|Beer vendor Hale has served up suds, laughs for 45 years at Lambeau|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 12 January 2008 07:23|
``When I get to the top, they say, 'Al, you made it!' and I make the sign of the cross and say, 'With His help!' Then they all laugh,'' the 70-year-old grandfather said. ``They're all asking me, 'How much longer, Al?' I intend to ask people Saturday if I should come back.''
Hale knows that answer even though he's leaning toward retiring. But he's always the showman, enjoying what he says is the limelight of his career.
The native of nearby Manitowoc, Wis., has spent 45 years as a beer vendor at Lambeau Field, and he isn't sure what he would do if he decides to retire after Saturday's playoff game between the Packers and the Seattle Seahawks.
Like Brett Favre, though, he won't give up without a large helping of suspense.
``I hate leaving this because I know within a year, a half a year, they'll say, 'Al who? Who's the beer man?''' Hale said. ``The whole reason I came back this season was because Favre came back.''
Hale works the section behind the visitors' bench at the 50-yard line, 117 and 119, about 30 rows up and says it's the same section that he started working in 1963, when Vince Lombardi was in the midst of bringing five NFL championships to Green Bay.
``I've never been out of that section all those years. I've had the grandpa, the son and the grandsons or granddaughters. It is unreal how much bonding there is through the Packers,'' Hale said. ``When you look around when you go to other stadiums, you see how many Packers fans there are. There are an awful lot of Packers fans across the country.''
Only four coaches - Curly Lambeau (1921-1949), Gene Ronzani (1950-1953), Lisle Blackbourn (1954-57) and Scooter McLean (1958) - pre-date him. Lambeau Field, built in 1957 for $960,000, was practically brand new when he started.
Hale, who acknowledges he has two bad habits - chewing toothpicks and an occasional curse - is full of wisecracks and homespun humor. He had fresh popcorn to share in his car, which is decked out with baseballs, a rosary and religious figures in the back.
He's a storyteller at heart, too: animated, excited and humble at crucial moments, like when he forgets a detail. He also deflects attention at the right times.
Hale insists his career in beer doesn't mean as much as the Little League team that he's coached for 35 years. The East Side Dodgers got a little publicity this year after a successful season earned them a photo in the local paper.
Besides, Hale stumbled into the beer business by accident.
On Sept. 15, 1963, the Chicago Bears were in town (and won 10-3), his wife was pregnant and he lived at an apartment near the field.
Hale, a plumber until he retired in 2000, wandered over looking for a ticket. When he found none, he was approached by a vendor who asked if he wanted to try selling beer.
Hale did, and never stopped.
``I made $8.05 the first game and that's how I got started,'' Hale said. ``Beer at that time was 35 cents a bottle, three for a dollar because you didn't want to make that nickel change.''
Not that Hale even made a nickel during the famous Ice Bowl on Dec. 31, 1967, when Bart Starr and the Packers beat the Cowboys on their way to a second Super Bowl title.
``We sold none,'' Hale said. ``We thought that we were going to sell a big bundle because it was a big game. We went to open them up, but you didn't even have a chance to pour it. It froze then and there. They didn't hardly sell any coffee either because it was just intensely cold.''
Instead, Hale and the other vendors lingered where they picked up the beers because it was warmer. The game time temperature was 13 below zero with a wind chill of 46 below.
``Periodically, we'd walk out and see the game,'' Hale said. ``People were huddled up and dressed for it. But it was unreal how that cold took care of all the food and liquor. People just huddled together. That was it.''
Now, Hale has quite a following in his section, and said he doesn't allow swearing or profanity.
``He's really great with dealing with the fans and the crowds,'' Levy Restaurants senior concessions manager Cyrus Walker said. ``If you didn't know Al Hale had been here 45 years, and you just talked to him and didn't see he was an older gentleman, you'd think he was a 22-year-old kid running around because he shows so much passion.''
Levy honored Hale at the last regular-season home game with a private ceremony. Hale got a cake, an authentic jersey, stitched with his name and the No. 45 (``It cost more than $200, Holy moly!''), and a plaque thanking him for his service.
Hale is one of many vendors who have been doing it seemingly forever.
At Chicago's Wrigley Field, the Cubs claim two vendors that have worked there since the 1950s. Los Angeles peanut vendor Roger Owens wrote a book about his experiences working Dodgers games since 1958.
``It gets to be a family,'' Hale said. ``You know the people. You're not a stranger.''
Hale hams it up with his extended family, too.
The father of five and grandfather of ``10 to 12'' (actually 11) blushes a little when he acknowledges he gets a peck on the cheek from women less than half his age who know him.
``I get the kisses from the girls, and then the other people who are new are like, 'How's that old guy getting kisses?' It isn't just one, it's half-a-dozen or more.''
Would Hale, who also works in concessions at the arena across the street, ever retire and leave Green Bay, where he watched stars from Bart to Brett?
``I couldn't, I couldn't, I couldn't,'' he said. ``Go to Florida? I don't golf, so I can't go there. I don't know anybody there.''
Then what about delivering beers for another year, Al?
``If Favre really does come back, I may come back one more year,'' Hale said. ``If he can do it, I can do it!''