The Most Dangerous Game
Can a Viking fan survive a border battle at Lambeau Field? (Spoiler alert: Yes, he can.)
There was one sporting event I could not attend. I didn’t know if I’d survive the experience; I might get killed.
I would never go to a Packers-Vikings game at Lambeau Field.
Sure, I had experienced my share of ribbing for being a fan of the Minnesota Vikings, the arch-rival NFL team to most western Wisconsinites. By now, I can almost pre-empt the jokes – it comes with the territory. Lambeau Field, however, is a different territory. Growing up in an area where you root for the wrong team is one thing. Going to a congregation containing tens of thousands of fans of the “right” team is another.
This is an irrational fear. Almost everyone who going to a game goes to cheer for their team and to watch the action on the field; they don’t care much about “owning the other guys.” Some folks do take pleasure in crossing the line of decency; that happens with every pro team’s fan base, but while some bases tend to be more brutish than others, the vast majority are benign.
“Benign” could be used to describe Green Bay Packers fans. They are plenty passionate and loyal; as much as anyone can quantify NFL fandoms, the Packers are at or near the top of most fan intensity metrics. Yet living and dying with the Packers is meshed with that “Upper Midwestern Nice” that is characteristic among those of us living in this part of the country. Numerous people from elsewhere in the United States – particularly the northeast – comment on the kindness of the regional populace. Naturally, that behavior would extend to how you experience sports.
This past summer, my wife, Marie, noticed that the Packers’ Sept. 15 home opener was against the Vikings. She also noticed that it fell on the weekend of her birthday, and that my employer was hosting a bus trip to that game. She’s also a Packers fan: not the type to live and breathe the team, but enough to know that a Packers-Vikings game at the shrine of American pro football is something we should enjoy together. Welp, I guess I had no choice now.
Over the years, in chatting with people who have been to both home venues in the rivalry, I kept hearing that Vikings fans at the Metrodome (and now at U.S. Bank Stadium) were far more mean-spirited to Packers fans than the other way around in Green Bay. I would find out for myself: no concealing my favoritism with a winter coat. My purple 1994 Warren Moon jersey was on, and off to the game we went.
I had one of the most fun fan experiences of my football life.
In my observance, Packers and Vikings fans co-existed in peace. I’m sure some drunks got into it with each other somewhere in the sea of about 78,400 people, but I didn’t catch any adverse activity. That Upper Midwestern habit of behaving with an undercurrent of courtesy was on display throughout the trip. Oh, I got plenty of low-grade teasing for my jersey, but it was entirely in good fun. The best example came when going through security, holding my phone and keys, and having the officer tell me I can’t bring “that” in: “that” was my Vikings jersey.
My wife and I were far from the only Packer-Viking couple, and you saw groups of people in the parking lot mixing green and purple. At the pregame tailgate party we attended, fans of both teams joined to do the Cupid Shuffle. For a rivalry game, the vibe was remarkably good-natured.
Perhaps Lambeau Field is unique in the U.S.A. when it comes to hosting NFL rivals. Besides the aforementioned boorishness in the Twin Cities (likely a combination of championship-lacking Viking fan defensiveness and area suburbanites who were never part of the “Minnesota Nice” culture), there is the sour reputation of Bears fans at Soldier Field. Over the last decade, many people nationwide have talked about no longer wanting to go to NFL games, with a common reason being violent and drunken fan activity.
Those fans should come to Wisconsin. While they may not be perfect (search the Twitter hashtag #Scannersquawk), Packer fans proved to this Vikings die-hard that the welcome mat truly meant something. Just as long as I respectfully consider taking off my jersey when I enter.