I’m a photographer and a writer and over the past decade or so I’ve had the opportunity to move around the sidelines with camera and notebook in hand, capturing the sights and insights of Green Bay Packers games.
It’s a dream come true, but it’s more difficult than you might imagine.
In fact, it’s damn hard.
Consider carrying at least a couple of cameras up, down and around a 100-yard field in all types of weather trying to keep up with professional athletes as they zip around the gridiron.
Sound like fun? Sure, it is.
But it’s also exhausting. It looks easy … but it’s not.
So one day I decided to try the other end of the coverage spectrum. I asked for and received credentials to sit in the press box. I really didn’t know what I was getting into.
It was back in 1997 and after my experience, I decided to write a little piece about it … see it below.
Since it’s a Sunday without football, I thought you may enjoy my thoughts about an actual Packers Sunday.
‘Silent scream’ – A day in the press box
My mouth was open wide, my eyes glued to Greg Jennings as he strode into the end zone on the back end of Brett Favre’s 420th career touchdown pass – but there wasn’t anything I could say or do – I was forbidden by the professional sportswriter’s code.
Sitting high above the action in Lambeau Field’s silent, air-conditioned press box, my comrades and I watched history, while coolly scribbling notes, tickling keyboards and watching through binoculars as the Green Bay Packers thrilled towel-waving fans in the stadium’s bowl and across the nation with one of the franchise’s most exciting games in recent memory.
There wasn’t a sports-educated soul in that press room who gave the Packers a chance on this Sunday as they faced a San Diego Chargers team that had barely beaten the Chicago Bears and were humiliated by the “Beli-cheat” New England Patriots just a few day prior.
Every sportswriter thought the Packers had caught the Chargers at a bad time – they were ready to break out and on the legs of LaDainian Tomlinson and the arm of Philip Rivers. This was the day it was going to happen.
I just happened to be there, but also felt there was something different about this Packers team – a “something” that would give them an edge on this day.
Needless to say, I was glad I was there, but not so glad I couldn’t scream about the opportunity – like the rest of the 70,000 in attendance.
But let’s back up a bit.
As an editor for a twice-weekly newspaper in northern Wisconsin, I had tried for years to gain media access to Packers games. I had been allowed in the past to participate in several training camp sessions and a preseason game. Photographs were taken and published and tear sheets sent to Green Bay to illustrate what we had been doing to gain the franchise’s trust.
All was not for naught. The Packers brass decided that we were willing to do the coverage if they gave us access – but in a limited fashion.
They told us credentials couldn’t be awarded for the home opener because they were full.
They also told us there were certain “big” games where it probably wouldn’t happen – the Bears, the Vikings and possibly other games where the opposition had a large number of media groups following the team.
That was all well and good and was accepted on this end. We understood.
The Packers said they would give us a press box pass for the Chargers game, which we gladly accepted, but future requests would be considered game by game.
That’s how I found myself in the press box on this particular Sunday.
What started as a great way to see the game, albeit from the seventh level, turned into a living nightmare for a fan.
Granted, those working the game as sportswriters are supposed to be objective, they are not to show their colors and all that came to fruition when it was announced loud and clear in the box that there was to be no cheering and to do so meant severe consequences.
Being a fan while covering the game turned into a frustrating experience for this reporter. While the other seasoned scribes didn’t seem to have a problem, I found myself kicking and pinching body parts as a reminder to keep my cool.
All was OK through the first half as the Packers and Chargers exchanged scores, much like everyone thought.
But when the third quarter turned to the fourth, it became more difficult to squelch both my smile and enthusiasm.
And as the game clock wound down with the Packers trailing, my heart began to ache and my willingness to keep quiet was wearing thin.
When the Packers passed four straight times from the one-inch line and were stopped on downs, I could barely believe and wanted to tell everyone in no uncertain terms, but I couldn’t, it was forbidden.
That’s when Favre connected with Jennings on the 57-yard catch and run that put the Packers ahead for good and tied the quarterback for the most touchdown passes in league history.
As Jenning broke clear, I felt an “oh, my!” blurt out, but I caught myself just in time.
After the score, I looked around and saw a few high fives, wide smiles and “wows” from my compatriots. That’s when I knew that I couldn’t have been alone in my frustration. That’s when I realized I was in a room of people who also recognized the moment, although in a much more subdued manner.
The crowd in the bowl (whose carrying-ons were barely audible in the seemingly soundproof environment of the press box) were going bananas.
What I would have given just to be a part of it for a moment. What I would have given to be in my living room at that moment, standing, screaming and being the fan that I always have been.
Instead it was my silent scream that got me through it all. It was knowing that I was in a unique position, having had the chance to see history. I wasn’t about to take my eyes off the field. I wasn’t about to ruin the moment – not even if I was left to celebrate by myself while surrounded by 70,000 absolutely insane fans letting it all out.
So, when the game finally ended, I gathered myself, my belongings and slowly made my way out of the press box – a room that had seemed eerily like a tomb to me all day – out into the parking lot, which was erupting with thou-sands chanting “Go, Pack, Go!” There were high fives, hugs and even some tears.
I was overcome with the emotion and couldn’t believe it when my own eyes began to well. I was finally back amid those who were acting like I wanted to all day long.
Needless to say, I joined in, happily living a moment that will be difficult to recreate.
All I could think about was how lucky I was, how lucky we all were at that moment.