Home away from home: Browns, Bills, and Lions fans find refuge in Packers Country
With the Green Bay Packers widely regarded to have one of the most passionate followings in all of pro sports, there’s no shortage of places to watch the green and gold on game day, no matter where you are. From Birmingham, Alabama (On Tap 280) to Cheyenne, Wyoming (CB Potts Big Horn Brewing Company), the Packers are on somewhere in almost every state in America. If you’re in Alaska, more than half a dozen bars in Anchorage alone carry Green Bay games. There are more than 100 Green Bay embassies in California, and a cluster spread throughout Hawaii.
The same can’t be said about the other side of the coin. It’s a bit more difficult for fans of the NFL’s 31 other franchises to find sanctuary in Packers Country. Still, a handful of bars and restaurants spread throughout the greater Milwaukee area grant non-Packers fans a home away from home.
In 2002, Matt Somoles moved to Milwaukee from the Cleveland suburb of North Olmstead to attend school at Marquette University. Shortly after, he became a member of the Brew City Browns Backers, a well-established Milwaukee fan club devoted to the Cleveland Browns.
Now President of BCBB, Somoles has seen the club’s membership grow to more than 100 members, with an average of 30-50 people present at each game shown in the Browns Backers’ adopted site.
“We had bounced around at different locations, sometimes moving because that location closed or other reasons,” Somoles says. “Three years ago when we started the hunt for a new home, we wanted to find a place to call home that would guarantee us our own area with our game on TV with our own sound.”
That place is Flannery’s. While the Cathedral Square restaurant has no allegiance or connection to Cleveland, ownership reserves an area in back of the establishment for the Browns Backers. Flannery’s takes it one step further for the group, tapping Cleveland-based Great Lakes Brewery’s Christmas Ale for the Ohio nomads and locals born into Browns fandom.
From one long-beleaguered fanbase to another, you’d be hard-pressed to find many Buffalo Bills fans in town. That is, unless you happen upon Co-President (and Crappy Dracula band member) Justin Kern and his Milwaukee-Area Buffalo Bills Backers camped near the billiards and air hockey tables near the back of North Avenue sports bar, G-Daddy’s BBC.
“BBC was super welcoming, very inviting,” Kern said. “They said ‘Yeah, we’ll put it on in the back.’ I think that they were really happy to find out that, much like Green Bay, there’s a lot of drunk fans for the Bills. We spend a lot of money on booze and wings.”
The group—comprised entirely of transplants from the Buffalo, Rochester, and Southtown region—currently stands at 36 card-carrying members. Honestly: they carry laminated cards with bylaws that include, “Defend the Bills’ abilities and good name,” and “Hate the Dolphins,” among others.
Beyond the game, the group also gathered in their own admirable plot of BBC real estate to watch the NFL Draft and celebrate the 20th anniversary of “The Comeback”—in which Bills QB Frank Reich came back from a 32-point deficit to beat the Houston Oilers in the playoffs. Kern adds that the Bills Backers actively support the Packers (except when they play the Bills).
The same can’t be said for the group across BBC’s lower level with the spot closest to the front door. Ann Arbor native C.J. Bacelis-Bush is part of the Milwaukee chapter of the Detroit Lions Fan Club, which holds the prominent perch (beneath a gigantic Lions helmet, no less). The spot was rightfully earned, though, as the group started watching games at BBC in 1998.
Bacelis-Bush was first exposed to the group in 2007. He quickly felt at home among the displaced Michiganders, and embraced the club’s fight songs, creative chants, Jim Beam touchdown shots, and the bar’s hospitality.
“I doubt I would have met any of these guys if I hadn’t moved to the East Side and found out about BBC,” Bacelis-Bush says. “Yet many of them are great friends now, and the camaraderie is what keeps me coming back each Sunday.”
BBC also hosts Bears, Vikings, Eagles, and, of course, Packers fans in small reserved areas. Other establishments, such as Champp’s in Brookfield and The Construction Site in Cudahy are noted Bears dens. It may take some searching, but there’s probably a place in or near Milwaukee where supporters of any team can feel at home with a cast of like-minded football fans. Except the Jacksonville Jaguars. Let’s be realistic.