13

January

Purple Cheese: A Green Bay Packers Season in Vikings Country

Burkie, you ain’t in Wisconsin anymore!

With the 2013 Green Bay Packers season officially in the books, there is a plethora of articles all over the World Wide Web looking back at the year and what the Packers can do to improve and contend for a Super Bowl again in 2014.

This is not one of those articles.  Well, not 100% anyways.

As you may or may not know, due to a promotion at my real job, I packed my bags and moved from Wisconsin to Minnesota this past August.  From the moment I was born until roughly one month from my 30th birthday, I lived in the great state Wisconsin and Packer Country.  As of August 1st, that was no longer the case.

Of course the state of Minnesota is home to one of Green Bay’s most bitter rivals, the Vikings.  For the first time in my life, I would not be able to watch every single Packer game on television.  This fact actually weighed heavily on me when I was debating whether or not to accept the promotion, but I figured that, thanks to the advent of the internet and NFL Game Rewind, I would survive.

I arrived at the start of training camp and it was seemingly clear at that point even to Vikings fans what the NFC North would look like in 2013: the Packers would win the division with perhaps a somewhat stiff challenge from Minnesota. The optimism amongst fans here was that the Vikings made the playoffs in 2012 and thanks to the addition of former Packer wide receiver Greg Jennings, they could challenge Green Bay for the division crown.

As is usually the case in the NFL, things did not go according to the script….for either team.

The Packers stumbled early, but were able to right the ship to sit at 4-2 entering their Week 8 matchup against the Vikings at Mall of America Field.  Minnesota, meanwhile, stumbled early and often as their record stood at 1-5 heading into their first game against Green Bay.

Heading into that game, all I could think was “Just win this game. Lose the rest if you must, I just don’t want to get swept by the Vikings while I live here.” Everyone at work at that point knew who I backed and the smack talk was in jest, but there’s a difference between Packers fans and (most) Vikings fans: we Cheeseheads take our team as a source of pride. When they lose, our pride is wounded.

The Packers of course easily won that game 44-31 and I could exhale. At worst, the Packers and Vikings would have a split just like last year and hey, that game basically eliminated Minnesota from the playoff hunt. The Packers were at 5-2 and were rolling. It looked like they could thump the NFC North again if they could beat the Chicago Bears the following week.

Then Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone and the script on the Packers’ 2013 season went in the shredder.

Green Bay lost the following three games which put them back at .500 but somehow they were still in the thick of the division race thanks to the inconsistent play of the Bears and Detroit Lions.  It still wasn’t clear how long Rodgers was going to be out, but heading into the Week 12 game against the Vikings it was clear the Packers’ season was on life support. A loss to Minnesota at home would be brutal for the Packers, not to mention my own psyche.

During that three game losing streak, the Vikings fans I knew here were decent to me.  Thanks to the putrid play of their own team, they really had no room to trash talk.  It was a gesture that I seriously appreciated.

Well, I was at work for that Week 12 game and that was quite the experience.  We weren’t too busy so everyone was busy occasionally checking the score.  When the Vikings were up 20-7 at the end of the third quarter, everyone was stunned. Vikings fans were shocked that their team was playing so well and I was surprised how poorly the Packers were playing. The Vikings were 2-8 going into that game.  I thought that was the one game they should easily win even without Rodgers.

Enter Matt Flynn.

Flynn led a comeback that eventually led to a 26-26 tie.  The dynamic was interesting with Vikings fans at that point. I was miffed the Packers didn’t pull the win off and Minnesota fans were upset they blew the lead.  They say a tie is like kissing your sister, and I wouldn’t know that because I am an only child.  After this game, however, I knew exactly what they meant by that.

Green Bay of course soiled the bed the following week in a 40-10 loss at Detroit to the Lions.  At that point everyone thought the season was over.  I wasn’t exactly optimistic either, but if watching the team in 2003 and 2004 taught me anything, it was to always believe even in the face of overwhelming odds.

The Packers won the following week in come-from-behind fashion over the Falcons to get back to being only a half game back in the NFC North thanks to that tie.  It should have been obvious to everyone right then and there: Green Bay still had a shot.

Then came the comeback for the ages against the Dallas Cowboys at the same stadium the Packers won Super Bowl XLV.  Now the playoffs were definitely within sight and Green Bay, despite all the obstacles of the season, still controlled their own destiny. It was unbelievable.  At work, everyone shook their heads in disbelief. My only reaction was, “See what a little faith can do for your team?” Vikings fans shrugged their shoulders at me like I was speaking gibberish.

The Steelers beat the Packers at Lambeau in Week 16 but thanks to losses by the Bears and Lions, Green Bay would play in Chicago for the NFC North title and Detroit was eliminated.

We all know what happened next.  Rodgers returned and the Packers won their third straight division title in a win for the ages over the Chicago Bears.  I was in high heaven.  After Jay Cutler threw that last interception to Sam Shields, I skipped around my one-bedroom apartment like a kid at Christmas.

