Green Bay, Wisconsin: The Crown of "Titletown" Not Up for Debate

Peter BukowskiSenior Analyst IMay 30, 2008

It might be hard to grasp for a person passing by.

Cars lined up as far as the eye can see, on lawns, in Pizza Hut parking lots and just about anywhere else there is room.

Smoke billows from the aisles, rising in the Midwest air making even the clearest of fall days a little hazy. If you can't smell the brats and beer by now, you need to have your sinuses checked.

If you can't hear at least one car playing polka music, you haven't been walking long enough.

I'm talking about Green Bay, Wis. any Sunday from September to January (yes, that includes Christmas and New Year's).

The NFL's smallest city at around 100,353 people, Green Bay has, for years, been referred to as "Titletown USA." Regardless of what any ESPN voting block says, the name could not be more appropriate for the city.

The best place to start in defense of that statement should come from perhaps the most famous Packer icon not wearing a No. 4 jersey: Lambeau Field.

Built in 1957, the stadium with the frozen tundra has been sold out since 1960, nearly 50 years and a remarkable 277 games including the playoffs.

Yet, the Packer fan base does not have a reputation as being obnoxious, mean-spirited or even rude. In fact, Lambeau Field recently claimed the top spot in Sports Illustrated's Game Day Experience poll for its mix of history, fan friendliness and team competitiveness.

Perhaps those ought to be the criteria for claiming Green Bay as "Titletown."

The Green Bay Packers were founded in 1919 by the famous Earl "Curly" Lambeau, in whose name Lambeau Field stands. The "Green Bay Packers" name functions as the oldest continuous franchise name in the NFL. They joined the NFL in 1920, just a year after it was created.

Since then, the Packers have won a record 12 NFL championships, including nine prior to the advent of the Super Bowl.

Many believe Vince Lombardi to be one the greatest, if not the greatest coach in NFL history.

Add in names like Starr, Taylor, Hornung and Nitsche, who all evoke vivid memories of an epic clash with the Landry-led Cowboys in the famed "Ice Bowl," the Packer sweep and the hard-nosed, disciplined football that made the Packers so great in the 1960s.

Perhaps no franchise, outside of the New York Yankees, can claim a larger role in the formation of its sport's history.

My guess is a number of NFL fans couldn't pick out Green Bay on a map, or even be more specific than, "Somewhere between Chicago and Canada."

People in Wisconsin couldn't care less.

There isn't room on the ticket list for new fans anyway. Right now, the waiting list for season tickets contains more than 74,000 names for a stadium that holds 72,928. That means that even if a replica of Lambeau Field was built, there would still not be enough seats for every fan on the waiting list.

But don't expect to see an Armani-suited owner roaming the sidelines of the tundra. The Packers are publicly owned by more than 110,000 people, making the Green and Gold the only publicly owned franchise in professional sports.

That makes it highly unlikely the team will ever move, nor will drastic changes be made against the wishes of the fan base, because the fans literally own the team.

A city like Chicago, who boasts the Bulls with M.J., the Bears with names like Halas and Payton, could easily argue they deserve the crown of "Titletown."

After all, between the Bulls and the Bears, they have more championships. Not to mention, the Bears have the most players in the NFL Hall of Fame.

The Blackhawks are also one of the original NFL franchises and have three Stanley Cup victories (but it's hockey and no one cares).

However, even without considering the Cubs' historic pension for choking or Northwestern's doormat status for much of its history, Chicago fans and the community do not embrace their teams with the kind of undying affection and love the Cheeseheads show for the Packers. 

Go to the United Center just a year after the Bulls knocked the defending NBA champs out of the playoffs and watch a game with 10 of your closest friends. You'll be the only people there.

If you could travel back in time and watch the Bears when Shane Mathews was QB, you'll see plenty of open seats at Soldier Field.

The Packers did not do much winning in the '70s and '80s, yet Lambeau was sold out and rocking every game. (I know Wrigley is always sold out, but that might just prove Cubs fans are masochists more than die-hards.)

To be fair, the Packers vs. Bears rivalry is the oldest and best in the NFL. The point is that Packer fans are simply a different breed. The "cheesehead" might be the most recognizable piece of fan paraphernalia in sports, and few teams draw even on the road as well as Green Bay.

"Titletown" isn't just about stacking trophies or all-time great players. Boston, New York and Chicago all have more of each than does Green Bay.

But anyone who still doesn't believe me, go to Green Bay on a Sunday in October. When you walk by a guy with a dead raccoon on his head and he offers you venison stew and a Miller Lite, you'll understand what I am talking about.

When you find your seat in the bowl of Lambeau and see the names of the people around the ring of the stadium, I dare you not to get chills.

When you watch a team that has had just one losing season since 1992, which until 2005 was the longest active streak in the NFL, and your mind flashes back  to the grainy film of Bart Starr's sneak into the end zone, I challenge you to say you are anywhere but Titletown.

As you leave the stadium, likely after a Packer win since they just don't lose at Lambeau, drive down Lombardi Avenue past window after window full of green and gold you will see signs that say, "Green Bay Wisconsin" and underneath it will read "Titletown U.S.A."

I expect by that time, you will certainly agree.