Lambeau's rowdy fans often live elsewhere
It was a gorgeous Thursday night last October at Lambeau Field for one of the NFL's legendary rivalries, Green Bay Packers-Minnesota Vikings.
Nearing kickoff, as most fans found their way to their seats, one daring spectator sneaked into Lambeau's event security room. He found what he wanted. Then, he tried to blend in with the rest of the crowd as though nothing happened.
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Minutes later, Green Bay officer Jeff Brann spotted the man — guzzling a can of beer in the concourse. The man's red-colored "Event Staff" stadium jacket bore the official Lambeau Field logo across the left breast.
Underneath his official stadium security jacket, the man was wearing a white Minnesota Vikings jersey.
"I found it highly unlikely that an employee of the stadium would be drinking beer in the concourse and wearing a Vikings jersey underneath his work jacket," the officer's report stated.
Still, the intoxicated fan insisted he worked in stadium security.
"I asked if he could assist me with a fan that could not find his seat," Brann stated. "The male then started to stutter and tried to walk away."
The night went downhill quickly for the 35-year-old Minnesota man. In short order, he was arrested on suspicion of possessing stolen property and taken to the Brown County jail.
And that wasn't all. The Vikings got blasted 42-10. As for the coveted red stadium jacket, that was confiscated and returned to the Packers' security team.
Like the stadium jacket thief, most fans arrested or ejected at Packers home games last NFL season were not local residents, a comprehensive Gannett Wisconsin Media Investigative Team analysis concluded.
Last season, 51 of the 67 arrested fans lived outside the Green Bay and Fox Valley's 920 area code, the I-Team found. Of those arrests, 22 came from another state, including seven from Illinois, four from Minnesota and three from both Michigan and New York. Only six game-day arrests last season were residents of Brown County.
If you think game-day tickets, the beer and food is pricey, bad behavior carries even more sticker shock. Including the court costs, being arrested at Lambeau Field for unlawful conduct at a public event carries an $880 fine.
"You will find a lot of season ticket holders are not involved in this kind of behavior," said Green Bay Police Capt. Paul Ebel, who oversees his agency's game-day security at Lambeau Field. "The typical fans that have season tickets, they know the Packers will review any arrests or ejections of their seats, and they have the potential of losing their season tickets."
Green Bay Packers Director of Public Affairs Aaron Popkey said the fan code of conduct is important to the organization.
“We review every arrest and ejection each year and communicate with the ticket holder about the situation,” Popkey said. “We also note it on his or her record. We have revoked tickets and will continue to do so if situations warrant.”
Out-of-town fans more problematic
Green Bay police track arrests and stadium ejections separately.
Last season, Green Bay-Fox Valley area fans accounted for about 30 percent of all ejections. The other 70 percent came from those living elsewhere in Wisconsin or another state.
Last September's regular season opener, Green Bay's come from behind victory over the New York Jets, yielded 48 fan ejections — more than any game in 2014.
During that game a pair of brothers from New York were removed from their seats as they rooted for the Jets. Police reports show they were screaming profanity and making obscene gestures toward Packers fans seated nearby. One was later arrested, the other was ejected from the stadium.
"We just don't put up with that here," Ebel said. "And we don't go looking for people. If someone is disrupting someone else's experience, that's when we get involved."
Packers' fan Tony Wilson said he has attended at least 20 games over the years, including the Jets game in 2014. Wilson lives in Detroit, though his family is from Racine.
"As far as fans being arrested from outside of Wisconsin, that doesn't surprise me much," Wilson told Gannett Wisconsin Media. "If you're coming from outside of Wisconsin, it's likely a vacation for you. When you're on vacation and it's a special event, I think people are more likely to overindulge."
Police identified about 185 of the 290 fans who were thrown out of the stadium last season. The NFL prohibits fans from being unruly, disruptive, using profanity, engaging in illegal behavior, mistreating other fans and being intoxicated, among other infractions.
In turn, the police furnish the names of ejected fans to NFL league offices. Fans ejected for violating the league's fan conduct code are now required by the NFL to take a four-hour online course addressing their behavior. The course carries a $250 fee, Ebel said.
Fans who ignore the course and show up at future NFL games are subject to being arrested for trespassing, Ebel said.
"People need to know, you don't just get ejected," he said. "There are ramifications to those behaviors and a cost to it."
So which opponent draws the most obnoxious fan behavior? The Chicago Bears? The Minnesota Vikings? The answer is —technically — both.
Over the past decade, Bears games accounted for more arrests, but Vikings games had more fan ejections. At least 140 fan arrests have occurred during Bears games since 2005, an average of 14 per contest. Weather, month and kickoff time did not make a huge statistical difference, the I-Team determined. Nine of the 10 Bears games resulted in double-digit arrests.
The two rowdiest Bears home games both were played on Christmas. The 2005 mid-afternoon game had 25 arrests and 52 ejections. The 2011 night game had 21 arrests and 49 ejections. Last November's spanking of Jay Cutler's Bears resulted in 13 arrests and 32 ejections.
