Heroics on (And Off) the Tundra

can legendary Lambeau Field compete with the “best night” of teens’ lives?

BJ Hollars, illustrated by Janae Breunig

On a recent visit to Green Bay, we do what is required of us: pay our respects to the hallowed ground of Lambeau Field. I am accompanied by my 6-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter, neither of whom see it for what it is: a cathedral, a monument, Wisconsin’s very own Elysian Fields. Instead, all they see is what stretches directly before us: an endless stream of high schoolers entering the stadium for prom. 

All I wanted was to take my kids on a tour of the place where that history took place, but all I get is a reminder of the awkwardness of adolescence: the glint of the braces, the crack of the voice, the whisper to examine one’s zipper.

They are accompanied by their press corps of parents: the fathers lugging impossibly large cameras, while the mothers discretely hold their daughters’ make-up bags.

After several minutes of negotiation (and no shortage of eye rolls) those parents at last get what they want: one perfect photo.

“On the count of three,” a father calls.  “One, two …”

Click.

“Da-ad!” his daughter cries. “You forgot to say three!”

But sometimes you have to call the audible. Sometimes you must change the plan.

Quarterback Bart Starr knew this when, on Dec. 31, 1967, with 16 seconds on the clock, he held tight to the ball rather than hand off to the fullback as the play demanded. Starr’s cleats clawed at the ice, every earned inch an eternity. Fifty-thousand shivering spectators watched on, holding their collective breath until their collective exhale released a cloud into the frigid air.

You know how this story ends – the crowd goes wild. And the legend of the Ice Bowl was born.

Fifty years later, when we enter Lambeau, that game feels like ancient history. All I wanted was to take my kids on a tour of the place where that history took place, but all I get is a reminder of the awkwardness of adolescence: the glint of the braces, the crack of the voice, the whisper to examine one’s zipper.

Their stomachs filled with butterflies, those adolescences endure their predicament valiantly, donning their corsages and boutonnieres and snapping selfies by the gigabyte. 

But then those butterflies break free, their nerves overpowering them. 

The tuxedoed young men to our left go into a huddle, while the young women accompanying them – an inordinate number of whom are decked out in green and gold – opt for their own two-minute timeout.

My children and I watch as the prom-goers concoct their game plans. How will this night play out? they wonder.

Meanwhile, I’m flummoxed by another question: How had our pilgrimage to Lambeau so swiftly become second string? 

I suppose I should’ve known better. As rites of passage go, there’s no competing with prom. Not even a Lambeau visit will do. Here in Wisconsin, we’ve apparently learned how to blend both rites of passage together, making the so-called “most magical night” all the more magical by setting it in the place where legends are made.

Which, for the prom-goers, must seem a little intimidating. After all, how dare they Cha Cha Slide just a stone’s throw from where Bart Starr once clawed through the tundra?

If permitted to enter their huddles, I’d tell them this: that you needn’t score a last second touchdown just to be remembered. And, in fact, sometimes the best memories occur under the least likely conditions: a conversation shared beside the punch bowl on prom night, or holding your kids’ hands when your plan is thwarted and you’re forced to call your own audible.

Eventually the young men and women come out of their huddles (“Break!”), and the game goes on. At their parents’ request, they pose for one last photo.

And then, just like that, they part ways: the prom-goers ascending up the glass elevators, while the parents remain grounded far below.

“You know, that’ll be you someday,” I tell my kids. “Probably sooner than you think.”

The next morning at breakfast, I ask my son what he thought about our visit to Lambeau Field.

“It was awesome,” he says forking an omelet into his mouth.

“We made some good memories, huh?” I say.

He nods.

“Hey, what’d you think about those kids having their prom there?”

That,” he says, “was weird.”

“Why?”

“I mean, who has their prom at a baseball stadium,” he scoffs.

So much for the memories.

“Buddy,” I correct, “it’s a football stadium. Remember?”

“Oh yeah,” he laughs, reaching for his juice, “I guess I just forgot.”

This was made by

BJ Hollars  author

B.J. Hollars is the author of several books, most recently Flock Together: A Love Affair with Extinct Birds and From the Mouths of Dogs: What Our Pets Teach Us About Life, Death, and Being Human. He serves as the reviews editor for Pleiades, a mentor for Creative Nonfiction, and a ...

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