GREEN BAY, Wis. - About an hour's drive from those quaint Door County bed-and-breakfasts you promised you'd go to and those antique shops you promised not to complain about is something that makes it all bearable: Lambeau Field, the football stadium where the Green Bay Packers play.
Towering above the smallest community to host a professional sports team in the nation, the home of the Packers is one of the most storied stadiums in all of sports and a place that's every bit as cherished by football fans as places like Fenway Park are by baseball fans.
The Packers may only play here about a dozen times a season, but fans can visit practically every day of the year, for a tour that costs $11. It offers a peek behind the curtain where so much of professional football's history has been written. In the last 10 years, more than a million people have taken the tour, all of them coming away with insider knowledge guaranteed to fascinate football fans and bore everyone else to death.
The tour starts in the atrium, where a guide points outside to statues of the team's founder and first coach, Curly Lambeau, along with the team's most famous coach, Vince Lombardi, and gives a brief history.
Did you know the team's original colors were not green and gold but blue and gold, which, it turns out, are the colors of Notre Dame, the school Lambeau attended? Or that the Packers name comes from the packing company Lambeau worked for and talked into paying for the team's first uniforms?
It's also a chance to joke that what the statue of Lambeau is pointing to is the stadium's massive gift shop. The store houses what must be the largest collection in existence of foam hats shaped like orange cheese in honor of the fans' nickname: cheeseheads. The store also sells anything and everything one could possibly imagine with a Packers logo, as well as stuff you couldn't imagine, like the toaster that turns out toast branded with a Packers "G" logo on it.
The atrium is where you start to get a sense of how important the Packers are to the fans. Sixty weddings are held here a year, including one in which the bride almost hit those taking the tour with her tossed bouquet, along with school proms.
As the tour moves to a luxury box, visitors are told not for the first or last time that the "frozen tundra" that ESPN's Chris Berman keeps referring to when he talks about Lambeau, meaning the field itself, actually froze just one lousy time.
Unfortunately for the Packers, it froze in what is still Lambeau's most famous game and perhaps the most famous game in the history of the league: the 1967 NFL Championship game between the Packers and the Dallas Cowboys, forever known simply as the Ice Bowl.
Turns out there was a heating system under the field but it broke before the game. That system has been replaced with a new one - here comes one of those facts that will fascinate true believers and bore the rest - that includes 43 miles of hoses coursing with antifreeze and hot water running underneath the field. Not only that, but mixed in with the grass are 20 million small synthetic fibers that, for those scoring at home, go 8 inches under the surface of the field and a half-inch above it.
And get this: While the rest of Wisconsin is buried under a blanket of snow, the heating and lighting systems are so effective at keeping the place warm that the grounds crew is mowing the lawn into December and even January.
From the skyboxes the tour moves into the bowels of the stadium. The guide points to the locker room but tells you that the NFL prohibits fans from going inside active locker rooms. Disappointing, but it also adds to the mystery of the place.
The tour takes visitors through a tunnel to the stadium. To give visitors a sense of what it's like for the team, the sounds of cheering fans pours out of some speakers. It sounds hokey, but it adds to the thrill of seeing Lambeau as the players do when they walk onto the field.
Like the locker room, the field itself is off-limits. And for those on the tour considering doing the "Lambeau Leap" into the stands as the players do after a touchdown, "Don't even think about it," the guide says.
Football history is literally all around you here, starting with the names of the 22 Packers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Chicago Bears have more, the guide says, but quickly points to the list of 13 years that the Packers have been league champions, a list that is longer than that of any other team, Bears included.
The tour puts you just a few feet from the end zone that quarterback Bart Starr dove into to win the famed "Ice Bowl."
If that doesn't make you want to pay a few more bucks to visit the Packers' Hall of Fame at Lambeau or pick up that Packers toaster, nothing will.
If you go
What: Lambeau Field Tour. Tours are offered most days throughout the year, with times and dates listed on the website.
Where: Green Bay, Wis.
Cost: Adults, $11; discounts for seniors, military, students, children.
More Info: www.packers. com/lambeau-field/ stadium-tours.html.
Green Bay Packers fans Ted Lapean gets help from his wife, Jessica, in picking out a Super Bowl hat in the Packers Pro Shop prior to the “Return to Titletown” celebration in 2011 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.×
Stadium board consultant Greg Kuehl tries out the new chairs in the players lounge during a tour that was part of the new player facilities expansion at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.×
Fans make their way through some snow to Lambeau Field before an NFL game between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers in December.×
A statue of Curly Lambeau is at the stadium.×
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