Retro Charlotte

Panthers vs. Green Bay for the 1997 NFC Championship

Green Bay packers running back Dorsey Levens (25) breaks away from Carolina Panthers' Chad Cota for a gain in the second quarter of the NFC Championship game Sunday, Jan. 12, 1997, in Green Bay, Wis. The Packers won 30-13 to advance to Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans.
Green Bay packers running back Dorsey Levens (25) breaks away from Carolina Panthers' Chad Cota for a gain in the second quarter of the NFC Championship game Sunday, Jan. 12, 1997, in Green Bay, Wis. The Packers won 30-13 to advance to Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans. AP

‘Yeah, It’s Really That Cold, But Does It Get Any Better?’

Tommy Tomlinson, Staff Writer

January 12, 1997

Dear Panthers fans,

Mark Clapp of Charlotte probably said it best as he stood here in the eyeball-freezing cold outside Green Bay's Lambeau Field:

"I would have changed my schedule, mortgaged my house, anything I had to do to get up here. You never know if it's ever going to be like this for the Panthers again. You just have to take the magic carpet ride."

Clapp and Donald Jenkins of Concord had to take two planes and a bus to get to Green Bay on Saturday, just hours before today's NFC Championship Game between the Panthers and the Green Bay Packers.

Everybody likes to think the Panthers will make it to games like this year after year. But you never know. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made the NFC title game in their fourth year and have barely sniffed the playoffs since. This may be as good as it ever gets for the Panthers.

But this is pretty doggone great.

This city of 96,000 - and the dozens of snow-blown towns around it - are nuts about the Packers.

Down in Manitowoc, about 35 miles south of Green Bay, the Wal-Mart was selling talking Brett Favre dolls - punch the button and you could hear the Packers' star quarterback relive highlights of his career.

In Green Bay itself, so many people drove around with Packers flags sticking from their windows that they must give them out at the city limits. Nearly every business had some sort of sign in its window: "PACKERS RULE, PANTHERS DROOL," "HERE, KITTY, KITTY," "HONK IF U BELIEVE."

By most accounts, fewer than 1,000 of the 60,000 at Lambeau Field today will be Panthers fans. Just a few could even find rooms in Green Bay for the game; most are staying 110 miles away in Milwaukee. The few Panthers fans who filtered into Green Bay on Saturday stood out like tiny blue flowers in a gold-and-green meadow.

A tour bus of Panthers fans stopped off at the Packers Hall of Fame, across the street from Lambeau, to check out acres of displays of Packers history. Roger Cobb of Charlotte is a die-hard Panthers fan, but he still respects the Packers' tradition.

"This is the best place to play a game, the best place to see a game, just the best place for football," Cobb said.

Cobb and his group spent part of Saturday at Shenanigans, the bar owned by legendary Packers player Fuzzy Thurston. Thurston was there at the bar, as well as a packed house of Packers fans.

"They gave us a little grief," John Fitzhugh of Charlotte said with a smile. "But really, they're about as friendly as they can be. I went up to the bar to get some salt and pepper and everybody was talking about how they never expected to see a Panthers sweatshirt inside their bar. But then a guy got up and offered me his seat."

All the Panthers fans were bundled up, trying to beat the cold. But it didn't much matter. In Green Bay, in the wintertime, the cold always beats you.

I jumped out of my car for five minutes to talk with Clapp and Jenkins. I left my ski mask in the car, thinking I wouldn't need it for such a short visit.

Bad move. By the time I got back to the car, my ears felt like you could shatter them with a single thump.

You want real guts? Jenkins went out this morning and jogged in this stuff.

"I was out there running around the stadium in my Tar Heels hat," he said. "It was cold, but I think I'll be all right."

"All we gotta do is last three hours," Clapp said. "I think I can stand it for three hours."

Please, Lord, just one small request: No overtime.

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