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Arenafan Travelogue: Green Bay Blizzard
by Randy Snow
Originally posted on ArenaFan.com, Sunday, July 25, 2004

Road Trip

When the Grand Rapids Rampage season came to an end back in May, (the team I have covered for this web site the past 2 years) I began looking at the af2 schedule to see if there were any games that I might want to go see yet this season. Last year, while visiting friends in Kentucky, I took two of my sons to see the Louisville Fire play host to the Quad City Steamwheelers at Freedom Hall in Louisville. It was exciting to see new teams, a different arena and different players playing the same arena game, so we were ready to experience the af2 again this year. I decided to see the Green Bay Blizzard host the San Diego Riptide.

Since Grand Rapids has been called the Green Bay of the Arena Football League, because it is the smallest market in the AFL, the choice was obvious. Also, since the team does not currently have an Arenafan columnist, I thought I would take the opportunity to do a story on one of their games for the web site as well. Ironically, Green Bay and San Diego are the only two af2 teams that currently play in NFL cities and I was curious to see how the Blizzard handled being in a town that is so totally dominated by the NFL’s Green Bay Packers. (Last year, there was a third af2 team in an NFL city, the Cincinnati Swarm, but the team folded after only one season)

Attending a Blizzard game seemed like a good idea when I first thought of it. I contacted the Blizzard public relations representative, Curt Wagner, and made arrangements to attend the game and do an article. However, once the boys and I got to Green Bay it didn’t take us long to realize that we were a minivan full of diehard Detroit Lions fans from Michigan now in Packer Country! We immediately rolled up the windows and locked the doors!

If you have never been to Green Bay before, (and I had not) you can’t help but see Lambeau Field as you approach the city. It is the most recognizable and dominating landmark on the horizon. From a distance, it’s as if there is no city, only a stadium, rising to the heavens surrounded by forests and fields.

Once we got to town, I wanted to check in with Curt to let him know that we had arrived. I was surprised to see that the arena where the Blizzard play their home games, the Resch Center, is literally in the shadow of Lambeau Field and also sits next to the Don Hudson Center, the Packers’ indoor training facility.

We arrived the day before the game and had time to visit the Packer’s Hall of Fame and then had lunch at Curly’s Pub, both located in the newly completed addition to Lambeau Field. The next day, we took a stadium tour of Lambeau Field just a few hours before the Blizzard game. We got to tour a luxury box and we also got to go through the player’s tunnel and out to the field, but we were not allowed onto the grass.

Even though I live in Michigan and have been a Detroit Lions fan since 1975, you simply cannot go to Green Bay and not visit Lambeau Field. With my curiosity satisfied about the Lambeau mystique, it was time to cross the street and experience the other pro football team in Green Bay.

The Game

An enthusiastic crowd of 3,433 turned out for the final Blizzard home game of the season against the San Diego Riptide, coached by Mouse Davis. Both teams needed a win to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. It took a while for either team to get anything going offensively, however, as both teams missed field goal attempts on their opening possessions. Green Bay (5-8) also missed a field goal attempt on their second possession as well. San Diego (6-7) finally got on the board first on their second possession with a 49-yard pass play from Riptide QB Kevin Feterik to WR/DB Jesus Reyes. The 2-point conversion was no good, so San Diego led 6-0 at the end of the first quarter

Green Bay got rolling in the second quarter with a touchdown reception by WR/DB Torrey Day and a 55-yard kickoff return for a score by DS Chris Martin. The Blizzard trailed 15-13 at the one minute warning of the first half, but San Diego scored eight points on a touchdown and a safety in the final minute of the half to take a 23-13 lead into halftime.

The Blizzard had only three first downs in the first half compared to San Diego’s ten, so at halftime, Blizzard head coach Brian Noble (a former Packer player) decided to replace starting QB Matt Bunyan with backup QB Richard Pyle. In the first half, Bunyan completed only 5 of 15 passes for 56 yards and one touchdown. He also threw an interception and had a fumble near the goal line that resulted in the safety in the final minute of the first half. Ironically, Bunyan came off the bench last week to replace Pyle, who started the game against Albany, and led the team to a 49-47 win at home over the Conquest. Pyle has only been with the team since July 7. He came from the Intense Football League, a new indoor league in Texas with only six teams.

