Packers fans take canceled game in stride

Michael Cohen, and Pete Dougherty
Packers News
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CANTON, Ohio - The cascade of boos greeted Pro Football Hall of Fame president David Baker as he grabbed a microphone near midfield, ready to deliver an official announcement of what everyone already knew to be true: Because of issues with the field turf, an exhibition game between the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts had been canceled.

Dameon and Marcia Levi outside Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium after the Packers' preseason game against the Colts was cancelled.

Their dissident voices stretched from end zone to end zone as thousands of fans — some of whom built vacations around the induction ceremony — expressed their displeasure over Sunday night’s deflating conclusion. Their only consolation was yet another glimpse of quarterback Brett Favre, the weekend’s main attraction, who conducted a brief interview on the big screen to help pass the time.

But later that evening, as many spectators hit the exits during a consolatory performance by country artist Lee Greenwood, the initial frustration appeared to have vanished for many. Packers fans from across the country — Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Maryland, California and Wisconsin, to name a few — reveled in the weekend that was rather than fuming over the game that wasn’t. More than 10 interviews with fans revealed “disappointment” as the strongest negative emotion.

Favre is the reason they came, and he sent them home with stories to remember.

Dameon and Marcia Levi: The couple drove six hours from Maryland to attend Favre’s enshrinement ceremony Saturday night, then the Packers-Colts game Sunday night.

“I’d rather be on the safe side than the sorry side, because last year in our (second) preseason game, Jordy Nelson got hurt,” Dameon Levi said. “You can’t predict these things. And I remember a few years ago — Brett Favre mentioned it —the Kansas City game, the Hall of Fame game a few years back, was canceled because of the weather.

“Because of that, better safe than sorry. It’s an embarrassment for the NFL I’m pretty sure. I think some heads are gonna roll, whoever the people are that work on the field, because they didn’t have enough time, they should have started in enough time to prepare the field. It’s not weather related, the weather is beautiful.”

Levi, who became a Packers fan in the mid-1980s, expressed the same sentiment as several other Packers fans interviewed. He was disappointed the game was canceled, but not upset.

“What if they would have played and several players from either would have gotten hurt?” he said. “Sometimes you just have to go with it. I know it’s probably an anomaly. Better safe than sorry. I did drive a long distance, but we had an incredible experience here. We did the whole Hall of Fame experience, we went to the enshrinement ceremony last night. This (game) was like the coup de grace, but we’ve already been experiencing a high on our trip. It was our first time here, so it kinda still exceeded our expectations. This (cancellation) is kind of anticlimactic, but you have to go with it. You have disappointment here in favor of something more rewarding in the future, like a Super Bowl. All right?”

Mickey Sauser: The  Sioux City, Iowa, resident has been a Packers fan for about 30 years and has been in Canton since Thursday.

He said he was “perfectly fine” with the cancellation because the highlight of the weekend was Favre’s enshrinement ceremony.

“There’s a lot of things out of our control in life,” he said. “This is just another one. But we got 20 years of Brett Favre in the league, and to me that was the biggest part of it. We were at the retirement last year at Lambeau, 73,000 people and not a football in the stadium. We were there on a cold, rainy night on Thanksgiving last year. I was soaked to the core. Never forgot that. Still wouldn’t miss it for the world.

“Wouldn’t miss being here last night, either. And we’ll be there Oct. 16 when the Cowboys and Packers play and they honor him for getting in the Hall. If the weather comes up and they call that game too, I’ll still be glad to be there.”

Alex Howell: Howell and his buddies drove 12 hours from Winona, Minn, to build a weekend around Favre’s enshrinement. And rather than pay for hotels, the guys set up a campsite 30 minutes outside Canton.

A lifelong Minnesota resident, Howell, 35, said his whole family roots for the Packers. When Favre signed with the in-state Vikings as a free agent, Howell said it was “probably one of the most upsetting things” of his green and gold fandom.

