What else can I write after a game like that? Fourteen years of frustration and, for one night anyway, it was all worth it.
Everyone has heard that the journey is more important than the destination. It’s a cliché, but it’s right. I will not be on cloud nine for anywhere near as long as the fourteen years it took to get there. But for now it feels pretty damn good. I just wish I had the eloquence and writing talent to write something more profound.
I thought about chronicling the pain of being a Packers fan the last fourteen years. There was the Super Bowl XXXII loss that didn’t feel painful at the time because we all assumed that Brett Favre would lead us back there soon; The Catch Part II after the referees blew a call on a Jerry Rice fumble; the short-lived Ray Rhodes era; 4th and 26; a loss to the Vikings in the 2004 playoffs; three Favre retirements; blowing the NFC Championship Game at home in 2008; three more years of Favre and Aaron Rodgers comparisons; and the Vikings and Favre coming thisclose to causing the entire state of Wisconsin to implode in 2010.
Then I decided that wouldn’t be fair. Only nine other teams have won the Super Bowl since Green Bay won in 1997. That means fans of 22 other teams don’t really care to hear about my thoughts on the Packers’ pain (not that anyone really wants to read my thoughts in the first place). To top that off, I live in Minneapolis now, where the Vikings have never won a Super Bowl and have more Super Bowls losses (four) than twenty other teams have appearances. And for most Viking fans, none of those Super Bowl losses would even crack their list of the top ten most painful moments in their history.
So yeah, I would be a little out of touch with my readers if I complained about the Packers’ stumbles. Instead I’m going to write about Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre for the first and only time. Unoriginal, I know, but at least this one is a personal story and not one of those canned columns that AP and ESPN writers crank out each week. This is a story about how Aaron Rodgers made it fun to be a Packer fan in Minneapolis again.
I’m not the type of guy that loves or hates people I’ve never met. I did not really get the whole fascination with the Bill O’Reilly/Barack Obama interview before the game. If I don’t understand how a person can hate another person that he or she has never met, then I certainly don’t care to watch two people that barely know each other argue over who hates who.
For the same reason, I had trouble understanding the people that supported Favre when the Packers cut him loose after he waffled on retirement for three straight years (causing the Packers to waste two early round draft picks on quarterbacks). I liked watching him play as much as the next Packer fan, but the whole cult of personality thing? That’s Mao and Kim-Jong Il territory, not one-time Super Bowl winning quarterback that I’ll never meet territory.
Now obviously that’s adult me talking. Young me would vehemently disagree. I became a Packer fan after the 1992 season, Favre’s first with the Packers.* I stuck with them for the next three years even though they were knocked out of the playoffs by the Cowboys each year. This was brutal because the Cowboys were the bandwagon team of the decade, so there was no shortage of kids at school to rub each loss in. I’m nothing if not stubborn, so that just made me love the Packers and Favre that much more. I worshiped Favre, the only public figure before or since that I can say that about. By the 1996 Super Bowl season, nine out of every ten of the outfits I wore to school had some sort of Packer emblem on it (yeah, I was that kid).
* True story: I was a big sports and numbers guy. I literally stared at the statistics in our newspaper’s sports section for an hour a day. In 1992, I didn’t have any allegiance towards any NFL team, but I followed the standings religiously. The Packers finished 9-7 and lost out to the Washington Redskins on a tiebreaker for the final playoff spot. The Pack hadn’t been to the playoffs in eleven years, so I felt bad for them and starting rooting for them the next season. Eighteen years later, here we are. Oh, how an eight year-old’s mind works.
Time went on. I was still a huge Favre and Packer fan, but things change as you get older. I stopped wearing Packer clothes every day. I still loved Favre. Loved that the media dubbed him America’s quarterback. Loved every time he broke a new record. Loved that I happened to be in attendance when he threw his record-setting 421st touchdown pass. But I didn’t idolize him like I did when I was younger, partly because I was older and partly because, after the 2001 playoffs, I knew that the Packers would never win another Super Bowl with Favre at the helm.
