I love the Green Bay Packers and when they won the Super Bowl it made me happy.
This is a hard admission for a college professor to make, because football is not “cool” in the humanities. Baseball is marginally acceptable and the Olympics more so, but the National Football League?
There are good reasons for any thoughtful person to dislike the NFL. It is a business that does not bring out the best in its advertisers, if not its audience. If men were as they are pictured on Super Bowl commercials, the human race would have destroyed itself long ago. The NFL seemed more concerned about one quarterback’s dog fighting than another quarterback’s sorry relationships with women.
Nevertheless, I am Packers fan, even if I know the Packers don’t really love me. They want me to buy product and pay their salaries. I am a consumer of Packer stuff to them.
I know this, but whatever the Packers are and whatever they think of their fan base (and who can know for sure?) does not matter to me. They haven’t gotten rich off the money spent on Packer-products in my house, the advertising has never made me buy a single product, and so in some ways I have used them to give me hundreds of hours of pleasure that cost me nothing over the years.
Just because a pleasure is free, does not make it worth pursuing.
Most justifications for sporting pleasures do not fit my love for the Packers. Though it is a lifetime ambition to go, I have never been to Green Bay Wisconsin so I cannot plead community pride. In fact, my formative school years took place in upstate New York where loving the Green and Gold was odd. I never played the game, so whatever physical exercise gives to a man, watching football on television has never profited me.
And yet I think loving the Packers has done me good. What good?
First, it gave an eccentric man like I am some common ground with other folk. My life has been enriched by countless football discussions that were gateways to getting to know people who would not have been fascinated by my theories about Anastasia or my love of High Elfish.
Second, the Packers were very, very bad for most of my growing up years. I am too young to remember the great Bart Starr as anything other than a not-so-great coach. When 8-8 is a promising year, you are not following a team for band-wagon reasons. Sticking by the Packers is not morally praiseworthy in itself, but when tempted to root for “better” teams it did me some good.
Lombardi was wrong. For a man in love winning is not everything, in fact it does not matter much at all. You hope for it, you wish to see it, but you will go on rooting for the Green and Gold regardless. There are not many places that encourage this kind of loyalty and it did me some good.
Rooting for flawed football players also taught me that heroes in one area sometimes are not so good in other areas. I was lucky to admire Lombardi and Starr . . . two men whose character has held up well over time in other areas of life. I had, however, to accept that Starr, a good guy and a great quarterback, was not a great (or at least successful) coach. This taught me to accept limitations in my heroes.
Brett Favre would make this point in a different way.
For fans my age, there will never by another Super Bowl victory like that engineered by Reggie White, Mike Holmgren, and Brett Favre. After years of being losers, the Lombardi Trophy “came home.”
Brett Favre and his exploits on the field brought what seemed like an endless drought to an end. Red Sox fans in baseball may scoff, but two decades of football mediocrity felt like a long time.
It was Brett Favre that was the “Starr” of his generation and we rooted hard for him. We knew his off-field flaws, but they seemed a natural part of his hard background and the young man grew up as we grew grey together. He finally married his wonderful girlfriend, put addiction behind him, and we cheered for him.
Even when he could not accept the ravages of time, many of us understood. He could obviously still play at the highest level and though the Packers did the right thing to cut him, nobody could blame him for wanting to keep playing. He was defying time and for a middle aged man that was fun to watch.
However, the off-field retirements became annoying. His antics did not fit his age and instead of seeming young he started to seem like the proverbial old fool. He was less the old gunslinger gone to one too many fights than the old lounge lizard hitting up one too many bars.
Homer might justify his behavior by excellence, but no Christian could. Favre forced decent people to forget he was an excellent quarterback by showing us he was an immature man. No amount of job skill could paper over his problems.
Still, Favre never was my pastor, my mentor, or my friend. He gave me years of pleasure and I am thankful for the joy of watching someone do his job so well. Bart Starr will always be easier to admire, but as a quarterback I hope that Brett Favre ends up in the Packer Ring of Honor. Meanwhile, as a middle-aged man Favre reminded me to try to finish well.
Since I started so badly, this is particularly important to me!
Favre, and other flawed players from my youth, reinforce the hard lesson of limiting my admiration for any “hero.” This has done me no end of good.
Ronald Reagan was a great president . . . and his achievements were authentic in ways a Starr or Favre could never match . . . but nobody should take lessons in fatherhood from him. He was a greater Republican than my father, but from what I can tell my Dad was a better father.
Everybody has troubles and admiration can be proportional to the importance of accomplishments. I don’t have to ignore George Washington’s slave holding to think him a great and indispensable man in other ways. Biola University has great founders, but those founders also had theological flaws.
That is just the way of this world, flawed football heroes taught me that lesson early (I am talking about you Juice), and Favre only reinforced it.
Being a fan of the Packers also taught me that it did not matter what the NFL intended. I was in control of my emotions. The community of Packer fans need not be exploited. If we don’t root for the team, it will fail, because they depend on us to support them. We root for the team any way we please, loudly or quietly, and the team can do nothing about it.
We decide the nature of Packer fandom and the “organization” cannot control our experience. There is a relationship between the visible Packers and the “ideal” Packers, but they are not the same. The Packers as a individual players may only care about their individual contracts, but we can ignore this and care about the team.
We are not being exploited, because we, the fan base, are the on-going team. Team presidents come and go (and on other teams “owners”), but the fans persist. As a kid, I began to realize that the organization was often stupid, the players mercenary, and the NFL greedy, but this was not “the whole truth.” Part of the truth was sitting with a friend at Rich Stadium in Buffalo wearing a Packer jersey and joking around with the Bills fans there. Another part was waiting in line to shake Starr’s hand and having him go out of his way to be nice to me. Another bit of truth was rooting for the Packers in a room full of Cowboys fans only to see the Packers lose.
The Pack is a business, but it also an idea and the NFL cannot control the idea.
When the Packers won Super Bowl XLV, I was happy. The journey had been good. The great accomplishment belongs to the men who won the game, but I did something as well. I rooted for them well and faithfully
Of all the loves, Packer-love must be the least important, but it is love after all. Doing any love well is a foretaste of heaven where every desire is fulfilled and every dream comes true.