Thursday, September 5, 2013

Green and gold

Growing up a shareholder

The Pack is back. When the green and gold take the field in San Francisco this Sunday afternoon, it'll mark my 18th season as a true Packer fan. Consciously a Packer fan, I should say. See I remember watching Reggie White crush running backs on TV as a child before I understood what was going on - living rooms full of adults shouting at the television - that was my introduction.

It wasn't until '96, when Brett Favre led Green Bay to a Super Bowl title that I learned what Title Town meant. I remember that year well. The big game was cause enough for my parents to spring for a new television set to see the big game. We jumped up from our 15-inch dial set to a 30-inch monstrosity that came with a remote control! Oh the picture quality! The players were so huge.

A few years after those pair of Super Bowl trips in the 90's, we visited Green Bay to see training camp and tour the Packer Hall of Fame. Seeing the players in real life - how big they were, how fast they could move - truly blew my mind. I was in junior high school at the time, and though we didn't get to see a real game, we did spend the day in the shadow of Lambeau Field - the first great earthly monument I'd ever seen.

That all paled in comparison to when I went across the street for a slushy though. On my return to the bleachers where my family sat waiting for me, I was walking down the sidewalk alone when a tall figure came trotting up to me. His shadow blotted out the sun, and by the time I yanked my face up out of the slushy cup in my hand, he was nearly on top of me. His gaze met mine, a broad grin formed across his mouth, his eyes sparkled, and that's when Brett Favre greeted me, a dorky, awkward seventh grade boy who thought Packers were living gods, with a simple "howdy". A quick two-finger-mock-salute accompanied it, then he turned and leapt onto the charter bus that hauled the players from the practice field to some unknown location.

I've used howdy as a greeting ever since...

In 2009 I finally earned the privilege to attend my first Packer game at Lambeau Field. Heck, it was the first NFL game I had ever been to. Getting there with a group of my college friends and my sister took half a year's worth of planning. From saving money through the winter to ordering tickets when they became available to figuring out lodging and transportation logistics - it was all for the opportunity to scream my lungs out with 72,000 other rabid fans.

Guess who we saw them play? The San Francisco 49ers. The game was in late November of that year, and all the week leading up to that Sunday it looked like unfavorable weather. But on the day of the big game, the clouds parted, the sun came out, and the gales ceased. We were blessed with favorable weather, great seats in the corner of the end zone, and eventually a win, 30-24.

Before the game we all visited the Packer Pro Shop, and I bought the only authentic NFL jersey I've ever owned. It read #12 on the front and back, and at the time there was controversy as to whether or not this particular gentleman could be the leader of a team who was last helmed by #4. That day, Aaron Rodgers passed for 344 yards and two touchdowns while I wore his jersey. My mind, at least, had been made up. That's right, I bought the jersey before it was cool, people!

The following year we didn't win a single pre-season game, but we won the Super Bowl. During the regular season we lost games we shouldn't have, had our doubts, and struggled plenty. But we also had shining, brilliant moments on both sides of the ball, especially when it came to winning six straight games to make it to the big one at the end.

The Pack was seeded sixth in the playoffs in 2010 - the very last spot. They beat the Philadelphia Eagles 21-16 in the NFC Wild Card game, then crushed the Atlanta Falcons 48-21 the following week in the NFC Divisional game. The Pack came up against their oldest, ugliest, greatest foe in the league for the right to play in the Super Bowl. They didn't flinch, and in a grinding contest of defenses, beat the Chicago Bears 21-14. At Super Bowl XLV, it was another battle of defense, but one with huge offensive strikes as well. Everything was on the line against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Packers came out on top, 31-25.

Aaron Rodgers was named Super Bowl XLV's most valuable player, and ever since then he's been the unquestionable leader of our little team from Green Bay, Wisconsin, aka Title Town.

It's like a fairy tail, isn't it? The Green Bay Packers are a legend for their fans, because they are a character driven organization. This is more than a football team, and there is more at steak than winning or losing football games this season. In Wisconsin, we are all shareholders in this team, and the steaks are high. They represent us in our country's biggest playground, and they do it with class, dignity, finesse, and hard work. Look no further than the Seattle catastrophe last year and see what I mean.

This season I want you to get fired up. I want you to watch this team not because so much is expected of them (because it is), but because they are all human, and humans fail. The Packers may have the most championship titles of any NFL team in the league today, but they are also one of the greatest examples of overcoming adversity. Good leaders lead by example, and good examples become traditions. Traditions ingrain themselves in communities, and thus become culture.

Official piece of paper or not, every Packer fan is a shareholder if they’re bleeding green and gold the next 16 weeks.

"Are you ready for some football?!"
 - Hank Williams Jr.

See you out there,
A woodsman in training.

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