the concourse. At 9:00, the lightning was still going strong.

Finally, they made the announcement to go back in shortly before 10:00 (quite possibly, at our last possible second before we left). Like most, we decided to forego the nosebleed seats and moved up to about the 20th row and had a wet seat. Amusingly enough, it was right at the moment they announced that we could return that the heavens finally opened up and the rain came down in torrents for about ten minutes.

Tom Milbourn introduced and had some short talks with Cullen Jenkins, Ryan Grant, and AJ Hawk, who all gave props to the fraction of fans who stayed to the end. Other Packers were out there, too, including Daryn Colledge, Alfred Malone, and Tramon Williams, who all helped pass out jerseys when they were called off (and just a hint: if you want a jersey, get your seat in sections 101-105)

At the end, the lights dimmed and we watched a pretty nice fireworks show that was perhaps the best-synced show I've ever seen with the music. The fireworks were obviously not the same caliber you might see in a Fourth of July show (which I'm sure is unsafe in a stadium setting), but there were enough of them to keep the sleepy kids more than captivated and singing along with the music. That's one thing the televised version can't you crane your neck around almost 360 degrees to see the different colors being shot off in different places around the stadium.

One suggestion: turn off the video screens. At times, they were brighter than the fireworks, since the picture was zoomed in on the real thing.

A caveat: this was the easiest experience I've ever had with traffic as I left the stadium. We were back on the highway in no time.

Mark Murphy announced that to make up the canceled scrimmage to fans, they will be able to exchange their ticket for a free admission to the Hall of Fame with a paid Stadium Tour. I do appreciate the offer by the Packers, who may or may not have been obliged to offer anything. Given the ticket holders had the opportunity to see the fireworks and win a jersey, they could have said that they offered what was reasonably expected.

However, the offer isn't much consolation for those folks who made long journeys with small children, or those who have done the tours and Hall of Fame before. I wish that the Packers would give the ticket holders first-chance at the tickets for Family Night next year, or offer a discount.

All in all, we had a chance to get the kids inside Lambeau and watched a good fireworks show for $10 a head. It's not what you wished it could have been, and while my kids probably weren't as interested as I was to see Jermichael Finley or Jeremy Thompson in action, I certainly was a little bummed.

But, kudos to the Packers and local officials for keeping the players and the fans safe, first and foremost. Given a bar was struck by lightning and burned halfway down only 15 miles from the stadium last night, safety is first priority.

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