Enjoying an exciting Packers season in isolating numbness.
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The 2020-21 Green Bay Packers are on the precipice of a Super Bowl appearance, Aaron Rodgers is on the cusp of clinching his third Most Valuable Player award, and this particular team is special in so many ways that weren’t the case in 2018 when I first wrote about a season in turmoil.
And yet all too often this season I’ve found myself cheering aloud, fist-pumping while my cat stares at me in annoyed surprise. In a horrific year where a mismanaged pandemic wreaked havoc on an unprepared world, police brutality and political violence dominated the national conversation, and Trump did his best to ruin everyone’s last shred of sanity, watching an amazing Packers team in the absence of friends and camaraderie and revelry is a numb, detached and somewhat lonely experience.
The Packers made the executive decision to play out their home games without fans, a contentious choice that wasn’t in lock-step for other NFL teams. Some teams, such as the Kansas City Chiefs and the Dallas Cowboys, decided that allowing one-fourth of their usual stadium capacities would work—mainly for whatever revenue they could salvage. COVID be damned! Come wear your chin diaper whilst sipping an $11.50 Bud Light.
In Wisconsin, where the COVID transmission rate has remained abysmal, public health officials in Brown County decried the idea of allowing thousands of people into Lambeau Field. Packers president Mark Murphy, to his credit, adhered to the advice, with exceptions for stadium employees and their families and first responders, totaling maybe several hundred people, still a barely noticeable blip in a monolithic NFL stadium. Green Bay completed its season at 13-3, good enough to obtain home-field advantage for the playoffs.
For the divisional playoff game, Murphy decided to allow some fans inside. The Packers downed the Los Angeles Rams 32-18 for around 6,000 lucky fans, (although the TV would have you believe there were maybe closer to 15,000, but camera angles can give the illusion that they’re playing to a semi-packed house). Unlike various other professional sports franchises, the Packers passed up the opportunity to include cardboard cutout fans, such as the Fonz, Steve Miller, or Jeffrey Dahmer flashing Packers garb (for reference, the Denver Broncos used the whole town of South Park in cardboard cutout form in the front rows). Nonetheless, real fans can completely transform the stadium vibe and keep momentum going for the players during slow spells.
Despite the obvious safety concerns, are such halfway accommodations even worth it? This can be answered on a case-by-case basis. In Madison, the revamped Brothers Three bar added outdoor tables and lounge area, and cleared out the indoor dining area to place tables further apart. Being around four people simultaneously cheering provides a full endorphin charge that’s only a little better than watching a game alone with Hopalicious in hand. Not all bars in this land of cozy taverns are equipped to handle a group of people, and the amount of folks not wearing masks and respecting other people’s space is a constant source of annoyance and endangerment. It’s a choice sometimes that can take some research and dicey internal bargaining and there’s always the risk of being a super-spreading yahoo in a viral picture.
Normally, heading out anywhere is the exception to the general rule of being smart and safe, and watching at home is the least of the sacrifices the pandemic has required. Merits of pent-up Packer fandom include being able to hear the announcers prattle on, drinking cheaply, and being able fall asleep if the game sucks. Still, nothing quite tops sauntering into a packed bar during a playoff game and feeling the foundation shake when Aaron Rodgers throws a dart to Davante Adams for a touchdown to take the lead in a tight game. If we can all survive political insurrection, COVID, failing safety nets, and attempts to stoke a civil war, then I’ll take a Super Bowl with my team in it with my cat meowing at me for treats.
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