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A Fan’s Confession

Posted on Feb 4, 2011
AP / Mike Roemer

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers celebrates with fans after scoring a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 19 in Green Bay, Wis.

By Sandy Tolan

There’s probably no better time to confess it: I’ve built a good part of my life around the Green Bay Packers. I like to think it doesn’t get out of control. I try to do good work and be a reasonably reliable teacher, colleague, friend, uncle, brother and son.

Just don’t let anyone get in the way of my full-throated Packer passion.

“That is odd,” a USC colleague told me the other day, when I described taping Packer helmet lights to my television in anticipation of Sunday’s Super Bowl. His fixed smile told me he wasn’t joking. Just as well that I didn’t tell him of the Packer Russian dolls I have laid out on game days, one talisman after another, next to the Packer insignia drawn up on construction paper by my 12-year-old friend Gabe, a fellow Packer zealot. Or how I have been known to delay work trips to the Middle East in part because of the Packers’ possible playoff schedule. Or how I sometimes arise at dawn on late fall Sundays, so I can get in a hike and a trip to the Hollywood farmer’s market before the familiar men in green and gold kick it off at 10 a.m. Or how I faithfully read the “Packer Insider” in my hometown Milwaukee paper, and click incessantly on the Packer blog there, even when the posting is about whether you’d rather have sex or watch the Super Bowl. (Yes, I voted. No, I’m not telling.)

“My goodness, Mr. Tolan,” my friend Raul laughed when I visited him in Berkeley a few weeks ago, and we watched the Packers battle the New England Patriots. “I had no idea.” I had leaped off the couch and roared at a short pass completion in the first quarter. Raul and I have been friends for maybe 15 years, but this was the first he had seen of my faith in action.

For faith is what it is. I was never a very good Catholic. Try as I would not to nod off on the hard wooden pews of SS Peter and Paul in Milwaukee, Monsignor Grasser put me to sleep. In Sunday School I didn’t find the road map to heaven—little chalk gas pumps signaling confession and Communion—very convincing.

My real faith was born on fall Sundays, sitting next to my dad in his wheelchair, watching the Packers on TV. This was our common link to a world of physically strong, graceful men; it was the best that he could do.

A couple of years earlier, when he wasn’t quite as sick, Dad had managed to take me to a game. It was December. We walked through endless parking lots, the wind stinging our faces, as he lurched forward on his crutches, seeking the dry spots on the icy asphalt. The game was in Milwaukee, back in the days when the Packers played a few games each year at old County Stadium. I could hear the distant roars erupting from the hometown Packers crowd, still a mile away. Was that a touchdown?

By the time we got to the game, it was halfway through the first quarter. I remember hot chocolate; stomping our feet when the Packers scored; the thump-thump of our clapping mittens and the clouds of breath rising above our heads; my dad’s fur earflaps; and the stubble on his face as he leaned toward me to discuss offensive strategy. If only I could recall who they played that day, or even what year it was. I do remember this: We witnessed victory. I was thrilled by our ice bowl adventure.

But when we got home, after dark, Dad told Mom it was just too hard; he couldn’t do this any more.

I said nothing, and went up to my room.

After that we watched the games at home. On late fall days, when our big maple tree turned red and gold, or on the long-underwear days that followed, I’d slip into the green jersey with the number 15 my mom had sewn on. Alone in my room, I’d play Packers quarterback Bart Starr, sending Marv Fleming over the middle, Carroll Dale and Boyd Dowler on fly patterns down the sidelines. OK, Boyd, I’ll fake it to Marv and throw deep. Blue, 52, Blue, 52, Hut, hut! Then I’d go downstairs to join my dad, and we’d watch the Pack on the old RCA. My mom would offer us “nice juicy pears,” topped with slabs of Wisconsin cheddar. My dad would sip his Miller High Life from a long, tall glass.

In 1967, on my 11th birthday, the Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs in the first Super Bowl. For my father, it was the last great season. By this time he was going downhill too. He’d been diagnosed with MS. He would live for another seven years, but not long enough to see the return of the glory days.

