In actuality, all the “they”s and “we”s in that last paragraph should be switched. This is the scene that my two brothers and I experienced on February 6th in front of my dad's house. "They," meaning the team, won the big game, and “we” didn't really do anything. All we did was watch. We watched for the entire year. We have for our entire lives.
The Green Bay Packers have been a staple of Tweet-Sill family living for years. And by years I mean ever. In addition to all the standard Disney films, I watched the NFL Films production entitled The History of the Green Bay Packers regularly. NFL Films, might I add, are some of the finest documenters in the world, and this tape, an introductory crash course on Packers lore, kept me enraptured in the history of the green and gold. My parents raised me a Packer backer, and that part of my identity has burgeoned every year. Let's just say, I was raised by my parents, and then my siblings, and then the Packers, and then my friends. My parents and siblings were raised on the Packers too, so, the effect increases.
Peder, Eliot and Andrew Sill. How f*&king adorable. Also notice the green and yellow vegetation.
We had gatherings at our house pretty much every weekend the Packers were on TV. My parents had friends over, I mingled with their kids, I pissed everyone off by standing in front of the TV, and I grew to love football, and the culture surrounding it.
Every Packer game for like twelve years. And we never won a(nother) Super Bowl. We had won one when I was 4, and lost one when I was 5. We had never gotten back, but damn we had gotten close. Each of the 16 regular-season football games is so important. You win it, you can be happy about it for a week. You lose, it nags at you for a week. Week to week, being a die-hard will mess with your mood. In the post-season however, you win and it means you are elated for a week. You lose in the post-season? And you go into a mild (or severe, depending on your level of passion) depression. Until July or August. I can remember this happening to me seven times. I can remember zero times how it feels to not lose out in the NFL. Either you don't make the playoffs (depressing, let me tell you) or you get beat in the playoffs (yeah, just told you that).
That all changed on February sixth. My Packers brought the trophy home.
Green Bay is by far the smallest city to own an NFL team. Their measly population fails to match that of Springfield, as of 2000 it was roughly 102,000. Yet they have a 72,000 seat stadium and they fill it up every time their boys take the field. And I say “their” boys because the Packers are indeed a team that belongs to the fans. Because of the city's small size, the team sells shares of ownership to its fans. The team has more shareholders than residents in its city. Amazing. The town itself is quaint and non-assuming. The only attractions being the Packers and the Oneida Casino, located on an Indian reservation in the city's metropolitan area.
Green Bay has three things in it. These are those three things.
As Ben Roethlisberger's 4th and 5 pass was broken up with 50 seconds left, and our victory of all victories was sealed, I realized something I've dreamt about since I was seven and watched the clock tick down and the Packers win the Super Bowl. The team's run can positively be constituted as improbable due to the ridiculous amount of players who were injured for the length of the season (15 players landed on the Injured Reserve, football teams have 53 active players) and even in the Super Bowl itself where team leaders Donald Driver and Charles Woodson had to leave the game with injuries. The consensus by mid-season was that “next year we'd have a real good shot at it,” but here we went and won it this year. How about that?
My brother and I committed to going to the ceremony back at Lambeau Field if the team won the title, and when they did, we made good on our promise. We took my brother's '93 Buick Skylark (a real shitty car, let me tell you) to Wisconsin on Monday night, then to Green Bay on Tuesday morning. The city greeted us with feet of snow lining the roads and an unforgiving wind blowing the 8 degree temperature to a negative 18 degree wind chill. Also we forgot gloves. That was a bad idea.
In Illinois, if I see someone donning Packer gear, I compliment them on it. Since we won the Super Bowl (and I've been wearing nothing but Packers stuff) I've turned that to high fives. In Green Bay, if someone isn't wearing Packer gear, they are the black sheep in a flock of thousands of green and yellow ones. Packers fans are referred to as Cheeseheads. This aspect of Packer culture originated with Chicago White Sox fans using the term to insult Milwaukee Brewers fans for the love affair the state has with dairy (so many damn cows...). Packers fans took this mantra and spun it positively, adding the iconic cheesehead hat to boot, turning the insult into a source of pride. The whole city is electrified by this team, and the community is so in love with their team that it truly does break down any barriers in a way that only religion can. If a town of 100,000 all practiced the same religion, and all went to the same 72,000-seat church. That's how much they support the team, and seeing that first-hand is truly awe-inspiring.
