Chad Comello

Librarian, cinephile, et al

Tag: Green Bay Packers

Football is Fun

Packers-Crowd

I love reading Ask Vic, the daily Q&A column from Packers.com writer Vic Ketchman. He’s a self-proclaimed “dinosaur” of football, accustomed to the old ways of the game but trying to adjust to the new ones. One of his responses on Monday stuck out as essential reading for football fans everywhere, but especially the fanatics whose very lives seem dependent upon the success of their team:

Vic, I have learned to not live or die win or lose over the years, but I can’t help but feel some apprehension heading into the game Thursday. I realize as a fan the best I can do is root my heart out, but can you add anything to allay my apprehension?

You want a guarantee? Sorry, there are no guarantees, and that’s what makes the game so much fun. You have to decide what it’ll take for you to enjoy the game and not allow your emotions to overcome you. That’s your personal challenge. All I can tell you is that victory and defeat are out of your control. You have no say in the matter, nor are you in any way accountable for the outcome of that game. You are merely a viewer. I think it helps fans to remind themselves of that fact. I think fans have somehow deluded themselves into believing they have a role in these games, and I think they have to guard against thinking that way because it can trigger emotions that rob them of their ability to enjoy the experience. I acknowledge fans attending the game can impact the game with their energy, but if you’re planning on watching the game on TV on Thursday, all you can do is watch. That’s what I’ll do on Thursday and I am really looking forward to it. Nothing will rob me of my joy for what I’m going to see on Thursday. I hope you can say the same.

Personally, achieving this perspective has been incredibly liberating. Once I realized that I had 0.0% control over the outcome of the game, I could let go of the anxiety that cripples many sports fans, especially those as dedicated and vociferous as Cheeseheads. I get excited with victories and sad with defeats, but I try not to let those emotions dictate my behavior or linger beyond game day. It really is just a game, and we really are mere viewers. Why accede my well-being to something I have no control over, and matters very little in the grand view of life? Football matters—especially stockholding Packers fans like me—but it should also be fun.

Photo: The Packers faithful at a game I attended at Lambeau Field in 2011.

Getting Bretter

brett

There’s new quarterback drama in Green Bay this season that will likely quicken the blood flow through the cheese-clogged arteries of Packers fans like me. We are lucky that it does not involve the health status of Aaron Rodgers, who looks yet again ready to conquer the league. Rather, it involves whether Brett Favre will be booed when he returns to Lambeau Field for the first time as a retired player.

He won’t be.

The man himself acknowledges this (or at least hopes for it), saying he’s not worried about being booed for leaving and playing for the Vikings because “I’m well aware that you can’t please everyone. Not everyone’s going to like you regardless, and you know what, so be it. But I think the 16 years that I had in Green Bay speaks for itself.” Of course, Favre was booed when he returned to Lambeau as a Viking in 2009, and under the circumstances understandably so. But those hard feelings have softened considerably since then. Why?

Because absence makes Packers fans’ hearts grow Favrer. Since the Man of Mississippi left in 2008, the team has enjoyed a Super Bowl victory, an all-star quarterback with a strong backing crew, and a long string of successful seasons; how can Packers fans not be happy? And now that Favre has been away from the game for three full seasons after a checkered post-Packers denouement, reuniting feels all the more desirable. It’s also inevitable, given the unanimous consent for Favre’s entrance into the Hall of Fame in 2016.

I think all parties involved in 2008’s acrimonious split–Favre, the Packers organization, and especially the fans—long for restoration. When I think of Favre I want to think about the 2008 divisional playoff game against the Seahawks, the audible to Andre Rison in Super Bowl XXXI, the Oakland game, and the prankster. Sure, he also brings with him the interceptions, the occasional scuzziness, and 4th-and-26. But when the prodigal son returns home, you don’t demand a confession or rehash grievances. You celebrate. You remember that football is just a game, and that players are people too.

And you, if you’re like me, eagerly anticipate Bart Starr, Brett Favre, and Aaron Rodgers standing together for the first time for a long-overdue photo-op. Packers Nation, let’s hope this happens soon.

Girl Meets Rainbow

I was heartened by the exceedingly successful Kickstarter campaign to resurrect Reading Rainbow, which will help bring a new version of the early-literacy television program back to solvency and into classrooms to foster a love of reading in today’s children.

