GREEN BAY, Wis. - Thousands of exhausted but euphoric Packers fans welcomed their cherished team home to Green Bay as Super Bowl champions on Monday after a nail-biting victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Schools dismissed early and people took time off work to watch the team’s motorcade travel from Austin Straubel International Airport to Lambeau Field along a route that included Lombardi Avenue, named in honor of the legendary Packers coach Vince Lombardi.
Fans who spent Sunday night partying picked up right where they left off Monday morning, showing up hours early for the parade. They jammed Lambeau’s atrium and clogged the stadium’s pro shop as they bought piles of Super Bowl gear and memorabilia. To make room, the team finally had to herd shoppers and visitors into a line that stretched outside the stadium.
Ashley Ellis, 17, and Erica Christensen, 18, of Oak Creek, Wis., went to bed at midnight after celebrating the victory. They were up at 4 a.m. to drive to Green Bay and stake out a spot for the parade. They said the Packers gave them “anxiety attacks” as the Steelers made their second-half comeback, but all was right with the world in Green Bay on Monday. Asked why anyone would get up at 4 a.m. to visit a football stadium, Christensen replied simply.
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“Love them,” she said.
By early afternoon, throngs of fans in cheeseheads, green and gold beads, jerseys and Packers parkas jammed the team’s route, transforming the streets into human trenches.
A house across the street from the stadium — Lambeau Field famously sits in the middle of a residential neighborhood — blared Queen’s “We Are The Champions.” Fans broke out in spontaneous chants of “Go Pack Go!” and “The Bears Still Suck!”
The crowd’s cheers rose to a roar as the team’s buses neared the stadium. News helicopters buzzed overhead. Players and other team officials could be seen holding up video cameras from their seats, recording the moment.
The arrival was over quickly, though; the players didn’t make any formal public appearances Monday. The real party is set for today, when the Packers are expected to stage a public rally at Lambeau Field.
But there’s a little hitch — Lambeau’s bleachers are covered with snow and ice.
The team announced Monday that it would pay people $8 an hour to remove it ahead of the celebration.
Adam Shirek, 23, of Milladore, Wis., drove two hours Monday to Lambeau for the parade. He said he’s an unemployed college student with nothing better to do. He saw the line of snow volunteers at the stadium and decided to join them. Decked out in Clay Matthews’ No. 52 jersey, he attacked the ice with a fury.
“Could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience helping shovel snow at Lambeau Field after the Super Bowl,” he said as he worked. “It will be memorable. Hopefully it’ll bring me up on the season ticket waiting list.”
Justin Spes, 31, of Green Bay, took it all in as he sipped a beer. He remembers the Packers’ 1997 Super Bowl win but said this time was so much sweeter.
The 1997 team, led by quarterback Brett Favre and defensive end Reggie White, dominated opponents. This version of the Packers scrapped and clawed for everything it got. It was no different in the Super Bowl as the Packers barely survived a late Steelers rally, he said.
“We won that game,” he said, “purely on heart.”