In 2005, my pal and fellow die-hard Packers fan, Dobber, and I went to Lambeau for the Wildcard game against the Vikings. The tickets were actually given to us, incredibly. In recent years, the Lions and Bears weren’t putting up much of a fight and the Vikings were by far our biggest division rival. The game was itself was unfortunately one of the most unforgettable in Packers’ history. Not only was it just the second home playoff loss EVER, but it was also the game in which Randy Moss mocked mooned the fans. Most of you will recall Joe Buck describing the “disgusting act.” After that, Moss was cemented as arch rival #1 (until he stunk in Oakland and Favre later lobbied for him to come to GB, temporarily splitting Packer fans’ reality).
|Bad day for Packer fans.|
But that’s not what I choose to remember from that game; something from pre-game, actually. Dobber and I had tailgated several blocks from Lambeau. It was annoying, but parking was free and there was more room to sprawl out in our best Al Bundy poses with a couple of suds. For the Nth time, Dobber told the story how he battled Najeh Davenport in PlayStation once (they lived in the same GB apartment complex), and we should ask him if he wants to hang out sometime. “Sure, let’s do that.” I told him, not believing it would ever happen for a second.
|Sit like this once. It's fun.|
Before we knew it, the lot was vacant except for parked cars. All the tailgaters had left for their seats. Sure enough, kickoff was just 10 minutes away so we slammed the rest of our beverages, packed our things up in a fury and began the long walk to the stadium. There were two other guys in the same boat. Vikings fans, clad head-to-toe in purple… our polar fan die-hard opposites. We were going to have to walk next to these guys the whole way. Ugh.
You could tell they felt the same way about us, and we were all ready to immediately exchange insults. But something strange happened – no one was taking the first shot. We just kept walking until one of us eventually asked where the other was from. Soon, we were chatting about work, life, etc. and even making genuine compliments about each other’s teams. When it was finally time to part – and I’ll never forget this – one of the guys says to us, “Part of me can’t believe I’m saying this, but good luck to you guys (the Packers).” “Same to you,” we said, shaking hands with them, chuckling at the irony of it all.
There’s a big difference between good-natured ribbing and unfiltered, unprovoked disrespect for no other reason than the jersey one wears. I have no time for these people, who I consider the equivalent of bullies. (And yes, alcohol can play a significant role in all of this, but only to a point.) With dozens of games under my belt, I’ve pretty much experienced them all, and probably have even personified them all to some degree. But I’m feeling done with that posturing BS right now. Maybe it’s as simple as reminding ourselves that we’re not the ones actually competing? Whatever the solution, I simply believe you can have an enjoyable rivalry without the pre-programmed animosity. I believe you can be a die-hard fan without being a dick about it.
Take from this what you will, if anything at all. I can only tell you the times I’ve had the chance to engage the person instead of the jersey, I’ve gotten new perspectives, had healthier conversations, and as my story illustrates, much better memories.