GREEN BAY, WIS. —
The Green Bay Packers have the Minnesota Vikings right
where they want them.
Or do they?
The Vikings (10-6) visit Lambeau Field for Saturday night¹s NFC wild card,
and no place in the NFL has been tougher to play over the last three years.
Green Bay (11-5) has won all but two of its last 28 regular-season home
games, and its 22 home wins since the start of the 2010 season are one
better than both New England and Baltimore.
But Lambeau hasn¹t been quite so fearsome in the postseason lately, with the
Packers losing their last two home playoff games (both to the New York
Giants) and three of their last four.
In fact, all four of the Packers¹ losses in home playoff games have come in
the last six played at Lambeau.
"Home-field advantage, I know statistically it may not be what it used to
be, but to me there¹s no place better to play than at Lambeau Field. I love
everything about it," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "Definitely we feel
it¹s an advantage to have our crowd behind us, the surface that we play on.
... It will be a great atmosphere."
Few teams have better fan bases than the Packers, the only publicly owned
team in professional sports. To be from Wisconsin is to be a Packers fan,
and loyalty has nothing to do with the won-loss record. The entire state
comes to a standstill on Sunday afternoons, and Lambeau has been sold out
since 1960 (the only blackouts in Green Bay have to do with electricity).
Parents put their children on the waiting list for season tickets when
they¹re born in hopes they¹ll get them by their 40th birthday, and Wisconsin
kids talk about Aaron, B.J., Clay and Charles as if they¹re their best
buddies at school.
"I¹d rather be at home, I think anybody would," Clay Matthews said
Wednesday. "I mean, that¹s what you play for ... (to) make teams come into
your backyard. Especially with us. We like to think living in this
environment, playing in this environment, it plays to us well. "
Weather is behind much of the Green Bay advantage, to say nothing of the
Buffalo may have more snow, and the wind off Lake Michigan makes for some
downright nasty conditions at Soldier Field. But the average temperature in
Green Bay doesn¹t crack the freezing mark from December through February,
and the thought of the Ice Bowl creeps into the minds of every opponent when
they see a winter game at Lambeau on the schedule.
Temperature at kickoff for that 1967 NFL championship was 13 below, with a
wind chill of minus-46. It was so cold the officials¹ whistles froze, and
one fan died of exposure.
"You learn to live with it," said Matthews, who endured quite a shock when
he arrived in Green Bay from sunny southern California. "You can¹t avoid the
elements out here."
Saturday¹s game will feel like a heat wave by comparison to the Ice Bowl,
with lows in the mid-teens, a wind chill near zero. And the weather in
Minnesota is equally brutal, though the Vikings play indoors.
But feeling your nostrils freeze as you sprint to and from your car is a lot
different than spending 3 1/2 hours in mind-numbing, finger-freezing cold on
a regular basis.
"It¹s something that you have to be prepared for mentally," said Vikings
quarterback Christian Ponder, who grew up in Texas and played at Florida
State. "I don¹t know how well you can prepare for it."
And yet, the Packers haven¹t done much with that home-field advantage
It was Atlanta -- a Southern team! -- that gave Green Bay its first home
playoff loss, in the 2002 NFC wild card. Two years later, the Vikings beat
the Packers at Lambeau in their only other playoff matchup.
The Giants were more fit for the ³Frozen Tundra² in the 2007 NFC
Championship, beating the Packers in overtime in the second-coldest game at
Lambeau Field. Last year, New York knocked the top-seeded Packers out at
Oh, and two years ago, when Green Bay won the Super Bowl? The Packers did it
on the road, playing the entire postseason away from Lambeau Field.
"I¹m not opposed to playing here. Obviously with our crowd and our fans,
that¹s what we want as a team," receiver Greg Jennings said. "But going on
the road, being isolated away from everyone, I think the focus level and the
sense of urgency is just a little tad higher. Because you¹re dependent on
your teammate. You travel, you¹re in a hotel, you¹re all together. It¹s you
guys against everyone else outside of that hotel. So it¹s a little
These aren¹t the same Packers that lost those other postseason games at
Lambeau, either. Mike Sherman was coaching the Packers when they lost to
Atlanta and Minnesota. That first loss to the Giants was Brett Favre¹s last
game as a Packer.
"It hasn¹t worked out for us lately," Jennings said. "But it¹s a different