TEMPE, Ariz. — Paris Lenon was a Green Bay rookie in 2002 when he received his Packers indoctrination.
Every year at training camp, the club has a tradition featuring kids bringing their bikes to Lambeau Field, sticking pegs in the back-wheel spokes, carrying a player’s helmet and hitching a ride across Oneida St. to the club’s practice facility while 250- and 300-pound players pedal bikes never intended for such abuse.
Lenon’s 10-year-old companion, Melissa, had a particularly small bike, so Lenon’s knees regularly hit the handlebars when he pedaled.
“I was like, ‘Man, I wish you had a bigger bike,'” Lenon told Melissa. “The next year she came, she had a bigger bike and it was all good.”
Not quite. Melissa was attending band camp for the first week of 2003 training camp. Without her, Lenon chose another girl — until Melissa returned and delivered a harsh rebuke to the interloper.
“Leaving practice, the girl whose bike I rode came up to me,” Lenon said. “She informed me that she wasn’t going to give me a ride any more because Melissa told her, ‘He rides my bike!'”
From the cozy feel of the NFL’s smallest media market to the goofy-looking cheeseheads to the celebratory Lambeau Leap, there are a million traditions that make the Packers experience unique.
The Cardinals will get a small taste of that life and that storied history when they play in Green Bay this Sunday on what is expected to be a brisk (39 degrees) but otherwise pleasant day on the shores of Lake Michigan.
“Lambeau is a special place, and I think every player should have an opportunity to play there,” said Cardinals guard Daryn Colledge, who played for the Packers from 2006-10 and won a Super Bowl there. “Green Bay’s a small town. It’s all about football. Those guys live and breathe that year-round. For them, it’s almost like a college football atmosphere and it’s great.”
Colledge, Lenon and veteran defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday (1998-2002) all carry special memories from their time with the Packers, even if the spotlight was sometimes a bit too intrusive.
“They’re going to talk to you at the gas station and the grocery store, when you’re out at the restaurant,” Colledge said. “They know where you played, they know about your family, they know about how you played last game and they have no problem telling you about it.”
But there is an equal, if not greater, number of perks associated with playing in Green Bay.
“The great thing about there is, regardless of where you are, it’s always close,” said Lenon, who lived in West De Pere. “It took me like eight minutes to get to the stadium every day.”
Once inside the stadium, opponents are treated to one of the most colorful and unified fan bases in all of sports, due in part to many of them being actual shareholders in the team.
“When you win around here, the way that you’re revered and taken care of and treated as a former player is pretty special,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.
That crowd has an impact on outcomes, as well: Green Bay is 24-4 at home over the past four seasons.
“There’s no question that there’s some historical significance to it, but I don’t think it will affect our players,” Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “This is a hostile environment, much like New England and much like Minnesota. It’s a challenge, but we’ve got an opportunity to meet that challenge.”