Every day of the 2015 Chicago Bears season, Chicago Sun-Times Sports will revisit its coverage 30 years ago during the 1985 Bears’ run to a Super Bowl title.
A survival guide for Bear Fans
Originally published Nov. 1, 1985
GREEN BAY, Wis. — We were roaring up Interstate 94 like a wounded grizzly, and life in the rearview mirror of the recreational vehicle was not pretty. The jolly campers were mixing Bloody Marys with motor oil, eating uptime brownies for breakfast and peeling oranges as I was
We were tailgaters to hell.
Or even worse, Wisconsin.
There’s no truth to the rumor the Wisconsin state slogan is “More Sauce!” But when approaching Lambeau Field via Lombardi Drive, the dense clouds of barbecue smoke hovering over God’s country made it look as if they had just dropped the big bratwurst. Cheddar Heads of all shapes and sizes – meaning pudgy white people – gather hours before Green Bay Packers games to engage in some steamy group tailgating. Once again, it will be the Coal Bowl in the tailgating capital of the world at noon Sunday, when the Central Division-leading Bears (8-0) meet the Packers (3-5) for the 71st time, this time at the retro-style Lambeau Field.
“Tailgating started in 1957 when Lambeau Field was built,” said Jerry Mortell, Packers timekeeper, past president of the Lorelei Quarterback Club of Green Bay – and one of the country’s first tailgaters. “An incredible number of season-ticket holders are from outside of Green Bay, and tailgating is how they always get together.
“When the stadium was built, there weren’t any hotels and meeting places, so it started off on a smaller scale with brats and beers only on nice days before the game,” Mortell said. “It has come so far now that companies cater tailgating parties before every game.”
The jolly campers even met a guy wandering around the parking lot dressed in an alligator outfit and football pads. He called himself “The Tail Gator.”
The only way to tailgate is in a recreational vehicle, which has all the comforts of home – including police protection. In tooling the 30-foot motor home we rented from Motor Vacations Unlimited in Elgin, I discovered how to take the RV up to speeds of 70 m.p.h., laughing madly
as my passengers bounced around the living room like stoned CTA riders. And I didn’t get into an ounce of trouble.
The idea is to good-buddy everybody.
I wore my Skol chewing tobacco cap, and every time I passed an RV or a squad car, I would flash a toothy smile, tip my cap and wave hello to my good buddy. If Mike Ditka knew how to good-buddy, he wouldn’t be headed off to driver’s instruction class.
Everybody’s a good buddy when you own one of these boats, which retail in the neighborhood of $40,000 and rent for $145 a day. Our 1985 Cruise Master RV (which we christened the Cruise Master Blaster) had a living room, kitchen with sink, stove, oven and refrigerator (smaller
than William Perry), a two-bed bedroom, a bathroom and shower as well as air-conditioning and heater. The RV has the capability to sleep six, through natty foldaways and space-saving designs. Charles Kuralt rents a similar home from Motor Vacations Unlimited for his CBS-TV “On the Road” reports.
Ed Sprinkle, fleet manager at Motor Vacations Unlimited, said tailgating is gaining popularity in the Chicago area.
“The most common rental for homes like this is tailgating, which really caught on this fall,” Sprinkle said. “It seems to be a new thing catching on in Chicago. It used to be tailgating parties were only big in California, Kansas City and Dallas, where it was a way of life at
football and baseball games. I went to the Bears game a couple of weeks ago between 1944 and 1956, Sprinkle was a defensive end for the Bears and that whole east parking lot was full of RVs.”
Chicago Park District General Supt. Edmund L. Kelly has since issued a ban on tailgate parties in the east and south parking lots, saying the barbecue blowouts were a safety hazard. Kelly said Bears fans “dragged tables and chairs all over the place” and that fires were started in trash cans. Barbecues still are permitted in the north parking lot near the Field Museum and in the field at the Petrillo Music Shell.
There’s an entire tailgating underground that hits the road with a wild “Wagon Train” philosophy, Sprinkle said.
“George Boy Manufacturing Co. makes a lot of these RVs, and they have a club that has RV rallies two or three times a year,” he said. “Everybody displays his coach, gets drunk and has a good time. It’s like a 1980s Oregon Trail.”
The four-hour drive north to Green Bay is about as stimulating as the Oregon Trail. The jolly campers in the Cruise Master Blaster included Kerry and John, veteran tailgaters who started their career years ago at University of Illinois football games; Judy and Angie, who were tailgating virgins, plus me and Wendy, respectively the pilot and the stewardess for the day.
