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Packers hosting NFC title game 'like having another Christmas'

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It was hard for Jason Bartel to quit smiling. He was busy getting Kroll's West, a restaurant and bar a long punt from Lambeau Field, ready for another unexpected weekend of Green Bay Packers football -- the NFC championship no less.

"It is like having another Christmas -- one month later," the general manager said. "It is going to be a fun weekend, a lucrative weekend financially. The positive part about it is the whole community benefits."

If folks who study economics are right, the game will mean at least $4 million in spending that wouldn't otherwise happen in the snow-covered, football-crazed city. With about 100,000 people, it's the smallest in America with a professional sports team.

The Packers (14-3) play the New York Giants (12-6) at home Sunday, thanks to the Giants' upset of No. 1 seed Dallas. That set up the first title game in self-described Titletown in 11 years. The winner goes on to the Super Bowl against either undefeated New England or San Diego.

It's fun, fun, fun. And money, money, money.

People who could have found a hotel room for $70 without the game now must pay upward of $200 per night with a two-night minimum -- if they can find one at all.

Even charities stand to cash in. Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church parks about 100 cars in its lot about a half-mile from the stadium, raising about $1,000 per game for groups like the Knights of Columbus and a Boy Scout troop, the Rev. Dennis Bergsbaken said.

"We were not necessarily anticipating this great of a season, but we are absolutely loving it," he said.

The 55-year-old priest, a Packers season-ticket holder, delayed a planned vacation to Cancun, Mexico, until Monday so he can attend the game.

That took some soul-searching, Bergsbaken acknowledged Tuesday.

"I easily could have sold my tickets to pay for my entire trip," he said.

He went to bed after Dallas' loss on Sunday expecting to do just that.

"Then overnight, a light shown and I knew I had to stay for the game," he said. "Instead of being in Cancun, I am going to be in Lambeau Field."

Bartel declined to say how lucrative this weekend will be for his restaurant, which also is having an outdoor tailgate party.

"It will be a nice Christmas bonus," he said. "I am just going to put it at that."

Certainly enough to help pay for the 16 new high-definition televisions he was installing Monday to replace eight conventional TVs -- just in time for the big game.

Even die-hard fans like Bud Theis of Suamico never saw this good fortune coming from a team that was 8-8 a year ago and didn't make the playoffs.

"Very surprised," said Theis, who proudly wore a Packers hat and jacket. His pet dog, Casey, rode in a green and gold dog bed in the family car parked near Lambeau Field on Monday morning.

Andrew Schroepfer, general manager of RoadStar Inn -- which tells customers there's a "patch of grass between us and Lambeau" -- said he took about 300 calls by noon Monday from people looking to book one of his 64 rooms for the weekend at $175 to $200 a night, more than double the regular cost.

"These are our customers," he said, holding up a folder with the names of 200 Packers fans who routinely stay at the motel for games. "We won't open up our reservations to the public until we talk to them. We give them first shot."

He knows he'll be full, and that means tens of thousands of dollars extra in the bank.

"Every dollar I get extra, I stick back into the hotel," he said. "Don't get me wrong. Everybody loves money. But it's all about the fans."

At Days Inn, a 77-room hotel just east of Lambeau Field, general manager Carrie Jeska had a full house booked for a weekend camper show, but it was canceled because of the game, freeing needed rooms for Packers fans.

Rooms that would go for $66 to $85 run $225 for the game -- a price range Jeska calls the "lower end" of the hotel market in town.

"The phones lighted up with about two minutes left in the (Dallas) game," she said.

They were full by Monday and a sign outside read, "It's going to be McCarthys way to another Super Bowl," referring to coach Mike McCarthy.

Jeska stood in front of a painting depicting the 1967 Ice Bowl game -- a snow-covered championship game in Titletown -- that a fan once offered to buy for $3,000. She described herself as both happy and tired.

"It is good for my budget. It will be another weekend of partying. We will recover from it," she said. "It has been a long season."

Theis, a 65-year-old retired construction worker, and his wife, Marcia, 62, each have $148 tickets to the game.

There's no way the lure of $450 bids on e-Bay could get them to sell, they said.

And despite single-digit temperatures forecast for Sunday, they have already turned down a chance to swap the tickets for inside seats, Marcia Theis said.

Outside is where the fun is, she said.

Her husband just smiled.

"Any time the Packers win, this town is really smooth. Everybody is happy," he said. "This town would be nothing without the Green Bay Packers."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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