But this article from Caitlin Dewey at the Washington Post gave me pause:

“Crowdfunding is theoretically supposed to bolster charities, start-ups, independent artists, small-business owners and other projects that actually need the financial support of the masses to succeed. It’s not supposed to be co-opted by companies with profit motives and private investors of their own … which, despite Burton’s charisma, is exactly what the Rainbow reboot is.

“But if you’re donating to Reading Rainbow because of the grandiose charity rhetoric Burton’s employing on Kickstarter, you might want to look elsewhere — maybe the nonprofit Children’s Literacy Initiative or the Washington, D.C.-based First Book, both of which get high grades from Charity Navigator. They might not have LeVar [Burton]’s nostalgia appeal, but there’s no doubt who those charities serve.”

Rainbow was cancelled in 2009 and had been existing as an app since then, so though its name already has a pedigree I think it still deserved a chance to ask its fans for money like any other cause, charitable or otherwise.

In this light, let’s also consider the impending arrival of Girl Meets World, the sort-of sequel to that ’90s TGIF mainstay (and personal TV favorite) Boy Meets World. The title character is the daughter of Cory and Topanga, adorkable teen sweethearts and stars of BMW. When word of the show’s development hit the internet in late 2012, I’ll admit I got excited. Boy Meets World was a seminal show in my adolescence. I saw in Cory and Topanga’s relationship a healthy model for friendship and romance: Cory was silly and Topanga was rational, but both were strong, self-sufficient people who loved the other despite their foibles and occasional conflicts. And the people around them were just as well-rounded: Shawn broody yet loyal, Feeny upright yet playful, Eric clownish yet sincere.

Like Reading Rainbow, the BMW brand—much-loved yet dated—has received new life thanks to the groundswell support of its fans. Though this new show will be its own story with a new protagonist and surrounding cast, but with Cory and Topanga back in the mix, and the original BMW producer at the helm, it might as well be considered a continuation of the story. But for whom?

It’s common, I know, for entertainment meant for kids to have something their parents can enjoy too. Whether it’s Sesame Street or the latest Pixar movie, the best filmmakers and producers find a way to appeal to many age groups. And perhaps that is why Girl Meets World is being made: to give Millennials with young kids something they already have an attachment to that they will (theoretically) be able to enjoy watching with their kids. But the Disney Channel audience of Girl Meets World either hasn’t seen the original series or hasn’t even heard of it. They will have as much emotional investment in the characters as they would for any new show they encounter. So why do we need Girl Meets World?

It’s not as if kids today lack any source of entertainment whatsoever; what BMW was to me and my Millennial ilk, they have today (I’m guessing here) in the variety of television shows, movies, apps, and YA novels being made specifically for them right now. Don’t they deserve to have their own Boy Meets World, a show or thing they discovered in their youth and will feel special kinship toward into adulthood? Boy Meets World was my generation’s thing; shouldn’t they have their own that didn’t descend from their parents’ cultural experience and sensibility?

Perhaps I’m just being possessive. Who am I to cling to a TV show that many, many others cherish as much as I do. I suppose this gets at another question relating to pop culture and our interaction with it: Do we own the culture we embrace or are we mere stewards of it? In our produce/reuse/recycle media culture, do we lose the right to claim something as our own? I don’t think so. Once a work of art is created and sent out into the world, it is the artist’s no longer. It becomes a public entity of which we can all buy shares and claim partial if ardent ownership, but we can never own it outright. My Green Bay Packers stock is tangible evidence of my intangible ownership and love of the team, but it’s not real stock. There will always be more Packers fans, and Boy Meets World fans, and Reading Rainbow students, no matter the form those things take.

So here’s to hoping that everybody wins: that Girl Meets World and the new iteration of Reading Rainbow will enchant young viewers and delight older ones, and that we’ll finally find out what happened to Mr. Turner.

Last Day At Lambeau

And I thought Wisconsin’s long, state-wide nightmare was over.

A new documentary called Last Day At Lambeau, which chronicles the Brett Favre “retirement” saga of 2008, is set to be released in Madison next week and is sure to re-trigger some dormant emotions among Packers fans about the Ol’ Gunslinger himself. I haven’t see the film yet, but as I watched the above clip on the film’s website my first reaction was to laugh. Seeing footage of Cheeseheads rallying behind the bearded Mississippian, crying “Bring Brett Back!” as they picketed Lambeau Field, made me realize how silly that whole melodrama was at the time and how foolish it is in retrospect.

