This article, from the Seattle Post Intelligencer, pretty much nails it. Thanks to Ace for sending it.
It’s easy to hate the New York Yankees if you’re a Boston Red Sox fan, and vice versa. The same goes for the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins, Michigan and Ohio State and those originators of the shotgun formation, the Hatfields and McCoys.
But who hates the Green Bay Packers?
Steeped in tradition and often viewed through a prism of sepia-tone nostalgia, the Packers have succeeded against all odds in a tiny and remote market, in a 50-year-old (albeit renovated) stadium with aluminum bench seats, in an era of unfettered free agency and corporate greed.
OK, if you’re a Seahawks fan, you’re not feeling all warm and fuzzy about Brett Favre and Al Harris right about now. “We want the ball and we’re going to score!” might be old news, but the sting lingers.
Really, though, do you hate the Packers?
Not if you know anything about the history of the National Football League. Not if you’ve seen those grainy images of the 1967 “Ice Bowl” and Bart Starr’s fateful quarterback sneak on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. Not if you admire the principles on which Vince Lombardi built a dynasty.
Not if you pull for the underdog.
In Wisconsin, there is no other option. You are born into Packerdom here. Your great-grandfather cheered for Curly Lambeau and Don Hutson, your grandpa for Paul Hornung and Willie Wood, your dad for James Lofton and Lynn Dickey. Every kid on your block owns a No. 4 jersey.
What makes the Packers special? Start with the fact that there are 112,015 owners, the vast majority of whom hold one share of stock. Formed in the NFL’s primordial mist in 1919, the Packers became a non-profit entity four years later and remain the only publicly owned team among the major professional sports.
The most recent stock sale, in 1998, netted 106,000 new “owners” who paid $200 per share (and sent $24 million straight to the team’s bottom line) for certificates that are basically worthless. The stock never pays dividends or appreciates in value. But the emotional investment is priceless. When general manager Ted Thompson signs a free agent, the fans can thump their chests and say, “I helped bring that guy to Green Bay.” And it’s true.
Of course, Bob Harlan, who has run the Packers for 19 years, first as president and CEO and more recently as chairman of the board, has a stake in the team. He, too, owns exactly one share of stock…
Did we mention that Harlan answers his own telephone? There is no administrative assistant to run interference, no automated maze to negotiate. You’ve got a beef with the injured cornerback or the price of tickets, you go straight to the top dog.
The fact that the Packers can even exist in a city of 100,000 is a minor miracle, due in equal parts to fan loyalty throughout the state and revenue sharing in the NFL. Los Angeles can’t support a team but this little frozen outpost can? It’s one of the mysteries of the universe.
It helps that not much ever happens in Green Bay, other than what occurs at 1265 Lombardi Ave. Lambeau Field — notice, no naming rights — is the city’s corporate and social epicenter, its source of civic pride, its very heart and soul.
The nearest NCAA Division I football team is 2 1/2 hours away at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Milwaukee is 115 miles to the south, so the Packers are the only game in town.
Their reach extends north into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, south into Chicago Bears turf and west clear to the Dakotas (the team had a 40-year head start on the Minnesota Vikings). And that doesn’t count the fans who have relocated or the ones Harlan likens to the “Notre Dame subway alumni.”
“People call me and say, ‘I’m a lifelong Packers fan and someday I’d love to see Lambeau Field,’ ” Harlan said. “They’ve never even been here.”
On game days, the far-flung Cheeseheads converge on Green Bay and fill the Lambeau parking lot hours before kickoff. First-time visitors are blown away by the passion, creativity and dedication of the tailgaters. There’s nothing quite like the smell of 10,000 bratwursts sizzling on 1,000 grills and the sight of footballs spiraling through 10-degree air.
The Packers-Seahawks game will mark the 268th consecutive sellout at Lambeau, including playoffs. That’s every single game since 1960. The waiting list for season tickets is at 76,800. With an average of 70 fans per year giving up their seats, the guy at the end of the list will have to wait 1,000 years, give or take a few decades, for his name to come up.
Season-ticket holders live in all 50 states and several foreign countries, including Japan. Domo arrigato.
The obsession with the team is such that the 10 p.m. TV newscasts in Milwaukee and Green Bay are dominated by Packers developments. The long snapper has an ingrown toenail? That leads the sports report. The price of beer is going up at Lambeau? That’s the top story.
Brett Favre retires? We don’t even want to think about that one.
The Packers have won 12 championships, more than any other NFL franchise, and three Super Bowl titles. The team has sent 21 players to the Hall of Fame. Green Bay city streets are named after former players and coaches, including Mike Holmgren.
But it’s not about all that.
It’s about a unique relationship between a professional sports franchise and its fans.
It’s about people feeling they’re a part of something special, something unique, something good.
The Packers don’t need throwback jerseys to evoke their glorious past.
In all the ways that count, it’s still 1965 here. And always will be.