Leonard Blank is a diehard Green Bay Packers fan. Y Acosta, who co-owns the Lodi bar The Stadium with Blank, lives for the Chicago Bears. Despite loving rival teams, the two men are best friends. When the Packers and the Bears collided in the NFC Championship two weeks ago, Blank came away with bragging rights. Both men, however, came out winners as they are headed to Dallas to see the Packers take on the Pittsburgh Steelers live and in person in Super Bowl XLV on Sunday.
Their story is one of many local connections to the Super Bowl, which includes a resident with family ties to a Packers player, and countless proud Cheeseheads and Terrible Towel-wavers.
In 2007, when the Bears took on the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLI, Blank accompanied Acosta to Miami to see the big game. Now, Acosta is all too happy to return the favor and travel with his buddy to see Blank's cherished Packers in the Super Bowl.
"It is a win-win situation for me. If my Bears lost, I get to go to the Super Bowl. If my Bears won, I am in the Super Bowl," Acosta said. "(Blank) joined me in 2007 when the Bears went. And ever since, he said, 'If my Packers go, you gotta go with me.'"
Blank said that he bought a Super Bowl package at NFL.com. Both got tickets, airfare and lodging for about $4,000. Blank said the amount was about $1,000 more than they paid in 2007.
Blank, a plumbing contractor who lives in Acampo, and Acosta, a general contractor who lives in Lodi, are the co-owners of The Stadium, formerly known as Sky's, and located at 116 W. Turner Road.
Close to six months ago, they opened the renovated and renamed bar and officially began their "hobby" business venture. The bar — fit with 11 flat-screen TVs and three pool tables — combines three of their favorite things: football, a sports bar and stadiums. The bar is named after the duo's love for NFL stadiums.
In 2001, Blank and Acosta made a pact to see every stadium in the country. They only have five remaining on their football fan bucket list: Lucas Oil Stadium (home of the Indianapolis Colts), Ford Field (Detroit Lions), Bank of America Stadium (Carolina Panthers), EverBank Field (Jacksonville Jaguars) and LP Field (Tennessee Titans). Blank has been to LP Field, but Acosta hasn't.
"It's been a lot of fun," Acosta said of their stadium mission.
Like true sports fans, Blank's favorite stadium is Lambeau Field, and Acosta's is naturally Soldier Field. So when Blank and Acosta had a logo designed for The Stadium, they forged a replica of both legendary football temples into one stadium. Half is orange and looks like Soldier Field, and the other half is yellow and looks like Lambeau Field.
The bar's decor shares a Chicago and Green Bay flare. A framed and signed Mike Singletary jersey hangs on one wall, accompanied by a photo and next to it a Walter Payton sign. Across the room, a framed and signed Reggie White jersey hovers, joined by White football cards and a signed photo. Above the White tribute, an authentic Terrible Towel is pinned to the wall — showing fans of all teams are welcome at The Stadium.
While watching games in stadiums is the focal point of Blank and Acosta's journeys, they also love visiting sports bars before games, mingling with sports fans from all walks of life and then taking in the experience of a game at that team's stadium.
"We love to find sports bars. That's where this whole thing happened," Blank said pointing at the bar he and Acosta now run. "We spend two or three hours in a sports bar and then go to the game. Then come back. We have a great time. We have been to a lot of different cities, a lot of different food. We have met so many neat people when we go to these things."
This trip, they can't wait to get their hands on some true barbecue.
Throughout the 2010-11 NFL season, Blank and Acosta said they have built up a strong base of customers not only on football Sundays, but for other sporting events as well. Even though they will be at Cowboys Stadium instead of Lodi's Stadium on Sunday, the bar will still be offering a big spread of finger foods and the two are expecting a big crowd.
While Blank and Acosta will be going to see the game in person, Lodi's Beverly Wolfe will be staying in town to watch the Super Bowl, which features her third cousin — Green Bay kicker Mason Crosby.
Wolfe's first cousin is Crosby's grandmother. Since most of Wolfe's family lives in Texas, she hasn't spent much time with him, but said the family is close and she is updated frequently with news and photos.
Wolfe admitted she wasn't the biggest football fan before Crosby joined the Packers. When he was drafted by Green Bay in 2007 out of the University of Colorado, the entire family was glued to their television sets until he was selected in the sixth round.
Now Wolfe is a hardcore Packers fan. She watches games decked out in her green and gold gear with her framed, autographed action photo of Crosby near by.
Wolfe said she has been "annoyingly watching" the Packers reach the Super Bowl. Wolfe, her daughter and other family members who live in the area will be watching with even more excitement on Sunday when Crosby takes football's biggest stage. Seeing him always brings her family and friends together.
"Some of them are 49er fans and some of them are Raider fans, but we are all Mason fans," Wolfe said. "We are so proud of him."
Two other Lodians will also be proudly cheering on the Men of Steel and the Pack.
On Sunday, Lodi Police Officer Jimmy Pendergast will be donning the newest addition to his Steeler jersey collection — a Pro Bowl Maurkice Pouncey jersey — even though the rookie center will be sidelined with an ankle injury. A lifelong Pittsburgh fan, Pendergast plans on joining Steeler Nation at Fat's Grill and Bar in Stockton — where the black and gold faithful frequently gather.
Guy Marquardt, a pastor at Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lodi, hails from Wisconsin and can't wait to cheer on his favorite team with his family when his Sunday duties are wrapped up.
Marquardt was in the midst of serving his 14-year missionary stay in Brazil the last time the Packers were in the Super Bowl (1997-98) and is looking forward to watching it broadcast with English announcers.
Contact reporter Joelle Milholm at firstname.lastname@example.org.