After intercepting a San Diego pass at the start of the third quarter, the Blizzard cut the lead to 23-20 when Pyle threw his first touchdown pass in the arena league, a 23-yarder to Day. But that was as close as the Blizzard would get, however, as the Riptide scored 21 unanswered points to take a 44-20 lead in the fourth quarter. Twelve of those points came as a result of two Green Bay fumbles that San Diego recovered in the end zone for touchdowns. The Riptide also had a 39-yard touchdown reception by WR/DB Nakoa McElrath. San Diego went on to win the game by a score of 50-34.

For Green Bay, Pyle completed 9 of 18 passes for 119 yards and three touchdowns in the second half and Day finished the game with 6 receptions for 72 yards and 3 touchdowns. San Diego QB Kevin Feterik completed 17 of 32 passes for 279 yards, 4 touchdowns and one interception while McElrath had 6 catches for 105 yards and three touchdowns. McElrath was also named Offensive player of the Game and Ironman of the Game, while Green Bay FB/LB Dustin Sagedahl was named the Defensive Player of the Game.

With the loss, the Blizzard record falls to 5-9 and takes them out of the playoff hunt. Coach Noble was not too happy with his team’s performance after the game. “That was horrible,” Noble said. “To have it fall apart the way it did with fumble after fumble, that’s horrible. I’m just embarrassed.”

With two road games left in the regular season, the team must now dig deep within themselves to finish the season on a winning note. “Anybody can play well when things are going great,” said Noble. “But it takes a person of character to play well when things are not going well.”

On the positive side, the team has already improved on last year’s 2-14 record and with average attendance up from last year as well, the Blizzard are slowly beginning to become known in a community that has been dominated be an NFL icon for decades. Unlike the Packers, the Blizzard have no TV or even radio coverage of their games which makes the task of building a fan base even harder. “The Packers are who they are,” said Noble. “We’re not competing with the Packers. It doesn’t matter where you are; success puts people in the stands. Period.”

In a town the size of Green Bay, it is inevitable that the two teams will cross paths on many levels, even though their seasons are at opposite times of the year. While the Blizzard will certainly never come close to rivaling the Packers, they are working hard to carve their own place in a town that is deep in football history and where the people simply love the game of football.

Coin Toss

Green Bay Packer defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila participated in the coin toss prior to the start to the game.

Cheese Toss

Most arena teams have promotions where they toss Frisbees, mini footballs or T-Shirts into the stands at various times during the game. They did all that during the Blizzard game, too, but they also had another promotion that was totally Wisconsin. In the second quarter they tossed plastic wrapped wedges of cheese from a local cheese company into the stands. The crowd ate it up! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist)

Road Uniforms

The Blizzard wore their white, road uniforms at home against the Riptide. I was told that since the team’s only road win of the season so far had been against San Diego in week one, Coach Noble wanted to see if they would be lucky against the Riptide a second time. No such luck.

Packers President Enshrined

The same evening as the Blizzard/Riptide game (July 17), a ceremony was taking place right next door at Lambeau Field to induct Green Bay Packers president Bob Harlan into the Packers Hall of Fame. NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue was on hand for the ceremony. Harlan was instrumental in pushing for, and overseeing, the $295 million renovation project at Lambeau Field that was completed last year. Harlan joined the club in 1971 as the assistant general manager and has been the team president since 1989.

Next game

The Blizzard are on the road for the last two weeks of the regular season. They travel to Louisville to face the Fire on July 24 and then finish the season at Peoria against the Pirates on July 31. Both teams are division rivals.

Thank you

I would like to personally thank Curt Wagner and his entire public relations staff in Green Bay for all the help they provided to me before, during and after the game. They are true professionals and a credit to the organization.

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