Where to Watch: Packers vs. Giants

Brett Favre will have a packed Pickwick Pub cheering him on while Michael Strahan and the Giants will have a crowd of fans at Rick's Tavern behind themWe've already told you where the Patriots and Chargers fans will be taking in tomorrow's conference championship games, now we'll let you know where the Cheeseheads and Big Blue will gather to watch their teams fight for a trip to Super Bowl XLII.

LA-based Packers fans have had a safe haven in Pickwicks Pub, Woodland Hills (21010 Ventura Blvd.) since 2005 when the bar re-opened after a fire burned down the original bar. Transplant Giants fans, however, have just recently adopted Rick's Tavern in Santa Monica (2907 Main St) as their home away from home.

After the jump, we've got interviews with the big cheese who brought Packer Nation West together, Elvis the SoCal Packer Backer and the guy who put the G-Men enthusiasts of LA under one roof, Steven Ohsie.

Since the Packers have home field advantage for tomorrow's game I will give the floor to Elvis first.

Does the fact that it is going to be 3 degrees on Sunday in Lambeau have anything to do with why you are here in Southern California?
I grew up 35 miles from Green Bay and always longed for Southern California…especially on New Years Day during the Rose Bowl. In 6th grade a friend of mine’s family had 2 extra tickets to the NFL Championship game. Back in the 1960s the NFL always had TV black outs of home games within 100 miles of Green Bay (and all other NFL cities during home games); hence we only saw the home games that were played in Milwaukee… So my brother and I accepted the 2 extra tickets that were offered. Everyone told us to “dress warm”. The weather report said it was going to be about 15 below zero. We wore 2 sets of everything.

It was a very sunny day. In Wisconsin during the winter, the coldest days are always sunny. Years later I had heard that clouds help to insulate the earth somewhat, but like my long underwear, nothing could insulate that cold. The tickets were in pairs, so being the youngest, my friend Dave and I ended up with the seats that were on the very top row of Lambeau Field on about the 10 yard line near the South End zone.

No one can explain what it’s like to be that cold for 3 or 4 hours. There were no luxury boxes, so the unimpeded wind just whipped through us. We were too young to drink so we had to face the cold reality of our situation without any help other than a pocketful of Kleenex and some Ludens Cough Drops. There was a stadium cop standing near us who’s eyes started to water from the wind. He had to leave his post because his eye lashes froze together. Someone had a thermos of coffee which was used to defrost the eye lashes so that the policemen could make his way for help.

As everyone knows, the game was very exciting with a story book ending…Starr finally making it across in a quarterback sneak...the final drive occurring right in front of us in our end zone at the south side of Lambeau. I wanted to run out onto the field after the game but my friend’s feet were numb and he could hardly walk. We hobbled to their station wagon which was parked on someone’s front lawn (“lawn”:…I meant “shoveled off area in front of someone’s house”) and waited for the rest of our group. His brother and my brother had been part of the swarm on the field. My brother handed me one of the chunks of turf that he had picked up as a souvenir. The drive home was just as cold only there was no wind in the back of the station wagon.

It turns out that my friend Dave had badly frost bitten feet and was hospitalized. I never warmed up till a hot bath was taken that night which defrosted everything. I kept the grass turf collected at Lambeau growing for years afterward. I later planted it permanently in our back yard.

After college I moved to Los Angeles. I visit Wisconsin almost every summer. My sister called after last week’s game and offered me her ticket for Sunday’s Giant playoff game if I wanted to make the journey back there. But now I can attend the Rose Bowl in sunny, warm California every New Years Day, and this year, watch the Packers play in Lambeau Field….longing to be there (in a way), yet happy to be here in southern California. What a switch.
Pickwick's Pub hosts Packers games
How important is it to you to be around other Packers fans for the big game?

It’s a lot of fun when everyone in the place is for the same team. I remember going to some Packer-Raider games in the Coliseum with friends and we were too intimidated to even clap. A few times I thought we were going to get stabbed for accidently cheering for the opposition and not being for the Raiders.

