The first fan in line for Donald Driver retirement event tickets Friday, Feb. 1, 2013. Charles Davis/Press-Gazette Media
A cow hat and house slippers helps keep this fan warm while waiting for tickets to the Donald Driver retirement event. Charles Davis/Press-Gazette Media
Donald Driver played his share of cold weather games at Lambeau Field during his 14-year career with the Green Bay Packers.
On Friday morning, fans returned the favor as hundreds waited outside the stadium in subzero conditions for free tickets to see the team’s all-time leading receiver announce his retirement. The event is set for 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Lambeau Field Atrium, 1265 Lombardi Ave.
“Whether he’s in the NFL or not in the NFL, people here in Green Bay are going to support him,” said Bill Sharpe of Manitowoc, as he waited in line despite 23-below wind chills. Close to 8 a.m., the temperature was close to 4 degrees below zero as the line wrapped around a portion of the stadium from the ticket office to beyond the Bellin Health Gate along Lombardi Avenue.
Sharpe recalled that Driver’s first jersey was No. 13, not No. 80, and that fans braved the cold due to Driver’s special connection with the community. Driver turns 38 Saturday.
The Packers gave out a little more than 1,000 tickets to the event in 18 minutes, beginning at 8:56 a.m. Fans hugged, screamed and jumped for joy after receiving them, while dozens of others who had waited in line for nearly an hour left empty handed.
Shawna Albert of Ashwaubenon was next in line when she was notified all the tickets had been distributed.
“It kind of sucks,” she said, adding that she would be on the lookout for some tickets to be sold later online.
Laurie Strebe, 49, of Oshkosh was first in line and said she had been waiting since 2 a.m. She had on six layers of pants and shirts, gripped hand warmers inside her gloves and huddled up in a foldout chair with her body wrapped inside a parka, sleeping bag and a green Packers quilt.
“Anything for Donald,” she said. “I wouldn’t do this for (quarterback Aaron) Rodgers or anybody else.”
Strebe arrived with her daughter and each got four tickets, the maximum allowed.
Although Strebe waited for tickets for hours in frigid conditions, but she won’t be able to attend the event because of work, and planned to give her tickets to her daughter, who would take three of her friends. That left four extra tickets, so her daughter gave two away, and Strebe said she wanted to give two of hers to a fan in line.
She walked near the back and found 68-year-old Green Bay resident Bob Rohr, who said he had waited in line since 7:30 a.m.
“Bless their soul,” Rohr said after receiving the tickets, adding he planned to go to the announcement with his wife Carol.
Before all the tickets were distributed, fans found some creative ways to entertain themselves under the freezing temperatures. At times, groups shouted, “Donald, Donald,” and fan Brian Frisque of Sturgeon Bay connected his wife’s iPod to his custom van’s speaker system to blast Green Bay football theme songs.
Frisque, 46, said he would remember Driver as an outstanding receiver with tremendous pride who did a great job representing the community since the Packers chose him in the seventh round of the NFL draft in 1999.
“I still think, though, that he’s got years of playing left,” he said.
In an effort to stay warm while in line, Kevin O’Brien of De Pere sat inside a unique contraption that he called a sauna, which was shaped like a smaller version of a portable restroom with a hole cut out for his head.
Another group of fans rubbed their feet and hands over a propane heater. Many stood covered in blankets.
Milian Mitchell of Stiles tried to keep warm in line under a hooded coat and headgear. He said that Driver was a class act and he would miss the heart and determination that he played with on the field.
“We all look for sports heroes and many of them seem to go the wrong direction. So it’s really great to have a true sports hero.”
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