Sunday, January 27, 2008

Pickled Pigskin

My wife and I watched the game last Sunday. It is a clear sign of how much living in Green Bay affected us that we both watched the game. As I have said before, I cannot be legitimately classified as a sports fan – never mind a football fan. And I must say that one of the things that my wife found attractive about me (besides my devastating good looks, my scintillating intellect, and irresistible charm) is that I do not typically spend hours watching various professional and collegiate sporting events on TV. Needless to say, she seldom spends more than a few seconds a month even thinking much about sports herself.
So when Sunday night found us tuned in and attentive to the Green Bay game, it really was quite an unusual event. Even more so since I had just finished watching three hours of football as the Patriots managed to put down the upstart Chargers. In fact, at one point, my girls started grousing about watching the game. “Dad?” said the little one, “can we watch something else?” After I said no, the complaining continued and began to take on a bit of a whine. At this point I simply pulled rank. It sounded something like this. “I almost never watch sports. I have not watched a single game this year. If, on this day, I wish to watch a football game, then I am allowed to do so.” I resisted the temptation to add, “Your Father the Emperor has spoken. Now be silent.” But it was clearly implied in my tone.
I did actually miss the first part of the GB game, as we stopped watching to eat dinner, and then put the kids to bed. We picked up sometime late in the second quarter. I kept waiting for the Packers to drive downfield and score so as to put the game to bed, but it just seemed that the were unable to put together a sustained drive. Even to my untrained eye they seemed to lack the power to make the plays. As the game progressed and it stayed close, my wife and I were actually getting really excited. It’s not too unusual for me to talk to the TV. My wife usually refrains from addressing electronic devices directly. In this case, we were both calling out, encouraging Brett to move, egging on the defense to blitz, moaning when the pass was incomplete or the runner stopped short of the first down. At one point, I turned to my wife and observed that we sounded like we are from Green Bay. And of course, for those few minutes, we actually were from Green Bay once again. It felt good.
Of course, that did not last. It was a real let down, a bit of a shock really. How could this happen. No, the Pack is supposed to WIN. Favre is supposed to pull something out of the hat. But no, it was not to be. Both of us felt sad and sorry for the outcome.

You may recall from post The Joy of the Pack, my Jedi powers were at work. As the Pack went down, I knew exactly what was going on in GB. The weeping. The gnashing of teeth. And those are not figures of speech. I know many football fans. I know some who are very…enthusiastic. In the small city of Green Bay, tucked into the northeast corner of Wisconsin, it is a qualitatively different experience. It is as if the town itself breathes in and out to the rhythm of the gridiron. It is the universal topic of conversation, even supplanting the weather in priority. To live in Green Bay is to be culturally immersed in football in a way that I think no other place offers. I suspect it is a function of threethings: deeply rooted thought habits, a high level of saturation, and fierce group identification.
The Packers have been around since 1919. They were not among the very first franchises of the NFL when it was formed in 1921, but they are among the oldest still existing, along with the Chicago Bears. I remember once, while getting my hair cut in 1996, hearing a 90 year old man telling the tale of watching the Packer’s play against Marinette when he was 10 years old. This kind of history as allowed the Packers to settle deep into the cultural consciousness of the town.
Then there is the size of Green Bay relative to…well…an NFL Franchise. GB is about the same size as Manchester NH. That is to say, it’s not that big. The city itself carries just under 100,000 people, with the surrounding environs accounting for another 100,000 or so. That allows the Packers to effect an inordinately strong cultural impact. Imagine two 5 gallon buckets filled with water. In one, you will drop a tablespoon of salt. In the other you will place a 20 lb salt lick. Allow both to dissolve. Let’s just say that the cultural water in Green Bay is much more savory with the taste of pigskin than that of…Boston.
As a result of the intensity of the brine and the long fermentation period, I think that the identification with the Packers by the people of Green Bay is much stronger than is typical. While every NFL city boasts its true believers, I suspect few of them draw their TB’s from such a broad cross section, and from such a deep well as the Packer’s do in Green Bay. The psyche of the city is bound up with the Packers to such a degree that if by some natural or man made disaster the Packers ceased to exist, I suspect that the entire city would melt away, like so much smoke in the wind in the span of a few years – perhaps sooner with global warming and all.
How else could I explain how Green Bay, somehow, someway actually got me to pay attention to football, at all? It must be something in the water. So my heart goes out to my friends in GB. Sincerely. That part of me that still lives there wept with you.
Of course, I was drinking granite laced NH water long before I moved to GB. So when the Patriots take the field, I will very much enjoy watching them grind the Giants down to size. Yes. I plan to watch the game. I’ll be watching the Patriots, but I can thank the Packers for that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a transplant to GB, the thing that amazes me is the knowledge of the Packer fans. That is, they know football. I have been around a lot of "fans" of other teams, but they know very little about how the game of football is played compared to the Packer fans.

I also know that I am still a football fan over being a Packer fan (which I am). I have gone to at least a couple games a year for the last three years and will get harassed when I applaud a good play the other team makes.

There is always next year.