Green Bay never will be known for its cosmopolitan culture or rocking nightlife, but no one in the Packers’ locker room is complaining.
When tight end Jermichael Finley proclaimed this past week that there’s nothing to do in Green Bay, it was intended as a compliment.
“You can’t ask for a better city just because there’s nothing to do,” Finley said.
OK, so maybe those weren’t the words the Green Bay Chamber of Commerce wanted to hear, but Finley’s point was that playing in the smallest NFL city means there’s fewer distractions, less chance of finding trouble and more time to focus on football.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy was asked whether he uses that as a selling point.
“You mean, come to Green Bay because there’s nothing to do? That’s not my opening line,” said McCarthy with a laugh. “But it is a great place to live, a great place to work. Jermichael was expressing himself the way he does, uniquely, and I hope he’s here for a long time, too, because this is a great environment for him to work in.”
That seems to be a common theme around the locker room. It’s all football, all the time, and no one seems to mind if the entertainment options around town are limited.
Receiver Donald Driver, a 13-year veteran, has been here longer than any other player. He knows Green Bay better than anyone on the team.
“There’s nothing to do in Green Bay,” Driver said. “I mean unless you like to go out to the bars and stuff, that’s about it. But I’m not the bar-type guy. That’s why you’ve got to have a family and go home and be with your family. They’ve got Chuck E. Cheese’s.”
And for fine dining, Green Bay has Applebee’s, as former Packers kicker Ryan Longwell famously noted a few years ago after signing with the Minnesota Vikings. It was taken as a back-handed slap at the quality of restaurants in Green Bay.
We’re used to those kind of jokes around here, but the funny thing is, current players genuinely like it here. Decades ago, Green Bay was viewed as a Siberian outpost that was too small and too cold. Now, players are drawn to Green Bay.
“It is a blessing to play in this city, besides the fact we get treated great and have great facilities and a great organization,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.
Defensive lineman Howard Green played for the New York Jets before getting picked up on waivers by the Packers in the middle of the 2010 season. He went from playing in the largest NFL market to the smallest, and he couldn’t be happier.
“I’d rather have this over New York any day,” Green said.
“I’m kind of a home guy. I don’t really go out much, do the club things or whatever, so this was good. This was great for me. New York was fast. It’s big. A lot of people.”
Green can’t get over how loyal and friendly the fans in Green Bay are. He was used to the home team getting booed, or fans clearing out of a stadium early in the second half. That hasn’t happened in his one-year stint with the Packers.
“It’s a big difference,” Green said. “Everybody knows your name here in Green Bay. You’re not just a guy. They know who you are. And they welcome you.”
Cornerback Sam Shields played at the University of Miami and had plenty of experience with the bright lights and big city. He prefers Green Bay, hands down.
“I’ve come from Miami so I already know what that’s about and I don’t want to go through that,” Shields said. “Come to this quiet spot, nice and laid back, I love it.”
Shields left town during the bye week and couldn’t wait to get back to Green Bay.
“It’s all a big family here,” Shields said.
“Like when you go home, it’s just people getting on your nerves, asking you for things like that. You get here, it’s stress free.”
The only complaint Rodgers, a California native, has about Green Bay is it gets a little too cold in the winter. Other than that, he said he enjoys living here during the season.
“I don’t know what some of these other guys do in their off time, but I find enough stuff to do here, especially when the weather is good, to stay busy,” Rodgers said. “It might not be the kind of nightlife that some of our guys may enjoy in the offseason. I don’t mind living here at all.”
So what do players do for a good time in Green Bay?
“Certain players will get with different teammates,” Shields said. “We just go watch TV, watch movies, or whatever. Play games. Just have fun together.”
That bonding time builds camaraderie and team unity, but no one is suggesting this is a collection of choirboys.
“You can get in trouble in Green Bay,” Driver said. “The thing is, everybody is going to know when you get in trouble.”
So the players make the most of playing in the tiniest NFL town with its metropolitan population of around 300,000. By comparison, Buffalo and New Orleans are the next smallest NFL cities at 1.2 million each.
The only numbers that matter in Green Bay are the Packers’ won-loss records and championship totals. An argument can be made that Green Bay’s simple lifestyle has contributed to the Packers’ success.
“I think it’s a great atmosphere and the guys love it,” Driver said. “The guys love being here. You can see it.”