Vikings games averaged about 41 fan ejections. Bears games averaged 38. In fact, Green Bay's win over the Vikings during the January 2013 playoffs had the most ejections of any game during the past decade. That night, police arrested 21 fans and booted out 91 spectators.
Perhaps the most infamous scuffle in recent years preceded that Vikings contest.
A month earlier, a 41-year-old Vikings fan who wore a purple and yellow sombrero and poncho got into a fist fight after the Packers won, at the Sideline Sports Bar, just west of Lambeau Field. A 53-year-old peacemaker was punched in the face, according to court testimony. A Brown County jury later convicted the Minnesota man with the purple sombrero of disorderly conduct but acquitted him of the more serious charge, aggravated battery.
In contrast, Detroit Lions games historically are much tamer. Only one game during the past decade had double-digit arrests. A total of 18 fans were arrested and 50 were ejected during Green Bay's Sunday night win over Detroit in December of 2012. Lions games averaged fewer than seven arrests and about 20 ejections since 2005.
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"With Minnesota and Chicago, there's more of a geographical rivalry there," said Wilson, the Packers fan who lives in Detroit. "It's also more competitive on the field in the last 10, 15, 20 years, so I could see emotions being more into it than with the Lions."
Though the teams play infrequently, the four Packers-Cowboys games at Lambeau since 2005 averaged a dozen arrests and 39 ejections.
Data reveals that games against a select number of NFL teams hardly draw any trouble in the stands. Many were teams that don't seem to be serious playoff contenders year in and year out.
Last October's Packers win over the Carolina Panthers had only one arrest and six ejections. The September 2013 game against the Washington Redskins had only one arrest and seven ejections. The two home games against the St. Louis Rams since 2005 had a grand total of five arrests and 14 ejections.
Preseason games don't bring many problems,either. Only 25 percent of the preseason games since 2005 had double-digit arrests or at least 25 ejections.
Ebel stressed that Green Bay officers assigned to game day crowd control do not target fans cheering for other teams. About 95 city officers work crowd control on game day.
"The officers are not there to arrest and eject people," Ebel said. "But if someone is disrupting someone else's experience, that is when we get involved. And, we don't care who they are rooting for or what jersey they are wearing. It doesn't matter to us."
Night games draw mischief
Night games, by far, spark the most fan problems around Lambeau Field, the I-Team determined.
About 91 percent of night home games during the past decade had double-digit arrests or at least 25 ejections. Arrests and ejections happened with far less frequency during noon and Sunday afternoon games. About 60 percent of the 3:25 p.m. games had double-digit arrests or at least 25 ejections.
For noon games, it was only 12 percent.
Green Bay resident Aaron Panko said the discrepancy makes sense. "When there is a noon game, there's a window of three or maybe four hours before the game to party," said Panko, now in his 14th season as a Packers season-ticket holder.
"For a night game, you can double that for a lot of people, even longer for some diehards."
Panko doubts that rowdy behavior at Packers games can be eliminated. Vendors stop selling beer at the end of the third quarter. Plus, there is a large presence of police and security personnel in the stadium, he noted.
"In a stadium filled with 70,000-plus fans, 10 or even 20 arrests is a very small percentage," Panko said. "Get that many people together in one place and add alcohol and it's almost inevitable."
Game-day arrests decline
Last season's 67 home-game arrests marked the smallest annual total since 2006. Also, the 290 stadium ejections were the smallest total since 2011. The 2012 season had 98 arrests and 373 ejections, the highest totals during the last decade.
On average, home games since 2005 had about seven arrests and two dozen ejections.
Weather did not seem to make a huge difference in unruly behavior. September's mid-afternoon home-opener against the Jets had 48 ejections — the most of any game last season. The games with the most arrests were cold-weather night games in November and December against the Bears and Falcons.
Michael Klinck of Winnipeg drove in from Canada to attend the Jets game. He saw a number of Jets fans wearing No. 4 Favre jerseys, but overall, Packers fans did not seem to mind, he said. When the Packers were losing in the second quarter, some boisterous Jets fans in his section were yelling that Ted Thompson was a lousy general manager, Klinck recalled.
"But nobody around us was really over the top," Klinck said. "Everyone seemed well-behaved. There was nothing aggressive, and there were several Jets fans around, at least 10 fans with jerseys."
Klinck was thrilled the Packers came back and won. He left with a magical experience at Lambeau Field including a positive impression of the fans' behavior. He said he was surprised to learn that one-third of last year's game-day arrests were NFL fans from outside Wisconsin.
"It's just astounding that people are going to waste that kind of money to travel to Lambeau to get booted out of it and go to jail," Klinck said. "It just boggles my mind, and I just don't understand it."
Panko, the season-ticket holder from Green Bay, said the vast majority of Packers fans and opposing team fans alike act responsible in the stands and outside the stadium.
"The handful of those who don't get what's coming to them and that's what we pay our law enforcement for," he said.
— John Ferak: 920-993-7115 or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @johnferak