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'The face of Lambeau': Janesville men are Packers' ushers

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
November 15, 2009
— "It's not just a game. It's like a religion or addiction to some fans."

That's how Tom Presny sums up National Football League fans.


He should know.


Presny is one of five Janesville men among the 70-some ushers who stand amid the 72,928 fans who fill the seats at Lambeau Field during every home game of the Green Bay Packers.


The Packers at 3:15 p.m. today play the Dallas Cowboys.


"The excitement level still gives me goose bumps," said Presny, who is in the middle of working his second season.


Brad Rux, 54, and his father, Gene Rux, 81, have been ushering for more than a decade.


"Your adrenalin is flowing with everybody coming and going. It's just a whole lot of excitement; something you can't get in the comfort of your living room," Brad said.


Jason Rux, 28, is the third generation of the Rux family to usher. He started in 2006.


"It's a blast," he said. "I love the game and just being there and seeing things you don't see on TV."


Gene Hass, Janesville, also ushers.


The men said ushering is a reprieve from their daytime jobs.


Presny is Janesville city parks director. Brad is a textile technician. Gene is a part-time shuttle driver for a local automobile dealership. Jason is a firefighter and EMT.


None of them said they make the 300-mile round trip for the money$8 an hour.


"It's my getaway from my other occupation of 25 years," Presny said.


"It makes me feel fortunate I can be part of sports history," Brad said.


"It seems winters are a little longer and colder, but I'm going to keep doing it as long as I can," Gene said.


"It's very exciting," Jason said.


'The face of Lambeau'

Ushers are among 515 employees who report at Lambeau Field to Laura Norton, information and technology director of PMI Entertainment Group, the company hired by the Packers to provide ushers and other stadium staff.


"They are the only people the fans have any interaction with," Norton said. "They see ticket scanners as they walk into the building. They see police officers during the pat-down and as they file through. But they see the ushers for 3 1/2 hours. They are the face of Lambeau."


The ushers get three hours of training during a summer orientation and possess a wealth of information.


"There isn't much that goes on during a football game that an usher is not responsible to understand, know and relate," she said.


Ushering at Lambeau, one of the NFL's most revered stadiums, attracts about 40 applicants a year. The age of ushers, who come from all walks of life, spans 50 years. Many who become ushers keep their positions for years, she said.


"We had an usher that started when he was a teen finally decide last year the extreme heat and cold was too much to handle at 87. He had been there for 60 years and when the Packers played in a little city stadium," she said.


Ushering might seem glamorous, but it isn't, Norton said.


Ushers worked outdoors for more than six hours during the Jan. 20, 2007, playoff game when the temperature was 35 degrees below zero.


"I don't care how you look at it, it's cold and they show up. They're so loyal to their jobs and have a great deal of pride in what they do," Norton said.


Ushers climb steep steps from the first to third level of the stadium.


"Those steps are not easy to go up and down, and those guys all do it all the time," Norton said.


'Gives you the chills'

"It's the fans and just being out and seeing everybody's smiles and having a good time. You're more involved in the game with the cheering and the excitement," Brad said.


His father and son agreed the season ticket holders, who look forward to seeing them at every game, make them feel good.


"The love I have for football, and being around it is rewarding. It gives you the chills," Jason said.


Presny said he has seen people walk in, get down on their knees and kiss the floor of the stadium and say: "I'm here."


Fringe benefits

All of the local ushers have either met or seen players and other notables affiliated with the game.


"I can look up to the press boxes and see people like John Madden, Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth," Presny said, referring to the television sportscasters.


He's bumped into them while walking in the stadium.


"We just say, 'Hello.' It's kind of awe-inspiring and a treasured moment," Presny said.


During the Packer's Oct. 18 game against the Detroit Lions, Presny said people in one of his three sections started standing up and pointing upward. When he turned around and looked up, he saw Bart and Cherry Starr.


"I waved, and he waved back," Presny said.


Presny said former Packer players often sit in his sections.


"I saw Paul Hornung and Fuzzy Thurston at a distance," he said.


Prensy got to tour the Packers players' locker room during the shareholders meeting.


"It was exciting to see where all the players hang out. It's the nerve center of the whole stadium," he said.


Brad and Gene have met Jerry Kramer and Bart Starr but haven't gotten up close and personal with newer Packers. Since the stadium underwent a $295 million facelift earlier this decade, players are largely restricted to the locker room and the field.


Jason said he's met Packers, including Brett Favre. They exchanged hellos and shook hands. He sees many of the opposing team players because their tunnel is his section.


"These guys don't say a lot before the games," he said.



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