Describe the vibe of watching a Packers game at the Pickwick Pub.
It’s just like going to a home game…only temperature controlled.

How did you end up at the Pickwick Pub? How long were you out of a place to watch the game after the pub caught on fire? Did you take the crowd elsewhere?
Packer games are part of life back in Wisconsin. Everything is scheduled around “the game”. Car dealerships are closed on Sundays. Main Streets are empty. I moved to Los Angeles in 1980, figuring a few televised games a year would keep my fix going. But by the late 80s I had gotten fed up with never seeing the Packers on TV in LA. If either the Rams or the Raiders were not a sell out, the NFL would punish LA by blacking out all but one game…
By then bars were buying those large 8 foot dishes and broadcasting various out of town games. I had heard that Pickwicks had just gotten a dish. I casually knew the couple that owned it and asked them if I could get enough Packer fans in there would they show the games every week? They agreed.

This was 1991. Most people didn’t even have a $3,000 home computer, much less a dial up modem with internet access. Even upstart AOL did not have access to the World Wide Web. I knew there were transplanted Packer fans out there somewhere but it was very difficult to find them back then. How would I get the word out? I tried of lot of things. I even ended up handing out flyers at Brewer-Angels games to anyone wearing a Brewer or Packer hat. It wasn’t easy.
Eventually we had great crowds. Back then in LA, using a big dish was the only way you could see Packer games. People came from all over…rich and poor, young and old, obscure and famous.

By the late 1990s, both LA teams had moved so there were no longer black outs. The Packers had been in 2 recent Super Bowls so they were often on broadcast TV in LA. Direct TV had made the games available for $200/year and the dish size was reduced from 8 feet to 2 feet. Most fans watched from home. When the Pub burned down I just figured I’d settle for going to a pizza joint in Canoga Park that we had talked into showing the Packer games along with their Miami Dolphin broadcasts.

When the Holmans rebuilt The Pub, Craig Holman mentioned that he’d like to show The Packer games again. I didn’t want to go through all the work that I had gone through in the early 1990s to find Packer fans, but I thought if I put up a website, it might alert the old crowd that The Pub was back to showing games and also attract new transplanted Packer fans. It worked.

What were your expectations for this team going into this season?
My expectations were not high. I thought they could have a good year and be competitive. I spent all of last year convincing people that Favre was alright and should not retire….he just needed to be able to throw from a standing position instead of flat on his back. The offensive line was pathetic. I was just glad to see that Favre proved all those sniveling, whining people last year wrong who were screaming that he was over the hill, too old, etc.

Are you just as surprised as the experts with the success of this Packers team?

Absolutely.

Did Brett Favre really deserve one vote for NFL MVP this year, keeping Tom Brady for a unanimous victory?
If it weren’t for Brady’s offensive line giving him all day back there things would be a lot different. Most casual fans don’t realize how important those 5 anonymous lugs out there are.

Speaking of Favre, any idea why so many members of the media seem to have a man crush on the legendary QB?

It’s a great story. He’s a nice guy. He’s not out banging chicks. He does more for charities than people will ever know. He’s not self absorbed like most professional athletes. It would be nice for him to go out on top.

There will be a bunch of Giants fans gathered at Rick's Tavern in Santa Monica, do you have anything you'd like to say that I can pass along to them through this blog post? May the better team win…in which case it’ll be The Pack. Just kidding…I’ve always liked the Giants and rooted for them against the Cowboys.

What's your prediction for the game?
It bothers me how a lot of people are assuming that the Packers will win. Everyone knows both teams are good. It seems with Shockey out, The Giants lost a huge weapon. Frankly I think the Packers have a better chance against the Giants in a dome or with weather like the day they had when they played a few months ago. The bad weather would’ve been a bigger help to the Packers against the Cowboys. It should be a fun game.

For more information on Packers games at Pickwick's Pub check out: www.thepackerpub.com

Giants fans pack Rick's Tavern in Santa MonicaLet's check in with Steven Ohsie, the leadership of Big Blue West:

How long have been living in LA? Where are you from originally?