“Oh man, it was brutal,” he said. “It was brutal.”

In Canton, Howell and his friends saw Tim McGraw in concert. They toured the Hall of Fame itself. They tailgated. They attended Favre’s enshrinement after buying tickets on StubHub. He hopes the stadium-wide refund applies to the second-hand market.

“I’m going to get in contact with the guy and see if he can give us a refund,” Howell said. “But if not, it’s worth it. We’re here. We got to see Brett Favre, we got to take a lot of great pictures, I was standing about 5 feet from Randy Moss. I know he was a Viking, but you know.

“I’m not angry because I got to drive 12 hours. I drove 12 hours to see the whole week. I got to take it all in.”

Dick Pluedeman and Chuck Kunde: The two Packers fans and their wives drove in from Wisconsin for the weekend — Pluedeman about 13 hours from Eagle River, Klunde about nine hours from Richfield.

“(People) took off the time to come down here, we all did,” Klunde said. “Some people only have a certain amount of days of vacation and they spend their time, ‘Hey, we want to go see the Packers.’ It’s not the Packers’ fault, it’s not the Colts’ fault. It’s whoever bought the paint, they messed up. That’s what I heard, I heard it was the paint.”

They said they saw signs the game might be canceled on social media but found out for sure when they were leaving their car and a sheriff announced through a blow horn.

“Just disappointed,” Pluedeman said. “We were probably going to bail anyway in the third quarter just because we have to get up at 4 in the morning to drive back.”

Chris Lucas lives in Canton and has been a Packers fans since the ‘60s. His house is less than a mile from Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, which is being refurbished as part of a $500 million project by the Hall.

“(The cancellation) is a little bit of a black eye, but this place is going to be first class,” Lucas said. “That was a fluke. It’s a bummer. It doesn’t hurt us as much because we just live up the hill. It’s all these poor souls that drove eight hours and paid $100.

“… The paint wouldn’t dry, they knew it by 5:30, they tried to fix it without telling everybody, which you can’t blame them. They wanted to make right and keep these people here. It just wouldn’t dry. It’s all about player safety. It sucks, but it’s a fluke. Maybe their mistake was trying to squeeze the game in with this construction.”

Brandon Willis: When Willis was 16, he remembers getting a text message during a two-hour class in high school. He looked down at his phone and saw the news that Favre had retired.

“One of the biggest moments of my life,” Willis said. “I’ll always remember that.”

When the class ended, Willis walked to the school library and printed out a picture of Favre. He tucked it inside the cover of his planner.

Eight years later, Willis and his stepfather drove to Canton from Menomonee Falls, intent on seeing the quarterback Willis watched from “the day I was born until I was a sophomore.” They stayed for the weekend and were enthralled by Favre’s speech.

“Incredible,” Willis said. “I teared up, I’m not going to lie.”

But Willis found himself frustrated by Sunday’s cancellation. A lifelong Badgers fan, he was hoping to catch a glimpse of wide receiver Jared Abbrederis. He loved the weekend but still felt let down.

“I just think this is so disappointing as a fan of the NFL in general, not just the Packers,” Willis said. “We all expected to at least see our teams play. Even if they weren’t going to play I thought they should at least come out and practice or something.

He paused and smiled: “That might be me being selfish.”

Tim Lumas: He traveled in from Oxnard, Calif., to attend the ceremony and game with his cousin. He’s been a Packers fans since seeing them play the Rams in a game in Los Angeles in 1967.

“There’s nothing I can do about it, so I’m going to have fun,” he said of the cancellation. “I’m going to have some nachos, maybe get a pop later on, then I’ll fly home and I’ll tell my friends about it, and they’ll say, ‘You’re disappointed?’ No. A lot of stuff happens in this world, you can’t control it. It just happens.”

Fans expecting to see the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio August 7, 2016 watch from the bleachers as officials sort out alternatives.
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