DALLAS -- Combine food, drink, a beautiful day and Green Bay Packers fans and you have everything that's needed for a party.
When the celebrations take place in North Texas before Super Bowl XLV, they become extra special. Throw in some players from the team's last big game victory and politicians from the home state and they make for a perfect day.
Saturday's parties, better known as pep rallies, were held at two Packers hangouts and featured Dallas-Fort Worth and out-of-town fans. Attendees learned of the events through their tour operators or the media and wore about every type of Packers gear ever created.
One pep rally was hosted by Brian Williams, a linebacker on the 1997 Super Bowl champions. The Cedars Social bar/restaurant he co-owns just south of downtown opened Monday just in time for Packers fans to visit.
Several hundred people did just that, drawn in part by the chance to get autographs at only $20 a player from Williams, Dorsey Levens, Antonio Freeman, Vonnie Holliday, Andre Rison, Marco Rivera, William Henderson, Derrick Mayes and Doug Evans.
"It's a far bigger crowd than we expected," said Williams, who returned to his hometown after his 2004 retirement. "It's definitely because Packer fans are a great family and the fact we're getting all the guys together played a part."
The crowd was so big the autograph session went more than an hour beyond its original time. Fans also had their pictures taken by and chatted with their former heroes who shared a great affection for the current group.
"They've already done a great job," Freeman said. "As Packer fans, proud of them winning three road games to get here. They know what's at stake. They know what to do. They know how to win. I think the best team will win."
Among those in attendance were West Bend's Jerome and Diane Spaeth. They won the season ticket lottery to attend the Super Bowl and signed up for a charter package that arrived Friday. Season-ticket holders for more than four decades, their nephew is Tony Spaeth, a wide receiver and placekick holder for the University of Wisconsin Badgers until 1990.
While on their tour, they met Jennifer and Mat Fahrenkrug of Grand Rapids, Mich., who won a package from Jennifer's Wisconsin-based employer, Acuity Insurance.
"I've always been a Packer fan," said Jennifer, who's husband was born in Milwaukee. "It goes back to my grandfather who lived in Peshtigo and had season tickets."
Madison butcher Andy Sarow won his game ticket at the pep rally when Holliday drew his name. He then displayed his Packers tattoo etched into his lower lip.
"I've had it since September," said Sarow, who drove through the ice to get to town Friday. "It hurt a little, about as much as any other tattoo."
Ron Jaecks, a Salem, Ore., cancer surgeon and former Madison resident, showed his Packers affection in another unusual way. His green costume was among the most eye-catching views in the crowd and his journey to Texas also had a twist.
"I was traveling in Argentina when I bought a ticket after the second playoff game," said Jaecks, who wore similar costumes at the 1997 and 1998 Super Bowls in New Orleans and San Diego, respectively. "If they hadn't made it, I'm sure I wouldn't have had any trouble selling it."
Plymouth's Ellen Meyer has a ticket for her third consecutive Super Bowl and was thrilled the weather finally turned nice. After a week of ice, snow and cold, temperatures finally climbed to the low 50s with sunny blue skies.
"This is wonderful," said Meyer, who has her "Pack Go" in the team's hall of fame at Lambeau Field and spent 34 years on the waiting list to acquire season tickets nine years ago.
Some attendees came to town without game tickets. One such person, Milwaukee's John Meganck, wore a sign that said "Need 2 Super Bowl Tickets" for he and brother Mark.
"As soon as the game against the Bears ended I called around to get flights, four nights in a hotel and a car," John said. "We then started checking ticket brokers, Ebay, Amazon and anyone who will talk to us. So far we haven't found anything at a price we want to pay."
Bob Duane was looking for tickets for he and youngest son Luke, the only one of four sons never to attend a Super Bowl.
"I grew up in Oklahoma during the Packers' glory days," Bob said. "I've been a fan ever since. It's a cult once you get in. I told my wife it's in our wedding vows."
About 20 miles west, near Cowboys Stadium, Arlington's J. Gilligan's was hosting more members of the Packers cult where Sue and Jim Kohlbeck were trying to find tickets for five of their group of seven people. They left Wisconsin Wednesday afternoon and arrived Thursday night.
"We came down just to party," said Sue who attended the 1997 and 1998 games. "We can't tell you how friendly the people are here, especially to us."
They liked that the weather finally cooperated.
"This is why we came here," Jim said.
The Kohlbecks were among several hundred more fans who packed the Packers-friendly establishment's parking lot. Speakers included Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt.
Also at J. Gilligans were Oshkosh's Tom Johnson and Dani Tallchief. Johnson came to the party dressed in an old style Packers helmet with Tony Canadeo's name on it while Tallchief wore a Packers-looking sombrero. They flew down Friday with broker-purchased tickets.
"We weren't coming without tickets," Johnson said. "We started looking the minute we beat the Bears."
"We missed games at Lambeau this year so our first time is the Super Bowl," Tallchief added.
Joining Johnson and Tallchief was friend Jim Hicks, a Washington, D.C.-area resident who became a Packers fan at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He and his friends started their day at the ESPN set at Fort Worth's Sundance Square.
"There were too many Steelers fans so we came here," Hicks said.