Toughest venues: Frozen in time

Statues of Vince Lombardi and Curly Lambeau greet fans at Lambeau Field. AP Photo/David Stluka

3. Lambeau Field, Green Bay Packers

Over the past three decades, the Packers are tied with the Steelers for most home wins (129). Over the past two decades, their home-field winning percentage (.761) is the league's best.

Technically, the tundra is no longer frozen.

Since the antiquated underground heating and drainage systems were replaced 15 years ago, the natural grass at Lambeau Field has been merely chilly at worst.

Legendary Sports Illustrated writer Tex Maule coined the phrase when he wrote about the wind-chilled "Ice Bowl" NFL title game between the Packers and Dallas Cowboys in 1967. Steve Sabol of NFL Films and, more recently, ESPN's Chris Berman also helped popularize the concept of the frozen tundra.

But make no mistake, this beautiful fiction still plays in the minds of visiting teams.

While Minneapolis' average winter temperature (24 degrees) is the coldest of any NFL city, a dome separates the Vikings and their opponents from the elements. Not so in Green Bay, where the average is 28 -- uncomfortably below freezing -- the lowest for the league's open-air stadiums.

Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk played his college football at Ohio State, winning the Lombardi Award and Jack Lambert Trophy in 2005. He was the No. 5 overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft and has both a Super Bowl victory and a Pro Bowl selection on his résumé.

"Lambeau, it's a college stadium, really," Hawk said. "At Ohio State, they'd get 105,000 in there. In Green Bay, they make a lot of noise even though it's not as big. Everyone knows about Lambeau Field. The mystique, the great teams, the players. The Bart Starrs, the Ray Nitschkes -- they live on through Lambeau.

"Some of these stadiums, when the sponsorship dollars run out, they call it something different. I don't think they'll ever change it from Lambeau."

Lambeau, which began its life as City Stadium, opened 55 years ago. It was renamed in 1965 after the death of Earl Louis "Curly" Lambeau, who had been a terrific halfback at Green Bay's East High School and later at Notre Dame and with the Packers. More importantly, he was the Packers' first coach, from 1921-49, and is in the record books, along with Chicago's George Halas, with six NFL titles.

Lambeau and Cincinnati's Paul Brown Stadium are the only two arenas in the league named after a football coach.

Today, the stadium at 1265 Lombardi Avenue seats 73,094, but as Hawk says, it feels more like 100,000. There's a good (but not widely known) reason for this.

"We are the only stadium in the NFL that is primarily benched seating," explained Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy. "We have a lot of people squeezed into a smaller area. We get complaints periodically. Were we to convert to chairbacks, it would cost us 12,000 seats."

It's a good thing they're so friendly in the Midwest. The payoff for that sacrificed personal space? The NFL's smallest market has an explosively loud environment.

Lambeau has undergone eight major renovations over the years, and the Packers have taken pains to preserve the integrity of the original bowl. Longtime Chiefs president Carl Peterson was so impressed, he brought a delegation to Green Bay when a renovation of Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium was in the planning stages.

And here's some fabulous news for visiting teams: It's going to get worse. There's already a new sound system and a massive video board, but be advised the Packers are in the process of adding more than 7,000 seats to completely enclose the south end zone. All of them will be outside, which will make Lambeau even more intimate starting next season.

"We've closed it in a way that will help the noise stay in the stadium," Murphy said. "That many more voices and the acoustics will make it even louder. It will be similar to what they have in Seattle, very vertical.

"It's going to create a wall of sound, so it should give us an improved home-field advantage."

Hawk said the Packers go into games trying to leverage that advantage.

"At Lambeau," he said, "we know if we can get up quick on teams, it's going to be tough for them psychologically. That's almost too much to turn around.

"It's the mark of a good team that can overcome that. It's like Ryder Cup. Everyone was rooting against the Europeans [at Medinah], but I think they were trying to take that and use it to their advantage. It's not easy, but it can be done."

As the U.S. Ryder Cup team discovered when it blew a 10-6 lead on the final day of play.

Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli is a self-described sucker for history and tradition. His first visit to Lambeau came in the early 1990s when he was a scout for the Cleveland Browns.

"It was a Packers-Bears game," Pioli remembered. "At that time, scouts had to purchase a ticket. So I'm out in the stadium with my tape recorder and pen and pad. The fans started filing in and many of them were wearing orange. I asked the guy next to me, 'What's up with the orange?' He laughed and said they were coming in straight from hunting.

"That's when I knew Lambeau was different. Lambeau is one of those places you go and say, 'Wow. This is cool.' It's a truly magical place."

NFL Hot Read: Toughest venues

No. 1: Scoreboard, baby | No. 2 Feel the noise | No. 3 Frozen in time

No. 4: Strong as steel | No. 5: Altitude matters | No. 6: Tailgating haven