The Green Bay Packers' Dec. 18 "home" game at County Stadium against the Atlanta Falcons will mark the end of the Pack's 61-year relationship with Milwaukee. In the 1930s the team from the small meatpacking town of Green Bay needed a big-city fan base to remain afloat, and so the Packers began playing several "home" games each year in Milwaukee. But today County Stadium has the fewest seats (56,051) in the NFL, and Packer president Bob Harlan says that continuing to play there would cost the team $12 million to $15 million by the end of the decade. Rent is high at County Stadium, where the Packers don't make any money from concessions.
On and off since 1986 Harlan has talked with Milwaukee Brewer president Bud Selig about building a new stadium that their teams would share, but they haven't been able to come up with enough financial backing. "I wouldn't have fought as hard as I did all those years to keep the games in Milwaukee if I didn't feel a loyalty there," Harlan says. "There is a lot of unrest on my board. They kept saying, 'How can you afford to lose this kind of money?' I just don't think you can stay in business losing that much money."
County Stadium (below, in 1961) has a charm all its own. Only there can the visiting backup quarterback talk with the home head coach during a game. That's because the stadium was built for baseball, and in its football configuration the benches for both teams are placed on the same sideline.
Except for the bratwurst, nothing about the place is perfect. The visitors' locker room, for instance, has 35 lockers for 47 players and only eight shower heads. What County Stadium does have, though, is an eventful football history:
December 19, 1994
•Dec. 3, 1961. Jim Taylor rushed for 186 yards, an alltime Packer record, in a 20-17 victory over the New York Giants that clinched the division title.
•Nov. 12, 1967. Travis Williams returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in the first quarter of a 55-7 rout of the Cleveland Browns, tying an NFL single-game record for kickoffs returned for TDs.
•Dec. 23, 1967. In Vince Lombard's last game at County Stadium, the Packers beat the Los Angeles Rams 28-7 in the Western Conference championship game, earning the right to play the Dallas Cowboys eight days later for the NFL title in the famous Ice Bowl.
•Nov. 18, 1984. Tim Lewis made the longest interception return in Packer history, 99 yards, in a 31-6 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
There were less glorious moments too, such as in the Upper Midwest Shrine Game on Aug. 11, 1984, when Bear coach Mike Ditka almost came to blows with Packer coach Forrest Gregg. Gregg called a timeout right before halftime as the Bears were trying to run out the clock. Ditka confronted Gregg, saying it was a silly thing to do in an exhibition game. They yelled at each other on the sideline and on their way to the locker room, where Gregg told his players, "You take care of the Bears, and I'll take care of Ditka."
Gregg and Ditka never came to blows, but the team did its part, beating Chicago 17-10.