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Zingers and the Pack: A new gameday tradition 1,200 miles from home

When the Packers are not on national TV in Florida, one particular destination with a community feel is home for an avid fan.

Green Bay Packers Fans Watch Super Bowl XLV Photo by Matt Ludtke/Getty Images

Tallahassee, Florida is roughly 1,200 miles from Green Bay, Wisconsin. In a state with three professional teams and the Atlanta Falcons located not too far away, regional geography plays a heartless role in preventing many Green Bay Packers games from being available via broadcast in the state.

When moving for work about three and a half years ago, I was faced with the dilemma of how to watch the Green Bay Packers on Sundays in the fall with largely out-of-market games on the schedule. Without an officially-advertised “Packers bar” on the map, I decided to give Miller’s Ale House, a Florida-based American-style restaurant chain, the first crack at winning me over.

And to this day, if the Packers are not on national television, you can find me at Miller’s (a homey name for a Wisconsinite if you ask me).

Making my pilgrimage for the first time of the 2018 regular season on Sunday, I was unable to sit in my regular spot at the horseshoe-shaped bar with the setup of TVs and games for the 1 PM kickoff. Taking my seat at a booth instead, I pondered which of the famous Zinger Mountain Melts I should try. This 1,700-calorie plate has been my go-to for years now. It’s loaded with a mountain of french fries smothered in cheese and bits of applewood-smoked bacon and topped with chicken tenders (zingers) covered in your sauce of choice. Settling on the honey lime sriracha, I sat back and waited for the game to start.

All of a sudden, I hear, “How’s it going Davante?” Cloaked in my Davante Adams jersey, I turned to my right to see the familiar gray-haired, mustached man I met three years ago while patronizing my usual Sunday destination. “Hi, Pete, how are you?” I answered with a smile. Pete is a friendly native Milwaukeean that usually sports a Packers cap and still has family back home in Wisconsin. “My brother is at Lambeau today,” Pete mentions. “He says even they don’t know if [Aaron] Rodgers is going to play,” he says with a shrug as he walks back toward the corner of the bar where his pal Sandy stands preparing for the Washington Redskins game with his usual Joe Theismann jersey on and Redskins koozie sitting on the bar.

On any given Sunday, Pete will share his personal joy of the Packers with anyone who will listen. He will frequently bring a binder full of autographed photos he cherishes, complete with stories about those players in the pictures. By far, his favorite topic is the Ice Bowl and the stories surrounding his father who attended the game. He even has a small protective case enclosing a ticket stub from that game, one he vows to never sell no matter the asking price. Perhaps it’s Pete’s passion for the game and knowing him on a first-name basis that has made Miller’s Ale House my routine spot through the midst of Rodgers-less afternoons and gut-wrenching wins and losses.

But I’ve also met several other Packers fans and one in particular stands out.

One day early last season, I was watching the game as I began to overhear the names of small towns very close to where I grew up. Listening attentively for more details, I finally looked to my right and asked where the man was from. “Denmark,” he said. “A small town close to Green Bay.” Grinning ear-to-ear, I let out a laugh. “So am I,” I said. A political journalism position had brought this man down to the state capital of Florida. Not only were we from the same town, one of just 2,000 proud citizens, but we also graduated from the same high school about eight years apart. Talk about an odd coincidence.

Returning to Miller’s last Sunday was refreshing, and while it was a new year, much was still the same. The same steady flow of Packers fans and cheers when they scored. The same Pittsburgh Steelers-decorated couple sitting in their prime spot at the bar near the kitchen. The same utter agony from Cleveland Browns fans as their kicker missed not once but twice in the team’s quest to win for the first time since December 2016.

With the Packers facing the Redskins this week, geography is once again not in my favor for viewing from the comforts of home. But week three of the NFL season will commence. Pete and Sandy will become rivals for a day. And I will be there, as usual, to watch it unfold.