footballin’

This post—I feel I should apologize upfront—will not be particularly Alaskan. I know you’re all here for stories of shotguns and glaciers and bears (oh my), and when I encounter any of those things, I promise to write all about it. I’m also sorry to keep talking about football…I’m just not sorry enough to stop.

It’s just that I think I’m finally ready to talk about the Packers. When we lost, I wasn’t just upset about the fact that we’d lost our shot at the Super Bowl. I was upset about the way we lost our shot—the beautiful buildup, the record-setting season, the 15 wins all collapsed in a broken, sad little heap. Seasons like that come once in a lifetime. Seasons like that aren’t supposed to end badly. They’re supposed to end in celebration, in a cloud of confetti raining from the sky, in Donald Driver lifting the Lombardi Trophy high above his beautiful smiling face (Exhibit A) as a way of saying, “We did it. We were excellent. Nobody can take that from us.”

THIS! This is how the season was meant to end!

It kills me that we couldn’t have that. It kills me that we couldn’t give Donald Driver another reason to smile so broadly. If ever anyone deserves to smile, it’s Donald. This season made me hope. It felt charmed somehow. Not flawlessly charmed—realistically so. The 2011 Packers knew how to get the job done. They were fighters. And with this guy as quarterback, how could we NOT win it all?

I mean LOOK at him! Try not to like that guy. Try not to get lost in those eyes. Try not to wish you could marry him. Aaron Rodgers is the definition of smooth.  Aaron Rodgers is the anti-Brett Favre. Where Brett was wild and capricious, Aaron is dependable. Steady. When he takes risks, he follows through. He carries the team on his back and does it with unpretentious swagger. He earned that shiny MVP award precisely because he lets his teammates shine. I loved Brett Favre, once, but as it turns out, he really needed the spotlight. Aaron doesn’t (which is particularly impressive given how unbelievably good he looks in it).

Point being: I thought this was our year. I thought we were finally going to avenge Brett Favre for stabbing the Packers in the back and pinning it on the Packers themselves. (Have you ever tried to stab yourself in the back? I don’t think it would work. Also please don’t try that.) This magical year, coming off of last year’s fantastically hard-earned Super Bowl victory, was proof that good things come to those who wait. It was proof that life works out for the best, that things fall apart so better things can fall together. Most of all, it was proof that we were right to stick with Aaron Rodgers. Go back to your farm and have fun fighting the gophers, Brett.

As it turns out, I’m not the one who got that proof, and neither were my Packers. Mark Herzlich got it instead, and so, in a way, he gave it back to me. When Herzlich—NY Giant, cancer survivor, fellow BC alum, WINNER—stepped off the plane in Indianapolis, he tweeted, “2 yrs ago I was told I’d never walk again. Just WALKED off plane to Indy to play in Super Bowl.”

Hmm. Here I am worried about, what, proving that there’s such a thing as true excellence in this world? Wrapping success in a nice pretty box? Rubbing Favre’s nose in his own betrayal? Herzlich was just glad to be WALKING. I was concerned about righting wrongs, but only the wrongs done directly to my team. The wrong done to Herzlich was cancer. Cancer is so much bigger than a football team. It’s bigger than any of us.

Being in the Super Bowl helped Mark Herzlich get his story out there (I’ve been avoiding sports coverage as much as possible, but I know they talked about him). He was able to reenergize the many people in this country who are currently fighting cancer—sometimes even calling them on the phone to offer encouragement and inspiration. He gave a face to their hope.

Mark Herzlich has a Super Bowl ring now, and I’m certain he’ll use it for good. He fought an uphill battle and won. That’s the kind of story we should all love to hear. This world isn’t perfect, and it’s usually not all that close, but it’s got a lot of beauty anyway. There’s success and then there’s triumph. Had the Packers won, we would have had a successful season. Mark Herzlich had a triumphant season. He just flat-out BESTED cancer. He faced a lot of opposition and came out stronger.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m still saddened by the way this season turned out. I’m a Packer fan because I was raised that way, but also because I legitimately think that they’re the greatest organization out there. The Packers have history: 13 NFL Championships worth of history. We won the first and second Super Bowls. When we win the Lombardi Trophy, it comes HOME. The Packers are the last of the small-town teams. They’re owned by the fans, which no other team in America can say. They’ve got character. Little kids in Green Bay let players ride their bikes to practice. Lambeau Field will never be sponsored by a big brand name. The Packers are a classic. You can’t mess with the classics.

I love my team for that, for all of those things, and I wish we could’ve won. But I also recognize that I’m not the only one whose wishes matter. There are a lot of other people out there, living out their own stories, and Herzlich’s the one who got what he wanted yesterday. Herzlich and every other Giants fan, some of whom might be going through hard times and looking for something to cheer about. I can live with that.

There was a time, back in the dark ages (a few weeks ago), when I found myself questioning the worth of this whole football thing. It’s just a game. Why do I put myself through this ever year? I called my dad and ranted in his general direction about the fact that I wasn’t sure I could do this anymore. He said you do it for the happiness. When you win a game, you’re allowed to celebrate until you go to sleep. Then it’s back to work. When you win the Super Bowl, you’re allowed to celebrate for 24 hours. Then it’s time to focus on next season. I told him that was crazy. You can’t contain excitement like that, and even if you could, how is one day of happiness worth a decade of frustration? I just wasn’t sure I could do it.

Then I realized that my frustration is exactly why I have to do it. It wouldn’t hurt this much if it weren’t a part of me. I’ve had stock in the Packers since I was eight, so whether I like it or not, there’s no turning back now. This whole season, the Packers were regulating my happiness on a weekly basis, and only when they lost did I realize how much I’d been relying on those victories. They made me feel at home. When the Packers win, I’m connected to my childhood, my family and friends, and even fans I’ve never met before. I really love watching Packer games in public venues, because the minute we score, we all celebrate together, and we’re not strangers anymore. Sports are a communal experience; they remind us that we’re all connected. So yeah, the happiness makes it all worth it—even if it’s not always my happiness.

but seriously, this guy. Can we all agree to give this guy another Super Bowl ring next year?

In other news, I really liked that they shot a Super Bowl commercial in the Bones diner. In OTHER other news, we’re going on a JVC: Northwest retreat to Juneau this weekend. I’m hoping to see a glacier…so no worries, I’ll be back to my Alaska-themed posts in no time. Hope you’re all doing well!

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