As I write, we’re mere hours away from the 2011 NFC Championship between the Green Bay Packers and their mortal enemy, the Chicago Bears. We’ll be screaming at the TV in our Packers sweatshirts and hats while gobbling all sorts of cheese-based appetizers, and it will be good.
Until the mid 1990s, though, I was (head bowed in embarrassment) a Dallas Cowboys fan. Thankfully, two things happened that brought me to repentance.
1. Cheesehead by marriage
I married into Packermania. My wife grew up in Wisconsin, born in Milwaukee to a family that bleeds green and gold. It’s the land where beer, brats, and cheese are the three food groups. It’s a world where you probably like your family but you love the Packers.
If I wanted to peacefully coexist with my in-laws I was going to have to drink the kool-aid. I had to eat Johnsonville bratwurst on a hot dog bun. I had to down a beer every now and again. And I HAD to love the Green Bay Packers. It wasn’t a question. It was assumed.
I love being a Cheesehead. I watched with glee last fall as The-Spectacle-Formerly-Known-As-Brett-Favre returned to get his Viking tail whupped at Lambeau Field. Don’t get me wrong – for years I was as much a Brett Favre fan as I was a Packers fan. He’s given an incredible show in the NFL. When we were expecting our son in 1997 (year of the Packers’ last Super Bowl win), “Brett” was even on our short list of baby names. But in recent years the annual “will he, won’t he” summer drama got tiresome, as did his off-field antics while he was a Jet.
Incidentally, a lot of folks forget that Favre’s first years with the Packers were disappointing. The predictable interceptions were there from the start, while the legendary wins were not. I recall agreeing with a friend and fellow fan who confided one Sunday evening in 1993, “I don’t know about you, but I’m about ready to give up on Brett Favre.”
Lucky for us fans, Packer management didn’t give up and Favre went on to rewrite the history books. For years he made it easy to be a Packers fan. And I’m proud to say his successor is doing the same. Aaron Rodgers is no longer in the Favre shadow – he’s arguably the most exciting and most accurate QB on the field today.
2. The Cowboys talked me out of being a fan in three easy steps
a) Jerry Jones bought the Cowboys and fired Tom Landry.
I was as much a Landry fan as I was a Cowboys fan. There was no finer, classier coach in the NFL as far as I was concerned. Jones showed his true colors right away when he done Landry dirty, in my humble opinion.
b) I got bored watching the Cowboys win so many Super Bowls in the 90s.
They won in 1992, 1993, and 1995. I actually tired of seeing touchdown after touchdown. Most embarrassing was their 1992 blowout of the Buffalo Bills, 52-17. “Oh, another Cowboy touchdown? Yawn. Wake me when it’s over.”
c) The Cowboys became an embarrassment to themselves and their fans.
Q: Why don’t the Cowboys huddle any more?
A: It’s a parole violation to associate with known felons.
Q: What is Jerry Jones’ biggest concern?
A: “Does bail money count against the Salary Cap?”
The infamous drug arrests left me embarrassed to admit I was a Cowboy fan. Michael Irvin, Hollywood Henderson, and Nate Newton were only three of the most notable busts. Evidently Jerry Jones preferred crack-heads and pot-heads to men of character like Landry, cynics said. (Cheap shot, I know, but Jones has repeatedly shown his penchant for hiring ne’er-do-wells.)
After visiting Wisconsin every few years since the late 1980s to see my wife’s relatives I finally made it to the Cheesehead Mecca – the Packers Hall of Fame at Lambeau Field – in 2009. It was a magical visit for me (and for my wife, kids, and in-laws), from standing under the towering Vince Lombardi statue out front to seeing the legendary Favre #4 jersey behind glass inside. I wish we could have experienced a game at Lambeau but our visit took place in July and, frankly, it was cold enough in Green Bay that day for this southern boy. I really don’t need to know what sub-zero temperatures feel like for 3 straight hours, even once.
Pat McCurdy, a cabaret singer/songwriter from Milwaukee, has accurately captured the Cheesehead spirit in a new Packers anthem:
“I like my wife, she’s okay
And for my kids, I’m thankful almost every day
I like my family, it’s so dear to me
But I love the Green Bay Packers.”
We’ll probably be singing those words this afternoon, and if we’re lucky, again in a couple of weeks on Super Bowl Sunday.