After spending Saturday night camping out underneath the Schaumburg water tower at Woodfield Mall (that’s another story), we picked up our passengers and promptly stocked a supply of on-the-road coffee in no-spill plastic cups at a White Hen Pantry on Clark Street. That’s when you know it isn’t going to be a rustic tailgating experience – dodging Clark Street bag men at sunrise, drinking no-spill coffee in a 30-foot motor home while listening to Fun Boy Three on the RV stereo.
None of the jolly campers seemed to mind that we only had two tickets to distribute among six people for the Packers-Detroit Lions game. Green Bay home games have been sold out since 1957. (A few no-show tickets are sold near Will Call at the kickoff.)
One of our happy tailgating neighbors in the Packers RV parking lot was Carl Johnson of Escanaba, Mich.
“Lots of people come here without tickets,” Johnson said. “They go to the bars and watch the ball game on television. Go over to Kroll’s west of the stadium at 1900 S. Ridge, 414-497-1111 to watch the game. Before and after the game is when you do the tailgating.
“And tell Chicago people that the best time to get here is 2 1/2 hours before the game – otherwise they’ll get stuck in long lines into the parking lot,” Johnson said. “Also, take it easy when you leave. There are cops pulling everyone over from here to the Wisconsin border. You’ve really gotta have a designated driver.”
If you don’t have tickets to Sunday’s Bears-Packers game, you also gotta have designated entertainment. Before the game, walk south of the RV parking lot to June’s house. June opens her home up to all kinds of
“I’ve been having pre-game parties here since 1971, when I bought the place,” said June, watching over pot roast in the steamy kitchen. “The people had already been using the front yard as a parking lot, and I didn’t know about opening the place up at first. After I talked to my insurance company, I went ahead with it.
“The best thing about this is the fans who come back year after year,” she said. “I don’t know how many people who come through here on the day of a game, but we use five rolls of toilet paper in the bathroom upstairs.”
I asked June to design a menu for novice tailgaters from Chicago.
“Some of these people set up a bar that would put some of the bars around town to shame,” she said. “They come with tablecloths, centerpieces and food from T-bone steaks to sirloins to tenderloins. A guy called me this week and wanted to rent a spot to sell boudin. Then, at 9 in the morning, they’re out in front making a Packer drink of Champagne and orange juice.”
That’s just about the perfect fuel to deal with the Packer Hall of Fame, which we visited while Kerry and John enjoyed the Packers’ 41-10 romp over the Lions.
The Packer Hall of Fame is on Lombardi Avenue, directly on the east side of Lambeau Field. You will be able to find it by the decidedly Ya-Hey “World’s Largest Autographed Football,” where museum visitors can pay $1,000 per person to sign the 11-foot-long concrete football, also called “The Receiver” because of the 22-foot-tall Max McGee look-alike atop the football. The football’s brochure explains that the work of art is in front of the museum because Green Bay is “The Birthplace of the Professional Forward Pass.”
Unless you’re a die-hard Packers fan, the museum is hardly worth the $5 admission. The best part for me and Angie was the armchair-quarterback section, where mock portions of Lambeau Field are set up and you’re invited to actually kick field goals and throw footballs through target holes. This section is designed primarily for kids, which is why we had so much fun. We found a pair of content 9-year-olds who were happily kicking field goals before we lectured
them that the game was no fun because they didn’t have to worry about a big-time pass rush. The kids let me and Angie play the roles of Willie Davis and Ray Nitschke, and we blitzed the chu-bops out of them, blocking a heady portion of their kicks.
They wouldn’t play with us anymore.
Before leaving the museum, we stopped in the souvenir shop to purchase a commemorative pennant with a smiling, elflike Packer for the back of our Cruise Master Blaster so we could be good buddies to our highway neighbors on the trip home.
At this point, the Packers game had stumbled to half time, so we walked back to the Cruise Master Blaster. Angie and Judy tuned in the Bears-Tampa Bay game on the radio, and Wendy checked on the barbecued chicken in the oven. I climbed up on the top of the Cruise Master Blaster and wondered just what I was doing here – until I saw dozens of other fans cooped up in their RVs, watching the game on television.
The things people will do for a good time.
The Packers had built up such a big lead midway through the third quarter that fans began to leave to get a head start on that barbecue. From the dazed and drunken looks on most of their faces, it seemed as if they had been dinging Detroit’s defensive line sans helmets.
We did our urbane style of tailgating – chicken, potato salad and macaroni salad – during the second half so we were able to escape most of our neighbors’ postgame culinary carnage.
By the time we pulled out of the shadows of Lambeau Field, rolling by the tailgaters in front of the Green Bay K mart, I felt the weary effects of a one-day journey that would have tired Chris Columbus. A few hours later we were in cruise control outside of Milwaukee when I scoped out an all-polka radio show. The jolly campers began dancing in the living room, Angie was good-buddying the passing cars and someone began shouting “More Sauce!”
Ah, the road – she’s such a beast.