Coming From Near And Far, Shareholders Tour Lambeau

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Packers fans came from all over the country on Tuesday for the shareholders' tour of Lambeau Field.

Make that all over the world.

Alan Austin of Brisbane, Australia, was one of thousands of fans getting a peek inside the locker room and other players-only areas in a special tour for Packers' shareholders prior to Wednesday's annual meeting.

"A lot of folk in Australia know the Packers, let me tell you," Austin said.

Austin, 62, came as a guest of shareholder Dennis Schneider of Marinette, Wis., continuing a friendship that was struck discussing the Packers in a taxicab in Australia.

Schneider had just finished watching the Packers' dramatic overtime playoff victory over Seattle on Jan. 4, 2004, (which required him to rise at 3 a.m. Australia time to see) and was getting a ride back to the airport from Austin, a cab driver.

The two were chatting about the local cricket scene and the Packers' big win, and 21/2 years later they were walking up the players' tunnel from the field and catching a glimpse of Brett Favre's locker together.

"It's such a unique experience to get to see the insides of a football team," Schneider said. "Not just the stadium, but the locker room, the trophies ..."

"As we say," interrupted Austin, "the inner sanctums."

With hundreds of people lined up early for the tours of the locker room and football facilities, they began roughly 90 minutes before the scheduled noon start and continued the rest of the day.

Approximately 1,500 people went through the tour in the first hour, and the pace hardly slowed after that. Shareholders representing all 50 states and two Canadian provinces were mailed their tickets in advance or picked them up at Lambeau upon arrival.

Fans took photos all along the route, particularly in the locker room, an area not part of the standard Lambeau Field tour.

"They ought to have a picture of what the old locker room was like," said Roger Petitgoue, who came with his wife Evelyn from Sterling, Ill. "Before this one was built."

LeeAnn Leske from St. Paul, Minn., and Earl James from Fort Worth, Texas, were part of the first group through, led by Packers chairman Bob Harlan. The two had become friends through their work in the airline industry and share an affinity for the Packers.

"We've attended games in the past, but this is the first time we've seen the stadium since the remodeling," said James, adding that he went on the standard Lambeau tour on Sunday. "It's wonderful.

"It was particularly exciting with Mr. Harlan leading the group through and explaining things."

James was a guest of Leske, who was given her share of stock by her parents but had never previously attended the shareholders' meeting.

"I didn't know how cool it was until today," she said. "I wouldn't sell it even if I could.

"I'm looking forward to tomorrow."

So are Tom Panzlau and his son Nick, who came from Albuquerque, N.M., for the annual event.

Tom, 62, was raised in Flint, Mich., and regularly attended the Packers-Lions Thanksgiving game in Detroit growing up. He bought his share of stock online during the 1997-98 sale while working in the military school system in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and came to Lambeau for the first time on Tuesday.

"The most dramatic thing for me was seeing the field," he said. "That was the main reason I came to the shareholders' meeting, to see the stadium."

His son, a recent graduate of the University of New Mexico (which he duly noted is the alma mater of 1998 sixth-round draft choice Scott McGarrahan, one of only two Lobos ever drafted by the Packers), was particularly impressed with the weight room.

"Seeing where they work out, compared to the University of New Mexico, it blows it out of the water," Nick said.

The Panzlaus haven't been to a game at Lambeau yet, but Elliot and Lorraine Glicksman of Tucson, Az., came to their first last year and annually plan their vacation around the shareholders' meeting, with this being their fifth time in attendance.

Their game tickets last year happened to be for the 52-3 blowout of the New Orleans Saints.

"That was the right game to come to," said Elliot, who lived in Wisconsin until the mid-1970s but has remained an avid Packer fan since.

Prior to last year, the Glicksmans had attended Green Bay games in Arizona when the Packers played the Cardinals.

"There were always more Packer fans there than Cardinal fans," Lorraine said. "It was like being in Green Bay."

Seeing that kind of support, along with the genuine appreciation the organization shows for its shareholders, is just part of what endears the Packers to their hearts.

"The Packers are more than football. It's the people owning the team, all the small-town stuff," Elliot said. "The story of the Packers is such a great American story."

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