Editor’s note: Chronicle sports columnist John U. Bacon is on hiatus writing a book about University of Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez’s three seasons coaching the Wolverines. As Super Bowl Sunday approaches – a game between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers – we are pleased to offer a guest column from Ann Arbor resident Zach London. This piece appeared originally in the February edition of London’s monthly newsletter The Hard Taco Digest. Each month, the digest includes a link to an original song composed and recorded by London, and he has committed to this monthly musical project until he is dead.
Nicholas Dodman is an animal psychologist who wrote a book entitled, “The Dog Who Loved Too Much.” I haven’t read it, but the first chapter was described to me as follows: The author has a patient, a dog, who loves her owner too much. When the owner leaves the house each morning, she becomes so worried that he won’t return that she loses control of her bladder.
She paces around the house peeing on everything. When he finally comes home at 5 p.m., she is so overjoyed to see him that she throws up. The joy is so pervasive that she vomits constantly until he leaves again the next morning, at which point the bladder problem kicks in again.
That is how I feel about the Green Bay Packers.
It is a special kind of staggering love that only emotionally disturbed dogs and true sports devotees can experience. We soar, we suffer, and we soar again, and all of it is unhealthy.
Unlike most fanatics, I was not born into it.
For the first two decades of my life, I shared my family’s lack of interest in spectator sports. In fact, one of the first football games I ever watched was Super Bowl XXXI, when the Packers beat the New England Patriots. It was 1997, and I was the only Wisconsin kid I knew living in Providence, about 20 miles from Foxboro Stadium, where the Patriots play their home games. I thought it would be funny to pretend that I was a lifelong Packer backer, stranded deep within enemy territory.
Two weeks before the game, I ordered myself a Cheesehead hat. I drew a large sign for my door that read, “Brett Favre is Good at Football.” Then I called a few high school friends and asked them to help me out with some talking points. What are the back stories of our star players? Who’s in a contract year? What is the difference between a punt and a kickoff again?
The Patriots fans who watched the game with me were clearly irritated by the Cheesehead and the sign, but it was the talking points that really paid huge dividends.
Me: Did you know Green Bay’s Marco Rivera is the only active NFL player of Puerto Rican descent?
Pats fans: That’s great. I don’t care.
Me: I’ve always said that Dorsey Levens, our rushing back, gets stronger as the game goes on. Don’t you agree?
Pats fans: (Gritting teeth and trying to avoid eye contact.)
Me: Brett Favre sure came out like gangbusters tonight. Do you know that he spent 46 days in rehab last summer to get over his Vicodin addiction? He must have hated missing so much training camp.
Pats fans: Please shut up. Please please shut up.
As Favre took a knee to run out the clock in the fourth quarter, I looked around at all of the dejected faces in the room, and I felt absolutely great! I was 20 years old, and I finally discovered the delicious schadenfreude that drives so many sports fans. It was the closest thing I had ever experienced to being born again.
I haven’t missed a Packers game since then. That old Cheesehead hat is now brown and crumbly from being squeezed mightily every time a big play is needed. My wife Lauren and I do sit-ups whenever the Packers score any points, and if it’s a touchdown, we skip around in circles with our index fingers pointed at the ceiling and sing, “I Don’t Want to Work.” We have to do these things, you see, or they won’t score any more points. The only obscene language our children ever hear from their parents comes in the form of very loud interjections, often repeated several times in rapid succession, and only on Sundays between 1-4 p.m. EST.
A few days from now, the Packers will play in Super Bowl XLV. Part of their success, no doubt, is due to my years of diligent Cheesehead-squeezing. For 60 football minutes, I will turn into The Dog Who Loved Too Much. When things are going badly, I will be tormented and incontinent. When they are going well, I will be dry-heaving in ecstasy. Hopefully, it will end on a high note, and I will continue to dry heave for many more months until the next time the Packers lose.
About the author: In his professional life, Zach London MD wields a Tromner hammer for the University of Michigan Health System. His creative and cultural life, besides the Hard Taco project, includes the Penny Seats Theater Company.