I was born in Atlantic City, NJ and my family lived in Margate, NJ until 1976. My family moved to Houston, TX where I lived until I finished high school. I spent a year in Israel between high school and college. I then lived in various places in the greater NYC area (NJ, Queens, Manhattan, Riverdale). I lived in Los Angeles for one year in 2001-2002 and moved here permanently in July 2004. I love everything about SoCal and can’t imagine living anywhere else.

How long have you been doing meetups with Giant fans?
Our first meetup was this football season on Sunday, October 21, 2007. This was week 7 of the NFL regular season, and the game we watched was the Giants against the 49ers.

How important is it to be able to watch the game alongside other Giants fans?

It has definitely made this season much more enjoyable. Most of my friends here are not that into football. I would usually call my friend Yoni Kaplan who is a Cowboys fan after each game. Now, I have a group of fellow fans to cheer with, high five, yell at the screen with, talk strategy with, second guess with, etc. It has been a great experience.

What made you decide to go with Rick's Tavern?
In the early part of this season, I just decided that I wasn’t going to go to Yankee Doodles anymore and be with maybe 2-5 other Giants fans in a big, impersonal bar. I had tried to find a “Giants” bar numerous times, but without success. Giants.com has a global fan registry that you can search for fans by city. I pulled Email addresses from everyone from LA or other Westside locations (ie Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Culver City, etc.) and then sent a mass Email asking other Giants fans what bar they go to.

Rick’s Tavern was among the top suggestions, and I put it up to a vote for everyone I Emailed. Rick’s won by a small margin. Rick’s has always made sure to have the sound and the big screens tuned to the Giants games, even when our group was small in the beginning. However, with the help of meetup.com, I have been placing ads on Craig’s List which gets picked up by the major search engines. This has led to a steady increase in turnout. On Jan 6, for the Bucs-Giants playoff game, FOX 11 came out to film us, and the next week Rick’s was packed to the brim.

Describe the vibe for a Sunday at Ricks? Why should other Giants fans come down to the bar on Sunday? If someone is interested in joining you guys, what should they do?

The current vibe is awesome. We have had a packed bar full of practically all Giants fans, rooting our team on, chanting and cheering, booing Jerry Jones and other Cowboys, and jumping up and down and high-fiving whenever the Giants do well. Its like being at the game, only the beer is cheaper and its sunny and 70 degrees outside after the game.

If you are a Giants fan and want to truly experience the ups and downs and emotions of the game, you need to come down and watch with a great group of fans.

To join us before the game, you can sign up to our group through meetup.com. Our homepage is http://nygiants.meetup.com/21/ You can see photos from previous meetups, see the video of our appearance on FOX 11 from Sunday, Jan 6th (see it at http://nygiants.meetup.com/21/about/ ) and communicate with other Los Angeles based Giants fans. Or, you can just show up at Rick’s Tavern (2907 Main St, Santa Monica, CA 90405). Be sure to introduce yourself to me (I am the only one wearing an Aaron Ross jersey and black kipa (Jewish skullcap)).

This question isn't coming from me, it's from Eli - Do they have Karaoke at Rick's?

Sorry, I’m not a karaoke guy, so if they did, I wouldn’t know. You’ll have to ask them.

Update: Rick's Tavern does have Karaoke. Someone let Eli know there's a mic waiting for him.

Speaking of Eli, did you see this coming? Three great games in a row. Do you think he's got another one left in him?
He certainly has the talent, and has shown stretches like this before, especially early in the season. In fact, he has had stretches where he has played even better than he has played now. I think the main difference during the last couple of weeks is that he has cut down on the mistakes. However, he still struggles in windy conditions, and Giants Stadium is a man-made wind tunnel. Fortunately, he doesn’t have to play there again this year.

How much did you enjoy watching TO cry after last week's game?

I had plenty of popcorn ready

What are your predictions for Sunday's game?
I think this game will be much closer than week 2. If the Giants can run the ball successfully and limit the big plays from Green Bay, I think they can win.

Brett Favre/Michael Strahan Photo by Bill Kostroun, AP