Tony Mars, the cofounder of SaveBrett.net, talks in the clip about a petition effort he spearheaded in an attempt to convince Packers brass to keep Favre. “Despite how much press coverage the effort got,” he says, “never at any point did the Packers organization acknowledge us in a formal way. And you would think that an organization would want to hear from its fans. That was one of the most disappointing things to me as a Packers fan.”

Let me say this: never at any point in my life do I want a professional sports organization – let alone the Packers, a team I adore and own fake stock in – to consult me about business decisions. I have enough self-awareness to know that I know nothing about how to run a successful football team, so to think that these Packers fans expected to be consulted by the team before making a decision about what to do with Favre is preposterous to me.

Listen, I get it. I loved Favre too. There’s proof of that on the Internet. I still stand by those words because they represented how I felt at the time. But you know that Super Bowl the Packers won in 2010, and the 15-1 team and league MVP they had in 2011? If the rabid Cheeseheads of ’08 got their way, say goodbye to all that. Ted Thompson, Mike McCarthy, and Mike Murphy were smart enough then, in the midst of a tumultuous offseason, to make a very tough but very smart decision.

I don’t buy the argument that Thompson & Co. should have let Favre come back after retiring just because of what Favre had done for the organization. Indeed, he did a great many things that I got to witness first-hand, but he retired. He made that decision, not Ted Thompson. The organization decided to move on and invest in its future with Aaron Rodgers, which I’m sure many of the fans who picketed Lambeau and booed Rodgers at training camp are pretty OK with now.

As I haven’t seen the full film yet, I won’t make any grand judgments about it. As a lover of all things Packers, I’m excited to see an in-depth look at the organization’s defining moment. But if it’s ninety minutes of pointless pontificating and Packers fans bellyaching in news clips about trading away The Legend, then count me out.

Enough ranting about Brett. Time to watch some Aaron Rodgers highlights.

My Packers: The Emotional Tribalism Of Fandom

[Article republished from January 2010]

I can’t sit still when it’s down to the wire.

Four minutes to go in the fourth, the Packers are driving for the game-tying score and I’m on my feet, pacing around my room. It’s been a wild shootout at the NFC Wild Card game: Green Bay’s young gun Aaron Rodgers and Arizona’s grizzled gunslinger Kurt Warner were taking turns tearing up the turf with laser-precision touchdown throws, the defense on both teams nonexistent. In the third quarter, the Packers were down by 21 and gasping for air; now, they’re knocking on the door.

This is the second time in three years the Packers have been in the playoffs. In 2007, we—in Green Bay, Packers fans own the team—had quite the playoff run. We demolished the Seahawks at Lambeau Field in the divisional round on a snow-covered turf. The next week, with the field temperature at or around arctic, the Giants come to Lambeau for the NFC Championship game. In the fourth we tie it up 20-20. The Giants have a chance to win with a field goal, but Tynes sends it wide left. Overtime. I’m on my feet, pacing nervously around the room. Favre throws an interception, and the Giants win it with a field goal. It’s all over.

Today, the Packers are sweating in the Arizona dome. Rodgers connects with Havner, tying the game 45-45. Less than two minutes left, the Cardinals drive and set up for a field goal. Wide left. Overtime. I’m on my feet, pacing nervously around my room. Not again, I think. We win the coin toss. The lob to Jennings downfield – the game winner – is overthrown. Then Rodgers is hit, fumbles, a Cardinal picks it up and runs it in for the score. The game. It’s all over.

The heartbreak hangover. Every sports fan has gone through it: the empty feeling after a devastating loss. The aimlessness. The Packers were on such a roll coming into the playoffs—the loss doesn’t seem real. Its suddenness makes it harder to accept. We were playing, then suddenly the ball came loose, it was in the end zone, and we were done. A bad dream, really.

In the days after I joked with friends that I was going through the stages of grief. The denial came quickly: No, it’ll be called back. There was a penalty. Once it settled in, the anger showed up: What the hell? Why didn’t someone pick up that block? Then the bargaining took place: If we could just do the last play over again… The depression stuck for longer. Seeing the highlights from the game on TV the next few days made it worse. It wasn’t until about four days later when I was finally able to accept the loss and look forward to next year.

