Saturday afternoon, August 14, 2010. I am on sacred ground… sacred that is, for many of the most committed, passionate professional football fans throughout America and around the world. The first preseason game of the Green Bay Packers will begin in 4 hours at revered Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Having lived in Dallas/Fort Worth since 1974, I am well aware of the historical significance (from a professional football perspective) of the Green Bay Packers. I am keenly aware of the very strong rivalry between the Packers and the Cowboys. All avid professional football fans know that some of the most memorable moments in National Football League history occurred in games between the Packers and Cowboys. Remember the Ice Bowl? Coach Vince Lombardi vs Tom Landry? Quarterback Bart Starr vs Don Meredith? The Ice Bowl is widely considered one of the greatest games in NFL history.
For 36 years I have heard and read about some of the most loyal, committed fans of any sport and of any team in the world. More times than I could count, I have heard and read about the inspirational history of the Packers and Lambeau Field.
For over three decades I have also heard about the world-class tailgating parties previous to Packer games. That is why I am at Lambeau Field 4 hours early… to explore, experience, meet and photograph tailgating Packer fans. To see for myself if these legendary Packer tailgate parties live up to their hype. To put it mildly, I was not disappointed!
Before arriving at Lambeau Field, I made the decision to not mention where I am from. I was concerned that some of the more avid fans, before or after having a couple of adult beverages, might not appreciate “a Dallas Cowboy fan” inviting himself to their party. Not only inviting himself, but also meeting and engaging fans while taking hundreds of pictures while systematically walking up and down scores of rows of enthusiastic, tailgating Packer fans.
The high-end camera, along with no packer shirt, hat or colors gave me away. Over and over I was asked, “Where ya from?” Before I knew it, I was telling hundreds of tailgaters that I am from Dallas. Their reaction was exactly the opposite of what I had feared. “Welcome to Green Bay! Welcome to God’s country. Welcome to the REAL America’s Team. You are a long way from home, pull up a chair and have a drink. Want a brat? Want a burger? Tony Romo is from Wisconsin ya know!”
For nearly four hours, even though I represented a major and many times hated rival and competitor from Dallas, I was treated with dignity, friendliness and respect. Over and over, I was offered whatever the tailgaters were eating and drinking. I was consistently and sincerely welcomed into the space and experience of Green Bay Packer fans.
The game was fine but the tailgating experience was by far the best. Probably the best experience I have ever had at a sporting or entertainment event. The Packer fans won my respect – and my heart – by simply following the golden rule, and by welcoming me to experience them as they really are. No facade. No attempt to be anything other than who and what they really are. I would quickly come to experience, up close and personal, that these are some of the greatest fans and greatest people in America!
As I left one set of tailgaters to move on to meet others, I was told over and over, “See you in Dallas in February!” “Leave the light on… we will be in Dallas in February.” They were, of course, referring to one of the world’s most visible and successful sporting events… the Super Bowl. The Green Bay Packers will indeed be in Dallas/Fort Worth in February. As they deserve, they will enjoy the wonderful DFW area and an incredible stadium… the new 1.2 billion Cowboys stadium.
I have nothing against the Steelers. They too have a remarkable history and millions of passionate fans. However, due to the experience described above, guess who I will be rooting for? The fans of the Green Bay Packers won my heart and my respect by being themselves and allowing me to freely experience the uniqueness of their space, their environment, their tradition. They allowed me to experience and share a small slice of their way of life on a Saturday afternoon, August 14, 2010.
There are very important lessons here for all of us! Be yourself. Rely on your strengths, your uniqueness, and your legacy. Welcome others to experience your space, your experiences, your environment, your passions. Even if they are a rival or competitor, treat people with respect and dignity. Do this and you will do what the Green Bay Packer fans did on this Saturday afternoon at Lambeau Field. They won my respect – my heart – and my admiration. I will never forget these wonderful people and this wonderful experience.
Critical personal and professional success lessons for each and every one of us!