A FAREWELL TO FOOTBALL : Life-long Packer Fan Hangs Up the Remote Control

by J. Gravelle | Sheboygan, WI | j@gravelle.us

There are two distinctly polarized responses to the shameless declaration that one steadfastly schedules their life around Packer football: "How COULD you?!" ...and... "How could you NOT?!" I've been solidly in the latter camp nearly my entire life. I used to proudly boast of never having missed a live Green Bay game since the age of nine. Hardly a single play had escaped my attention since the sunset year of Ray Nitschke's career. That streak has since been broken a time or three. Or more.

Increasingly, life gets in the way of football.

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Watching the Green Bay Packers had always been a unique and special bonding time with my Dad. Even after his death, it still felt as though he were beside me each game, offering up his poorly censored outbursts for any broken plays, and sputtering punctuated "All-right-all-right-all-right!"s for every successful end-zone score.

I have savored each game since my father's demise confident that he'd be entirely envious of my ability to do so. As the self-appointed torch-bearer of Dad's posthumous Packer passion, each victory he has missed seemed admittedly bittersweet. Conversely, the blow of each defeat has been somewhat softened by accepting that Dad wasn't REALLY there to suffer through it, even all those times it may have felt as if he truly were.

It's why I cringe when anybody sneers about how football is "just a game". It IS callously true though, I suppose. For that matter, Dad's urn is just metal, his remains are only ash, and the scant few Polaroids of he and I together are merely celluloid. But such cavalier dismissals cheapen what each of those things represents in memoriam of my father. And so, to me, does anybody's diminution of the significance of Packer games.

= = =

At the end of the day though, I'll grudgingly cede the detractors' point: football IS, at its essence, "just a game"; one that should never trump my relationship with living, breathing friends and family who, for a few hours on some Sundays each year, I've treated as secondary in importance to my whimsical engrossment of a professional sporting exhibition spent in the imagined company of my dead father.

Dad and the "game" are, for me, intertwined to a significant enough degree that I simply cannot have a casual relationship with Packer football, any more than most people could be content to merely hurl flowers at a loved-one's grave-site from a passing car. My personal attachment to (and reverence for) the event leaves me too easily enraged at non-fans' peripheral tittering about how unblinkingly glued to the TV I apparently become between the whistles. While I shouldn't fault anybody else for not respecting the admittedly melodramatic hyper-ritualism in which I've shrouded this "game", their belittlement has always felt too much like they're spitting on Dad's remains for me to gracefully ignore it.

Perhaps it's a feeble defense, but the word "fan" IS, after all, at the root of "fanaticism". Maybe we, the self-proclaimed "true" fans who earnestly distinguish ourselves from those who merely "like football" by scheduling the ceremonies of our lives (births, marriages, and deaths, et al) so as to never, ever conflict with a Packers' kickoff, really have become abhorrent anachronisms that society would do well to do without, as much as it pains me to express that sort of sacrilege.

= = =

I don't know if it's my age or the changing geo-cultural landscape, but this new and foreign (to me) stigmatic disdain for those of us who would prioritize our lives around the trappings of football demonstrably impacts our immediate and extended family. There's no envying any relative who tries embarrassedly to explain (particularly to somebody lacking the socio-cultural context to understand) that their father/husband/brother/son couldn't attend a particular wedding or funeral because a divisional rubber-match against the Vikings is underway. I recognize that my love for, and commitment TO the rigors of Wisconsin football have too often impacted some relatives, most of whom I DO love more than the Packers (despite the fact my wife, children, and grand-kids don't have so much as ONE playoff ring between them).

It seems, after more than a little retrospection, that I'm being compelled to accept the more predominant modern mindset, no matter how contrary to my very essence and upbringing it might seem: Life never gets in the way of football; It's the other way 'round.

My ill-defined boundary between family and football was always obscured even further in that (in this part of the country, anyway) the football community is quite nearly seen AS a pseudo-extension of one's familial household. When we call 'em "HOME games", by god, we mean it.

Blood being thicker than water though, the prospect of alienating one's Packer brethren is trumped by the chance we may inadvertently wound our less-than-fanatical kin by putting the sport first. And so the choice becomes painfully clear: Quid est, est. The living come before the dead, post-season chicken dinner banquets necessarily preempt the playoff's wishbone offenses, and yeah, even when the entire season is on the line, it's family before football.

= = =

For anybody lacking empathy for us passionate pigskin proselytes, I'd ask you to imagine this: You've inherited from your beloved father's estate a series of books by an author whose every work engrosses you. Periodically though, while you are reading, somebody reaches in and tears out a fistful of pages, and then tries to placate you with "Oh, [character X] dies in this chapter". If you're the sort who could simply keep reading and enjoying the remaining work as if nothing at all had transpired (even knowing it will happen again and again) then I envy you.

I lack that capacity.

So this fall, rather than marginalizing myself further from some friends and family by reaching for the TV remote, I'll instead remain accessible by pulling Dad's old guitar off its wall-mount and writing a bawdy lyric or three in his memory. And if something else comes up, I can always set the instrument aside and pick it back up again later without worrying that anybody might somehow bespoil the ending of the song for me.

I'll miss football almost as much as I miss Dad, but not as much as I'd miss the relationships with the living that my zealous fandom might cost me if I don't put the game behind me, which, with profound reluctance and profuse apologies to the ghost of my father's memory, I have now done.

Still though: Go Packers! Just, from now on, go without me. I have other commitments...