Note: this has nothing to do with beer. Viva blogs!
For some reason, the Green Bay Packers are the favorite to win the Super Bowl tomorrow. It's trendy because the Pack have been on what is admittedly one king-hell of a tear over the last few games. Aaron Rodgers is a pure quarterback, and his redemption of a beloved city sullied by shenanigans of the late Favre era is a story everyone loves. He's a good kid and everyone wants the good kid, not his thuggish counterpart, to win. Of course, everyone forgets the suspect team that lost to the Dolphins at home. They forget that at the start of the playoffs, pundits were prepared to pin to Rodgers' lapel the dreaded can't-win-the-big-game pin. They forget the lack of experience on the Pack side, and the long, valuable experience Polamalu, Rothlisberger, Ward, et. al. have. So it's a trendy pick that is based on misguided gut instincts.
But that's not why the Pack will lose.
(In fact, the teams have remarkable similarities. The 3-4 D, obviously, but similar parity at key positions: speedster receivers (Wallace, Jones), rangy speedster defensive backs (Polamalu, Matthews), great D-lines and good but iffy O-lines, great quarterbacks, and similar lunchpail running backs. If I weren't invested in the game, I wouldn't have the cojones to make a prediction.)
The Pack will lose because I desperately want them to win. Much is made of the Packers' 90 years of winning football, but it's grossly misleading. Since they won the second Super Bowl, they've mounted a mediocre 328-310-8 record. They had exactly three winning seasons in the 70s and 80s (plus one more in a strike-shortened year). Even in the Brett Favre era, they only went to two Super Bowls and botched the second. Most living fans don't have the experience of dominance from their Pack. Much like the Blazers over the same period, they were good and entertained thoughts of championships--but seasons almost always ended in disappointment.
Sports produces cultures, and Wisconsin sports have--again, like Portland--created the best kind of pure fans. Packers fans are fans no matter how bad the team is. It is not their instinct to turn against the team for losing. Rather, there's a family feel to being a fan. Sure, it may be humiliating to go 4-12, but hey, families got to stick together. In Dairyland, the other great teams come from my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin Badgers. Like the Pack, they have suffered through a lot of terrible years, and with the exception of hockey, where they are national royalty, never seriously contend for national championships. They get close some years. Take 2010, for example, when the football team lost only one game and looked like possibly the best team in the country. Until, embarrassingly, they lost to TCU in the Rose Bowl. Classic Badgers.
Not all fans are like this--a fact I discovered by simultaneously marrying into a New England family and befriending a lifelong New Englander here in Portland. In New England, teams are expected to win championships. Even the hapless Red Sox, which didn't for decades, was expected to. The second things go south, fans get ugly. Be good or go home. For teams that are good, like the current Patriots and Celtics, the fans are insanely loyal. Old heroes are treated like kings. David Ortiz will, until he draws his last breath, never have to pay for another pint of beer in Boston. But get sideways with the fans, and it's an ugly thing.
Ironically, I was a Steelers fan growing up in Boise, Idaho--634 miles from the nearest pro team (Oakland). If there was a local fave, it was the Broncos--but they were even further away, 832 miles. So a lot of kids just picked teams at random, based mainly on mascot and color themes, like you might select a favorite Sesame Street character. (The Dolphins were big.) I was a Pittsburgh boy, entranced by the mighty steel curtain and the lovable, working-class team. I was a fan so young that I couldn't even understand the down system--but I understood that the Steelers were the best. For my eighth birthday, they beat the hated Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl X.
It will be strange to watch what is effectively the same team I loved as a kid beat the team I've rooted for for nearly 20 years, but I have no doubt they will. That's how it goes with the Pack. Just close enough so that you really taste the loss.
On the other hand, if they do win, I know just the beer with which to toast them....