Wednesday, January 5, 2011

With help from cranes, 'Lambeau Leap' to reach the cheap seats

Green Bay, WI--Why do the fans with the best seats in the house have to have all the fun? This was a question that the Green Bay Packers' front office--and the faithful Cheeseheads--asked themselves during the offseason last year.

"Really, why do the people in the front row not only get the best views but also get to experience the 'Lambeau Leap?'" said Kyle Renault, Packers' vice president of marketing. "It's not fair and, to their credit, our fans let us know this."

Carol Sperrier sits in the top row of section 134 in the corner of the end zone in legendary Lambeau Field. Her season tickets were passed on to her from her father who received them from his father who stole them in the middle of the night from his grandfather.

"I wrote a letter to Mr Renault last spring," said Sperrier, who lives in Green Bay and works at the Polly-O String Cheese factory ('It's the Best Part of the Factory'). "I told him the 'Lambeau Leap' didn't have to be for only the privileged people. I included a diagram of how a crane could be used to bring the players to the nosebleed seats."

The "Lambeau Leap," named for the historic sports landmark, is the name for the celebration following a touchdown when the scoring player jumps into the first row and into the waiting arms of fans where he is swallowed up and showered with pats and praise. Well, the first few rows will no longer be the sole beneficiaries of this Packer tradition.

Beginning next season, after scoring touchdown, the player will run to the corner of the field where a crane's hook will be positioned. The player will then quickly put on a harness, tested for over 600 pounds (in the case a lineman rumbles into the end zone), that is connected to the end of the hook. A thumbs up by the athlete will indicate readiness and with a flash will be raised to heights of 60 ft or more and lowered into the upper seating sections of Lambeau Field.

"The whole stadium will now feel like they have a front row seat," said Renault. "This is groundbreaking stuff. Soon, all NFL stadiums will be hoisting players to the far reaches of a stadium to embrace the common fan. This is great for the game."

Not all agree with Renault and rabid Packers fans.

"This will just add more time to a game," said noted football historian and purist, Baxter Livingston, whose new book, Beyond the Four-yard Line: A History of the Five-yard Line, is due out in February. "It's called the leap because the players are using their own strength to jump into the stands. Artificially extending this leap with the help of technology is truly unjust and can be labeled a crime."

"What about possible injuries resulting from falls from the crane?" asked NFL Players Association vice president Steve Harold, who would rather see players walk to the top of stadiums after games to greet and mingle with fans. "What if the harness breaks? It's not safe to have flying players. It's just not. Have you been reading the news about the Spider-Man musical?"

The NFL, which has cracked down severely on player celebrations in recent years, has, surprisingly, backed the idea.

"Growing up in Jamestown, NY, I was a huge Bills fan," said NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, about the team that was established in Buffalo in 1959, the year he was born. "We always ended up sitting in the upper deck of War Memorial Stadium and we always missed out on the 'War Memorial Janitorial.' This was the name for the players' leap into the stands after a score because all the soda, beer and popcorn in the vicinity were always knocked over during the jump, which upset the stadium's janitors."

The current plan calls for two cranes on the field, one behind each end zone, however, one of these will be mobile and the other stationary. The Packers front office would like to use next year as a test to determine which style crane is better.

"I can't wait until next year," said Aaron Rodgers, Packers' quarterback. "I don't like heights but this sounds really cool. I just hope they don't slam me into the plexi-glass of one of the luxury boxes."

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