The reaction from Vikings fans at work? Most were in awe and were congratulatory, which I appreciated. The ribbing from them was all in good nature, but there are also a lot of Vikings fans here that I don’t work with and most are insufferable. The moment the Vikings started losing, they stopped caring.  I can say firsthand that a good chunk of Vikings fans are very “fair weather.” It’s a stereotype in Wisconsin but now that I spent a full football season in Minnesota, I can say it’s the truth.

The playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers was a sad way to end the year, but I personally will never forget this season.  It was a wild ride and I think the season was a success, despite the final outcome.  If you had said at the beginning of the year the Packers would lose Rodgers for half the season and still win the divisional title, I’d have sent you some recommendations on a good psychiatrist.

As for what I will take away from this season, two images will forever be embedded in my mind. The first is the postgame celebration in the Packers’ locker room after the win over the Cowboys.  There is something about a team, a severely beaten up team, from the smallest market in the league jumping up and down chanting “OUR HOUSE! OUR HOUSE!” in the visiting locker room of a $1 billion+ stadium owned by the richest (and perhaps snottiest) team owner in the league.  That’s just pretty darn awesome.

The second of course is the pass from Rodgers to Randall Cobb that sealed the NFC North title.  Flynn and company did an admirable job in the absence of both those players, it was almost like that play said “Thanks a lot guys. We’ll take it from here.” That was pretty cool too.

The biggest thing I learned in my season in enemy territory was that for nearly 30 years, I took the Green Bay Packers for granted. I used to live 45 minutes away from Lambeau Field.  I could go to that stadium and go to the Packers Pro Shop or Packers Hall of Fame any time I wanted.  Now I live nearly six hours away and I realize I didn’t truly appreciate where I lived before.

I knew Lambeau is a special place, but not in the sense many Packers fans feel.  Many only get to Green Bay once every few years and there are countless fans that will never get there at all.  While a six hour drive is hardly long distance compared to many fans around the country and indeed the world, I feel even stronger about that stadium.

They say “distance makes the heart grow fonder” and I can tell you that is absolutely true.  Now that I have gone a season without being able to drive to Lambeau Field daily and see every game on TV, I truly appreciate how special being a Packers fan really is.   I have a lot of memories at that stadium and while they were special before I moved out of Wisconsin, now they are moments I will cherish forever and will undoubtedly rank up there with the day I get married and witness the birth of my first child (whenever those occur).

In fact, is it sad that missing Packers games and being so far away from Green Bay made me more homesick than missing my own family?

No, it’s not and that’s the biggest lesson I walk away from the 2013 season with: Packer fans are family.

We yell at each other during and immediately after each game via Twitter and other outlets.  Some are bullish on the team’s prospects, others are more pessimistic. At the end of the day, however, all are joined together by one thing and that is love of the Green Bay Packers.

If that isn’t the very definition of a family, I don’t know what is.

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Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke

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15 Responses to “Purple Cheese: A Green Bay Packers Season in Vikings Country”

  1. Savage57 says:

    A very good read Kris, and one I can personally relate to.

    In early 1992, in yet another company ‘re-alignment’, I was transferred to Atlanta to take another division. Not Minnesota thank God, but still, the home of the Braves?

    I got to witness the entire Brett Favre era with the Packers from afar. In moments of personal delusion as to my self-importance, I often joked with friends and family that Wisconsin traded me for Favre, but I was OK with the results.

    There was one difference, however. As Favre’s career exploded and his legacy grew, the “he used to play for the Falcons” comments came like rain. My stock reply became “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. Kind of like the reverse of the way things go with the Vikings, with equal amounts but differing kinds of stupidity.

    I talked smack non-stop about my team and thank the Lord, their play backed it up. Then came 1998 and the tables turned. But like the weather in Lambeau for a home playoff game, revenge is a dish served similarily, and following the folly of their lone Super Bowl experience, Falcons fans I knew wanted to kill me.

    Such is life living behind enemy lines. Should the Vikings ever become successful before you reach old age, just stay confident that inevitably, they will find someway to collapse under the weight of the moment.

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  2. Kathy Kramer says:

    I moved to Sioux Falls, SD in 2011 from Wisconsin and I went through something similar, except there are more people who are openly Packers fans out here (as well as fans of other teams), so it wasn’t quite as bad as what you went through. I’ve noticed that around the time training camp starts, the Vikings fans emerge from under the rocks they crawled under at the end of last season, wearing their shiny new Adrian Peterson jerseys or Chad Greenway jerseys (because Chad Greenway is from South Dakota, so he’s a big deal. So is Ben Leber), and they start talking smack about how they’re going to beat the Packers or they’re going to win the division. And then when their season eventually tanks, it’s strangely quiet and I see fewer people out and about in their shiny new #28 jerseys. I still see people wearing their Favre Viking jerseys, which just makes me want to get a new Favre Packers jersey to remind the m that Favre was, is , and always will be a Green Bay Packer, no matter how badly they want him to be theirs.

