It isn't hard finding someone who's a fan of the Green Bay Packers these days, especially since the NFL powerhouse is in the midst of one of its best seasons in history (and is currently riding a 14-1 record into the upcoming playoffs).
The real trick, however, is finding the true Packers fanatics who have lived and died with every single game during both the good and bad years. Someone like Phil Smithers. The 49-year-old Mesa resident (and Wisconsin native) has been a rabid follower of The Pack since birth. So it comes as no surprise that he's transformed the two-car garage of his large home into a green and gold-covered man-cave and shrine to the team.
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Smithers cracks jokes that he might just have green and gold-tinted blood pumping through his veins. While growing up in the small Wisconsin town of Waukesha, he attended his first game at the old Milwaukee County Stadium (the team's former home) as a teenager in the 1970s during the era of quarterback Lynn Dickey.
"I remember watching games with my dad and trying to tune into Packers games on our TV," Smithers says. "Growing up, that's what you did on Sunday afternoons in Wisconsin. There's like nobody on the streets since you're either in a bar or at home watching the game."
He's been collecting Packers memorabilia since the early '80s, starting out with a few bubblegum cards and maybe a helmet or two. Smithers says those were the fallow years for Packers fandom, as the team had a major slump lasting a couple decades between the glory years of Vince Lombardi up until the Brett Favre era in the 1990s.
"There weren't a lot of people collecting a lot of stuff for the Packers back then because those were the bad days," Smithers says. "To be a Packers fan back then, when they were going 1-15 and rarely had a winning season, was a challenge."
While he doesn't own those old trading cards any longer, Smithers has accumulated a wealth plenty of Green Bay-related collectibles and memorabilia since then. In addition to tin signs declaring the garage to be "Packers Country," team pennants honoring its numerous Super Bowl victories (including last year's epic defeat of the hated Pittsburgh Steelers) there are commemorative boxes of Wheaties (natch), Sports Illustrated covers, and autographed photos of some of the team's past and present superstars.
A few foam Cheesehead hats -- a must for any Green Bay fan -- also decorate the place and a Packers model train chugs around a table sitting off to one side. He also collects commemorative Packers stamps and special editions of newspapers documenting each Super Bowl win.
Most of his collectibles adorn the walls of the garage that have been painted with Packer gold ("I brought in a helmet to the hardware store and they sampled the color") or cabinets resembling lockers. The pride and joy of Smithers' man-cave, however, is the water heater, which he spent many hours decorating to resemble a special Miller Lite can that was issued after Green Bay won Super Bowl XXXI in 1997.
"I'm just hoping the water heater keeps working and never has to be replaced because I'd hate to have to do that again," he says.