Manning, Colts to Make First Visit to Lambeau Field Since '00
INDIANAPOLIS – The memory isn't among Peyton Manning's most pleasant.
This was November of 2000, the Colts' eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback's first visit to Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., one of the NFL's most storied venues and a place the Colts will visit for the first time in eight years on Sunday.
It was cold. There was snow.
Manning dropped to pass on the game's first play . . .
"I remember being excited to go up there," Manning said Wednesday afternoon as the Colts (3-2), the five-time defending AFC South champions, prepared to play the defending NFC North champion Green Bay Packers (3-3) at Lambeau Field Sunday at 4:15 p.m.
"It was my first time playing up there, and of course, playing against (then-Packers quarterback) Brett Favre. It didn't start out well. There were the elements and it was kind of a light snow. First play of the game, I dropped back and the ball fell out of my hands and went out of the end zone for a safety.
"Not exactly how you want to start a game out on the road."
Not the best memory of Manning's 11 seasons, but opponents having difficulty at Lambeau isn't all that uncommon, either.
Lambeau Field is not only of the NFL's most revered venues – it has its own section in the Packers' media guide titled "Hallowed Ground – it provides the Packers one of the NFL's most distinct home-field advantages.
Since 1992, the first of 16 seasons Favre – now with the New York Jets – as the team's starter, the team has an NFL-best 98-33 record at home. Despite losses in their last two home games, the Packers – who last week rallied from a first-half deficit to win in Seattle, 27-17 – have won 10 of their last 13 games there.
Lambeau Field, which hosted its first Packers game in 1957, is the NFL's longest continuously-occupied home stadium, and the Packers' 52-year continuous tenure there is the third-longest in professional sbehind baseball's Fenway Park (Boston) and Wrigley Field (Chicago Cubs).
"It's a great place," said Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, who hasn't played in Lambeau Field since the preseason of his rookie season with New England, 1996. "We all know about Lambeau Field – the frozen tundra and (Hall of Famer Packers Head Coach Vince) Lombardi – so it's a neat place to be.
"The fans are pretty wild and crazy. It should be a fun game to be there."
The stadium has hosted some of the NFL's most legendary games, most notably the 1967 Ice Bowl, and has been the site of three NFL Championship Games – 1961, 1965 and 1967 and two NFC Championship Games – following the 1996 and 2007 seasons.
"You hear about the historical games that were played in that stadium, so obviously I'm very excited to be going up there to play for the first time," Colts middle linebacker Gary Brackett said.
Brackett's far from alone. Of the 53 players on the Colts' active roster, only Manning, wide receiver Marvin Harrison, punter Hunter Smith, center Jeff Saturday, long snapper Justin Snow, linebacker Buster Davis (formerly with Detroit) and defensive tackle Daniel Muir (played for Green Bay last season) have played in Lambeau.
"I have talked to them about what it's going to be like," Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said. "It's going to be like a large high school game – a great atmosphere. They have tremendous fans. It's a very intimate setting in that stadium. There's a lot of history, but it's still a 100-yard field with a lot of noise and you have to go out there and perform. It's not all that different but it's going to be a fun experience."
Dungy, who never has coached in Lambeau with the Colts, coached there seven times – six in the regular season and in the playoffs following the 1997 regular season – as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1996-2001. The Bucs' record in Lambeau over that span: 0-7.
"That is a bad subject to bring up," Dungy said. "I found a lot of ways to lose games up there, so we need to get this one."
Dungy said playing in Lambeau does present one minor . . . distraction.
"Best brats (bratwursts) in the league by far, in the Green Bay press box," Dungy said, smiling. "I'm going to see if I can get someone to send one down to me."
Dining opportunities aside, Brackett said the impact of a venue is felt before the game, but not during.
"You see the atmosphere and see what it entails," Brackett said. "Last year, it was Oakland, driving up to the stadium, seeing some of the . . . gestures . . . the fans had before the game, but all of that kind of fades away. When the whistle blows, it's still going to be blocking and tackling."
Said Vinatieri, "The earlier you can get all that out of your head and get focused in on football, that's the No. 1 thing to do."
And Manning said while the history of the stadium is meaningful, what he remembered as much about the November 2000 game as the surroundings or the fumble/safety was what happened afterward. The Colts fell behind 19-0 before rallying to cut the deficit to 19-17 and 26-24 before Favre converted a late third down to secure the victory.
"I do remember it was exciting to play up there," Manning said. "It is a special place to play, and I'm looking forward to going up there again. Hopefully, we can play better than we did last time and hopefully get a win.
"You appreciate the opportunity to play in a place as historic as that place, with all the great players and coaches who have been there. Being somewhat of a guy who appreciates the history of the game, it is special. Obviously, when it gets down to it, you're still focusing on reading the mike (middle) linebacker or the strong safety and going out and playing football, but you do get excited about the opportunity to play there."