Packers Will Close Preseason On Friday Afternoon

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Fans, you'll want to ask your supervisors for a few extra hours off. Labor Day weekend just got a little more exciting.

Asked by the league to move their preseason finale, the Packers now will play their final tuneup for the 2006 season by hosting Tennessee in a 3 p.m. contest, Friday, Sept. 1.

The motivation behind the unusual kickoff time, a weekday matinee? The Packers chose to bow to high school football.

"High school football is huge here," said team President Bob Harlan, who has lived in the area since 1971. "All along, with the original Thursday date and now the 3 p.m. kickoff on a Friday, we didn't want to go head-to-head with the high schools."

And in previous instances when the Packers have played on Friday night, the community has been stretched thin. Each Lambeau Field game brings several thousand visitors to Green Bay. That combined with dozens of schools hosting football games throughout the area can make traffic an issue.

That's not the main issue, though. According to Dick Rundle, the main issue is a conflict of attention.

"In many communities, the high school game is the highlight of the week," said Rundle, executive director of the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association. "Everyone knows, you cannot compete with the Packers. If the Packers were playing on a Friday night, our local high school games would become a mom and pop league. Mothers and dads would be there but the rest of the people would be home glued to their television sets."

One of those communities is Ripon, a town of 7,000 situated a little more than an hour from Green Bay. Ripon High School has scheduled a 7 p.m. kickoff Sept. 1 with Sheboygan Falls. The game marks Ripon's first home contest since the Tigers' 2005 Division 4 state championship.

Dan Tjernagel, Ripon's principal, said a large portion of the town turns out for every home game. Had the Packers played in the same time slot, the town might have been torn between the NFL team and its local athletes.

"There's a good chance that a lot of our families would travel up to Green Bay, or at least be listening to the game in the stands on the radio," Tjernagel said. "As an advocate for student athletes, we really appreciate that the Packers made an effort to schedule around our game, even though it caused difficulties on their end."

Rundle also appreciates the gesture.

"This is a tremendous concession on the Packers' part," Rundle said. "It's a great exhibit of the organization's integrity that they would choose to not obstruct the programs on a Friday night."

While the high schools applaud the decision, the move was difficult to make. That's because the team realized many fans would be upset.

Harlan hopes the timing of the game will ease some of those concerns.

"I feel better about it knowing it's the Friday of Labor Day weekend," Harlan said. "I hope a lot of our fans were planning to be off from work in the first place, but I know some will have to work.

"Whenever we have to change our schedule - and it's never our choice to change - a lot of our fans get upset. We realize we're never going to please everyone. In this case, we just felt that the best decision for the entire state was to play at 3 p.m. and avoid the conflict with high schools."

In March the NFL announced its national preseason TV games and gave Green Bay a Monday Aug. 28 assignment at Cincinnati, on ESPN. Except for games on national TV, the league gives the Packers and their preseason opponents freedom to schedule specific dates and times for each kickoff.

But given the locked-in Aug. 28 game at Cincinnati, the Packers needed to weigh several factors in scheduling their finale with Tennessee. The overriding factor was the conflict with high schools.

The team felt so strongly about high schools that it chose last month to announce a Thursday night, Aug. 31, finale with the Titans even though it knew about a pre-existing NFL directive. That directive asks clubs not to schedule preseason games less than four days apart. The Packers went ahead with the Thursday slot and submitted their agreement with Tennessee to the league office.

"We were really hopeful the league would understand and grant us a waiver for this season," Harlan said. "But we also understand why they didn't go along with us on this."

So fans, get ready for Friday afternoon football on Labor Day weekend. Packers players will fight for the remaining spots on the 53-man roster during a businessperson's special, Lambeau style.

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