Man, how Dad would love these Packers of Super Bowl XLV. Strong, swift, graceful men in green and gold: Rodgers, Matthews, Woodson, Jennings. The game in a dome in Dallas – nothing like our little ice bowl in the swirling winds of Wisconsin, some 45 years ago.

On Sunday afternoon, my friends and I will gather in my living room for Miller High Life, Wisconsin cheddar and nice juicy pears. (Truth be told, we’ll probably throw in some jambalaya, fresh guacamole and microbrews.) Then, just before game time, we’ll crank up “Green and Yellow,” Lil Wayne’s new pro-Pack rap, even though it’s not the kind of fight song my dad would ever recognize:

We knocked the Eagles and the Falcons and the Bears off … Now we ’bout to cut Troy Polamalu’s hair off.

When the song fades, the shrine will be ready. The faith will be renewed. The men from Green Bay will line up for the kickoff. And my Packer lights will burn gold.

Sandy Tolan is an associate professor at the Annenberg School of Journalism and Communication at USC, author of “The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East,” and a lifelong cheesehead. 


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By bmeisen, February 8, 2011 at 12:02 pm Link to this comment

From Garry Wills piece at the NY Review:

I am reminded of Saint Augustine’s friend, Alypius, who was fond of gladiator games in the arena. After Augustine persuaded him to give up this addiction, some friends dragged Alypius off to the fights, and he resolved to close his eyes and pay no attention. But the noise of the crowd made him open his eyes. Augustine describes the result in Confessions:

  The minute he saw blood, he was sipping animality, and turned no more away. With eyes glued to the spectacle, he absentmindedly gulped down frenzies. He took a complicit joy in the fighting, and was drunk with delight at the cruelty. No longer the person he was when he entered, he was now entered into the crowd, at one with those who forced him there. More—he stared, he shouted, he burned, he took away the madness he had found there and followed it back again, not only with those who had first drawn him, but dragging them and others on his own.

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By Inherit The Wind, February 8, 2011 at 9:27 am Link to this comment

I’m not a Packers fan,
And ALL sports have their origin in training for military action, except the phony sports that rely on judges to score their “beauty”.

Every track and field event IS a military test—like the Javelin, the Hammer, and, of course, running and jumping.

Boxing, Fencing, Horse-racing—even show jumping ALL have their roots in the military.

ALL team sports have similar military roots.  And goal-oriented games—Basketball, Hockey, Soccer, Football, Rugby, LaCrosse, Field Hockey, Polo, and Water-Polo, are made of two armies trying to reach the vulnerable point of the opponent. Several actually involve weapons that can be deadly in the hands of an expert—Hockey, Polo and LaCrosse.

Biathalon actually mimics winter war, like the Soviet-Finnish War of 1939—armies on skis carrying rifles.

Then there’s the martial arts: Karate, Judo, Fencing, Bo (stick-fighting).

Let’s ban the Olympics because “bmeisen” thinks they are all too military and are corrupting our youth!

Again, who are YOU to judge? I argue that ALL the troubles of the world come from people telling OTHER people what they should do.  People like you.

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By Donna, February 7, 2011 at 9:14 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Wonderful story - read before the game but hadn’t
responsed.  As a Wisconsin native (Washington County) it holds special meaning.  So happy that the guys persevered to win the game.  I felt greater emotions with the 1997 game, suffering through Infante, Dickey, Gregg years was absolutely brutal.
Packer fan through
and through - No matter what but competent management has made all the difference. Harlan, Wolf and Holmgren turned it around and the teams current group is on the same level.

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By bmeisen, February 7, 2011 at 4:29 pm Link to this comment

Inherit stooped to foul language even before reading my second reason for condemnation. What will the Packer fan write next?

My second reason has nothing to do with bias for other forms of sport. It has to do with football’s role in the militarization of American culture. The storyline repeated over and over during the football season is of one team marching into the territory of another, taking foreign ground, and scoring, which is equal to humiliating, to disgracing the other team. It isn’t really hard to do - how often do games end in scoreless ties? - but that doesn’t get much comment, maybe because everyone seems to agree that it’s better when there’s lots of scoring.

