SUBSCRIBE NOW
99¢ per month. Save 90%
SUBSCRIBE NOW
99¢ per month. Save 90%

Packers win makes Lambeau atmosphere even sweeter for fans

Richard Ryman
Green Bay Press-Gazette

GREEN BAY – Sunday's Green Bay Packers victory turned out all right for Minnesota Vikings fan Paul Mielke. After Green Bay's 28-23 playoff victory he got a big hug and kiss from wife Tina, who most definitely is a Packers fan.

"We won this game! Oh my God! Oh my God!" she shouted as Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers knelt for the final time in the NFC divisional playoff against the Seattle Seahawks.

"Rodgers and the team itself, and the new coaching staff, they all meshed better," she said. "The team is working so well together."

Ed McVey of Milwaukee, who grew up in Green Bay, felt the same. 

"They've started to jell. Even though it was a nail-biter, they played better," he said. "It was nice they jumped out to an early lead. It was nice we could hold onto it."

Green Bay Packers fans cheer after the team's victory against the Seattle Seahawks in an NFC divisional playoff Sunday at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

Until 10 years ago, Tina Mielke, who lives in Minneapolis, didn't even watch football. She got drawn into a co-worker's fantasy league in 2010-11, the season Green Bay last won a Super Bowl, and she kept adding Packers players to her roster. Now, not only does she follow football, she plays it. She's a member of the Minnesota Vixen of the Women's Football League. It worked out for husband Paul, too. He used to have to negotiate to watch a game on weekends. Now it's wall-to-wall football.

This was their first time at Lambeau, like a lot of fans at Sunday's game. 

"We came (early) because I wanted to do all of it," she said. 

And they did. Tubing at Titletown District, a stadium tour, the Packers Hall of Fame and a visit to Lot 1, the heart of rowdy tailgating, to do shotskis and generally party on.

McVey and his sisters and brothers-in-law, who live in Green Bay, have San Francisco on their minds, though they're not certain they'll go to the NFC championship game. He's not thinking beyond that, such as how the Packers will do next year.

"I like what I see so far. How do you argue with this season?"

Fans on both sides were optimistic before the game Sunday. Andrew Nyenhuis and Garrett Mattson, both of Madison, were listening to music in the Titletown District and contemplating watching their first game at Lambeau Field.

"It could be Aaron's last home playoff game. That why we got tickets," Nyenhuis said of Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is 36 years old, but has given no sign of retiring. However, the unpredictability of the NFL means you never know when the Packers will be back in the playoffs. At the start of the year, few people expected them to be there Sunday after two losing seasons.

"I was hopeful, but to have the season turn out this way is wonderful," Nyenhuis said.

Green Bay Packers fans cheer after the team's victory against the Seattle Seahawks in an NFC divisional playoff Sunday at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

Mattson said it would be exciting to watch Seattle's Russell Wilson, who was quarterback at the University of Wisconsin in 2011.

"We got to see him a couple times at Madison. It pulls at the heartstrings a little," he said, but not so much that they want him leaving Lambeau Field with a victory.

Seattle fans Davier Moses and Nick Silva acknowledged how difficult leaving Lambeau with a win has been for the Seahawks, even with Wilson at quarterback.

"We are 1-9 at Lambeau Field," Moses said. "Aaron Rodgers. Lambeau Field. It's (the Packers') bread and butter."

In fact, the Packers are 8-3 at home against the Seahawks all time, and 5-0 since 2003, but the point still holds.

Moses and Silva were sitting near a portable fire pit in the Titletown District, dressed in Seahawks garb and enjoying their first visit to Wisconsin and Packers fan hospitality.

"I love (Titletown District). It's awesome. The whole atmosphere is so cool," Silva said.

With running backs being the core of both playoff victories Saturday, they acknowledged that the Seahawks, whose top three running backs were out with injuries, might be at a disadvantage. 

"We are a very weird team,"  Moses said. "We believe in them or we wouldn't have come."

Nyenhuis and Mattson were thinking about running backs, too. Particularly, the Packers' Aaron Jones.

"I hope he touches the ball 30 times," Nyenhuis said.

In the event, he touched the ball 23 times, but that was enough.

Nearer the stadium, certain pregame traditions don't change, whether it's 24 degrees or 84 degrees, regular season or playoffs. Sunday it was 24 degrees, but they still Rolled Out the Barrel when the Tailgater Band stopped to play, and the parking lot rang with chants of "The Bears Still Suck," even though they weren't within 200 miles of Lambeau Field. 

Packers fans came from far and farther to welcome the team back into the playoffs. Jim Trimble came from Connecticut and daughter Kim from San Diego. Philip and Lindsey Panos, and 11-month-old Miller, already a professional sports fan veteran, came from Atlanta. They just wanted to soak up the Lambeau Field atmosphere.

Lindsey Panos was raised in Illinois by a Packers fan dad. She'd been to Green Bay before, but never to a game.

"Oh my gosh! I've been to two Super Bowls and this is better than the Super Bowl," she said.

Their flight from Atlanta turned back halfway because of de-icing problems, so they got into Green Bay at about 2 a.m.

Kim Trimble had an even more challenging time getting to Green Bay. At one point, she was lucky just to get to the Midwest from San Diego. Her dad got a text, "I'm driving from Wichita. Don't fight me on this." 

In the end, she avoided a 12-hour drive. She and her boyfriend got to Chicago at midnight and made the three-hour drive from there.

Jim Trimble's first trip to Lambeau was as an 8-year-old Y.A. Tittle and New York Giants fan. His uncle took him to Lambeau Field and by the time he was flying home it was "Y.A. who?"

He says another daughter, Cindy, who was at Sunday's game, too, uttered her first word as a 1-year-old watching the Packers on television: "Touchdown."

"Nothing beats football at Lambeau Field in January," Trimble said. "This at the top of my list."

Sunday was their fifth Packers game this year, he said at halftime. 

Sisters-in-law Margie Movalson of Gladstone, Michigan, and Mary Kay Movalson of Escanaba, Michigan, said being in the playoffs at Lambeau after two losing years was a triple bonus.

"I love the atmosphere, the whole thing," Margie said. "That and we had the lead from the start."

The Packers were leading 21-3 at the time, just before half. A Packers victory meant a game in San Francisco next week, but they both had other plans.

"I'm going to watch the game in Vegas," Mary Kay said.

Margie said her husband, who was home with laryngitis Sunday, already was thinking about attending the Super Bowl in Miami. She was scheduled to be in Miami a week later for a boat show, but was trying to decide if she could make it a longer visit. But that was getting ahead of the curve and they didn't want to jinx it.

Contact Richard Ryman at (920) 431-8342 or rryman@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @RichRymanPG, on Instagram at  @rrymanPG or  on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RichardRymanPG/