By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
On the eve of Armageddon, my grandma sat on the living-room sofa and considered this theological conundrum: Was it right to pray for the Green Bay Packers to win?
Was it right to beg divine intervention on behalf of the more virtuous, if less talented, team?
If Jesus were here on earth today, would He wear a cheesehead?
She thought about these things for a while in her South-Side Milwaukee home, then settled on a doctrinally acceptable solution. She decided to offer a prayer for hobbled defensive star Reggie White, patron saint of Packers fans. "I prayed that God would give Reggie strength to continue on, so that he could do the best he could," she said.
By the end of the day, she'd even gone downtown and tried on a cheesehead at the Grand Avenue Mall.
"I think you should pray that God will put down the evil and raise up righteousness," she added.
Well, if you put it that way, I've got no choice. I gotta pray for the Packers to win.
Good vs. evil.
Us Packer fans, we all knew this is what was really at stake in the NFC championship game.
"That guy who owns the Cowboys, he just doesn't give a crap about anybody," my 73-year-old grandma said to me before the game. "The Packers represent what's right about pro football. The Cowboys stand for everything that's wrong with the sport. They got the glitz, the glamour, and the power, and those horrible egos, but I think they're out of touch with reality.
"Like that one guy who does the dance--he doesn't care about the other players. The Cowboys act like they're condescending to play the Packers. They're a bunch of prima donnas. That Deion Sanders thinks he's God, and the Cowboys think they walk on water.
"I've even got a Bible verse for them: 'Pride goes [sic] before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.' Proverbs 16:18. And there was another verse that made me laugh--'Pride in the hands of a fool is something else,' or something like that...heh, heh, heh."
There's even more to it than that, though. Everyone in Wisconsin knows that Jerry Jones' brand of football business could ultimately destroy a small-market team like the Green Bay Packers. Without the NFL's revenue-sharing plan, Green Bay would cease to exist competitively.
The Pack, because of its location in a frozen factory town of 100,000, has always had trouble luring top players. Deion Sanders made some small-minded squawk about how he'd never play there when he was still searching for the highest bidder early in the season, and tight end Keith Jackson, traded from Miami, initially refused to play there because it was "too cold."
We refrained from calling him a wuss, and eventually forgave him. Jackson showed his gratitude by turning in some big games in the playoffs.
As a lifetime Packer fan, I used to hate the Cowboys because my mother hated the Cowboys. During the dispassionate coaching reign of Tom Landry, she likened them to a "machine." On every third down, there was Roger Staubach in the shotgun, pulling the same tired scheme every time. Sure, they won. But it was so boring. And we never swallowed any of that junk about "God's Team."
As for me, I was born in Milwaukee, where, until this season, the Packers played half their home games. One of my vivid childhood memories is sitting at Milwaukee County Stadium one winter night, freezing my patootie off as the Cowboys whipped the Packers during the wretched Bart Starr-as-coach era. It was so cold; my grandfather and I had to leave when I could no longer feel my feet. I stamped them until I sensed a tingle, then we walked stiff-legged to our car and drove home to Milwaukee's German-Polish South Side. "Grandpa, he was such an avid fan you couldn't flush the toilet during the game," my grandma recalls.
Well, nine excruciating years with Bart Starr as head coach would drive that out of just about any Packers fan, and until Brett Favre really hit his stride last season, Grandpa had pretty much lost interest in the Pack.
Favre and the saintly Reggie White are what really rekindled our interest in Green Bay's team. Favre reminds me of former Redskins quarterback Billy Kilmer, who would play with that single protective bar covering his beat-up face. Favre has that same kind of attitude. During the Atlanta Falcons playoff game, he got crunched into the frozen turf at Green Bay's Lambeau Field, crawled over to the sideline, barfed in the grass, then returned to lead his team to victory.
Green Bay was a real football team, in a real football town. I guess it comes down to the difference between the Midwest and the South. Like every time I see a southern college team, with the players' tearaway jerseys and bare midriffs and barbarian coaches, I think of kids who never graduate from college, then go to the NFL for a couple seasons until they're knocked out with debilitating, lifelong injuries. Behind the scenes, Texas college boosters wheel and deal and fuel this cycle like they're plantation owners, and this is some kind of slave auction. They're usually talking about God and America at the same time.