Fans will go extra mile to run with Pack

October 25, 1998|By KEN ROSENTHAL

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Mark Zimei, 40, drove 26 hours from Vero Beach, Fla., with his wife and two small children.

Doesn't have tickets.

Ricky Karnes, 40, flew with his 10-year-old son, Timmy, from Newport News, Va.

Doesn't have tickets.

They come from north and south, east and west, flocking to this football mecca eight times a year.

And they began gathering outside Lambeau Field yesterday, on the eve of today's game between the Ravens and Green Bay Packers.

"Men tell me if you go into the stadium and don't shed a tear, you're not human," said Chris Decker, a woman wearing a green-and-gold sequined vest.

But it isn't just men.

Two sisters who grew up in Milwaukee dropped to their knees in the Lambeau parking lot yesterday and kissed the ground.

Ronni Sommer and Adriane Fels now live in Brea, Calif., but they made the pilgrimage in celebration of Ronni and her husband Michael's 50th birthdays.

Packers fans.

They got turned on in the 1960s watching the Pack win the Ice Bowl and first two Super Bowls. And now they're spreading the gospel to the next generation.

Kelly Cosby, 38, boarded a 6 a.m. flight yesterday in Richmond, Va., with his two sons, Kyle, 13, and Clay, 12. The trip was a birthday present for Clay.

They flew through Philadelphia to Milwaukee, then rented a car to make the two-hour drive north through Wisconsin dairy country to this town of 96,466.

"It's the mystique of Lambeau -- it just kind of takes your breath away," said Cosby, who was making his third visit. "It's overwhelming for me. It gives me goose bumps."

He's not alone.

The fans were everywhere yesterday, wolfing down burgers at the famous Kroll's West, flocking to the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame, scrambling for autographs of their favorite players leaving the stadium.

It was a cloudless, breezy day in Titletown, USA, with temperatures climbing into the upper 60s. The weather is expected to be slightly cooler today, but nothing to evoke the frozen tundra.

Decker, the lady in sequins, makes the three-hour drive east from Medford, Wis., for every home game, selling hand-painted green and gold sneakers for $25 a pair.

The exterior of the stadium also is painted in Packers colors, and so, it seems, is everything else in town. There's even a Green -- Mark Green -- running for Congress.

The Packers Hall of Fame is across the street from the stadium. It drew 208,857 visitors in 1997 -- more than the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. And it's open on game day prior to the noon CST kickoff.

"We go absolutely crazy until 11: 45," said Matt Roberts, who was collecting admissions yesterday. "Then we sit back, kick up our feet and watch the game for three hours. Then it gets crazy again."

Roberts, a senior at the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, takes a Monday night course called, "Decisions, Theories and Methods." He said the class is canceled whenever the Packers play on "Monday Night Football."

"When we have big games, the blimp always shows the streets, because there are no cars on the streets," Roberts said. "It's weird. Some places even close their businesses for the game. There's nothing going on in this town."

Nothing ever going on, really, except on those eight weekends a year when the Packers are in town. Fans start arriving at Lambeau at 8 a.m. Kroll's, a Green Bay institution since 1937, opens at 8: 30 a.m. for take-out orders.

"I had to come. I've never been here," said Karnes, the Newport News resident who stood outside the players' lot with a football and a gold Packers helmet, helping his son gather autographs.

"A good friend of mine that I went to school with has been several times. The more you hear him talk about it, the more it makes you want to be right here."

The problem is getting inside the stadium. Lambeau, built for $960,000 in 1957, seats 60,790. The Packers plan to expand the capacity to 63,000 by the summer of 2001.

The Ravens aren't a big draw in Green Bay, especially not with San Francisco visiting next week. But Kimberly Mansfield, 36, of Red Bluff, Calif., said she paid $269 to attend her first game at Lambeau.

Zimei, a mailman from Vero Beach, made hotel reservations four months ago. His wife consented to the trip as a 40th birthday gift, even though it meant dragging along their children, Matthew, 6, and Julianne, 3.

There's just one problem.

Zimei likely will attend the game alone -- if he gets a ticket at all.

"I do impressions," he said. "I made this tape I thought was pretty funny and sent it to one of the players asking for tickets."

Which player?

"I don't want to say."

Did he get the tickets?

"No."

Zimei said he won't spend more than $150 for a ticket. Karnes said he won't spend more than $200 for a pair, even though he promised himself for three years that he would bring his son to Lambeau.

"I'm going to get 'em -- no doubt about it," Karnes said.

Packers fans.

They're everywhere.

They're unstoppable.

Pub Date: 10/25/98

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