Archive for Thursday, November 9, 2006

BU class of 1986 learns to love Lambeau

November 9, 2006

Supporting a former teammate is not uncommon for football players, especially when it involves a trip to historic Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.

This was exactly why a group of former Baker University players traveled to visit alumnus Mike McCarthy, who is in his first year as the head coach of the Green Bay Packers.

A party of 24 people, which included 16 players and Dan Harris, Baker Athletic Director and former offensive coordinator for the Wildcats headed up to Wisconsin for the weekend of Oct. 28-29.

"One year ago, Andy Solomon and I talked about going to a game and supporting Mike McCarthy," Harris said. "We actually talked about it when he was with the New Orleans Saints. When he got the job as Packers head coach, we thought no-brainer, we're going to Green Bay."

The group flew to Wisconsin Oct. 28 and arrived in Green Bay in the afternoon. One of the first things accomplished was visiting the historic stadium.

Harris had never been to Green Bay before.

"It was my first time there," Harris said. "I had never been to Lambeau Field. Saturday evening we were able to go on a tour of Lambeau Field. It was a private tour set up by Mike McCarthy. He even joined us on the tour and that was exciting."

During the private tour, the group was lucky enough to visit one section that is not shown to normal guests.

"One of the things that we got to do was go into the team locker room, which most tours don't do," Harris said. "This was a special part of the trip. The locker room is shaped like a football, so there are no corners.

"It was done intentionally, so it's not a square room and everyone feels like they are a component of the football of the program," Harris said. "So we took pictures of Brett Favre's locker, obviously. It is quite a facility."

Near the end of the stadium visit, the entire group walked out of the Packers' tunnel that leads on to the field.

Later that night, the reunion party joined McCarthy for dinner. During the meal, they all watched highlights of the Wildcats' 1986 season.

"That night we had reservations at Brett Favre's Steakhouse," Harris said. "We had a private room and we showed the 1986 championship DVD that we put together. It had clips of the season and the national championship game that we lost."

On Sunday, the group of former players attended the Packers' game against the Arizona Cardinals. In football tradition, they joined the Green Bay fans for tailgating festivities.

"On Sunday morning, we got up and had a tailgate party near the stadium," Harris said. "We had a good time with that. Then we went on the game field before the game. We were there during the team warm-up, before we were escorted back off to our seats."

Although Harris enjoyed the pre-game activities with the Packers' fans, he did say one other team is the king of tailgating in the National Football League.

"I have to say the Green Bay Packers' fans know how to tailgate, but the Chiefs are No. 1," Harris said. "There is nothing like a Kansas City Chiefs' tailgate party. Green Bay doesn't match that, but it's probably second best."

During the game, a couple sitting next to the Baker alumni said they have been to many Packers' games, including one when the temperature was 19 degrees below zero. The temperature in Green Bay on Oct. 29 was in the 50s and it was sunny.

Green Bay won the game 31-14. Harris remembers one moment in the game where Packers' quarterback Brett Favre scored a touchdown and celebrated in Green Bay tradition.

"It was a very good game," Harris said. "Brett Favre didn't have a single turnover. In fact, he scored a touchdown and did the Lambeau leap. He tried to get up in the stands, but he couldn't quite get there. So the fans grabbed him and pulled him up into the stands. The ovation from the crowd for that was pretty special."

After the game, the reunion group headed to McCarthy's house for a social gathering that the coach has after every home game. While at his house, McCarthy's former teammates presented him with an honorary Wildcats jersey with his No. 89 on it.

Harris hopes that jersey will go on McCarthy's Baker wall in his house, since he has one for all of his other teams.

"The thing that almost got me emotional when I went to his house was his basement," Harris said. "There was a wall for every program he has been working in since he left college.

"There was one for the University of Pittsburgh, Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers and Baker University," Harris said. "That was pretty impressive to have us right up there with the big boys. He respects his past and his friends. He honored us and it made the trip absolutely unbelievable."

After returning from the trip, Harris recalled how the former teammates bonded after 20 years. Being around those alumni, who are now living great lives, was special for him.

"For me, it was the trip of a lifetime, because first of all, the reunion of the guys from 20 years ago was really special," Harris said. "This was a group of guys who were really talented. They have stayed in touch over these years, so it's amazing what winning does as far as team bonding. All of these guys are successful in their own right now. I would like to think that a lot of what they are today was made during those formative years and winning programs at Baker."

Since the trip, many members of the group have discussed visiting McCarthy and the Packers again. Harris said that would depend on the Green Bay weather for him.

"All of us talked about doing it again next year," Harris said. "Other people are talking about going back in December and I'm saying it will be based on the weather for me. I think we all became Packers' fans."

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