The hallowed gates. Love this place, would live here if I could.
The players and the fans' relationship is second-to-none in professional sports. At the team's training camp in July and August, the team practices for the public's enjoyment at the outdoor field across the street from Lambeau, and when practice ends, the players usually walk and sign autographs or the neighborhood kids bring their bikes to practice and the players will ride back to the facility with either the kid on the pegs or running excitedly alongside. This happens. And it only happens in Green Bay. Every time I visit the town, I have some sort of interaction with the team. Tuesday, I was perusing hats in the team's pro shop, and Super Bowl champion defensive tackle Ryan Pickett sneaks up on me from behind (hard to do, being 300+ pounds), “excuse me,” he says. My brother and I, flabbergasted, laugh in disbelief and Andrew chimes in “no, excuse us sir.” I wanted to give him a hug and thank him for his service, but I also didn't want to be that guy. Only in Green Bay will you see players mingling with fans in a team gift shop on a Tuesday afternoon.
Bad picture. Great player.
Even on this day, cold as hell, fans line the fence to thank the players
as they walk from their cars into the facilities.
One of my favorite players to talk to is Donald Driver. Oh my God, he has the best smile in the world. When you think of football players, you may think of this guy, or this one, but Donald is none of the above. He is an absolute class act who has been a Packer for 12 years, basically as long as I have been in love with the team, and has a mutual relationship with his team's fans. He never acts too good for anyone, and the whole team does to a degree, but Donald's a politician. He makes you feel like you could invite him to dinner and he'd agree to it and then pay. Donald comes from Houston, Texas. He was at one time homeless, living out his family's car. He sold drugs and stole cars to survive, he was utterly desolate. Yet, he had a dream, and refused to give up on it. He quit the criminal life and told his brother “I'm going to make it.” He went to Alcorn State, a small predominantly black school of 2,500. He was gambled on by Green Bay in the seventh (final) round of the 1999 NFL Draft. Since then he has come within 41 yards of being Green Bay's all-time leading receiver (which is impressive–the franchise got its start in 1919). Tuesday he was paid his dues by the fans, who gave him the loudest ovation of all who were introduced. Donald's first Super Bowl appearance was Sunday, and he was knocked out in the second quarter, an ankle injury disallowed him from playing. That couldn't stop him, or our team, from becoming a Super Bowl champion.
I'm pretty sure we are the only franchise to have its very own Hall of Fame, a testament to our franchise's rich history. My brother and I paid a visit to this, where the team's three previously won Lombardi trophies rest and where the fourth one will go. The Packers won 9 NFL titles before the inception of the Super Bowl, which originally matched the NFL's champion with that of the rival league AFL's champion, (now the two are separate conferences in the NFL). And after this we set out to find our seats for the ceremony.
HOLY CRAP IT WAS COLD. The locals were practically used to weather, and they had at least brought gloves. But the negative wind chill bit at my brother and I. Yet we braved the weather to see the Return to Titletown ceremony, one that has little apparent importance, just a bunch of dudes talking about how awesome their football team was, but historically, it bears significance. It is the last time our team's current roster will probably be together. It reminded the both of us of the time we stood at the Old State Capitol in the freezing freaking cold waiting for some guy named Barry to tell a crowd of folks that he would run for Prez. Except, that was the beginning of something. This was the culmination of something great. The off-season approaches, and we can't keep everybody, which is damn unfortunate. But, we will get some of those 15 IR players back and be ready to seek out a repeat next year.
Packer nation out in full force, all for the purpose of saying thanks.
I love the Green Bay Packers. I feel at home in this city. The security guards at the stadium treat you like your aunt or uncle. The players treat you like you would want them to, and the organization treats its fans like owners, partially because they are. More than the Green Bay Packers, I love loving the Green Bay Packers. It brings my family together, which is nice. Being a football fan is a cumulative effort. Winning it this year has made me feel like, not only did we overcome all the obstacles our team faced this year, but all those years where we weren't any good or where we lost in the playoffs. It feels like all that has led to this.
All in all, a great trip.
I can always count on the Pack to pick me up on Sunday, if not with a victory than with an honest effort and hope for a Lombardi Trophy. That hope, now, has become a reality. And it's the best feeling in the world.