Why there’s nothing in the world better than football.

Something I don’t usually let people on to about me is how big of a sports fan I am.  Or rather, how big of a football fan I am.  I like most sports, but the only one I’ll watch consistently during the regular season is professional football.  I love it.  I love everything about it.  I love smart quarterbacks, lightening-fast receivers, and hard-hitting defenses, and I love the strategy of it all.  From about mid-August to the first Sunday in February, I’m absorbed in and by professional football.  I’m on ESPN.com about twelve times a day, reading columns, analysis, predictions and stats.  I’m obsessed.  For me, the day after the Super Bowl is probably the most depressing day of the year.  I tell myself I’m not like those guys you see in the beer commercials, their ass melded to a recliner with stains on their shirt from a messy meatball hoagie.  I tell myself I’m a smart football fan, I don’t watch football, I observe football, like a scientist making a study of some planet he wants to know everything about.  It works.  Kind of.

Every fan must have a team, so for the past maybe twelve years of my life, I’ve been a Green Bay Packer fan.  They’re a unique team.  They’re the only team in the league that is owned corporately by the community in which they play.  When you watch a football game, usually at some point the TV crew will cut to some rich guy in a suit up in a fancy club box holding a shrimp cocktail– the team owner.  They don’t have this in Green Bay.  In Green Bay, there’s 60,000 team owners with a beer and a bratwurst in their hands, sitting on metal benches in the snow wearing a neon orange hunting vest and a foam piece of cheese on their head.  They hold stock in this team, and go to shareholders meetings where they get a say in how the team conducts its business.

I’m currently on the waiting list for season tickets to Lambeau Field, where the Packers play.  I’m close to number 70,000 on that list.  At the rate it’s moving, I’ll be number 1 in almost 60 years, because fans always hold the right to renew their seats, and the just don’t give up their tickets.  They keep them until they die, and then they pass them on to their kids.  I’ve heard stories of people befriending the fans that sit near them at the game, and then keeping those friendships for years, simply because they get to hang out with each other for three or four hours for a few Sundays a year.  It’s like church, but instead of religion, it’s football.  Being a Packer fan is a community thing, and it’s a family thing.  And for me, since I won’t see my season tickets until I’m in my eighties, it’ll have to be.

I went to Green Bay once.  It was during the off season, and I had taken a trip to Chicago to see a ballgame at Wrigley and take in the town.  With Lambeau only a 3 and a half hour drive away, it was too tempting not to go up there and take a look around, sort of a pilgrimage of sorts to see where the legend really lived.  When you’re there, you realize just how much this town lives for this team.  The population of the town is just over 100,000, and the stadium holds 73,000, most of them locals.  This means if you’re a criminal and you live in Green Bay, the best time to rob a house would be Sunday morning, because nobody’s home.  Fortunately, in Green Bay even the criminals are Packer fans, so they’re at the game too.

Lambeau Field, where the Packers play, is across the street from K-Mart, and just down the street from some nice looking residential homes, a few bars and restaurants, and a smattering of churches.  Back when the reverend Reggie White used to play for the Packers, on Sunday mornings he would wake up, preach to his congregation at a church in Green Bay, and then drive to the field to find his congregation would be there waiting for him again, this time with a bratwurst in their hand instead of a Bible, cheering wildly every time their pastor recorded a sack.

So my love of my sport and my love of my team have become something of an obsession for me.  I’ll watch every Packer game I can, no matter the circumstances, which explains my situation this evening.  The Packers played the Broncos on Monday Night Football, which is on ESPN, a channel not provided by the rabbit ears that sit atop my apartment’s television.  So, I called my cable-subscribing friend Sal and explained my situation to him, and he happily obliged to let me watch the game at his apartment, despite the fact that neither he nor his roommates would be home.  This is how far my obsession has come.  I will have friends of mine leave their keys under their mats so I can go into their apartment and watch games on their TVs, sitting in their chairs, all by myself.

I wasn’t totally alone, I guess, and here’s where I get to why I really love football.  As I sat in a friend’s apartment, watching a game completely by myself, my best friend Beau sat in the lobby of the dorm hall where he is an RD, 2000 miles away, watching the same game at the same time.  He called, and we talked through the third quarter, about the game, about things we liked and didn’t like about the league, and about life in general.  We talked about the Pats-Colts game coming up this weekend, and how neither of us liked how Belicheck was running up the score on every team he faced just because he can.  We talked about how his team, the Bengals, are about a step away from becoming the Bungles again.  We talked about how ridiculous it was to have guest stars in the booth with the announcers when all these guys know is football.  And we talked about how the Packers are finally a legitimate threat again, and look really good when they get their running game going.  We watched the game together, despite that we were both alone and separated by over 2,000 miles and two time zones.

The best part about it is that Beau couldn’t have given a tinker’s damn about the Packers four years ago.  My friend Luke once made the astute observation that going to college and making friends with people from all over the country makes you a fan of teams you wouldn’t normally think twice about.  Beau likes the Packers because I like the Packers, just like I like the Bengals because he does, or the Broncos because Luke does.  Two weeks ago, I was rooting like crazy for a Rockies-Indians World Series, not because I’m a rabid baseball fan, but because those are Luke and Nathan’s teams, and I wanted them both to have a chance at the big show.  I feel like such a stereotypical beer-commercial guy for saying it, but sports bring people together.  They really do.  Maybe it’s the beer, but I’ve met some of the friendliest people at sporting events, even when I’m rooting for the opposite team they are.

Beau and I hung up around the beginning of the fourth quarter, but he called me back after Brett Favre threw an 82-yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime to win the game.  We didn’t really have anything more to say at that point, we just both felt foolish doing a little victory dance in our respective rooms all by ourselves.  We wanted to share the victory, to feel the community, just like all those Packer fans do on Sunday afternoons.   It’s better that way.


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