The Superbowl between the Colts and the Bears – likely to be one of the best ‘bowls in recent memory – is tomorrow. I got news this morning that my team already won.
Brett Favre will quarterback the Green Bay Packers in 2007. Never a big fan of press conferences, Favre told one reporter, an old friend at the Biloxi Sun-Herald, then went hunting.
I’ve been a Green Bay Packers fan for the past twelve years. As a New Englander, this is a bit of an odd affiliation. It’s in part the result of a rivalry at Tripod, where our founder Bo Peabody lived and died with the New England Patriots. Lots of folks at the company rooted with Bo, while at least as many of us rooted against him. We had a number of diehard Packers fans, including our CFO, Bruce Ludeman, who succeeded in converting many of the early Tripodians to the one true cause. In the 1997 Superbowl, this meant both enjoying the pleasure of rooting for the Green Bay Packers as they destroyed the Patriots, and netting over $100 in bets on the game with Bo, including a $20 bet on whether Reggie White would sack Drew Bledsoe three times in the second half. (He did. For a year afterwards, I carried a football card which had a lenticular animation of White flattening Bledsoe. I’d play with it during meetings when I wanted to piss Bo off.)
When Bruce left Tripod, we had a custom-made Packers jersey sewn for him. When I left about a year later, Bo bought me four tickets to see the Packers at Lambeau, possibly the nicest parting gift I ever hope to receive from a job.
I can make an argument for rooting for the Pack based on ideology rather than on spite for my (beloved) former business partner. The Packers are the last truly small-market NFL team, representing a city of 100,000 people. They’re owned by the community, rather than by a single wealthy owner, in a clever structure that prevents fan-owners from transferring their shares at a profit, which makes it very unlikely that some magnate would try to buy up shares and move the team to Los Angeles. They’re about as close to FC Barcelona as you get in NFL football, and you can make a convincing case that they are rural America’s team in much the way the Dallas Cowboys used to claim to be “America’s team”.
It’s been hard rooting for our team the last couple of years. The Packers snuck into the playoffs every year from 2000 through 2004, but they flat out stank in 2005, finishing 4-12. Favre, who was 36 years old at the end of the season, talked seriously about retirement and didn’t decide to return to the squad until March 2006.
For the past year, Packers fans haven’t dared root for the team to be good enough to make the playoffs – the hope has been that we’d field a good enough team to keep Favre interested in playing. The Packers finished 8-8 this year, and were kept out of the playoffs only by a tiebreaker (The Giants also finished 8-8, but had stronger “strength of victory”, the winning percentage of the teams each team defeated.) The Packers played some dismal games, but had some excellent ones as well, and Favre looked overjoyed to be on the field during most games. The semi-success of the season was made more remarkable by the fact that our team was, objectively, pretty mediocre. It’s the youngest team in the league in terms of average player age, and has some glaring holes. Most notably, Favre has only one reliable wide receiver, the remarkable Donald Driver, who caught pass after pass in the middle of the field, generally getting clobbered by two or three defensive backs on every play.
Favre’s return guarantees the continuation of one of the most remarkable streaks in sports – 237 consecutive regular season starts. He hasn’t missed a start in fifteen years, this in a sport where the median lifespan for a player is four years. With another few games, Favre will likely claim most of the NFL records he hasn’t already claimed (the good and the bad ones, including George Blanda’s record for interceptions.) He’s guaranteed a spot in the hall of fame, and his eventual retirement – in a decade or so – will dominate sports reporting for at least a month.
I accept that at some point in the future, I’ll turn on the TV on a snowy Sunday to watch the Packers and someone else will be leading the offense. I accept that he’s more or less guaranteed not to be as good as Brett Favre. I understand that it will be the end of an era.
I’m just really glad I can hide from that harsh reality for at least one more year.