A look inside the Lambeau Field press box
Step this way, ladies and gentlemen. It's time to take a tour of the Lambeau Field press box, which since 2003, goes by the official name The Lee Remmel Press Box. When you've been in the organization, and in the press box as long as Lee, you deserve to have it bear you name.
Just what goes on behind the glass high above the Packers' bench? Perhaps we don't want you to know … after all, maybe there's a reason the team tinted the windows.
Actually, it's business as usual, which means members of the media are tending to their weekly chore of covering an NFL game. Oh sure, there is free food and friendly banter amongst the scribes and TV types, but once the pigskin is in play, all eyes are focused on the field.
"While we talk about the sightlines and the food and everything else, we're really up here to do a job," said Tim Van Vooren, the veteran sportscaster at WITI-TV, who makes the Packers beat and the press box his home away from home. "I would rank Green Bay in the top-tier of press boxes in the league."
Re-done and refurbished during the latest round of Lambeau Field renovations, this office on the road for media members who cover the Packers is roomy and efficient. A three-tiered corridor with seating for 250, the view lets observers see the whole field … and even a portion of the Brown County countryside. This is the highest point in the stadium, so binoculars are a popular item on Sundays.
"I'm not complaining being too high up, because fans are a lot colder than me today," laughed Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal. "But I think it's important to be able to share your information accurately, and you need to be able to see what's going on. I could be a lot worse off … I'm at the 30 yard line."
Wilde has been on the Packers beat for 10 seasons now, having filed reports from every NFL city with the exception of Kansas City, where Green Bay travels next season. Cliché, but true for those who set up shop in press boxes around the league, is that there's no place like home.
"I've been in a lot worse," said Wilde. "Chicago (Solider Field) is a bad location; Miami (Dolphins Stadium) is a bad location. Detroit (Ford Field), you're way up high. Giants Stadium is even higher than Green Bay. Gillette Stadium (New England) you sit in the end zone. FedEx Field (Washington) is a tough place to cover a game."
Chatting with members of the press box brigade, Green Bay is a jewel compared to the rest of the NFC North. Others agree with Wilde that Detroit and Chicago both provide anything but the perfect work environments, and the Metrodome in Minneapolis gets a thumbs down as well.
"The Metrodome is always a concern," said Van Vooren. "If you are ever cast out to the baseball press box, you know you've really drawn the short straw."
"Oakland is the worst," said Lance Allan of WTMJ-TV. "You're crammed in like a closet. But Minnesota is a close second."
But one man's outhouse can be another reporter's cozy cove. Wilde said he sees beauty under the inflatable roof in the Twin Cities.
"Minneapolis is great … it's an open air press box with good sightlines," said Wilde. "But Vikings fans are walking past you all game, so that's never pleasant."
"You do have to know the system," said WISN-TV reporter Andy Kendeigh. "If you don't know exactly where you're going at halftime in the Metrodome, you're going to miss the meal!"
Free food may be the two favorite words in the media's vernacular. To some, it can be a measuring stick in rating the working areas around the league. The Packers stack up with the best of them when it comes to curbing the appetite of the working press. A combination breakfast and lunch is offered before every game slated to kick off at noon. When halftime arrives, another meal awaits, and is devoured promptly before the second half begins.
"I do give it points for consistency," said Kendeigh. "You always know at halftime you're going to have your choice of brats and hot dogs, chips and chili. Sometimes they have cookies out during pregame, but not lunch. So I've learned from Tim Van Vooren to stash them!"
Kendeigh's colleague at WISN, Stephanie Sutton, worked in the Bay Area prior to her return to the Midwest. Sutton had few positives for both the Raiders and 49ers setup, including the food, which she said, members of the press had to pay for. Not in Green Bay, where the food is good and free.
"They literally carve roast beef for the press in Tampa," said Sutton. "I like the Packers and Tampa Bay the best. Oakland and San Francisco are both old-school, outdated and small."
Van Vooren is in agreement, noting Monster Park in San Francisco is a lot like the old Solider Field setup. Looking for your chair? Sorry, stools are where the media plants their butts for three hours taking notes. Ah, but at least the venues there have windows and walls around you.
"The worst auxiliary press box was County Stadium (Milwaukee), because it was outside," said Kendeigh. "I actually watched a game in the snow there, and it was so bad, we all watched the second half of the game on TV."
The Packers eventually gave up playing games at County Stadium, and so did the Brewers. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but when you start breaking down the amenities in the room high above the Frozen Tundra, there is little room to file a complaint.