For that reason, I was on board with GM Ted Thompson when he refused to let Brett Favre come back after his third flirtation with retirement in three years. I was apathetic when he went to the Jets. I wished him well, but I didn’t know the guy, so I didn’t really care. The Packers and Jets weren’t scheduled to play that season, so it was fine by me if he wanted to go play in New York.
Then came Favre’s move to the Minnesota Vikings. I grew up in Nebraska where there was not many Viking fans, for whatever reason. Our rival was the Bears. Obviously, that changed when I moved to Minneapolis in 2007. The Packers are the Vikings’ natural rival, but it goes beyond that. After years of failure, the Vikings have a serious inferiority complex going on. I’m used to it now, but I found it a bit bizarre at first. In Omaha, I only cared if the Packers won each week. In Minneapolis, Vikings fans still call it a good week if they lose, so long as the Packers don’t win. I can’t really pass judgment on this cynical attitude because being a Viking fan is borderline masochistic. The bottom line is that the Vikings have such low expectations of their own team that they take joy when the Packers fail.
So you can understand how much it sucked being a Packers fan in Minneapolis in 2009. 12 year-old Seth would have spontaneously combusted if future Seth could travel back to 1996 and tell him: “Hey, you know that whole Favre and Packer love you have? Well Favre doesn’t care about any of that. Thirteen years from now he’s going to join the Vikings in a blatant attempt to stick it to the Packers. Oh by the way, you’re going to live in Minneapolis so you will get to hear this EVERY SINGLE DAY.”
Now all of a sudden I turned into an unpleasant fan. I rooted for the Packers to make it to the Super Bowl, just like every year, but I couldn’t handle this Favre/Vikings love affair. When it turned out that the Vikings were actually pretty good, my biggest fear was that they’d win the Super Bowl. I wanted them to lose more than I wanted the Packers to win simply because of one guy that I had never met. And that wasn’t fun.
Every Vikings fan knows how this story ends. It took until the final fifteen seconds in regulation of the NFC Championship Game, but the real Favre finally showed up. The Vikings lost, Favre disgraced himself on and off the field the next season, with one magical playoff run Rodgers and the Packers brought the Lombardi Trophy back to Green Bay, and I still haven’t gotten tired of watching SportsCenter for the fifth consecutive time this morning.
Last night a member of ESPN’s football crew mentioned something about Favre being “the elephant in the room,” to which Trent Dilfer replied that Rodgers’s career doesn’t compare with Favre’s yet. Well of course it doesn’t. Rodgers has been an NFL quarterback for three years and they are comparing him to the guy who holds pretty much every career quarterback record, both good and bad.
These analysts have missed the point for two years now. The elephant in the room has nothing to do with a comparison of the two – NOBODY in Green Bay thinks Rodgers’ career can be compared with Favre’s at this point. That’s insane. No, the elephant in the room was Packers’ fans fear that Favre would win a Super Bowl with the Vikings before Green Bay won another Super Bowl. Favre was the only public figure I idolized – and you can almost certainly say the same thing for every Wisconsin resident between the ages of 14 and 32. Do you realize what a Favre Super Bowl win with the Vikings would have done to the collective psyche of Green Bay fans? It’s tough to imagine…but it wouldn’t have been pretty.
So this seems like a story about Brett Favre. Superficially, I suppose, it is. But Favre is only a small part of the story.
The real story is about sticking with a team, sticking with a group of players, and waiting for that one big game. The actions of one flawed man made thousands of Packer fans question why they followed a team whose leader turned out to be more concerned with spite than his own legacy. Why bother, when rooting for a team is irrational in the first place? Why bother, when there is a 31 out of 32 chance that we will end up disappointed? Why bother, when the face of the franchise for fifteen years apparently doesn’t care anywhere close to as much as fans do?
Aaron Rodgers and his teammates showed us why. The hope that the Packers will be that one team that ends the season with the Lombardi Trophy. The hope that your GM was right all along. The hope that through thick and thin, everything will work out and all the agony will all be worth it.
For one night anyway, all those hopes made sense.