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Back the Pack
by Ted Rueter

For decades, the Dallas Cowboys have billed themselves as "America's Team." They could be right-if you think that America is typified by drug use, drunken escapades at strip joints, and orgies.

The Cowboy's owner, Jerry Jones, has thumbed his nose at league rules governing profit-sharing from corporate endorsements. The coach, Barry Switzer, says he can't be bothered with his players' criminal behavior. (His former players at the University of Oklahoma were prosecuted for rape, assault, and robbery.)

America's Team? They're more like the Misogynists' Team. The Cowboys are a team of bravado and testerone overdoses.

But I have another NFL franchise to nominate as America's Team: the Green Bay Packers. Many lessons for American society can be learned from "the Pack."

An initial disclaimer: I used to live in Wisconsin. I spent 10 long winters as a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I used to be a fan of the Minnesota Vikings (my native state), but I switched loyalties after their coach, Dennis Green, was accused of sexual harassment and their starting quarterback, Warren Moon, was accused of sexual assault.

So why do I adore the Packers? First, Wisconsin is Middle America. The four food groups in Packerland are beer, pizza, bratwursts, and ice cream. Wisconsin is consistently the nation's most overweight state. In Wisconsin, you can spend Friday night filling up on cheese at a "supper club," then spend Saturday night polka dancing at a bowling alley.

And these Middle Americans are intensely loyal to their team, for better or worse, 'til death do they part. For years, when the Packers were languishing in the basement of their division, Cheeseheads proclaimed, "The Pack will be back." During losing seasons, there was a waiting list for season tickets that stretched from Monterey to Point Conception. Fair-weather fans they're not.

Sometimes Packermania takes some amusing turns. An undertaker in Green Bay sells coffins with Packers insignia. Fans in the stands wear cheesehead hats with green ornaments hanging from the top-or show off their beer bellies in sub-freezing temperatures.

Dan Barreiro, a columnist for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, sneers that since the Packers have reached the Super Bowl, we'll have to hear "the inside story of some 52-year-old Beloit plumber who figured out a way to get the Packer polka to play every time he flushes the toilet. An exclusive report on a 75-year-old Oshkosh woman who swears that when she turns off the light and looks in her cracked bathroom mirror at just the right angle, she can see the ghost of Vince Lombardi yelling at Fuzzy Thurston." After Barreiro wrote his column, he received this response from a Packer fan: "Aren't there any more criminal or civil litigations from the Vikings organization to write about?"

The Packers and their fans have a special bond. One of the main drags in town is Lombardi Drive. There's an elementary school named after former quarterback Bart Starr. Many ex-players live in Green Bay long after they've hung up their cleats. After each Lambeau Field touchdown, Packer receivers launch the "Lambeau Leap" into the wild crowd.

Perhaps one reason for the special relationship between Green Bay and the Packers is the fact that the community actually owns the team. Fans know that the Packers will never load up trucks in the middle of the night to take off to other pastures. No Packer executive is going to blackmail the Green Bay City Council.

The Packers also deserve respect because their central figures are men of admirable character. Quarterback Brett Favre, a good ol' boy from Mississippi who hates the cold, checked himself into the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kan., to overcome his addiction to pain killers. Defensive lineman Reggie White, an ordained minister, raised money from his fellow players to rebuild scorched black churches. Coach Mike Holmgren, a former 48ers assistant, said after the Carolina victory, "Maybe if we keep going for another 10 years, there will be a little alley Green Bay can name in my honor."

There are other reasons to appreciate the Packers:

  • They're located in an old industrial town of 90,000, while the teeming masses in La-La Land have exactly zero pro football teams. (I'll take Titletown over Tinseltown any day!)
  • The Packers play outdoors, on natural grass.
  • None of their players have landed on police blotters.
  • The team appears to be a model of racial harmony.

In closing, I suggest that we all stand, place our right hands over our hearts, and recite the Packer Pledge of Allegiance: I pledge Allegiance to the Packers/ of Green Bay, Wisconsin/ of Green Bay, Wisconsin/ And to the Field on which they play/ Frozen tundra/ Under Lambeau/ With winning and victory for all!

Published in New Times, January 23, 1997

 
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