Reporting from an empty stadium
Packer Sunday: A fanless game-day experience
By Rich Palzewic
I wasn’t sure I’d get photo credentials for the Sept. 20 Packers game versus the Detroit Lions, but MMC received word a few days before its request had been approved.
I’ve taken photos at Lambeau Field before but never in an empty stadium.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, at least the first two home games will be held without fans.
Driving down Lombardi Avenue at 10:30 a.m. was eerie – no traffic, no police officers and most notably, no tailgaters.
Parking in Lot 6 off Ridge Road, I didn’t have to walk a mile like I normally do.
I attached my mask and proceeded to a big tent and answered eight questions about COVID-19, all of which I answered “no.”
Next, a nice older gentleman took my temperature – 97.1 degrees.
Great, I was OK’d to get my credentials and head inside Lambeau.
After going through security, I picked up my brown National Football League vest and armband and found the media center.
Normally, before a game, the Packers provide a huge buffet-style spread of food inside the stadium complete with cheese curds, brats, salad, fruit, cookies and soda – not this year.
We still received lunch, but it was prepackaged, of course.
The chairs were all faced one way at tables and were at least six feet apart.
As a media photographer, I’m normally field level, and I get to walk out the same tunnel the Packers players do.
This year, at least for now, I simply walked into the bowl and found a spot to sit.
I could go anywhere in the stands to get the best vantage point for photos.
I’ve concluded the best spots for pictures are behind the end zones and the corner of the end zones, at least for me and my equipment.
Between the 20s, you have players blocking your view, so you have to go higher to get a clear shot.
I don’t have an expensive camera, so the closer I can get the better.
It was comical when the Lions came running out of the tunnel and the public address announcer said, “Being introduced as a team, the Detroit Lions.”
The Detroit players were whooping and hollering, but there were no deafening “boos” from Packers fans.
Green Bay didn’t come out for the National Anthem – the team stood in the tunnel and shut the overhead door until the pre-recorded song was over.
About two-thirds of the Lions left the field while the anthem started, while the other third stood on the back end zone line.
I heard a Packers worker say, “Can I guess the attendance today?”
I won’t talk too much about the game itself, but toward the end of the first half, Detroit safety Will Harris had back-to-back, 15-yard penalties on consecutive plays.
After Harris’ second penalty, I heard Green Bay’s Billy Turner – who was on the sidelines – yell, “Let’s go for three in a row, No. 25.”
On a normal day, I wouldn’t have a prayer of hearing this, so I thought it was funny.
At halftime, I went inside to use the bathroom and get a drink.
I wasn’t gone long but long enough to miss the opening play from scrimmage for the Packers – Aaron Jones’ 75-yard scamper for a touchdown.
I walked out just in time to see the team mobbing him in the end zone.
Later in the game, I was in the right place at the right time to snap cornerback Chandon Sullivan’s pick-six of Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford.
I also witnessed Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers complete a pass to himself.
His throw was batted into the air by a defender, and it fell back into his arms for a six-yard loss.
Normally, after a game, I can rush the field and get close-up shots of the players – it’s my favorite time of the day.
I’ve had players pose for photos and ask me to send them later.
A few years ago, I took a photo of Chuck Liddell, a mixed martial arts fighter who attended a game, and last year, I snapped a photo of Fox sideline reporter Erin Andrews.
I had to stay in the stands for this game, so it wasn’t quite as much fun.
People have asked what it was like shooting pictures in an empty Lambeau.
I tell them, “It was weird and like watching a high school football game in a nearly-empty, 78,000-seat stadium.”
You could hear every cuss word, audible, the fake crowd noise, and the players clapping.
There were lots of things I saw and heard, that I have no idea about when there’s a bunch of screaming fans inside.
I’m not used to wearing a mask for six hours, so that was tough, too.
After the game, I turned in my vest and walked out of the stadium.
Another advantage was not fighting traffic for 30 minutes to get home.