As I wrote our Happy Birthday post the other day, I realized that I didn’t have any Story Time posts last year with the exception of the All-Star Game posts. Then at work today I was swapping stories with a coworker about our respective trips to Lambeau Field in Wisconsin. I’ve never written this one down so I hope it’s as good as I think it is. It’s about the time I met Barry Sanders after the Season Opener between the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions
This story takes place on September 6, 1998. I was 12 days short of my 13th birthday and had just started the 7th grade. One of my Dad’s longtime employees was getting married up in Wisconsin and I was tagging along with my parents to the wedding. As luck would have it, the groom’s Dad happened to run Lambeau Field. Because we’re exceptionally nice people he offered us tickets to the aforementioned season opening game. It would have been rude to decline, so we went ahead and accepted. Twisted our arms.
Anyway, if you’ve never been to a game at Lambeau I would like to take this opportunity to tell you that it should be on your bucket list. I don’t care where your team affiliation lies, go to Lambeau. Go.
We got to the stadium early because we heard about all the wonderful things that surround game days at Lambeau. I cannot speak to any adult things that take place before games but I do know that there are a whole host of things for kids to do. Maybe it was just that one game but I had a blast. I was running through obstacle courses and catching passes from some high school kid working a weekend job…it was the greatest thing ever.
Then the game rolled around and I was beat. Our seats were fantastic; they were about halfway up the lower bowl right on the 50 yard line (as I remember it, anyway). We only stayed there for a half, making our way up to the suite area for the second half. I remember the free food and the back-to-back 100 yard kickoff returns from Terry Fair and Roell Preston between the 3rd and 4th quarter. Past that, I don’t remember much. The Pack won 39-19 and went on to an 11-5 record, the Lions would eventually become the laughingstock of the football world. But that’s not where our story really begins.
After the game our groom’s father, John, came to find us and take us on a mini-tour of the stadium before we began our journey home. He took us down to the commissary area where they prepare all the food. Being 12 years old, this held my interest for about 20 seconds. That’s when I began to wander. First, I smelled cookies. Even at that young age I knew my way to a good cookie. The guy who was dealing with the cookies was bagging them up and setting them aside. He looked at me and asked if I wanted some. Again, my arm was twisted. I think I took around 14 of them.
From there I continued to wander with seven cookies in each hand. I found a door and headed outside. Quickly, I came to a fork in the road. I went left and immediately came face to face with the “Food Pantry of the Greater Green Bay Area” or something like that. They were looking for food donations and I had my 14 cookies. Knowing they wouldn’t want my un-packaged cookies but still feeling bad that I had so many, I decided I should back track and head down the other path.
That’s when I came across an idling bus under the stadium. At the same time a group of men came around the corner and headed toward the bus. They were enormous. Clearly, they were football players. I stood there wide eyed, watching as they stepped one by one into the bus. Near the end of the line was the only recognizable face on the Lions team: Barry Sanders.
Obviously, I was staring, most likely with my jaw on the floor. Sanders was about to get on the bus when he spotted me. He looked down and said, “You’ve got yourself a bunch of cookies there.”
I responded with, “Uh, um, uhhhhh……Yeah….Uhh…..You want one?” I extended my hand slightly toward him. It seemed like the right thing to do.
At that point, Barry Sanders chuckled. I made Barry Sanders chuckle!
“Nah, you go ahead and keep ’em. Have a good day, man.”
And with that, he got on the bus. My encounter with Barry Sanders was fleeting but it was enough in my 12 year old mind. It’s something that I’ll always remember and I’m glad he wasn’t a prick. He didn’t even have to say anything to me, but he did. I always liked Barry Sanders before then, but I liked him even more since.
I know it’s not quite peeing between Wayne Gretzky and Don Sutton or sitting in the Prime Minister’s box at a soccer game…but it was worth sharing anyway.