Opening night of the play captured the theatricality that already exists at a football game – from tailgating, to the game, to post game rituals. The Rep decided to hold an opening night tailgating party outside the theater, and it was pretty incredible. This is where I was in total awe of the response to this production from Packer fans. It usually is conventional to dress casually or even a bit formally to the theater, especially on opening night. Not for this production. Many theater goers were dressed in Packer jerseys and anything they could put on that was green and gold. Cheeseheads dotted the front patio of the theater. The smell of brats, burgers, and beer filled the cool and crisp night air. It was spectacular. Corntoss could be seen playing off to one side and music blared from the PA system set up just for this evening. It felt like I was either outside Lambo or Heinz Fields.
And without fail, the Packer Pope was standing right there amidst it all. That’s right, the Packer Pope (aka Saint Vince) – the guy who attends every Packer home game and dresses up as a green Pope – was tailgating with many other Packer fans dressed in their regular game day regalia. (Let it be known that now matter what the circumstance I will never put on an a jersey or colors other than the Steelers, and this night was no exception) Season ticket holders of the Pack (and therefore owners of the team) were there eating, drinking and getting pumped up for the show. A fan who had a yellow Harley Davidson bike with a Packer logo on it drove up onto the patio. The picture taking was on.
It was at that moment that I gave in and fully embraced what was going on around me. How could I not? These people love their football team as much as I love my own. We all shared a common thread – we love the game of football and love our teams. It was great to meet and talk to some of these people. Common enemies only a few short months ago, and we were sharing football stories and laughing at old tailgating stories or best witnessed home game moments. I had to wonder how fans of the Raiders and 49’ers just can’t get along. After all, it is only a game. I only wish something like this was done for The Chief back in the ‘Burgh. (And if you’re wondering, Saint Vince did take his papal mitre off in the theater during the performance.)
But the most incredible part of the evening was seeing and ‘meeting’ Bart Starr and Paul Hornung. Two of the greatest players during that time, and two great men who are still active in their community attended the opening of this production. I ‘bumped’ into Starr during the tailgating and said a ‘hi, how are you, nice to meet you’ with a handshake before he moved on. Hornung was not seen at the tailgating, but was present for the show once the lights went out. It was a great performance, and in Paul Hornung fashion, made a point to participate in the show. In all the years I’ve been in my profession, I’ve never seen or heard an audience member actually call out to an actor to say something. But good old Hornung called out to.. well… himself on stage. The ‘Paul Hornung’ in the play during a bar scene comes out with a girl, kisses her and then lets her walk offstage. The real Paul in the audience yells out to his own self on stage, ‘Well don’t let her go!’ It was an absolute show stopper. The audience laughed and went nuts with applause. All the actor could do was silently salute the ol’ Hornung by raising his prop beer bottle in hand and give a nod.
Once the play was over, Bart and Paul were brought up on stage to say a few words about what they just saw and to speak briefly with the audience. The unabandoned humbleness from these two is simply amazing. They are such great people and are truly thankful for the careers they had and the fortune of knowing someone like Vince Lombardi. One other ‘Horn’ism’ (as we call it now) of the evening was a random comment from Horn about his love for Milwaukee – ‘I know more ways to sneak out of the Pfister [hotel] than the guys who built the place.’
It was such a great night of theater… and well…. football. I’m very glad and very proud that I was a part of this piece of theater. You didn’t have to be a Packer fan or even a football fan to appreciate what was happening on stage. But, being one sure made it a better and more fulfilling evening. In some sort of karma and cosmic way – I’m hoping that this is one way for a Steelers fan who talked some crap about another team in preparation for the Super Bowl to pay penance for that Super Bowl loss.
So here’s to you Vince and Packer Nation – you hold a standard of a winning tradition that only a handful of other sports teams can even amount to. I’m just lucky that the Pittsburgh Steelers is one of them.