An attentive press box staff of 15 includes three copy people, three members running stats, and nine assistants doing everything from holding elevators to providing escorts for the coaches who also sit high above Lambeau Field. The media is also privy to an in-house public address announcer, local TV news anchor Tom Milbourn from WLUK. His baritone voice is heard exclusively throughout the press area, detailing each and every play on the field.
Milbourn also provides reminders of press conferences and schedules for the week, injury updates, out-of-town scores and weather reports.
"Lambeau Field has the best in-house PA announcer," said Van Vooren. "He gives the most accurate information. Some of these other places, they don't get the names right, give very limited information, and they get the facts wrong. That does not happen here. I remember in San Diego this year for the preseason, Brandon Manumaleuna … tough name, but their own person butchered it twice, and then just gave up … stopped saying he was catching the ball. And that's their own guy!"
Kendeigh added, "We still go on the road and people can't pronounce Kabeer's (Gbaja-Biamila) name … and he's been in the league seven years! I mean, come on!"
One announcement that Milbourn makes before every game, is a disclaimer to remind everyone that the Lee Remmel Press Box is a working press box, and no cheering is allowed. You would think this goes without saying, but around the league, there are armchair quarterbacks wearing a credential who think they have a game ticket as well.
"Chicago is as blatant as anywhere," said Van Vooren. "And a couple of years ago, there were Green Bay people and Chicago people kind of getting into it in the press box." "If there is any cheering here, it's always from the opposing team," said Kendeigh. "Everyone who covers this team (the Packers) is as professional as can be."
To help paint the picture, it isn't library quiet, and in fact, they have to pump in the crowd noise from outside. Without it, the media zone might tend to be a bit sterile and distant from the real world on the other side of the glass. But the view is straight on, unobstructed and parallel with the sidelines -- not the end zones like some stadiums that swap out the media into corner seating.
"Most teams view this as these guys (the media) are not paying for their seats, so we can sell those better seats to people that can pay big money for them," said Wilde. "But of course, if you look at it that way, you lose site of the fact that, you're essentially getting free advertising every single day in the newspaper."
Wilde has as good a seat as anyone when he reports on a game in Green Bay. And since he is a constant, he has customized his living space with all the essential creature comforts: laptop, cell phone, media guides, wireless router, and a mini LCD TV, taking the place of a portable set complete with rabbit ears back in the day.
"It's not as hard as working in a factory like my Dad, so I'm not going to do too much complaining," said Wilde.
Carolina, Seattle, Tennessee and Tampa Bay all got mentioned in the same breath as Green Bay during this informal survey of venues that shine. But even the facilities that rate poorly at least get these reporters off the field, and out of the elements. You stay warm and dry, but lose a little tucked away indoors.
"I shot (on the field) when I was working in Rhinelander and Green Bay, and you get a feel of the crowd and the emotion of the game," said Allan. "You can feel and experience the speed of the game down low."
"When we were down low in the old Lambeau press box, you definitely got a feel for the game more … how the crowd was … you were in the middle of it," recalled Wilde. "It had its drawbacks, but from a sightline perspective and a feel of the game perspective, there was nothing like it."
One of those drawbacks has been rectified. The weather outside may be frightful, but inside the Lee Remmel Press Box, it is always delightful.
"The (old press box) heater had two settings, HELL, and HELL FROZEN OVER," joked Wilde. "It was on during the game and you wish you were wearing shorts, and then after the game you're wearing your coat and typing with your gloves on."
Lee Remmel, who's been a member of Green Bay's public relations front office for 33 years, recalls the 1960s version of the press box was a cramped, smoke-filled set of tables and chairs.
"Primitive, compared to what we have today, that's for sure," said Remmel.
Remmel, who was a writer and columnist for the Green Bay Press-Gazette for nearly 30 years, recalled that the heaters were on during the infamous Ice Bowl game on December 31, 1967, but didn't do much good that day. Mother Nature was providing tales for telling years later.
"Throughout the game we had press box attendants walking by the counter in front of us swabbing up the windows so we could see the field … the condensation kept forming on the glass," said Remmel. "Frank Gifford was a color man for CBS, and he had a cup of coffee that he set down on a window sill behind him in the booth. Five minutes later he went back and it was frozen solid."
Remmel walks around the portion of the building bearing his name like the proud papa. Named the Packers team historian back in 2004 by Packers President and CEO Bob Harlan, Remmel is now also a part of team history.
"It's humbling, it really is," said Remmel. "I was very surprised. To me it's a truly great honor."
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