“I Was There”

Packers Cowboys catch reversaL Dez Bryant

I Was There:

“I was there” is a phrase that sports fans utter with pride. It is like having a gold star of fandom that links you to a meaningful event in your favorite team’s history.  This kind of moment happened to me at the 2014 Divisional playoff game at Lambeau Field against the Dallas Cowboys.

With the changes to the catch rule that have taken place this offseason, many commentators have talked about how Dez Bryant’s infamous drop in the divisional playoff game against the Packers would now, under the new rules, be considered a catch.  The replays of the drop have caused me to reflect on the game that I have been privileged to say “I was there” for, and the events that happened on the road trip that from Central New Jersey to Lambeau Field that made this one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

By now you must be wondering why we didn’t fly into Wisconsin like most normal people would.  Well, usually, my friends and I do fly from New Jersey to Green Bay, but since the game tickets that we bought were a bit pricey, we quickly realized that we would not be able to afford the last minute flight from New Jersey to Wisconsin.  What we did not realize when we made the decision to drive, was exactly how memorable this road trip would actually be.

The road trip from New Jersey to Green Bay was going nice and smooth and we were on track to stop in Ohio that night. Suddenly, without any warning, the skies began to open on us as we approached Snow Shoe Pennsylvania.  This was very surprising because there were absolutely no traces of snow on the radar nor was there any forecast of snow for that Thursday Night. At this point, we had to hope that this was just a passing snow band, but as we soon found out, this storm was going to be here to stay for the rest of the night.

As we crept further and further into Snow Shoe, PA, the conditions continued to rapidly deteriorate until we found ourselves driving in whiteout conditions watching semi-tractor trailers pass us going at speeds that seemed unconscionable for the conditions that we faced.  After what seemed like hours of holding our breath and hoping for the best, we finally came upon a rest stop exit to pull off on and set up camp for the night alongside a gas station and a trucker motel.

After noticing that the seethe trucker stop motel office was closed, we realized that we were going to have to try and find a way to sleep upright in a car with a pile full of luggage.  Finally, at 3am, my friend went into the 24-hour convenience store to stock up on breakfast and caffeine for the following mornings’ drive that we had ahead of us. As he was walking towards the store, he began talking to a patron that told us that we could get motel room keys from the store’s cashiers counter.

He told the cashier that we were sleeping in our car full of luggage and informed her that we would be taking one of the room keys and would return it in the morning. When we opened the door to the room, we immediately second-guessed our decision to sleep in the motel, but when there is almost a foot of snow on the ground and the room has heat, your expectations change dramatically.

The room was old, tacky, dirty, and had seen some characters throughout its history, but it had heat and hot water.  I took two towels from the bathroom and used one to put over the bed and one as a blanket and went to sleep.

As soon as the highway was cleared, we left the seedy trucker motel and continued on our way towards Lambeau Field.  We knew that we would have to somehow get to Wisconsin by nightfall since the snow storm was now forecasted to be rejoining us on our way through Indiana.

That Friday was a blur, which was probably due to how fast we were driving to stay ahead of the storm.  Finally, when we got to Gary, Indiana, the storm had caught up with us, or so we thought.  For the first time, we doubted whether or not we were going to make it to our 12 o’clockLambeau Field tour on Saturday.  As we were trying to make it out of Indiana, we encountered traffic that forced us to take an alternate route which took us a through a back-way out of Indiana and away from the storm.

Finally, we caught the big break that we needed to make the late night push towards Wisconsin.  Once we emerged from the storm, we flew through the state of Illinois, it was all a blur.  I can remember zooming through the interstate and seeing Chicago’s waterfront and the bright lights for a moment, and then leaving them in the distance as we pushed closer towards Wisconsin.

Finally, by 9 o’clock that evening, after over 12 hours of driving, we had made it to Appleton Wisconsin and celebrated our arrival and incredibly long journey with Lombardi’s steakhouses’ finest filet.  After going through this ordeal, we had no idea just what we were in store for on Sunday, we were just ecstatic that we weren’t going to miss our first Packers playoff game.

By the time game day had arrived, we had just about had enough of all of the Cowboy fans that had polluted Lambeau Field throughout the weekend.   I didn’t realize just how obnoxious they were until one guy draped in a cowboys blanket invaded the Packers Pro Shop and screamed “How About Them Cowboys” at the top of his lungs.  It was at that moment that I wished for Cowboys to not only lose the game but have their hearts crushed in the worst way possible.  Little did I realize that my wish was about to come true.