    After two years, I find it easier to be a Packers fan out here. It does help that 99.1 FM in Sioux Falls airs the Packers radio broadcast (with Wayne & Larry). I don’t have to say a word when they start with the smack talk. I can let the Vikings horrible record speak for itself.

    I don’t know if this is true where you are, Kris, but I’ve noticed here that Vikings fans hate us more than we hate them and it really, really bothers them that there is a team we hate more than the Vikings.

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  3. Barutan Seijin says:

    I was in Chicago in the eighties & again for a year in the Rex Grossman era. You had to respect Payton and that defense, but McMahon, Coach Ditka — ugh. Back then the Packers were an afterthought for casual Bear fans (most people you’d meet). There was more back & forth during the Lovie years. Lovie stoked the rivalry by making beating the Packers goal no. 1.

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  4. MadTownDan says:

    I lived in the Twin Cities for 5 years (1998-2002). The Vikings were showing a pulse in those days, having just drafted Randy Moss and Culpepper. So, all of the fair-weather fans were in their glory, constantly spouting off about how great their team was. The Packers had a couple of lean years during that time (post ’97/’98 Superbowls), so I took a lot of grief from the locals.

    Here was a the fail-safe method I used to make them shut their pie holes: I would take the cellophane from a pack of cigarettes, set it upside down on a table or bar, and ask them what it was. After about 20 seconds of them scratching their heads, I would tell them:

    I’ts the Vikings NFL championship trophy case!

    Yep, that did the trick every time.

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  5. Scheny Schen says:

    I live in the twin cities and there are plenty of good places to watch the Packers every week. — my favorite thing, however, is to listen to local radio, especially after a Viqueen loss. It’s hilarious how quickly they turn on their squad. We on this blog think Archie and a few others are negative, they’ve got nothing on the sports-talk radio personalities here in town. They rip the team, and actually all the sports clubs in town with little mercy. It is comical and very entertaining. Been here since 1997 and it has always been this way. They most definitely have SuperBowl envy! GoPack!

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  6. Dobber says:

    Went to college in Green Bay during the Infante era (at least we could get tickets!), lived in Champaign, IL, Macon, GA, and now central MI over the last 17 years.

    While the Falcons were getting their pride on while I was down there, I can say that Lions fans are like groundhogs…occasionally they stick their heads out of their hole, but are afraid winter is going to continue. It’s not too bad being a Packer fan in central MI…I see almost as many G’s around here as Lions logos.

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  7. Bearmeat Bearmeat says:

    Great read Kris – Thanks.

    I grew up in God’s Country, but moved to Bears country for undergrad work – first at NIU in DeKalb, and then in the heart of enemy territory (Chicago) at Roosevelt University. I still have a bunch of (crap eating) Bears buddies from my 7 years (undergrad and 1st job) in Chicago.

    I then moved to Austin for 5 years to attend graduate school. The people in Austin are insufferable about the Longhorns, but there were a lot of obnoxious Cowboy fans too.

    And now I live in Houston as a professional musician and educator. So in a sense, I’ve lived in almost every type of fan environment:

    1. Home team with passionate fans
    2. Archrival team with passionate (and stupid) fans
    3. Occasional rival team with passionate fans
    4. Non-rival team with fair-weather fans.

    I can say from experience that other than living in Wisconsin with like minded individuals – option #4 is clearly the best. Texan fans don’t care about the Packers. They respect them.

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    • Steve Cheez says:

      I’d have to say that #1 and especially #2 are the best: it is just that much sweeter when you beat them!

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      • Bearmeat Bearmeat says:

        Yeah – but I lived in Chicago from 2002-2008. We sucked against Chicago during that time. They won the division twice and beat us regularly. They went to a SB and we didn’t.

        WHY couldn’t I have chosen 2008-2014 to live there? WHY?

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        • Barutan Seijin says:

          Aside from living in Chicago during the Super Bowl Shuffle years,
          i lived in upstate NY during the Bills run of SB losses. I was
          somewhere near the Giants-Bills divide, so people were either
          Gints or Bills fans. (Natives tended to be Bills fans, but
          people from downstate were Gints fans. No one admitted to being
          a Jets fan.) One thing for sure: people did not care about the
          Packers.

          It was lots more fun being a Packer fan in Chicago, even if the Bears were really good and the Packers mostly mediocre.

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    • Barutan Seijin says:

      I was in the Bay area for the Jerry Rice fumble game. Met a couple passionate female Niner fans in a bar, and… uhm… anyway… Passionate is OK by me.

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  8. Big O says:

    Hey you’ve got to get out of there, anywhere but Queen country, have you ever wondered why all the trees in the neighboring states lean toward Minn. cause Minn. sucks!!!!

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  9. FITZCORE1252 says:

    Grew up in bare country when we sucked and they were good. So, my hate for that franchise and their bitch-ass fans can’t be overstated.

    Been in Western Washington for 7+ yrs… These seacock fans are really hard to work with right now. The funny thing is… I don’t remember half of them wearing any gear or really even talking about the cocks until around playoff time last year… Don’t know why.

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