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From: Dan Kois
To: Daniel Engber
Daniel, I'm afraid I must agree with Slate commenter njguy73, whowisely wrote:
If your city has multiple teams, you don't have to pick one until you're 13. Kids can root for both, feel it out, see which one clicks, but eventually a decision must be made. And it is irreversible.
Your sports bigamy is an abomination before God, is what I'm saying. I don't know your motivation for exposing your shame to the world, but I hope that this is the first step in getting the help you need. Presumably somewhere in New York you can find a sports psychologist to work through these issues with you. Her first move, I suspect, will be to explore the curious linguistic parallels between "paraphilia" and "paraphernalia," in order to dig into that haunting image of you as a boy in mismatched cap and shirt and, apparently, no pants. Perhaps one day you will be able to bid farewell to that scared, lost child, and choose a team to love and a team to hate, like everyone else.
Of course, no matter which team you choose, you're stuck with a real dog. Neither the Giants nor the Jets look to be competitive or even lovable for a long time to come. Maybe you should just pick a new team to embrace?
For years I would suggest to friends in your circumstances—well, not exactly your circumstances, ew, but friends looking for a team—that they cheer for the Packers. I'd long considered the Pack the real "America's Team"— small-town, spunky, embracing Wisconsin's Progressive tradition. That the team was literally owned by the fans was just icing on the cake. "Why reward Jerry Jones or Dan Snyder with your fandom?" I'd ask. "Reward the good people of the Rust Belt instead!" When the Packers transformed, during my college years, from hapless NFC Central punching bag to Mike Holmgren-led success story, their ascent seemed to confirm the essential goodness of our mutual journey. (I know! But that's how it feels.)
This Christmas, I hoped to cement my children's love of the Packers via what I believed to be the ideal gift: a single share of Packers stock, offered this month for only the
third fifth time ever. I suspected that my daughters wouldn't immediately warm to the gift—they were, after all, receiving American Girl dolls from their grandmother—but hoped that the handsome certificate I'd wrapped for them would serve, in years to come, to pique their interest in the team we'd share.
Needless to say they didn't quite get it. "What is it?" the 6-year-old asked, eyeing the certificate suspiciously.
"It's stock in the Packers!"I said. "Now you own part of the team!"
"What does that mean?" asked the 4-year-old.
"You own a little piece of the Packers," I said. "You can cheer for them even harder, and in the spring you can go with Pop-Pop to the annual meeting."
"What's an annual meeting?"
"It's like a big party at the football stadium," I explained.
"Oh," said the eldest, and dropped the $250 certificate onto the floor; I rescued it before it could get as crinkled as the wrapping paper in which the children were wallowing like hippos in mud.
Later that evening my mom and I sat down to watch the Packers stomp all over the Bears in glorious HD. My younger daughter sat down in a Disney Princess™ lawn chair at kickoff and asked, "What are the teams that are playing in the football game?"
"It's the Packers!" I said. "That's the team you own!" She sat with us for the first few minutes of the first quarter, long enough to watch Aaron Rodgers lead a lovely touchdown drive, long enough for me to feel both proud at her interest and queasy at the amount of brutality she was witnessing. Then she went to bed.
The rest of the game was a delight to watch, of course, though as the trouncing went on I could see how close the Packers are to becoming, in this spectacular season, the villains of the NFL. True, they don't have the sheen of evil that the Patriots will maintain as long as that sweatshirt-clad gargoyle stalks the sidelines on their behalf. But after Rodgers faked Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs out of their jock straps, something about his smile rubbed me the wrong way. His smile didn't say, Thank God I didn't get clobbered after taking off on that foolhardy run between two terrifying linebackers. It said, Check me out, I'm Aaron F'n Rodgers.
Is it possible that the quarterback of my favorite team is a little bit of a cock?
Well, sure. (He yawned after yet another TD shortly afterward, confirming my fears.) And while it's safe to say no one becomes an NFL quarterback without a healthy self-regard, the ease with which Rodgers has accumulated wins this season has turned him, and by extension the Packers, from plucky success story to hateable juggernaut. They remind me, I shudder to say, of the Cowboys of the early 1990s, who dashed my Packers' dreams several seasons in a row. Cocky, nearly undefeatable, ruthless, beloved by Republicans—the Cowboys were the quintessential overdogs. And now the Pack seems to be taking their place, right down to the high-profile GOP fans. Is this the team I want my children cheering for?
It is, I'm afraid. What are the options? Hail to the Redskins, with their racist logo, despicable owner, and (worst of all) dismal results on the field? Cheer for two teams like some kind of Engberian deviant? Nope.
All I can do is hope that the Packers lose just enough to seem mortal, enough so that cheering for them doesn't feel like cheering for Steven Spielberg at the Oscars or Germany in the EU. Just enough to wipe the jerky smile off Aaron Rodgers's face, but not enough to shake his confidence. And not this year. Some other year.
Dan Kois is a senior editor at Slate and a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine.