The Mayor?s district: Brian Smith?s happy place is green and gold
Everyone should have a happy place, and for Waupaca Mayor Brian Smith it is a space in his basement.
There Smith, when he’s not running his accounting business or serving as Waupaca’s mayor, as he has for the last decade, is reminded of the many Green Bay Packers games he has gone to over the years. Autographed photographs of players past and present grace the walls of the former spare bedroom. Hats, T-shirts and sweatshirts fill a closet. Bobbleheads, footballs, helmets and even a soap dispenser are among the items which sit on shelves.
“The basement is my level,” Smith says. “It’s like my man cave, where I watch the games.”
Smith started his collection in the mid 1990s. Around Christmas of 2001, he began putting his Packers room together in the basement of his business. A location he believes his wife, Terri, appreciated. But about five years later that room was needed for file storage. So he packed all of the photos, hats, helmets and footballs into storage bins. A few years ago, Smith started putting everything back up – this time in the couple’s home.
With their three children – son Chris and daughters Lindsay and Emily – grown, there was room to do so in an empty bedroom in the basement. The room filled with Packers memorabilia still doubles as a spare room when family and friends visit, and Smith says he has “started to spread his wings outside of this room,” referring to items placed in other parts of the basement, such as his collection of mini helmets and various photos.
“In the basement (of his business), I had a blank wall, and as I bought something, I put it in a spot,” Smith said. “Brett Favre ends up in a lot of different places now.”
As the basement shrine began to take shape, Smith also got season tickets and started going to every game. He had been to plenty of games before that; in fact, Smith remembers his first Packers game. It was in 1975, he was a sophomore in college. The game was in Milwaukee, and it was cold.
Smith, from a family of 10, went to the game with some of his brothers and sisters, packing into his Ford Fiesta. Always a sports lover, Smith figures he started watching when he was about 6 years old. From there it grew: Smith played football, basketball and baseball at Waupaca High School and coached football, among other sports, during his teaching days in Waupaca and Racine.
Wherever he is, it has always been easy for Smith to add to his collection.
“Every time I go to an out-of-town game, I buy four different things: a hat, a pennant, a cup and some little trinket, like a bear if it’s the Bears, and, of course, I save the ticket too,” he said.
Smith enjoys seeing the Packers play in other places. Other than Lambeau Field, he has seen the Packers play in Chicago, San Diego, Arizona, Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Seattle, Houston and Dallas.
“San Diego is still my favorite,” he said. “The whole stadium is great. The Chargers fans are nice. We actually tailgated with them.”
Whenever he travels for a game, rounds of golf are also planned. This year, Smith is driving to Cincinnati for a game and going to Dallas in December.
“I really wanted to go to the Super Bowl a couple years ago in Dallas when the Packers went to the Super Bowl, but it was cost prohibitive,” he said. “I did go to all the home playoff games that year.”
He said that Super Bowl season “kind of snuck up on everybody.” That year, Smith had not spent a lot of time looking for items to add to his collection.
“Once the playoffs came, I tried to get as much memorabilia,” he said. “It was pretty easy to dedicate a wall to it. It’s amazing how pictures have changed – the canvas. There were a lot of stars in that game, but it came down to (Aaron) Rodgers and (Clay) Matthews. It was pretty easy to get pictures of them.”
Smith has a large-screen television mounted on a wall in another part of the basement, though sometimes he likes to watch games on the smaller television in his Packers room. Even the futon follows the theme – its cushions are green.
“When the Packers are out of town and I’m not at the game, I like to watch the game by myself,” he said.
But for the most part Smith wants to be there.
“When you go to the game, you see the pregame when the players come out and the fans get excited,” Smith said. “You buy popcorn and drinks from vendors. You talk to people.”
At Lambeau, he gets to see aspects of the game those watching at home do not get to see, such as the reactions of fans, players on the sidelines, coaches and even his brothers.
There is also the tailgating experience.
“Normally, for noon games, we don’t tailgate,” Smith said. “If it’s a 3 p.m. or 7 p.m. game, we leave around 11 a.m. and get there around noon and set up for a couple hours.”
His group keeps it simple: burgers, brats, hot dogs, chips and cheese and crackers. Someone usually brings pasta or a dessert. Smith usually goes to the last home game of the season with a group of guys. One of them always makes what is referred to as “roadkill chili.”
Over the years siblings, children and friends have gone to games with him. Terri has gone to just one, when tickets were won to watch the game from a skybox.
“It’s a different experience. It’s not what I’m used to,” Smith said of watching from the skybox.
Now, he is sharing his love of the game with his grandchildren.
“My granddaughter (Idalis) went with me last year to her first game,” Smith said. “She was only 7, but she was awesome.”
For Idalis, it was more of a social event than a sporting event. Smith looks forward to taking his 6-year-old grandson, Carter, to a game this year. Each time Smith goes to a home game, he makes sure to stop in the Packers Pro Shop to find something new to add to his collection.
“I still try to buy a hat every time I go,” he said. “I try to buy one especially when they do something special, like winning the playoffs or the Super Bowl.”
Smith is always looking to do green and gold shopping when he and Terri go anywhere.
“Now, I try to find things you would use in your home, although I don’t use them,” he said.
That is why those looking closely at his collection will notice a box of Packers Kleenex, a grilling apron, a cooler and even a grill. He found the grill at an estate sale and has no plans to use it, saying, “It’s charcoal. I don’t want that smell in here.”
Smith says there are many more places to buy memorabilia today than when he started his collection. He does not have to go far to find a source; about a block from his office is a shop in downtown Waupaca called Acme Sports.
“If I buy it, I try to buy it as local as I can,” Smith said.
In some cases, one never knows what, or who, will pass through Waupaca. Smith is also an owner of Paca Pub & Grill, a family business started years ago by his parents, the late Ron and Helen Smith. Once during tax season, Smith received a call at his accounting office from a bartender telling him (former Packers head coach and general manager) Mike Sherman was at Paca Pub.
Sherman was in town because his son was playing in a basketball tournament. Sherman saw the word “pub,” and being from the Boston area assumed the place served food, Smith said.
At that time, Paca Pub only served pizza. Sherman ordered one.
“I ran over there,” Smith recalled. “I bet we sat for 45 minutes, and he talked to us. He was the nicest guy.”
Smith’s love of collecting Packers memorabilia means family members seldom have to ask him what he wants for Christmas or his birthday. They do tell him it is getting harder to find something special, especially since he often buys things himself.
“I think I have cut back on what I buy. I shop just as much, but I look for something special I don’t already have,” he said.
This is why Smith’s collection also includes gnomes.
Someday, his son Chris will probably take over the collection. Until then, Mayor Smith only has to walk down the stairs into his basement to relive many memories.
“It’s good to remember some of the stuff,” Smith said as he looked at the pictures on the walls. “You can always come down here, and it’s your happy room. You just come down and sit. You can feel like it’s your own room, and it’s full of the things that you enjoy.”
Angie Landsverk is a staff writer for the Waupaca County Post.