During the marching our heroes are throwing bombs, blitzing, sacking, and intercepting (RIP George Carlin). This heavily martial narrative is then laid over a deceptively violent encounter: as has finally become apparent, the helmets and pads create an utterly misleading visual. When you figure this out you may indeed want to turn off the NFL. The funny thing is that, like all good propagandists, it turns itself off! And people like Inherit have to cool their heels until trade gossip gets going again.

This might be excusable if it weren’t for the fact that high school students are getting multiple calls from army recruiters thesedays. Something has happened and it isn’t a call for Americans to combat evil abroad. It’s an evil at home, a sense that it’s OK to march into other people’s homes, intercept the enemy, throw a few bombs, and all the while think that because our guys are well-equipped no one’s getting hurt.

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By willymack, February 7, 2011 at 4:28 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Professional sports is SHOW BUSINESS, coreographed by professionals for the purpose of mass entertainment, consisting of muscle-bound, oversized parodies of ordinary humans, and for the benefit of professional “gamblers”, both legal and illegal.
These “gamblers” to whom the results of the “contests” are a foregone conclusion, are the beneficiaries of these games.

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By reynolds, February 7, 2011 at 1:18 pm Link to this comment

the anger expressed here sums up perfectly the idiocy
of ‘sport’ and its fanatics. i could have said it
better myself.

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By moe, February 7, 2011 at 11:40 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

and the best team won! Happy for Green Bay.

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By Inherit The Wind, February 7, 2011 at 11:20 am Link to this comment

Who the fuck are you to judge?  You don’t like American football…don’t watch it!

I don’t like NBA basketball for a ton of reasons (mainly that it’s boring to me) but I don’t bitch about it—I just turn off the TV.

Your analysis of its validity as a sport has all the unbiased and impartial quality of a rabid Liverpool soccer fan.

And, no, the Steelers and Pittsburgh didn’t win. The only “Socialist” team in the NFL, the team owned by the people of Green Bay and Wisconsin, the Packers, won.

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By bmeisen, February 7, 2011 at 10:46 am Link to this comment

These paeans to football (even Dave Zirin is guilty) can be dismissed as quaint, harmless, trivial, etc. Or they can be condemned, and condemned not just once but twice and probably more often.

First, from the standpoint of athletic accomplishment Amer. football is at the bottom of the heap. Mario 46 doesn’t get it, probably because there is virtuallly nothing to get. Standout football players are unquestionably great athletes. Having chosen football, however, they are at best wasting their talents and at worst placing themselves in serious danger. This third-rate physical activity has been used by corporate sappers to sabotage notions of identity, loyalty and fair play. By channelling a substantial part of their subsequent revenues to the oligarchy that controls the NFL, and its farm system aka higher education in the USA, they have created the 800-pound gorilla that attends any serious discussion of culture in America. That there is little public criticism of the fact that the Super Bowl has become the most widely observed holiday in the USA is not just an indication of the level of public discourse in the US, it is evidence of how zombified Americans have become. The Steelers won? Hey great! Wow! Oh I’m so happy for the people of Pittsburgh!

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By Inherit The Wind, February 6, 2011 at 11:27 pm Link to this comment

Sandy, you can breathe a sigh of relief: The Packers managed to hold off the Steelers, and the defense hardened when it came down to it.  Congrats!

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By samosamo, February 6, 2011 at 11:55 am Link to this comment


I can remember Y.A. Tittle throwing passes on Sundays on black
and white t.v.

I can remember the beginning of the AFL and games played in
the dirt of baseball stadiums.

I can remember really getting into college football especially the
the team of the college my dad went to.

I can remember loving football until I realized I was not getting
anything from it. Just like the n.y. yankees, the best bought
teams always won and that is what decided me that it was ‘too
much intensity for pretty much NO gain’.

