It’s clear that I’ve benefited greatly from the things my grandparents gave me – love, support, life lessons, and exciting experiences. One of the passions in my life – and there aren’t that many – is Green Bay Packer football. You can’t grow up in Wisconsin and avoid football. It’s bigger than religion and I didn’t know a single family that wasn’t fanatical about the Pack. My grandpa was no exception, and he passed his football passion on to me. I spent plenty of Sundays watching the game with him. He put out cheese and crackers and sliced summer sausage, potato chips and French onion dip, cheese curds and pickles, and we watched the game in the basement, in front of a crackling fire, as we munched on snacks. He explained the rules to me, patiently describing why someone was called for one of a thousand types of fouls, and we generally expressed our frustration that Green Bay always seemed to lose. Those afternoons were warm and cozy when the weather outside had started to turn cold. I was comfortable, happy, and relaxed.
Green Bay is the only NFL team that is still a publicly-owned team, and it’s the pride of Wisconsin, no matter how much they lose. In the past 15 years, they haven’t done so badly – but when I was growing up, they were a losing team for a long time. Things turned around when Brett Favre started playing in 1992, and they won a Super Bowl in 1997. When I was in 6th grade, there was a contest at my school to see who knew the most about the Green Bay Packers. There were probably twenty questions or so about the team and its history. I won the contest, which made my grandpa proud. The prize was a book about the team, which I gave to him to add to his collection.
Grandpa was a football player in his youth. When he played, they still wore leather helmets and flimsy pads. He was a tailback in high school, and was good enough to get a partial scholarship to college to play. He wasn’t able to go because the scholarship didn’t cover all his expenses, and his family didn’t have the money to help him. He always regretted he didn’t get to play college ball. He is a devoted fan and loves the Packers almost as much as he loves shooting and hunting. He has framed autographs from famous players hanging on a wall in his house, and God knows how many books on football and the Packers.
He was at the infamous Ice Bowl between Green Bay and Dallas in 1967. I have no idea how he sat through that game in the open air at Lambeau Field without getting frostbitten. The temperature at game time was -13 degrees, and the wind chill brought it to a ridiculous -40 degrees or so. It was a championship game, though, and my grandfather wasn’t going to miss it. His brother was with him, and wanted to leave because his feet were completely numb, but my grandpa wasn’t having it. They stayed, and watched Vince Lombardi and the Packers pull out a win with seconds on the clock. The victory put them in Super Bowl II and led to their second world title in a row.
Fans that hadn’t somehow gotten season tickets in the early days put their grandchildren on the waiting list, hoping by the time they are adults, a set of tickets might come available. People that own stock in the team are fiercely prideful of their position as owners, even if they hold no actual influence over what happens with the team. In 1997, Green Bay issued new stock for the first time in almost 50 years. The stock can’t be traded, and has no intrinsic value, but many great Packers fans would want to own a piece of the team. The new stock was going to be issued for a couple hundred dollars a share, and the point was to raise more money for the team. Since the team is publicly owned, they have no rich owner to fill their coffers. The public supports the team – stadium and all.
I bought a single share of stock that year for my grandfather as a Christmas gift. When it came time for him to open his gift, my entire family was completely silent. You could have heard a pin drop in the room. Grandpa slowly unwrapped the flat package to find a FedEx envelope inside. He fumbled with it for a few seconds, clearly confused about what this gift could be. He slid two pieces of paper out, lifted his head slightly so he could read through the bifocals on the lower part of his eyeglasses, and after he got through the first sentence of the letter, he broke down in tears. It read, “Congratulations! You are the proud owner of one share of Green Bay Packers stock.” The second page was the stock certificate itself. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house when we saw his reaction.
Although he owns only a single share, he started going to shareholders meetings in Green Bay, and he loves the fact that he is a tiny bit closer to the team he’s worshipped his entire life. The stock certificate is framed on his wall with all his other Packer memorabilia. Even though I live in California now, I never miss a single Packers game. I have DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket so I can see them play every week, and I often call my grandpa after the game to discuss how it went. Sometimes, in a big game, I’ll call him 3 or 4 times, excited about how close they are to winning, or frustrated that they made a boneheaded play and turned over the ball. If the phone rings when the Pack is playing, my grandparents always know it’s me calling.
When I finished my undergrad degree, my partner surprised me with a wonderful gift – 4 tickets to see Green Bay play Minnesota on a Sunday night. She got 4 tickets because she knew I’d never want to go to a Packers game without Grandpa. We flew home for the weekend and took my grandpa and my mom’s husband to the game with us. We made a day of it, visiting the Packers’ Hall of Fame, and spending an hour or so in the massive memorabilia store at Lambeau Field. Brett Favre had defected to the Vikings and was playing his second year there, what would be the last in his storied career, and we got to watch the Packers beat him that night, on their way to another Super Bowl win.