A Day in the Life: Covering the Green Bay Packers on gameday

Packers

A Lily Zhao Editorial

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – To many, Lambeau Field is one of the most iconic stadiums in the NFL. To me, it has become a home away from home these past five years.

Coming into the season, there was a sense of new. New coaches, new players, new energy. In the blink of an eye, I found myself walking into Lambeau for what would be the team’s final regular season game. There was a lot riding on this matchup with the Chicago Bears. The Packers, sitting at 10-3, still had the NFC North title and a potential first-round bye out there for the taking.

Hi everyone, Lily Zhao from WFRV Local 5 here. Come join me on a “Day in the Life” and see what it’s like to cover the Green Bay Packers on a Sunday gameday.

It’s 8 a.m. Chief photographer Ed Patek and I have already made our way to Lambeau Field for the Packers-Bears game that kicks off at noon.

There’s a lot to get done and a lot to bring into the stadium before the game even begins. Normally we haul in all our equipment on this cart, which contains three cameras, a tripod, mics, cables, lights, and a laptop. In this case, Ed brought in a few extra pairs of shoes due to the chilly conditions.

It’s 10 degrees outside right now. To keep warm, I normally put toe warmers on, followed by two pairs of socks, and I also wear two pairs of pants. If you ever want to try and talk for long periods of time in this weather without your mouth freezing, I admire you. That is not the case for me, so I normally take a large handwarmer and put that on my mouth to relax my muscles before I go live on air.

I can tell you it never gets old walking through the tunnel onto the field.

This particular morning, we had a hit – in this case, a live talkback with the anchor in New York – to do on CBS Sports Networks’ pregame show TOPS (That Other Pregame Show).

We’re talking Green Bay Packers football on TOPS with Dana Jacobson. We’re one of only a few local stations in the country that makes an appearance on this national pregame show, having done hits for the program the last five years.

Ed will get my camera set up on the sidelines, complete with two sets of lights. I’ll plug in my IFB, a device that goes into your ear so you can hear the directors and your show, and then talk to the TOPS crew in New York.

This week, the topics were stopping Mitchell Trubisky and how the Packers offense would attack this Bears defense. The TOPS producers send me the questions I will get asked on-air a couple of days ahead of time so I can prepare.

Many of you asked me on twitter to show you some of the equipment behind-the-scenes.

These are perhaps some of the most important things on the sidelines: the heaters! They’re aimed at each bench the entire game so the players and coaches can stay warm. Unfortunately, these are for the team only. See: My hand warmers.

Every single time I’m at Lambeau, I see a bunch of familiar faces. This is Tom. He’s a regular on gamedays. Tom checks our credentials and keeps track of all the people who go on and off the field. The people here make the gameday experience so special.

The gates open up about 2 hours before kickoff for fans to enter the bowl. I’m always on the lookout for a great sign and I think I found one. I hope he enjoyed his first Packers game!

It’s always fun seeing players interacting with the fans. They’ll normally jog around the field and do some light warm-ups. This morning, Jamaal Williams and Tim Boyle continued their pregame traditions of throwing footballs back and forth with the fans.

I’ll check the inactives list 90 minutes before kickoff as I walk back outside. Against the Bears, the Packers announced that Kevin King and Jimmy Graham were active, so I take those pieces of information and make a mental note to include that in my next TV hit.

Up next, it’s time to go live on-air for our WFRV Local 5 pregame show: Green and Gold Game Day Live with Burke Griffin and George Koonce. There, I’m joined by WSAW sports director Reece Van Haaften. We do this show live outside the stadium, as opposed to the on-the-field hit with the national show, because it adds a different flair, especially with the fans in the background.

Unlike the CBS Sports TOPS pregame show where I have questions sent to me beforehand, Green and Gold Game Day Live is a show where Reece and I can chit chat about the stories we’re each doing for our local pregame show. If you ever want to catch us live on air, tune in each Sunday at 10:30 a.m. So on any given gameday, you’ll see me appear on two different pregame shows in one morning. It’s the magic of TV!

By now, it’s almost 11 a.m. and I am starving. I’ll make the long walk up to the Packers press box. What’s the best part about a noon game you ask? The omelette bar, complete with all the fix-ins. As you can tell, it’s a very popular food station among the media.

You also can’t have a gameday spread without brats and Stadium Sauce. Also on the menu that day: ham, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and what we call “Pack and cheese” as in mac and cheese. The halftime spreads and desserts at Lambeau are pretty good too. Hungry yet?

