The Parable of the Prodigal Fan

Who among us hasn't lied to our friends to convince them we're Packers fans? (Photo by Macklin Chermak)

Who among us hasn't lied to our friends to convince them we're Packers fans? (Photo by Macklin Chermak)

Danny Spatchek, Managing Editor

Ater spending half my life supporting NFL teams promiscuously, I’ve finally come home.

I’m a Packers fan again.

Before you organize the townspeople for a march on my house, let me just say that I understand the anger you’re feeling. I understand because I’ve felt it too. This summer, when the U.S. soccer team qualified for the knockout stage of the World Cup, the entire country suddenly became soccer fanatics. As someone who loves soccer, I can’t explain to you how ravenous with anger—yes, ravenous with anger—I was hearing people who didn’t know the difference between a club team and a club soda try to talk soccer. Like when American sportswriters called soccer “football.” Or when I watched the Spain-Netherlands final with friends who sighed, “Nothing’s happening,” whenever the ball wasn’t inside the 18-yard box or Nigel De Jong wasn’t trying to impale a Spanish player. Needless to say, by halftime my resolution to answer their sighs of, “Nothing’s happening,” with sighs of, “Serenity now,” had gone kaput. So I did the only thing a man in my sad position could—drank ‘til I couldn’t feel feelings anymore.

Believe me, I know there’s a special place in hell reserved for bandwagon jumpers. But the thing is, I’m not posing as a football fan. I rarely mention it, but I have a P.H.D., a Poser Hatin’ Degree. (FYI: If you read this on the Mirror’s website, references like that to “Malibu’s Most Wanted” are hyperlinked to YouTube videos. And Danica Patrick gets naked. Just kidding. But seriously.) And unlike the “Nothing’s happening” friends I watched soccer with—who had no clue who Andres Iniesta was when the game started and have no clue who he is now—I know the Packers. I know Aaron Rodgers carrying the Packers’ offense without a running game this season was nothing short of amazing. I know the Packers proved themselves worthy to be in the Super Bowl in the first sixteen games by playing against a Murderers’ Row schedule with eight legitimate contributors on injured reserve. And I know the Packers re-signing Justin Harrell is about as likely as a Christian couple naming their son Judas.

It’s not like these are things the average Wisconsin guy doesn’t know. Believe me, he knows. Just like his girlfriend who doesn’t really like football knows. Just like her mom who finally bought a computer and hasn’t stopped searching for naked pictures of Aaron Rodgers since said purchase knows. Everybody knows. Everybody loves the Packers.

For a while, I pretty much did too. Sure, I colored a picture of Kerry Collins surrounded by five Panthers before the ‘96-‘97 NFC Championship, but I had just seen “The Jungle Book.” Show me a six-year-old who doesn’t prefer the Panthers, Bears, and Bengals more than a weird mascot like the Packers after watching “The Jungle Book” and I’ll show you a liar. But I basically got with the program during the next season. I still slept under a Carolina Panthers bedspread, but I also proclaimed that the Packers were “my other favorite team” and bought my favorite player’s jersey, Mark Chmura’s home-green “89.”

Yes, I loved Mark Chmura. Have any predictions?

Again, I was an impressionable little kid. My dad watched Star Wars all the time and Chmura shared a nickname with Han Solo’s wookiee. He also jumped really high to catch a touchdown in a Super Bowl against the Broncos. For seven-year-old me, the only choice more obvious than Chmura was peanut butter and jelly for lunch.

As you must have guessed, when a teenage girl accused Chmura of rape I took it kind of hard. Chewy did…what? No, honestly, I didn’t understand what he did. I’d heard the word “sex” on TV after Bill Clinton boinked Monica Lewinsky, but my mom never really explained it to me. And, unlike last time, I didn’t really want her to. I was more comfortable thinking Chmura was innocent, and that sex was a kind of cake. Denial set in: “Chewy didn’t mean to hurt her,” I said. He was only horsing around with her, like the real Chewbacca did with Han when he got bored from being on the Millennium Falcon so long. He didn’t know his own strength. So what if she got a little bruised? So what if he didn’t even have the decency to pretend to be interested in her personality? So what if his ball ‘fro kind of smelled? Han didn’t complain.

I eventually decided to leave Chmura and the Packers. His betrayal hurt and getting rid of every reminder of him, including his team, seemed like the only way to stop the pain.

So I did. And that’s when my life as an NFL fan began to spiral out of control.

It started when I contacted some of the Jungle Book teams I already knew: the Panthers and the Bengals. For a while I went with Muhsin

Muhammad. But they were just gateway teams, Playboy magazines that soon weren’t enough to satisfy my urges. I had less control over my urges than Chazz Michael Michaels in “Blades of Glory.” I cheered for the Titans to beat the Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV. I wore a Daunte Culpepper jersey in my sixth grade class picture.

Luckily, time matured me. I realized that those countless nights in who-knows-whose jerseys had left me smelling like the inside of a fake leg. So in high school I gave up on my goal to wear a football jersey every day, and my social life blossomed. I met some nice people. But like all nice people in Wisconsin—like all people in Wisconsin—they were Packers fans. I vowed immediately never to hang out with them on Sundays. After all those years with all those teams and players, the memory of Chmura still lingered. He was my first favorite player.

My vow didn’t last long. Not wanting to raise suspicion about my allegiance, I watched games with them all the time, and all the time I cheered like my life depended on Green Bay’s successes. My life may well have depended on it.

Last year, they took me to the Packers-Cowboys game at Lambeau. By then, I’d perfected my charade—always the first to toss obscenities at the Packers’ opponents, crow like a lost boy when they scored, you name it. I might have been the biggest cheesehead of us all for all they knew, heir to St. Vincent. So, when I heard the Dallas game was in the afternoon slot in November, I had to suggest we go shirtless and paint Packers jerseys on ourselves. When you’re in this deep there’s just no negotiating these things.

Sometime between getting congratulated for our convincing body paint jerseys by a fat guy with an old leather helmet on, and Charles Woodson’s game-sealing interception, I realized something.

I loved being a fake Packers fan.

And if I loved being a fake Packers fan, wouldn’t being a real fan again be even better? I figured there was only one way to find out, so this season I’ve supported the green and gold in earnest. It’s not always been as easy as before. When Julius Peppers tried to give Aaron Rodgers a concussion Sunday, I wasn’t nearly as concerned with spitting eff-word after eff-word at Peppers as I was about Rodgers’ condition. It wasn’t fun at all. As Rodgers stood up, I realized what I hadn’t before. For a true fan, the game isn’t always supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be worrisome. Like the mom who dresses her kid in a mattress pad in “The Little Giants” worrisome. Not a minute after the Packers beat the Eagles, one of my friends half-jokingly, half seriously said, “I almost wish we lost so I didn’t have to worry all week.” After the Packers beat the Bears Sunday, let me tell you, I felt the same way.

Whether you celebrate it or not is up to you.


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