Fry up some beer brats, nuke those cheese curds, lay out the herring and pop open a Honey Weiss: The Packers are back in primetime.
NewsFeed is well aware that we’re not the first publication to wax poetic about the Green Bay Packers, in the lead up to Super Bowl XLV. Writers far wiser than us have already marveled over the team’s non-profit approach, and the all-football-all-the-time mentality of the small burg known as Green Bay, Wisconsin. Heck, even Lil Wayne managed to make “cheesehead” sound sexy in his new Packers anthem.
But, to be blunt, I couldn’t resist.
I spent the first 18 years of my life in Wisconsin; 13 of them in a Milwaukee suburb by the name of Hartland (you can’t make this stuff up). I’ve visited Green Bay often through the years, but even in Hartland, some 140 miles away, the Packers felt like my team; Lambeau Field my shrine.
Now it’s rather easy to summarize all the things that make this team different from their NFL counterparts: Tiny market, owned by the fans, 80,000-person waiting list for season tickets. But what’s a little more difficult to capture is the sense of community that surrounds the green and gold – just how thoroughly Packers Pride courses through the veins of the average Wisconsinite. Sure, every team has a hardcore fanbase, but there’s something just a little more intense about the Packer faithful. When the Packers win, all is right in our world. When they lose, you can feel a shift in the Wisconsin air; come Monday morning, people drag.
(More at NewsFeed: Photos of Brett Favre’s storied career)
I’m not exaggerating. After the Packers season has drawn to a close, the winter weekends in Wisconsin feel just a little more pointless and chilly; once preseason has begun in August, no matter how nice the summer weather, the state stays indoors on Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons to check out the new squad. If the Packers are playing on Thanksgiving Day, there is no debate: Dinner will be had in the living room.
Playing on Christmas Day? Then we will open presents a day early.
But here’s the thing football novices always seem to forget: The Packers weren’t that good for a long, long time. We’re talking 30 years, from their NFL championship in 1967 to their Super Bowl championship in 1996. Sure, they were competitive from the early ‘90s forward, but I was born in 1980, when they were not exactly a stellar squad. And yet from my first days, it was a given: We root for the Pack. Sundays were Packers days, every game was a new opportunity, and even if you were 1-13, all that mattered was today’s game. And beating the Bears.
Packers fans don’t leave the game early. They don’t give up on the season. They don’t boo their warriors, even when they flop. Just think about it: For decades, without fail, a mediocre team played to adoring sold out stadiums.
If that’s what the Badger State was like during losing times, imagine the ecstasy of recent years, through the eras of Favre – our official state mascot – and now Rodgers. We loved the team when they stunk; to now watch them function, win, dominate is almost too much to bear. We watched the Favre crew bond, blend and ascend and now the same thing is happening with a new crew. The Rodgers-Matthews-Capers-McCarthy-Thompson era ignited in 2009, and is now coming to a boil only a year later.
(Photos: The making of the Super Bowl footballs)
It’s this sense of rooting from ground zero, through times both glorious and agonizing, that sets our statewide love affair apart. Each and every game, we watch for signs of improvement, for breakthroughs and watersheds. When Aaron Rodgers came out like a gunslinger in this year’s playoffs, we weren’t just rooting for the scoreboard, but for the definitive arrival of the man we’ve been watching for years. We felt something close to parental pride: He’s our quarterback – and he’s finally clearing the biggest of all hurdles.
And don’t even get a Packers fan started on the second-string defense, which this season has become a dominant first-string powerhouse. At every crucial third down of the season, they got the job done.
Just know this: The hearts of five million Wisconsinites will be racing Sunday night. This is a state where people hang their framed shares of Packers stock on the walls in lieu of artwork. It’s a land where grown men, like my reserved father, jump out of their seats during the Super Bowl (in 1997, during the first Packers touchdown of Super Bowl XXXI, my dad jumped from his chair, down to his knees, screaming at the top of his lungs). This is a place where, as a teenager working at the grocery store, we experienced the weekly 10 a.m. pre-game rush, and then the 12-3 p.m. abandoned store.
When the Packers are on TV in Wisconsin, there’s not a soul to be found out and about. So it should come as no surprise that two hours prior to the NFC Championship game, the Packers bar in New York City’s west village was not only packed to capacity but a line of 50 giddy fans were camping out on the freezing sidewalk outside. Or that, as a film critic at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008, I skipped three premieres to watch Favre in the NFC Championship. Or, as ESPN notes, Green Bay hotels are already sold out for Sunday, not because there’s a game in town but because fans want to watch the Big One with other fans.
This isn’t your ordinary team, but these also aren’t your ordinary fans. That’s why, if you’re still undecided, NewsFeed officially invites you to join the green and gold for a day. An emotional, euphoric, elated day of brats, beer and cheese curds.
And no matter what happens Sunday, we’ll still be cheering for the boys Monday morning.
(Photos: The unforgettable Super Bowl photos)