It’s now noon, which means it’s time for the game. We each have a seat in the press box. Normally, we get a gameday roster, a list of the inactives and a program. Kenny Clark has the honor of being on the Packers’ week 15 gameday program.

During the game, I always have to have my iPad out. I log each play as it goes on. I include who made the play, how many yards it went for, who tackled the player, and take notes if there’s an injury or a flag. That way, it helps me get my notes organized for when I have to ask the players questions, and when I have to get my stories written after the game as well. It’s also fun to tweet and hear all the reactions you all have during the game. Believe me, tweeting on gamedays is always one of my favorite parts of the day.

So as I’m typing away in the press box, our chief photographer Ed Patek is getting set to shoot the game on the sidelines. He shoots just about every single one of the Packers games. That video is invaluable because we use it for all our shows the rest of the year.

Well that was certainly a nerve-wracking ending. The media gets a 2-minute pass to go on the field in the fourth quarter, so I was able to see that last play, which was basically one good lateral away from actually working. Davante Adams and Aaron Jones would tell us later that they were both anxiously watching that last play on the sidelines.

The Packers may have won ugly, but a win is a win is a win. That 21-13 victory over Chicago effectively knocked the Bears out of playoff contention and keeps Green Bay as the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoff race. Preston Smith and Jaire Alexander were certainly happy about being 11-3, and so were the fans. Preston and Jamaal Williams were chanting “Go Pack Go” as they walked off the field.

Here’s what the players see as they walk off the field and into the tunnel as they head towards the locker room. This was another very popular request, so I thought I’d give you all a little sneak peak if you haven’t seen it yet.

As the players walk off the field, the media waits patiently to get into the locker room to chat with the guys. The cameras always start piling up in this little nook of the stadium. We always bring two mics, cameras and stools into the locker room for our postgame interviews.

Sorry guys, no pictures of the locker room are allowed. You’ll just have to imagine what everything looks like beyond these doors. I’ll give you a little hint: the locker room is shaped like a football. Creative right?

Here we go. The throng of media members descend upon the doors to the hallway that leads to the locker room for postgame interviews. If guys are available and want to talk, we grab them.

We talked with Davante Adams who said the team can have any identity they want, even if it is winning ugly because they’re still winning. Bryan Bulaga said he’s not going to leave the stadium with his head down because 11-3 is a special place to be at this point in the season. It’s something that hasn’t happened here in a few years.

As many of us are in the locker room interviewing players, head coach Matt LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers are simultaneously speaking with other reporters in the Packers media auditorium. I’ll be in the locker room at this time gathering sound, while our sports director Burke Griffin is currently in the auditorium shooting both press conferences. It takes our entire sports staff to gather all the sound we need.

Aaron Rodgers: “I don’t know that we have the full respect of the league at this point based on some of our performances where we got beat by a couple scores and the reactions… but we’re 7-1 at home, we have an inside track at the 2 seed. Obviously, we have an opportunity to wrap up the division next week, which guarantees a home game and the third seed at worst. I like our chances, I like our football team.”

The post-game work has just begun for my co-anchor, Ryan Rodig, and I. After we gather all the sound we need from Matt LaFleur and the players, it’s time to write our scripts for the news later that day. Not only are we preparing for the sports segment for Local 5 News at 10, but Ryan and I each have stories for our 10:35 p.m. show, Sports Xtra, hosted by Burke. There, we each pick two angles of the game and go more in-depth.

I covered the offense’s struggles to put away the Bears, while Ryan focused on the defense and their ability to hold off Mitchell Trubisky and their offense down the stretch.

After we write our scripts, it’s time to tape our standups, news-speak for appearing on-camera to narrate a part of a story. Ryan and I will each take turns recording what we need so that it can air in our stories. In this case, he’ll do one story and I normally do two. One for our 10 p.m. newscast and another longer story for our Sports Xtra show.

Another request by you all: seeing the visitors tunnel. So this is the view opposing teams have when they walk out onto the field at Lambeau. It’s quite the sight at night.

Just like that, our day at Lambeau is over. From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. it’s an all day event covering this team, but the work isn’t done yet. It takes our entire sports department to provide all our gameday coverage. After being at the stadium, we head back to the station to put together our stories so that you all can see them live on-air.

Later that night, we found out that the Packers had clinched their first playoff berth in three years. There will indeed be more Green Bay football in January. The question is, whether or not it will be at Lambeau Field.

So until then, thanks for following along. Goodnight everyone!

Follow Lily on Twitter at @LilySZhao

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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