Monday, December 29, 2008

Mr. Martin, You May Begin Your Yardwork...

As we settle back from the 6-10 debacle that was the 2008 season, many Packer fans (myself included) have demonstrated some pretty impressive wailing and gnashing of teeth this season. Some might describe them as "Chicken Littles", although that is a term that I find to be a bit derogatory. Let's just say, perhaps more gently, that there are a lot of fans (myself included) who have made this season into a crisis. The calls for blindly cutting players, firing coaches and general managers, and spending wildly in free agency are commonplace conversation, both in the blogosphere and at the local diner or tavern.

And, there's no doubt....this season was a major disappointment and casts a lot of doubt on the leadership of the team. But, even I have to remind myself, this is just one season out of many for Packer fans, and the world hasn't ended yet.

I am reminded of a "Letter to the Editor" written to the Green Bay Press-Gazette back in the early 90's. I'm guessing it must have been during the 1993 season, because that was the year the Packers seemed to be struggling most with growing pains under new coach Mike Holmgren and a young Brett Favre. Perhaps it was after a 30-27 loss to the Denver Broncos and a 3 interception game by Favre that dropped the Packers to 2-3.

It was signed by a guy with the last name of Martin, and he was from Seymour, WI. And he declared his official resignation as a Packer fan for all to see.

To paraphrase:
I am letting it be known that after being a fan for 20 years, I have had it with wasting my Sunday afternoons on the Green Bay Packers. No longer will you find me taking away time from other things to watch a game on television. I am done. From now on, when the Packer game is on, I will be outside doing my yardwork.

This letter stuck in my craw for years. Being this was long before the advent of the internet, I can't locate a copy of this letter word-for-word, but I remember, on many occasions wanting to reply to it and call Mr. Martin out.

It was shortly thereafter that the Packers began compiling impressive regular seasons and deep playoff runs. All of us who lived through the early 1990's remember the excitement and anticipation for the next game, or the next season. Although it culminated in only one Super Bowl win, it was a great time to be a Packer fan.

"Dear Mr. Martin,

I am sure you missed the game last weekend, but the Packers beat the Detroit Lions 16-12. This, by the way, was a playoff game, and we held Barry Sanders to -1 rushing yards. I wanted to let you know, since I know you didn't watch it. By the way, how are your hedges looking this week?"

"Dear Mr. Martin,

Just keeping you updated, as I am certain the time you have invested in keeping your landscaping up is considerable, but the Packers defeated the 49ers in the Divisional Round of the playoffs this past weekend, and what a game it was! Craig Newsome returned a fumble for a touchdown and the Packers never looked back! Incidentally, I was going to ask if I could borrow your edge trimmer this week, but that will have to wait because the Packers are playing in the NFC Championship then. Will grab it later."

"Dear Mr. Martin,

Drove by your house yesterday and have to compliment you on your rose bushes. They really bring out the color of the trim. By the way, the Packers won the Super Bowl today against the New England Patriots. Since you don't bother watching the Packers anymore, I just wanted to keep you posted."

Now, seriously, I have a strong feeling Mr. Martin never followed through on his threat, and likely watched each of these games himself. Fanaticism is a great thing, but is often ruled by emotion and irrationality, both in victory and in defeat. For example, paying $400 a ticket to go see the Packers/49ers playoff game in 1996 while sitting in freezing rain would count for the positive end of that fanaticism, while swearing off your team after a bad game or a bad season would be the negative end.

It is that emotionalism, though, that makes us fans. I have pity on people who boil the game of football down to execution and statistics, and take that emotion out of the game. It's that emotion that makes us the best fans in the NFL, and makes the actual game of football something more than fantasy football.

Cold, hard football facts are just that. No one pays $70 a seat to go watch statistics.

Over the next several months, I will write articles, many of them critical of the GM, the coaching staff, and the players. So it goes after a disappointing season, as many of us armchair GM's look to diagnose the problems and try to fix them from our home office chair. In the end, we accomplish very little, but we still maintain that emotional connection to our team, even if the emotions aren't all warm and fuzzy ones.

But it is people like Mr. Martin who remind me that times like these arent' the end of the world, and that (unless you are a fan of the Detroit Lions) there is the strong liklihood that there will be a reason to get excited about your team again soon enough.

So, the next time you are at the tavern or in your favorite forum, let loose your emotions. That's what makes us fans. Rant, rave, point fingers, and wail and gnash your teeth. Boisterously defend your heroes. Paint the black moustache on whomever you think deserves it.

Just keep it in the back of your head that "this too shall pass". And in the end, we are all Packer fans, first and foremost, and always shall be.

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