Although it's located just 60 miles from Seattle, O'Blarney's Irish Pub was filled with white, green and yellow jerseys on Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015, when the Green Bay Packers played the Seattle Seahawks for the National Football League’s NFC Championship. Cheese wedges were the hat of choice, and when the Packers scored, completed a pass or made a tackle, the bar erupted with cheers.
The group was part of the Northwest Packer Backers (NPB), a far-flung club of green-and-gold loyalists based in Washington State that is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2015. Many in the group once lived in Wisconsion or the Midwest. They share an affection for the Packers, and getting together for games helps them stay connected to their home state, while providing a way to stay connected to their favorite football team.
On typical Sundays, O’Blarney’s sees 50 to 60 Packer fans, but on that championship Sunday in January, the bar hit its capacity of some 250 fans, standing-room only, split fairly evenly with Seahawks faithful and Packer Backers whooping as their teams battled for a spot in Super Bowl XLIX. (The ’Hawks won an overtime thriller, 28-22, then lost the finale to New England, 28-24.)
“It’s great hosting them,” O’Blarney’s bar manager Joel Wragg says of NBP. “They’re a really good group of fans. When they’re here, it’s a fun vibe, an exciting atmosphere.”
Billing themselves as Lambeau Field Far West - a tribute to the team’s legendary home back in The Dairy State - Northwest Packer Backers operates several vibrant chapters in the Pacific Northwest. Many members meet closer to Seattle at NBP’s main site, Mustard Seed Grill & Pub in Newport Hills, a mere 10 miles from the Seahawks’ CenturyLink Field downtown.
The club launched in 1990 with eight die hard cheeseheads - as the team’s fans tend to be known - and has grown over the years into a cadre of 1,500-plus members in and around Seattle.
On game days at Mustard Seed, the crowd is typically two-thirds Packer fans, says Jerry Garner, the club’s president, known internally as the Head Cheese. For the NFC title game, the fan tilt was about 300 to 85 in Green Bay’s favor.
“For us, getting together is first about watching the Packers; second, sharing our Wisconsin camaraderie; and third, the philanthropy work we do for children, families and veterans,” says Garner, a Wisconsin native and military veteran who served in Operation Desert Storm.
After the third quarter of each game, a $1-per-ticket raffle for donated items is held, with proceeds benefiting charities such as Christmas House, a nonprofit that welcomes low-income parents to select free holiday gifts for their children, and Washington Veterans Home in Retsil.
“It’s our way of giving back to the community where we live and work,” Garner says.
The club also raffles off an annual trip, sending lucky club members to locales such as the NFL’s Pro Bowl, Super Bowl weekend and games played at the actual Lambeau Field back in Green Bay.
No Bad Blood
The Packers and Seahawks are two of the NFL’s top teams. With so much passion and such a fierce rivalry, it might seem likely for sparks to fly between fans. But NBP emphasizes a positive approach.
“Our message to our members is, ‘Act like you’ve been there before,’” Garner says. “We’re all football fans, and football is a part of life to enjoy, but we want to have fun, share camaraderie and show good sportsmanship.”
Back at O’Blarney’s, bar manager Wragg says the Packer Backers keep things respectful toward opposing fans, including the Seahawks, even amidst heated gridiron battles.
“Everybody gets along and cheers for their team,” he says. “I’ve never seen any altercations in the several years we’ve hosted them.”