This is all very melodramatic, is it not? Applying such a serious paradigm to what is ultimately just a game seems belittling to those suffering the loss of something more than a game. But it is a process many sports fan goes through—consciously or not—with teams and games they invest so much of themselves into; surely these emotions cannot be entirely frivolous.

According to some research, avid fandom and a deep commitment to one sports team are anything but frivolous. A 2000 New York Times article explored the psychology of hardcore sports fans—what their investment means and why it is important. “Our sports heroes are our warriors,” Robert Cialdini, a professor of psychology at Arizona State University, said in the article about sports fans. “This is not some light diversion to be enjoyed for its inherent grace and harmony. The self is centrally involved in the outcome of the event. Whoever you root for represents you.”

Often fanatics of any sport are looked down upon as obsessed, depressed loners in search of diversion and self-identity. But one theory the New York Times floats suggests fan psychology has its roots in “a primitive time when human beings lived in small tribes, and warriors fighting to protect tribes were true genetic representatives of their people.” Every team in its own way is a culture of people who share similar beliefs and customs. In sports those customs – unique chants, specialized uniforms, shared investment in the team’s history – allow spectators to form bonds with their “warriors.” Dr. James Dabbs, a psychologist at George State University, said in an interview that “fans empathize with the competitors to such a degree that they mentally project themselves into the game and experience the same hormonal surges athletes do,” especially in important contests, like a playoff game. “We really are tribal creatures,” he said.

We wear jerseys and decorate our homes with the colors and faces of our favorite athletes – our warriors – and follow them into the field of battle, though our battle happens in the living room or in the stadium seats and instead of using our bodies to fight like the athletes do we use our voices and emotional support. So when our favorite team loses an important game, the effect is not just mental and emotional; it is common to feel physically depressed or even ill.

Which brings us back to the Wild Card weekend. I watch my team – my tribe – fall as the others smile victoriously on the field of battle. I don’t feel ill, but I’m not happy. I commiserate with my fellow Cheeseheads online. I call my dad to make sense of the game.

“That throw to Jennings,” I say. “That was the game.”

“I know,” he says. We were so close. We rehash everything that went wrong, but then turn to everything we did right. Everything that gives us hope for next year. And there is a lot of hope for next year.

I think my tribe will be just fine.

Happy First Win, Aaron – Here’s To Many More

I loved Brett, but he’s not the Packers’ quarterback any more.

Congrats, Aaron Rodgers. I know you’ll do well.

Favre’s Retirement Ends Golden Age Of Quarterbacks

Published in the North Central Chronicle on March 28, 2008.

February 3, 1997. My first Super Bowl. It was so exciting; the first game I remember seeing on television and my team was playing. It was my Green Bay Packers. And it was my Brett Favre.

My family hosted the party. I was decked out in my No. 4 jersey and brand new Cheesehead as I watched Favre throw touchdown after touchdown against the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI. He even managed a rare quarterback sneak for a score. He helped bring the Lombardi Trophy back where it belongs to Lombardi’s home sweet home; the legendary Lambeau Field. I felt so proud that the Packers were my team and that Brett Favre was my quarterback.

Unfortunately, as every football fan knows, good times like these never last long. Injury, free agency, or retirement always snatches our heroes away from us. Sometimes they make their exit after a tragic injury in the twilight of their career or after a triumphant Super Bowl victory. Brett Favre did neither; he left on his own terms.

My dad called me to tell me the news. “Favre retired.” I should have been somewhat prepared for this; sports writers and non-Packer fans have been calling for his retirement for years, but I was shocked. I felt empty. I have not known life without Brett Favre as the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers.

I spent the next couple of days disheartened. I watched every highlight reel I could find of his top plays and memorable moments. I even got teary with him as he formally announced his retirement (not kidding). I pushed through all of the stages of grief, albeit superficially. I probably won’t reach full acceptance until the season opener when, for the first time in my memory, Brett Favre will not be there to take the snap.

