D'Amato: Packers fans far from home
Green Bay – Some of us take it for granted – the iconic stadium, the rich history in the NFL’s smallest market, the team that has thrilled (and disappointed) generations of fans.
Lambeau Field. Green Bay. The Packers.
It’s all so familiar, so accessible, such a staple of our lives that we sometimes forget how special it is, how lucky we are to be a part of the spectacle.
Then we meet a fan like Jordi Baggen, who reminds us to appreciate what we've got.
Baggen, 37, is as big a Packers fan as you’ll find. He’s been following the team for almost two decades, rarely misses a game on television, knows the minutiae in the players’ bios and, of course, frets about running back Eddie Lacy being unavailable for the rivalry game Thursday night against the hated Chicago Bears.
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This is the first game he will see in person.
He and his wife, Merel, are on a pilgrimage from their home in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, though she is along more or less for the ride. She doesn’t know much about football, other than that her husband is crazy about the game and obsessed with the Packers.
“From September to February,” she says, “I don’t have a husband.” (To which many a Wisconsin wife would say: Welcome to the club.)
They are standing outside Lambeau Field two hours before kickoff. He’s dressed in the Brett Favre jersey he removed from a frame for just this occasion. He’s wearing something else: a grin that just won’t quit.
“The atmosphere is tremendous,” he says. “It’s amazing to see so many people in Packers clothing and the whole tailgating is amazing. I’ve heard and read a lot of stories about it, but to see people of all kinds – women, men, children – it’s really amazing.”
Baggen, who works in IT for Dell and speaks perfect English, started following the NFL in high school with a couple buddies. In 1999, a Dutch TV network broadcast some games, and it wasn’t long before he was mesmerized by the Packers, drawn to their team colors, their history and the tough-as-nails quarterback in the No. 4 jersey.
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Soon, high-speed internet and NFL Game Pass made it easier to get his weekly Packers fix.
Soccer is the most popular sport in the Netherlands and though Baggen has season tickets to AFC Ajax, the professional team in Amsterdam, the Packers have replaced them as his favorite sports team.
“In the Netherlands, soccer is more of a man thing,” he says. “The atmosphere is sometimes aggressive. You see people in Bears clothing walking around here, but you would never see that in soccer in Europe. Impossible. Because of the atmosphere, I don’t feel like bringing my 6-year-old son.
“Seeing this, we really love it.”
Last year, Baggen got a promotion at work and decided to celebrate by attending a Packers game in faraway Green Bay, the city he knew so much about but had never seen. Merel’s cousin lives in New York, so they compromised: They’d first visit her cousin, then fly to Chicago, rent a car and drive to Lambeau.
“It’s not easy to get here, I can tell you that,” Baggen said.
He clutched the tickets he purchased through Ticketmaster. After posing for a photo on the Lambeau Leap statue (“What’s the Lambeau Leap?” Merel wondered), it was time to enter the stadium.
What was Baggen most looking forward to seeing?
“The whole atmosphere,” he said. “A fully packed Lambeau Field. The stadium itself, but also 80,000 people going crazy. The rivalry between the Bears and the Packers, I think, will make it a more special atmosphere than any other game. We are really looking forward to that. And seeing Aaron Rodgers play.
“In the end, it’s just about being here and soaking up the atmosphere. The cherry on the cake would be a good game. And winning it, obviously.”
Now, like the rest of us, he was getting greedy.