I grew up in De Pere. For those of you not familiar with the Green Bay area, it’s about one or two villages south of the city proper. Our house was about a ten-minute drive from Lambeau Field. It was literally next door to the little stadium that St. Norbert College played their football games in.

My next door neighbor was retired Packers legend, Mike Michalske . He played for the Packers during the 1930s and was the first guard ever to be inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame. Up until I was about five years old, I considered him to be my best friend in the whole wide world.

Mike and Jay

A young Jay with the gentle giant, Iron Mike Michalske. My neighbor was truly a great man.

My first memory of seeing the Packers on television was the 1982 playoff game game against the St. Louis Cardinals during the 1982 strike-shortened season. I was six years old at the time. I remember seeing the Packers gang tackle and pile on, so, of course, I began jumping on the couch like a wild child, much to my father’s dismay.

I had a very small worldview as a child. I assumed that every city in the world had their own NFL franchise and that everyone had a football player as a neighbor. It wasn’t until later in life that I realized just how truly special the small town Green Bay was to have their own NFL franchise. It wasn’t until later in life that I realized that everyone knew where Green Bay was simply because the Packers called it their home. It wasn’t until it was too late, after Iron Mike Michalske died, that I realized how special and fortunate my family was to have him as our neighbor.

Football was all around me as a kid.

I was going to grow up and be a football player because the signs were all around me. Even the college stadium told me that. If I wasn’t at St. Norbert games with my father, I could hear them while I was playing in the backyard.

Many of my early Packers memories were dominated by the lackluster teams of the 1980s. I was enthralled with the Forrest Gregg’s Packers versus the Mike Ditka’s Bears rivalries. I remember those fierce bloodbaths of pure hate. I distinctly remember the huge paradox of going to church on Sunday morning to learn about forgiveness, and then coming home and turning the game on to see organized rage and violence.

In between quarters, during halftime, or before dinner, I was usually out in the backyard, wearing my favorite #90 jersey, with my Nerf football. I would throw passes to the yew bushes along the fence line. I would throw high arcing passes that I would run under in stride en route to a touchdown. I would kick extra points and field goals into the apple tree. I would practice my punting hang time over the telephone wire. Sometimes, I would invite friends over to play with me, but that would often interfere with my serious training. Game winning field goals had no time for tomfoolery and horseplay.

I was simultaneously Ezra Johnson, Lynn Dickey, James Lofton, Al Del Greco, Bucky Scribner, and Mike Michalske.

I was a Packer. I was going to be a grown Packer one day. It was all a forgone conclusion. I just needed to mature from that little, pudgy child’s body of mine.

Then, one Saturday morning during my middle school years, something peculiar happened. I mistakenly turned the channel dial, while searching for cartoons, to a college football game. My eyes were opened wide. What was this? The stadiums were huge. The stadiums were gorgeous, unlike the sterile NFL compounds at the time. There were bands. There was pageantry. The style of play was different.

It was wonderful. I was hooked. From that moment on, the love was born. I became a college football fan for life.

Over the years, and especially now, I have grown, on the whole, to prefer the college game over the professional game. I just like it more for many intangible reasons. Some of the tangible reasons just come down to the style of play and the pageantry. But, other factors include my dismay for the bloated salaries and the all-too-true “No Fun League” moniker. I don’t like the showboating, the egos, and the huge sense of entitlement by the players. Yes, I’m sure those go on in the college game, but it’s a little more sheltered from public eyes, so in my case, ignorance is bliss. Plus, being an alum of a football school doesn’t hurt my passion, either.

I have mental battles with myself every year about my love for the college game and my dwindling love for the NFL. But, what never wanes is my love for the Packers. The Packers will always be my team. I’ll always love them and follow them as closely as I can.

So, while I may watch between eight and twelve hours of college football tomorrow, I probably won’t watch many, if any, NFL games on Sunday.

Unless the Packers are on. I’ll always find time to watch the Packers if they are on in my television market. As far as I’m concerned, the world can stop if my Packers on the television.

The Packers were my first football love, and they always will be. I love them because of my childhood. I watch them to honor the game that Mike Michalske helped create. I watch them because I still think I’m going to grow up to be a Packer someday. I watch them because I still want to be in my parent’s backyard with my old Nerf football. I want to make that game-winning field goal one last time from 64 yards out.

I honestly couldn’t care less about the other 31 NFL franchises. For example, last night, I was more interested in watching the TCU-Texas Tech game than I was watching the Jets-Patriots. The NFL, as a whole, isn’t special to me.

But, the Packers are special to me. I love my Packers.

They are my hometown team. They belong to the small city of Green Bay, which is also known as Titletown. That’s a pretty neat name for such a small metro area. They are timeless and transcend the other inanities of the NFL that I have grown so tired of.

The Packers *are* my NFL.

 

 

 

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