I know this all seems melodramatic. After all, football is just a game and Favre is just a man. But I grew up with a legendary quarterback who started every game and made big plays when they mattered. I realize now how special and rare it is to have such a gift. I’ve never had to constantly shift my trust to the next fifth-round draft pick who would just let me down again. I’ve been able to turn on the television on Sundays during football season and know that, win or lose, the Packers would be okay.

I felt that way because Favre was more than a quarterback. He was the anchor and the image of the Packers organization and of the entire state of Wisconsin. Politicians cycled in and out while Favre kept driving down the Frozen Tundra looking for a score. But even more than that; he was a constant in my life in which I could find solace and inspiration as I trekked through the rockiness of childhood and adolescence. I felt safe knowing that Favre would remain, no matter how good or bad the Packers performed.

What Favre brought to the game was his playground antics, his improvisational skills, his grit, and his pure joy for the game. He was no cookie cutter quarterback. Even Vikings and Bears fans, the Packers’ true nemeses, fell victim of his charm every time he flashed that toothy grin after making a ridiculous play. He threw off of his heels constantly and scrambled in the pocket like a decapitated chicken. He threw the most touchdowns as well as the most interceptions. He was a true gunslinger, a rugged man’s man; the John Wayne of the gridiron.

Still, as hard as it is for me to say, it was a good time for him to go. He broke nearly every major NFL record a quarterback can break and had fun doing it. Even though he didn’t get the second Super Bowl win he wanted, he is leaving on top after arguably the best year of his career, Super Bowl ring or not. (I’m planning on repressing the memory of his last pass; an interception that cost a Super Bowl bid.)

With Favre hanging up his cleats, a golden age of quarterbacks has ended. Steve Young, Dan Marino, John Elway, Troy Aikman, and Brett Favre all epitomized what was great about football and the everyday heroes it can give us. The Tom Bradys and Peyton Mannings are talented of course, but they don’t have the spark that made Favre football fun to watch.

Outside of the realm of football, Favre is leaving behind a legacy decorated with not just wins and losses, but also the fond memories of a scrawny redhead who loved to run routes with his dad and imagine he was catching the winning pass in Lambeau Field from one of the game’s greats. That is a bond that time cannot erode.

The march to football season is going to be strange for me and my fellow Packers fans. We will be out of step for the first time in a long time. The sparkle we’ve grown to know and love has faded from the Packers franchise and from the NFL. But once we move on, we’ll be able to get back to beating the Bears and winning the Super Bowl. It is what Favre would have wanted.

On Brett Favre’s Retirement

My first memory of Brett Favre was watching him win Super Bowl XXXI. My family hosted a huge party in our basement. I watched as he threw a long shot down the middle on an audible to Andre Rison for the first score, then to Antonio Freeman down the right sideline for a score. I saw him dive into the near left corner of the endzone for a touchdown. And I saw him thrust his helmet into the air in celebration with that bright smile on.

Brett has been with me since that time. I’ve watched him win a Super Bowl, then lose one, then go into the deepest of ruts. I watched him battle back to the playoffs–making heroic last-second plays to win, and tragic mistakes to lose. He was a gunslinger. No apologies. The plays he made were impossibly reckless, yet he still made them.

He loved to play. Everyone knew this. He got into the habit of hoisting his receivers in the air after they caught another one of his zingers for a score. Every time he attempted a run or made a block, we couldn’t help but laugh, then make sure he was okay. Of all of the records he recently broke, none is as special to Brett as the consecutive games started. As a quarterback, the player that gets hit the most and hardest, he managed to take the hits and keep on ticking. Even when he did get injured, he was back the next week lobbing Hail Marys and tossing the ball underhanded.

He was so close last year to getting back to the Super Bowl. But he was right when he said that it is much worse to get to the Super Bowl and lose than to not get there at all. That’s why I figured he was coming back this year–the team is so talented and motivated to win. But it will never be. He won’t get to add another ring to his fingers.

He’s still a Super Bowl winner, a Pro Bowler, a record holder, a 3-time MVP, and a favorite among fans–even Bears’ fans.

A part of me is leaving with Brett. I mean that sincerely. He’s the kind of icon that inspires kids to play sports and to have fun while they do it. I never went into football, but every time I play a pick up game with my friends, I call the play-by-play for him. Favre drops back, scrambles, evades another defender, sees Driver streaking down the sideline, zips a rocket downfield, Driver’s got it! Touchdown!