Now I realize how the ever yearly revolving display of spectator
sports is just a part of the endless distraction that is part of the
mainstream media’s way of feeding BS to people so they won’t
think about what the oligarchy is doing.

I will participate in sports instead of spectating, I get much more
from that.

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By mario46, February 6, 2011 at 11:52 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As someone not born in America I have always been puzzeled by the popularity of football as opposed to baseball or basketball for instance. There is a lot of inactivity in football, 7 or 8 seconds of play followed by 2 or 3 or more minutes of standing around depending on the situation. I don’t get it.

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By berniem, February 5, 2011 at 6:46 pm Link to this comment

Gee, I wonder if they’ll let BRADLEY MANNING watch the game? I also wonder if he even cares!

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By surfnow, February 5, 2011 at 12:21 pm Link to this comment

I gave up on pro football 15 years ago. The final nail in the coffin was the salary cap. Now there is so much parity the game is unwatchable. There is zero player loyalty to a team or a city and team’s rosters are interchanageable from season to season. Anyone who understands the sport and grew up watching from the 1960s through the 1980s knows what I am talking about. Greed ruins everything and football was no exception.It’s also destroying my interest in my beloved NY Yankees( my daughter is a fourth generation fan, so my family is no johnny-come -lately- to the Bronx) Greed is also doing no good to my other lifetime love-surfing.

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By GB, February 5, 2011 at 11:30 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

nice one…you brought tears to my eyes.
Go Pack!

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By Anarcissie, February 5, 2011 at 10:52 am Link to this comment

I think it’s interesting that the intellectual side of pro football remains hidden, I guess by common consent between everybody involved, so that the sport can be presented and accepted as some kind of dumb gladiatorial contest between mindless but ferocious hulks.

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By TheBrix57, February 5, 2011 at 10:49 am Link to this comment


Remember traveling, many, many years ago, around the country on business, driving from one town to the next. Imagine my surprise when I walked into a small bar in SW Colorado, tucked between high mountains in a town called Delores and the Green & Gold hung from every wall. Real fans take their traditions with them wherever they go and not to be thrown away like an old coat.
The legions of fans the old teams acquired traveled far and brought that little piece of home with them.

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By SoTexGuy, February 5, 2011 at 8:48 am Link to this comment

Great storytelling.. and a welcome departure from vitriol and politics!

I swear I don’t give a hoot about the Super Bowl.. and won’t watch a minute of it unless the weather and more conspires to leave me nothing else to do..

But if the Steelers grind the Packers into the turf in a blowout win that’s ok with me. smile


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By ardee, February 5, 2011 at 6:13 am Link to this comment

I had Forty Niner season tickets for eleven years, thirty five yard line behind the visitors bench. Those were mostly the disaster years, two and twelve was an average season back then.

I gave up my tickets two years after watching “the catch” and the victory over the hated Cowboys culminating in a Super Bowl, one of five accumulated by my Niners.

I no longer care much for professional sports frankly, spoiled millionaires on steroids, exploitative owners ripping off the public for obscene profits, and a “bread and circuses” atmosphere all combined to turn me away from it all.

I will stick with my own golf game and go fishing Sunday.

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By Inherit The Wind, February 4, 2011 at 11:17 pm Link to this comment

I’ve been to a lot of games at Giants Stadium, both for the Giants and the Jets.  The visiting Steelers fans were head and shoulders above all the other fans of all the other teams I’ve seen there—Dallas, Eagles, Dolphins, Raiders even the Patriots.

Nobody beats visiting Steelers fans for being the most annoying, obnoxious, drunken, intrusive and generally disgusting visiting fans on earth.  Only Liverpool football fans (as in British soccer) can compete in bringing down sports to its lowest level. (I’ve witnessed the Liverpudlians, too).  I used to admire the Steelers as a great working-class team, beating the ego-exploded Cowboys “America’s Team” like they were bush-league.

But their visiting fans beat that out of me.


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By berniem, February 4, 2011 at 10:03 pm Link to this comment

GO Steelers!!!!

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