We are officially less than a month before the start of the NFL season, so it's probably time to start previewing the monster. The key to the NFL's success — other than fantasy football and gambling, of course — is the rabid nature of its fans. That is to say: You don't see a lot of people painting their faces for their favorite golfer.
We asked a gaggle of writers, from the Web, from print, from books, even a TV guy or two, to tell us, in as many or as little words as they need, why My Team Is Better Than Your Team. This is not meant to be factual, or dispassionate, or even logical: We just asked them to riff on why they love their team so much, or what their team means to them, or whatever. We will be running two a day until the beginning of the NFL season.
Right now: the Green Bay Packers. Your author is Jeff Bercovici.
Jeff Bercovici is a senior writer at Radar. He spent five summers selling hot dogs at Brewer games and wishes Packers.com would bring back Leroy Butler's column. His words are after the jump.
I am a Packer fan — and before you start gagging, let me assure you it's not because of the franchise's storied history (couldn't give a shit), the mystique of Lambeau Field (never been there), the fan-centric ownership model (praiseworthy but immaterial) or any of the other things John Madden and his senescent boothmates love to prattle on about. It's not even because of Three-Time MVP Brett Favre, about whom I actually have somewhat conflicted feelings these days. (More on that later.)
No, I love the Packers because I am from Wisconsin, and everyone I know from Wisconsin loves the Packers. I realize that reasoning sounds both tautological and lemming-like, but bear with me.
If you've watched a Packer home game on TV, you've seen the de rigeur exterior shot of the downtown Green Bay looking post-apocalyptically empty — the implication being that everyone is home or at a bar, watching the game. What you may not realize is that it's really like that — not just in Green Bay, but all over the state, and all season long. In fact, even at Brewers games, you see a lot more green-and-gold in the stands than blue-and-yellow (or whatever the hell colors the Brewers are wearing these days).
Obsessive Packerphilia cuts across all lines — age, sex, race, class. This sounds implausibly utopian, but it's true, and it carries a substantial practical benefit: Rare is the conversational dead zone that can't be filled with "How do you like our playoff chances this year?" This trick isn't only useful with strangers, either; I find my parents, in particular, much easier to converse with between September and January.
I can't substantiate my belief that Cheeseheads love their team more than any other fans, and I can't even offer a convincing explanation of why it should be so, at least not without resorting to the tedious cliches of the first paragraph. But do I have to? Is there anyone who will seriously make the case that the Packers aren't among the two or three most adored teams in all of American professional athletics? If you'll grant that the pleasure of watching sports comes, at least in part, from the feeling of being part of a community, sharing the emotions and desires of friends and strangers alike, it stands to reason that the pleasure of watching a team with as large and intense a following as Green Bay's should be that much greater. And it is. If you don't believe me, go watch a late-season game against the Bears or Vikings at Kettle of Fish in the West Village in New York City.
Now, about Brett Favre. I worship him. I think No. 4 is the best thing that ever happened to Green Bay. Watching him throw for 399 yards and 4 TDs the day after his father's death was the most poignant experience of my sports-watching life. I will even admit to a recurring daydream in which I am assigned to profile Favre for a magazine, and he realizes I am the only writer who truly understands him and invites me to be his personal biographer.
So why is it that among my Wisconsin friends, I am regarded as a Favre-hater? Apparently because, just as a true patriot speaks out against a corrupt Administration, even during wartime, I believe a true Packer fan must criticize a Hall of Fame-bound quarterback who makes dumb throws, even in the twilight of his career. And, let's face it, Favre's decision-making, never the strongest part of his game, has gone to shit in the last couple seasons. I'd love nothing more than to see Favre have one last winning season on the way out, and I would settle for watching him acquit himself well in a losing campaign, but if it's a choice between retirement and another 29-interception year ... well, I know which I'd prefer.