This is a photo of my husband, Tom, and me 14 years ago today. In case you can’t tell, we are on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. We are celebrating a day that will live forever in Packers’ history – a Super Bowl victory. Yes, it was incredible, and a pretty good story at that.
When Tom married me, I was Chicago-raised, somewhat indifferent to football. Tom, on the other hand, was De Pere born and raised and in possession of Packer season tickets and some shares of Packer stock. His childhood backyard literally backed up to St. Norbert Abbey – where Packer players dined during training camp.
Fast forward to January of 1997. The Packers had just beaten Dom Capers’ Carolina Panthers to earn a trip to Super Bowl XXXI. It was a heady, celebratory time. A couple days after the NFC Championship, I got on a plane and flew to Anaheim, California for a work-related trip. Tom and I talked every night, mostly chatting about kid-related issues as our children were quite young.
One night that week, Tom called me in Anaheim and said: “Somebody is offering us two Super Bowl tickets for $______. What do you think?” I remember calmly saying to him: “I know it’s really expensive, but remember that when we got married you said to me, in no uncertain terms, if the Packers ever go to the Super Bowl, you’re going. This may never happen again. Shouldn’t we go?” I respected Tom’s dream too much not to encourage him a little.
And so began the strangest and most magical trip Tom and I have ever taken. We immediately booked ourselves on the cheapest junket we could find heading down to New Orleans. From the start, the trip was a logistical nightmare. The ground transportation never showed up at the airport. We had to spend over $100 on a cab ride to our hotel. Our fleabag hotel was in Baton Rouge, nearly 100 miles away from New Orleans. Our shuttle to and from the hotel to the French Quarter was filled with drunken Packer fans and blew out a tire at 2:00 am.
Yet, none of this deterred us. Our primary goal and mantra was to simply GET TO THE GAME. Everything else could be awful, but we needed to get to the Super Bowl to watch the Green Bay Packers take on the New England Patriots.
Once in the French Quarter, it quickly became confusing as chants of “Go Pack Go” bumped up against “Go Pats Go.” I remember, for the first time, feeling concerned that this trip could turn into an ugly memory if the Packers lost. I silently coached myself on how I would react if faced with a loss and, more importantly, how I would console my lifelong Packer-fan husband.
The day of the game, January 26th, we got up early and took the earliest possible shuttle to the French Quarter. We had tickets to a pre-game luncheon but I remember barely eating. I was WAY too nervous.
After lunch, Tom and I walked over to the Superdome, more than TWO HOURS before kickoff. We were one of the first to arrive. Our seats were in the upper deck, near a section of the media. (I sat across the aisle from ESPN reporter Sal Paolantonio.) The first thing we noticed was that every single person in attendance gets some pretty cool swag at the Super Bowl. We each received a duffle bag and some 3D promotional items. They were pretty awesome, but they’d be nothing if we lost the game.
We sat down and waited…two hours. Honestly, time stood still for us. We were fortunate to be sitting in a section of mostly Packer fans, which made celebrating touchdowns very fun, but the Patriots’ fans were also loud and proud, so there was reason to be nervous.
What we remember during the game is that we did not eat, drink, leave our seats (even to go to the bathroom) or practically exhale for the entire time. We must have been sitting there for 6+ hours. We didn’t want to miss a single second. In the end, I believe that I turned to Tom and finally asked: “Did we do it? Did we really win the Super Bowl?!” His beaming face and eyes welling with tears were all I needed to see. Tom had finally realized a lifelong dream. Here is a photo of us right after the game finished. You can see the on-field celebration still in progress.
After the game, we streamed out of the Superdome with other happy Packer fans. I was impressed that the Patriots’ fans were so gracious in their defeat. We didn’t see one poor loser in the bunch. I can tell you, there is probably no more incredible place to celebrate a Packer Super Bowl Victory than Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Pure joy filled the streets that night. Two women that we had met on the trip but who didn’t have game tickets ran into us after the game. We walked down the street with them, victory Hurricanes in hand. At one point, as revelers screamed from balconies offering beads, one of the women asked Tom to hold her drink. He did and she turned toward the balconies and lifted up her shirt! Tom and I looked at each other incredulously! You don’t see that in Wisconsin!
As the hype of Super Bowl XLV builds, I remember back to that amazing trip to New Orleans. There are so many fans like Tom who have spent their lives cheering for the Green Bay Packers and dreaming of a Super Bowl Championship. But there are many who have done the same for the Pittsburgh Steelers. What I love about this matchup is that it’s two longtime franchises with rabid fan bases. The NFL couldn’t ask for anything more. I could: A Super Bowl victory would be MY dream.
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