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Cheeseheads descend on Lambeau to welcome Packers

    Green Bay Packers fan John VanLanen holds up a homemade Super Bowl trophy Monday, Feb. 7, 2011, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. The Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 in Super Bowl XLV. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)
    Packers fans watch the Super Bowl Trophy presentation, Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011, in the parking lot of Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., after the Green Back Packers won 31-25 over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL's Super Bowl XLV championship football game. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)
    Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers, right, and teammate Clay Matthews celebrate the Packers' 31-25 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL football Super Bowl XLV game Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Thousands of exhausted but euphoric Packers fans cheered the team Monday on its return to Green Bay as Super Bowl champions after their victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Schools dismissed early Monday and people took off work so they could see the team as it traveled from Austin Straubel International Airport to Lambeau Field along a route that included Lombardi Avenue, named in honor of the legendary packers coach Vince Lombardi.

Ashley Ellis, 17, and Erica Christensen, 18, of Oak Creek, went to bed at midnight after celebrating the Packers’ victory. They were up at 4 a.m. to drive to Green Bay and stake out a spot for the parade. They said the Packers gave them "anxiety attacks" as the Steelers made their second-half comeback, but on Monday all was right with the world in Green Bay. Asked why anyone would get up at 4 a.m. to visit a football stadium, Christensen replied simply.

"Love them," she said.

Area schools released students after a half-day to allow them to attend the parade. By 11 a.m. throngs of fans milled around the stadium’s atrium. People lined up for tours of the stadium, asked about tickets to Tuesday’s rally and grabbed lunch at Curly’s Pub, a restaurant at the stadium named for the Packers’ founder, Curly Lambeau.

Some fans just stood in the parking lot and screamed to the sky. Others paraded around with a giant cardboard replica of the Lombardi trophy. The stadium’s pro shop was so packed with customers snatching up Super Bowl gear team that officials made shoppers stand in line to get in. Fans across the atrium shouted "Go Pack Go!"

Brett Elliot, 50, of Abrams, beat the rush. Dressed in a leather Packers jacket, he emerged from the pro shop with seven Super Bowl champion T-shirts and $140 lighter. He said a couple shirts were for him and the rest were for his co-workers.

He said he was hoarse from watching the game and partying in downtown Green Bay the night before.

"Has it sunk in?" he said. "I don’t know. Maybe after the parade and the celebration."

Dozens of fans helped clear ice and snow from the stadium bowl’s bleachers for a rally Tuesday. From the field level, they looked like ants as they shuffled back and forth, dutifully chipping away at ice dams and dumping snow onto a conveyer belt, which carried it to the field where bulldozers pushed it aside. All for free.

The Packers have traditionally asked fans to clear snow from the bleachers during the season, but this time was different.

Adam Shirek, 23, of Milladore, drove two hours Monday to Lambeau for the parade. He said he’s an unemployed college student with nothing better to do.

He saw the line of snow volunteers at the stadium and decided to join them. Decked out in Clay Matthews’ No. 52 jersey, he attacked the ice with a furor.

"Could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience helping shovel snow at Lambeau Field . . . after the Super Bowl," he said as he worked. "It will be memorable. Hopefully it’ll bring me up on the season ticket waiting list."

Controlled pandemonium ensued on the streets last night.  People leapt into their cars and began cruising up and down the downtown, honking their horns, hanging out their windows and high-fiving anyone they saw on the sidewalks.

Hundreds of people jammed the downtown bar district and spilled out onto the street. Women climbed onto men’s shoulders, people blew air horns and grown men jumped up and down like children. Green Bay Press-Gazette employees sold extras with a giant headline that read "World Champs." A group of fans hoisted a cardboard replica of the Lombardi trophy over their heads as Griep raced by with her flag and nearly bare torso, turning heads.

Kim Smith, 39, and her fiance, Kris Nielsen, 30, of Seymour, stood on the sidewalk smiling, taking it all in. The couple met at a Packers game years ago, making the moment unfolding in front of them even more special.

"We cried and we screamed," Smith said. "Just out of control. So nerve-wracking."

Hundreds lined the city’s bridges over the Fox River as green-and-gold fireworks boomed overhead.

Ryan Hatzenbeller, 24, of Green Bay, took off his No. 21 Charles Woodson jersey and waved it at traffic bare-chested.

"Dude! It’s Green Bay, Wisconsin! We won the Super Bowl! We’ve got nothing better to do!" he shouted at a reporter over the din.


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