As much as it pains me to say, Brett needs to stay retired. He can’t pull a Michael Jordan and come back and play for a half-rate team just because the money is right or he feels better about playing. He will retire as a Packer and stay one forever. I don’t know how my fellow Packer fans will take this. Brett Favre is seriously is a huge part of my life, and that part is now gone. Sunday afternoons and Monday nights will never be the same.

I have faith in Aaron Rodgers, Mike McCarthy, and the entire team. Brett may have led them here, but they can finish it themselves. I have always been and will remain a Packer fan, though the spark that we Cheeseheads love seeing every fall is gone.

Thanks Brett. For the memories, for your dumbass plays, for your constant scrambling, for your enthusiasm, for supporting your family when they’ve supported you, and for giving football fans everywhere something to cherish forever.

Dear Packers Fans…

We had a fantastic year. It did not end so fantastically, but nobody could have predicted how well we did with such a young, inexperienced team led by a grizzled veteran quarterback who may or may not have had his best years pass him by.

Sure, we shot ourselves in the foot with those penalties, missed third-down conversions, blown coverage, and failure to convert turnovers into big points; but we fought all the way to overtime, where anything can happen. We as Packers fans should know that much:

The Seahawks a couple of years ago and Denver earlier this year; we came out on the victor’s side of overtime. The “4th and 26” Philadelphia game and tonight; we simply came out on the wrong end. That’s how the game is played.

Regardless, I enjoyed the ride. 13 wins and 3 losses. It’s an incredible feat, no matter if another team will probably go undefeated. We gave the country something to talk about. They remembered why the Packers are such a esteemed organization and great ball club.

The Cowboys have been branded “America’s Team,” but we all know who the rightful team team of that label is. It’s the only team that is owned by thousands of individuals, rather than one person or a wealthy family, in all of professional sports. It’s the only team that has won more NFL Championships and Super Bowls than any other football club. It’s the only team with more Hall-of-Famers than any other team.

It’s the Green Bay Packers, and tonight they fought a good fight, and lost. So it goes.

The phrase, “next year is our year” is normally reserved for Cubs and Red Sox fans, but I think we can reclaim it. But it’s not a phrase we utter in vain desperation for it to come true; I think next year is our year. History shows that teams who lose their conference championship come roaring back the next year, assuming all of their pieces are intact. We did it after the 1995 conference championship loss to Dallas – I think we can do it now.

Of course, “assuming all of our pieces are intact” refers primarily to Brett Favre. I’m not naive. I know that we would not be where we are if not for the Iron Man with the Golden Arm.

But I think he’s coming back next year. He came so close. His year to quit would have been last year, with the tears and the closing horizon of his viability in a younger man’s profession. He said himself that this was the most talented group of players with which he’s ever played – he wouldn’t simply walk away from it. He’s too good. Too fun. Too needed.

We Packers fans know loss. After our victorious Super Bowl year, things went downhill. We lost the next Super Bowl (a hurt too deep for tears), then went 8-8. It was then a quick ascension into playoff-caliber play with Mike Sherman, then he too led us down an ugly slope.Now, Mike McCarthy has taken the reigns and steered us back into relevance. Thank goodness.

Winning so many games this year seemed strange. We were used to losing a few more due to Favre’s interceptions stupid mistakes and last-second botches. It all seemed a little too easy. We were racking up too many points; winning by too much; seeing Favre play too well.

Well, now that the dream had faded and we’re grounded back in our now-empty lives, we must accept the loss with dignity and resilience – as we always do. We’ll come back stronger, more experienced, and with a vendetta.

We’re coming back full throttle, ready to beat the Giants and the Patriots and the Bears.

So, good luck Eli and the Giants. Brady and the Pats are the team to beat, and I think most of America, sans Patriots fans, are hoping for an upset. It would certainly help Eli’s respectability.

Here’s to a great year, Cheeseheads. Let’s hold our heads high and remind ourselves how blessed we are to be a part of such a historic and talented team, and that we have a good quarterback.

Be grateful for that. The Bears have never been as fortunate. (And let’s hope it stays that way.)

We’re witnessing history with every Favre pass, touchdown, interception, and win we see.

Remember that, and enjoy the ride. I most certainly am.

Always and forever a Packer fan,

CHAD

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