Scott Fowler

Lambeau Field offers shivery ‘Friday Night Lights’ setting for Panthers vs. Packers

During a 2007 Carolina-Green Bay game at Lambeau Field, Packers fans showed what they felt about one of the sports world’s greatest cathedrals. The Panthers and Packers play Sunday at Lambeau at 4:25 p.m.
During a 2007 Carolina-Green Bay game at Lambeau Field, Packers fans showed what they felt about one of the sports world’s greatest cathedrals. The Panthers and Packers play Sunday at Lambeau at 4:25 p.m. Staff Photographer

Lambeau Field doesn’t seem like it ought to exist, except perhaps as a movie set.

But there it is, dominating a little town in Wisconsin, housing the Green Bay Packers in the NFL’s smallest market and, on Sunday, welcoming the Carolina Panthers.

Lambeau stands as one of the sporting world’s greatest cathedrals. When it opened in 1957, at a cost of $960,000, Vice President Richard Nixon was among those who attended the first game. Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr, Brett Favre and Reggie White have all made their names there.

If you’re an NFL fan and have never been inside, put it on your bucket list. Like Cameron Indoor Stadium for a Duke-UNC game, you must see it to believe it.

“Lambeau is in the middle of nowhere,” Carolina Panthers safety Tre Boston said. “And then to see how the fans all show up — it almost has that Texas ‘Friday Night Lights’ feel. The Packers are so beloved.”

Green Bay (7-2) and Carolina (5-3) will face each other Sunday in a 4:25 p.m. game with NFC playoff implications. The chance of snow isn’t great — 10 percent in the advance forecasts, although it already snowed there earlier this week. But the chance of shivering is 100 percent. The high will be 36 degrees Sunday, and by the time the game finishes in the darkness, it will be closer to 19.

Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey and quarterback Kyle Allen have proclaimed that they are looking forward to Sunday on the “frozen tundra,” as the Panthers try to overcome quarterback Aaron Rodgers and win in a place where Rodgers isn’t used to losing.

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Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) throws downfield against Carolina in 2017. Rodgers has the Packers at 7-2 in 2019, although Green Bay lost Sunday to the L.A. Chargers. David T. Foster III dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Of course, the Panthers could also get beat in the cold — and indeed, most people think they will. Green Bay is favored by five points.

The Panthers have had experience with both sides of that equation at Lambeau, as longtime Carolina fans will remember.

During the 1996 postseason, the Panthers made it to the NFC Championship in only their second year — at Green Bay. I was there, and I’ve never been in a colder stadium. The temperature at kickoff was 3 degrees; the wind chill was negative-17. One Panther player later told me it was the first time in his life that he spit on the field and it bounced.

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Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre raised his arms in exultation at Lambeau Field during the Packers’ 30-13 win over Carolina in the 1996 NFC Championship. BOB LEVERONE

Carolina actually led, 7-0 and 10-7, before a fearsome Green Bay team led by Favre and White pulled away, 30-13.

In a 1999 regular-season game, Carolina trailed, 31-27, at Green Bay with five seconds left in the game and the ball at the Packers 5. The Panthers had run for only eight yards the entire day, which made George Seifert’s call for a quarterback draw with slow-footed Steve Beuerlein even more inexplicable.

But Green Bay rushed only three linemen. Beuerlein saw an opening and leaped for the goal line while getting blasted in the knee by a Packers safety.

“I thought he had blown out my knee,” Beuerlein once told me. “So I had the extreme joy of knowing we just won but I was also in excruciating pain. Imagine the dichotomy: I was in absolute agony and absolutely elated at the same time.”

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Panthers quarterback Steve Beuerlein (7) is congratulated by a team staff member in 1999 as he leaves Lambeau Field after scoring on a draw play to edge Green Bay, 33-31. JEFF SINER

Beuerlein’s knee turned out to be OK, and Carolina won.

The Panthers have had their share of more recent success against Green Bay, too. On Dec. 17, 2017 — the same day former Panthers team owner Jerry Richardson announced he would sell the team seven hours after an explosive Sports Illustrated story about Richardson’s workplace misconduct was released — Cam Newton out-dueled Rodgers in a 31-24 Carolina win.

That was nearly two years ago, and the two teams haven’t played since then.

Carolina now has a new owner and -- at least for the rest of 2019, given Cam Newton’s new location injured reserve -- a new quarterback in Kyle Allen.

Green Bay still has Rodgers. And Sunday will be fun.

Prediction time. I moved to 6-2 picking Carolina’s games last week by choosing the Panthers to beat Tennessee at home. This time I think the combination of Aaron Rodgers and the Lambeau magic will prove a little too much for the Panthers. My pick: Green Bay 27, Carolina 23.

Sports columnist Scott Fowler has written for The Charlotte Observer since 1994. He has authored or co-authored eight books, including four about the Carolina Panthers. In 2018, Fowler won the Thomas Wolfe award for outstanding newspaper writing. He also hosted the Observer’s hit podcast “Carruth,” which Sports Illustrated named the best podcast of the year in 2018.
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