GREEN BAY, Wisconsin – Childhood memories will mesh with college salad days Saturday when No. 5 LSU plays Wisconsin to open the 2016 season at Lambeau Field.
“It’s going to be a once in a lifetime experience,” said LSU safety Jamal Adams, who has plans to play in the NFL. “And you never know when I’ll be back to Lambeau.”
The Lambeau Field College Classic will be the first college game played in 33 years at Lambeau Field, the home of the iconic and oldest NFL franchise Green Bay Packers since 1957 with a capacity of 80,735 and a loyal fan base reminiscent of the more raucous college fandoms like LSU’s.
“I have not been there,” said LSU coach Les Miles, who frequented Cleveland Municipal Stadium as a kid in the 1960s to watch the Browns games near his home town Elyria, Ohio, and idolized running back Jim Brown.
“Only heard of it, and I am hearing from professionals what a wonderful place it is to play and what a great venue and how much it will be enjoyed,” Miles said.
“Lambeau’s like the Wrigley Field of pro football,” said LSU senior center Ethan Pocic, a native of Lemont, Illinois, in the Chicago area, which is three hours and 30 minutes from Green Bay. “I’m excited to go there. That’s going to be a Friday thing – take it all in Friday. Saturday, got to play the game. It doesn’t matter whether if it’s in the parking lot.”
Most of Pocic’s family and relatives will make the game.
“No doubt,” he said. “It’s going to be a fun one. A lot of my family is going to be able to just hop on the highway and go. That’s what makes this game fun, too.”
Pocic went to the Packers’ training camps in Green Bay as a kid and grew up as more of a Packers fan than a Bears fan.
“Their tradition is the players ride kids’ bikes to practice,” he said of a practice started by legendary Packers’ coach Vince Lombardi in 1959. “When I was about 4 or 5 (in 2000), some offensive linemen back then broke my brother’s bike. It was really funny. He broke the bike accidentally. He couldn’t be mad, though. It was his fault. He gave the bike to him. Just something that was very funny. I think he got another bike for his birthday.”
LSU tailback Leonard Fournette will be like a kid in a candy store at Lambeau, home of storied Pro Football Hall of Fame, Super Bowl winning running backs like Jim Taylor, a Baton Rouge native who was an All-American at LSU in 1957, and Paul Hornung of Notre Dame, and Super Bowl winning quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame like Bart Starr and Brett Favre and current Super Bowl winning Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
“It’s a historic place,” said Fournette, who is expected to be a top five pick in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. “That’s where Aaron Rodgers is at, man. And Brett Favre. And all those other guys – that’s the ghosts.”
Two Green Bay offensive linemen are in the Hall of Fame – center Jim Ringo and guard/tackle Forrest Gregg. LSU sophomore right tackle Toby Weathersby will be starting just his second college game Saturday.
“Oh, butterflies. I already know it’s going to be butterflies,” he said. “But I know you’ve got to be calm before the storm, so it’s just a mindset you’ve got to have. But deep down, you’re going to have those butterflies, but at the same time we’ve been preparing for it so it’s a go out there and handle business type of situation.”
Weathersby watched Packers games as a kid.
“Yes. I don’t even have words to describe it because I know it’s going to be something special to be able to play on that field,” he said. “And it’s going to be a big crowd. It’s going to be loud. Just something to be ready for, be prepared for.”
LSU starting right guard Josh Boutte of New Iberia also grew up watching the Packers.
“Lambeau Field is awesome,” he said. “Can’t wait to play there. I watched Green Bay all the time as a kid. It’s an amazing place. Just being in that environment is going to be great, especially for those of us who dream of playing in the NFL. Just being there will be a great experience. I would love to play for them one day.”
Miles, meanwhile, has prepared his players not to have too much fun after any touchdowns. He has orders for them to take no “Lambeau Leaps,” which Packers do after touchdowns into the arms of their adoring fans in the stands. There is even a statue of fans waiting for a leap outside Lambeau. Fans have their pictures taken mid-leap.
“Honestly, I’ve got to say everybody on the team wants to do the Lambeau Leap,” Boutte said. “But I don’t know if that’s possible.”
It will cost you a 15-yard penalty in college.
“I promise you that if anybody jumps into that Lambeau Leap, they’ll end up with their thumb out to see if they can get a ride home,” Miles said on the SEC weekly teleconference Wednesday morning. The quote has made the rounds nationally, particularly here.
“It’s college football,” Miles said. “And we’re going to play it that way. And I think our guys understand that we’ll do it right.”
Fournette got the message.
“Nah,” he said when asked if he’d take the leap. “We’re coming here for business to play a game,” he said. “It’s going to be fun to travel there and play there, but at the end of the day we’re coming there to get the W, and that’s it.”
LSU fans Louis and Becky DeJohn of Central near Baton Rouge and Chip and Aimee Simon of Baton Rouge were taking pictures Thursday afternoon at the “Leap” statue, which is next to the Lombardi and Curly Lambeau coaching statues outside Lambeau.
“No, I’m not worried about it,” said Aimee Simon, who has been president of the Bengal Belles fan group for 20 years. “I think they’re going to follow their coach’s instructions.”
Becky DeJohn had another version of the “Lambeau Leap” in mind. Call it the “Les Leap.”
“That’d be great,” she said.
(© 2016 WWL)