Sunday, 22 January 2017

Geekrant vs the Pack.

Greetings, Geekranters!

Welcome to another jam-packed edition of my ever popular blog, (at least I hope its popular, that really helps with the old self esteem thing you know) which finds me today slightly demoralised but undefeated and hopeful.

When I was 11 years old, during the summer term of my last year of junior school, one of our teachers started an American football club during our lunch break. It was nothing much, just a few guys trying plays and running pass routes on playing fields, while the rest of the school were playing on the playground. It is impossible to overstate the impact that this had on me. I am by no means a natural athlete and considering how this was before the days of mobile phones in the hands of pre-teen children, my lack of soccer/association football ability had seriously hampered my progression in the social status of the playground.

Ah!, but here was a sport that nobody could be ahead of me in, they knew no more about it than I did and as it was run by a teacher there was no way to leave me out of it. Our teacher decided to ask his favourite team to adopt us and they did, sending us all stickers and a poster for the classroom. That team was the Green Bay Packers.

Now it should be noted, that at the time I had no idea where Green Bay was, what state it was in or the history of the team but I went and stuck my sticker on my bed and so for years I went to sleep with a green and gold helmet looking at me.

As I have just mentioned I had no idea where Green Bay was, I certainly didn't imagine I would ever see the stadium, let alone live in the same state. I have been a Packer fan for approximately 23 years and I am amazed that I get to live in the land of the Green and Gold.

American football, is an interesting game, although I know many association football fans back in the UK who would disagree, it is. Its interesting, because of the identity that each team draws from its surroundings. While it is true that big clubs like Manchester United or Liverpool have huge followings across many countries, they don't always reflect the towns they represent in quite the same way as American sports do. They are more universal and as they have often been teams for longer, the communities they were originally formed for have changed, often significantly.

American sports teams however, from the moment of their foundings are all about the cities they come from, the states they represent, the people they speak for. The communities vote for what to name new teams, the logos speak to the attitude of the teams and when they take to the field, even the stadiums will be different depending on the climate of the city.

The Minnesota Vikings take their name from the Scandinavian nature of their heritage and culture, the New England Patriots from their area's history and involvement in the War of Independence, the Dallas Cowboys are as big, as glam, as grand, as an episode of Dallas, the Pittsburgh Steelers as industrial as an American blue collared work shirt.

Nowhere is that more true than in Green Bay, Wisconsin. In lot of ways, in fact, the team doesn't just represent a city, it represents the entire state.

Green Bay, Wisconsin, is not a large city, its population numbering somewhere around 104,000 at the last U.S. Census, it lies on a inlet of Lake Michigan known as Green Bay and it is passionate about its football team, the Packers.

Green Bay has by far the smallest television market of any team in the NFL, it is by far the smallest city with a franchise and it is can be found only by driving through miles of well tended farmland. Its team represents a state of only around 5 million and by all accounts it should be the proverbial David against Goliath in every competition between themselves and the big money teams.

Except that, in the strange history of the National Football League, it is the Goliath, the Colossus of Wisconsin, if you will. The Green Bay Packers possess thirteen championship titles, nine prior to the creation of the Superbowl and 4 since then. Their nearest opponents have around half that number. So forget what you think you know, the Packers are the most successful team, in terms of championships, in the history of the NFL. They are the only team to win three years in a row, managing the feat, not once but twice.

They were founded in 1919 and are the oldest franchise to still be playing in the same city. They have the longest record for inhabiting the same stadium, while other teams build new stadiums every thirty years or so, the Packers have been in Lambeau Field for nearly 61 years.

They are the only American sports team to not have some big money owner or an ownership group. They are owned by the fans. The team is Green Bay, it is Wisconsin. They will probably never leave this town, if for no other reason than the fact, that according to the team's constitution, all proceeds from a sale must go to the town to build a war memorial. They are the last of the small town teams that flourished before the Great Depression made so many go bankrupt.

The town is the team, the team is the town. They are immensely proud of it. The stadium is never anything but sold out. Its a family. And so its like so much of the state that has adopted me so well. You're here, you're family, let's go watch some football and if we can find some beer and brats along the way, all the better.

When September arrives in Wisconsin, Sunday afternoons are covered in the teams colours. Here, wood framed house are painted in green and gold, people wear Packers jerseys to church on Sunday mornings, Packers flags fly from seemingly every street. Every autumn Wisconsin goes to a very cheerful, very welcoming, very polite war. And they want you to come.

Tonight, they lost the NFC Championship game against the Atlanta Falcons. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers dragged his injury decimated, beaten up, limping team into the Georgia Dome. They got beat up even more. The Falcons, it has to be said, jumped up and down on them. In the midst of it all, they carried on. Even when the Packers give up, they give up in a hope filled way, fighting all the way, even though the game was over a long time ago.

I love this team even more now than when I moved here, because they represent so much that is good about Wisconsin and, for that matter, the whole Mid-West. They are a team of small farms and small towns, of Mid Western hospitality and simple virtues. Its unusual to see over the top celebrations from Packer players. In fact the greatest celebration they have involves jumping into the stands, their moment of victory shared by the fans, a moment known as the Lambeau Leap.

So, this is what Wisconsin is and I'm glad to be here. It welcomes you as if you were a long lost son and makes you one of its own. I am a person stuck in two worlds and from two places.

When Ray Nitschke, one of six Packers players to have retired numbers, finished his playing days, he listed his number in the local phonebook so everyone could contact him if they wanted to. In many places that would be mad for a sportsman to do. But this isn't any other place.

This is Wisconsin. And Wisconsin is my home. Its not where I was born but its my home today and so when next September rolls around Wisconsin will go to its polite war again and Sunday afternoons will be filled with Green and Gold and the hope of victory. After all, the state adopted me, just like the Packers adopted our little school club all those juvenile summers ago. 

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