Two weeks ago, I wrote that I’d decided to root for the Packers during these playoffs. That got an interesting mix of comments, with several proclaiming they’d never root for the Packers, or any division rival. This morning, the talk radio airwaves were burning up with people saying they’d never root for the Packers (and/or totally would have gutted out Jay Cutler’s MCL sprain, because they’d have won States if Coach had put them in in the fourth).
I’ve often ranted in this space about how I prefer pro football to college. Here, though, is where college football wins out. First, rivals are rivals, regardless of record. I detest the Vikings for a variety of reasons, but I’ve always had a begrudging respect for the Packers—fan owned, outdoor stadium, Titletown, Lombardi, Starr, Favre, etc. I love that in a league of teams in big cities, a tiny Wisconsin town can still build a perennial winner out of pure will. The Bears were flatly the coolest team in the world when I was a little kid, and just as steeped in history as Green Bay. I don’t particularly like the Bears now, especially with Martz and Marinelli calling the plays--but I have a hard time mustering real venom.
Rivalries, in professional sports, are either handed down through the generations (like Cubs/Cardinals), spring up when multiple coaches and players leave from one team to the other (Patriots/Jets), or blossom out of repeated contests with something big on the line (Red Wings/Avalanche). Unfortunately, unless it’s the first type, the rivalry fades away. Players move on, teams’ fortunes wax and wane, and meaningless games become hard for even the fans to get up for. The Lions haven’t played the Packers with anything on the line since the early Nineties, and the games have been mostly uncontested since then . . . until this year.
One of the reasons I'm rooting Pack this season, is that the rivalry is about to rekindle. The Lions took them to the final minutes in Lambeau this year, and beat them at home this year. The Lions’ time is beginning, and this rivalry is going to mean something again, soon. As I’ve said, I want the cool players (like Aaron Rodgers and Greg Jennings and Donald Driver and Charles Woodson and . . .) and cool fans to get to the mountaintop before the Lions knock them down. Think of it this way: if the Packers are the reigning Super Bowl champions next season, taking the division crown from them will mean that much more.