GREEN BAY, Wis. — The reaction at the time bordered on hysteria. Green Bay Packers fans were desperate to get their hands on a box of “Frozen Tundra” turf that had recently been removed from Lambeau Field. Cars were backed up for blocks around the stadium, all waiting in line with the hope that they’d make it to the front before it was sold out.
Sixteen years later, many fans still cherish their piece of Packers history that they purchased for $10 on that cold January day in 1997.
“We have it in the box on our display case,” said 37-year-old Chris Asher, who now lives in Missouri. “We’re kind of memorabilia collectors. I have a helmet that my husband got me that’s signed by the Packers team from that year, and (the Frozen Tundra) is right next to that.”
Anthony Hartel of Sturgeon Bay was 4 years old when he went with his father to purchase five boxes of the sod from Lambeau Field.
“We have ours planted in the backyard,” said Hartel, now 20. “We have a stake down to mark it so we know where it is out there. We had a lot of relatives outside of Wisconsin who follow the Packers, so one of the boxes went out to Texas and they did the same thing with theirs.”
Others, like Henry Sauer, still have it in a basement freezer.
Of course, some Packers fans have since gotten rid of their once-prized possession.
“The freezer was replaced last summer, (and) the tundra didn’t make the transfer,” said Brad Rzepinski, 31, of Waukesha. “I always used to look in there and see this yellow and green box.”
There are also plenty of boxes of Frozen Tundra packed away in people’s basements.
“It’s got to be down there somewhere,” said 33-year-old Nick Yohanek of Whitewater. “They were just in storage for 10 years. I had it displayed for a while, though.”
The father-in-law of one fan, Troy Hewitt of Green Bay, sold one of his boxes to a pawn shop in Las Vegas for $50. Yohanek got only $20 when he sold his extra box to a Packers collector.
For those fans who have opened the decorative Frozen Tundra box in recent years, the contents inside are no longer what they once were.
“It had grass when we got it,” Asher said. “Now it’s just dried up dirt.”
Added Rzepinski: “That patch of grass turned into solid dirt with parcels of green and yellow foliage. It looks like your neighbor could have cut it out and just put it in that box.”
On Jan. 8, 1997, the Packers’ team president at the time, Bob Harlan, announced the sod sale would take place two weeks later with proceeds being divided among four Green Bay charities.
It was perfect timing, too, as it went on sale the day before the Packers played (and defeated) the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI.
“It was Packers mania at the time,” Rzepinski said. “The Packers were getting back to success and my parents bought everything with a Packers logo.”
Nearly 25,000 boxes of Frozen Tundra were sold out in less than three hours. Each box included a bag of sod and a certificate of authenticity signed by Harlan and Lambeau Field supervisor Todd Edlebeck.
The Lambeau Field turf had to be replaced as a result of the “Mud Bowl” between Green Bay and the visiting San Francisco 49ers in an NFC divisional-round game.
The Packers ended up holding two more Frozen Tundra sales in the following two months. The additional sales came about when it was discovered that the brand new sod — which had been brought in from Maryland — was a type of turf that would not grow in Green Bay’s climate.
So, after just one game on that new turf (a 30-13 Packers win over the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship Game), more Lambeau Field sod was put up for sale. One of the additional sales of Frozen Tundra took place in Milwaukee, where the Packers used to play select home games at County Stadium, the previous home of the Brewers baseball team.
While the box of sod itself doesn’t hold as much meaning to some Packers fans as it once did, the memory of spending an entire morning outside Lambeau Field waiting in line in freezing temperatures for a clump of dirt will last a lifetime.
“I remember how many cars there were; people were everywhere,” Yohanek said. “There were just hundreds of pallets of these things. It was a cool experience.”