When we got to our seats, we did our usual routine and watched warm-ups from the front row.  The seats for this game were special, we clearly outdid ourselves this time. We were at the 45-yard line about 25 rows up behind the Packers bench.  As kick off drew near, we found out that we were sitting in front of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and that there was a security detail in our section.  Still, that did not stop Cowboy fans from being obnoxious for most of the game.

The game was back and forth and hotly contested and tempers ran high both on the field and in the stands. Finally, the Packers caught their first break by forcing and recovering a fumble from DeMarco Murray.  Shortly thereafter Aaron Rodgers threw one of the most amazing passes I have ever seen when he threaded a bullet pass between two Cowboy defenders in the end zone for a touchdown to Richard Rodgers. That play was a release of all of the nervous energy throughout the game and Lambeau lost its collective mind. By this point, we were high fiving the governor and glaring at the Cowboy fans in our section, life was good.

After those two game-changing plays, Lambeau came back to life. Crunch time was fast approaching and Packers fans were desperate for a turnover.  Finally, the game was on the line and on fourth and short with 4:45 to go in the fourth quarter, Tony Romo put a pass up towards the left corner of the end zone which looked to be hauled in by Dez Bryant at the 1-yard line.

There it was, yet another playoff dagger for the Packers.  Literally, all of the air came out of the Lambeau Field crowd as we hoped for an Aaron Rodgers miracle finish after what we thought would be a sure Cowboy touchdown on first and goal.

As I glared to my right, those obnoxious Cowboy fans were celebrating and screaming “How about them Cowboys” yet again.  As all of this was happening, Mike McCarthy, in typical fashion tossed the flag out to signal he was going to challenge Dez Bryant’s catch.  We all cheered, I guess because we were hoping that Gene Steratore would say Dez Bryant did not complete or maintain the catch.  The reality was that everyone was preparing for first and goal.

However, to our surprise, Steratore stayed under the hood and they showed on the JumboTron that Dez appeared to have bobbled the ball as he stretched for the end zone. I thought to myself that maybe, just maybe, we might have a call go our way for once.

Finally, the drama had reached a fever pitch again as Gene Steratore emerged from under the hood.  The stadium grew silent. Steratore goes on his microphone and says “It has been determined that the receiver did-……..Not-maintain….”; that was all we needed to hear.  We proceeded to drown out the rest of the explanation in celebration. I remember hugging the Governor along with every other person in our section and looking over at the crushed Cowboy fans and screaming “How About Them Cowboys”.

As we walked out of the stadium celebrating the win, we by chance, ran into Boyd Dowler and Donny Anderson.  We talked about the Lombardi days for a bit and then Donny talked about how happy he was that Dez Bryant dropped the ball.  He explained to us that as a former Packer living in Texas, it gets tiring hearing about Dez Bryant’s exploits on a daily basis.

Since “The Drop”, commentators have broken the play down frame by frame to prove that it should have been ruled a catch. Since that play there have been plays that followed, that have should have been ruled catches and touchdowns that have altered the outcomes of games. Because of this the NFL has simplified the definition of a catch and eliminated different interpretations of the rule to make it more cut and dry.

However, no matter what everyone says about the catch rule or about the 2014 divisional playoff game between the Packers and the Cowboys, history will always show that Dez dropped the ball and the Green Bay Packers won the game 26-21.

You may be wondering if the road trip back home to central New Jersey was a smooth sailing celebration because of the Packers playoff win.  It wasn’t! We were caught in more bad weather.  We had to halt our trip in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Youngstown, Ohio because of snow and ice storms.  The drive home took 3 full days, endless Subway wrappers, Pizza boxes, and Taco Bell stops.  We called into Green Bay radio stations and told them about the exploits of our road trip and they mentioned us on the air.

This was one of those trips that were special because of all of the spontaneous encounters and events that took place.  Sometimes, I look back and cannot believe that this all happened, but each time that I do, I remember that the 2014 divisional playoff win against the Cowboys is one of those games that I always enjoy telling people “I was there”.
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David Michalski is a recent college graduate from Princeton New Jersey who has been a life long Green Bay Packers fan. Like the great Vince Lombardi, he values God, family, and the Green Bay Packers in that order. You can follow him on twitter at @kilbas27dave

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