Once inside, they treat practice as if it were taking place in a sacred temple. While coaches shout commands intelligible only to the players — “Eight box, even gap, channel left!” — the spectators stare silently at their idols. I’ve been to rowdier funerals.
Eventually, I manage to engage some in whispered conversations. And when I mention I’m from Chicago, I receive no icy glares or threats of physical violence. They discuss the Bears’ strengths and weaknesses with remarkable accuracy, wish me a safe drive back to Chicago and, like Cheryl, say they eagerly await the rivalry’s renewal.
As I head to my car, my conversion is nearly complete. I don’t have to bow at the Vince Lombardi statue outside Lambeau or eat at Brett Favre’s Steakhouse on — surprise! — Brett Favre Pass. Heck, I don’t even have to cheer for the team. But after getting to know them, I realize it is impossible not to like these rabid fans who own and successfully support a pro-football franchise in a town of just over 100,000. It’s fans like Dale, who lets game-day spectators park in his driveway. For free! Or Kroll’s patron Linda Tadyshak who, moments after awaking from quintuple bypass surgery during the aforementioned NFC Championship Game, weakly motioned for a pen and paper and wrote, “Packers?” Family members understood and relayed the good news. Or the army of kids who wait with their bikes outside Ray Nitschke Field during training camp, hoping a player will hop on and pedal along South Oneida Street as the bike’s owner rides shotgun or jogs alongside. It’s a long-standing and amazingly heartwarming tradition.
On the way out of town, I pull into a fast-food drive-thru and order some cheese curds. I am now officially a Packers fan, clogged arteries be damned.
GREG SCHWEM is a corporate stand-up comedian. This Dec. 29, he will root for the Bears to only narrowly beat his second-favorite team, the Packers.