Monday, February 07, 2011

Vicarious Happiness

Vicarious Happiness

I stumble into work on a Monday morning and pull off my green and gold coat. "Congratulations," people say, as if I somehow had anything to do with it. Like I broke my collar bone making that tackle at the end of the first half, or scooped up that fumble to grab the game momentum back after that awful third quarter.

The vicarious psychology of the sports fan fascinates me even as I indulge in it. "We" won. Not "they," not "the Packers": "WE."

It's an accident of the time and place I came from, really: Wisconsin at the height of the Vince Lombardi era (though my actual birth was during the interregnum in the team's five championships in seven years). Dad was a high school coach and ball games were part of day to day life for us.

So we grew up with the Packers, through the dreadful 70s and the frustrating 80s. Dad's an offensive line guy. Everyone else sees the big run; Dad sees the block that made it happen. He taught us that it was better to do than to watch, and rarely gave up on a fishing or golfing trip to sit in front of the TV. If the weather was nice we'd bring the radio along and listen on the lake.

If it was cold or rainy, we'd turn down the TV sound and listen to the radio play by play from Packer announcer Max McGee. He was the improbable hung-over hero of the first "NFL-AFL Championship Game" -- not even the "Super Bowl" yet, let alone a Roman numeral. Max was a classic "homer" announcer with no pretense at objectivity, and that's what we wanted: to hear him cheering on "our" Packers.

And it's those memories, more than the hired hands in the uniforms, that I was really cheering for yesterday. The connection is entirely vicarious. The contracts expire, the bidding begins, the players move on. That's especially true for us Packers fans, booing our one-time hero because he now wears a purple number 4 shirt instead of a green one. We have always been at war with Eastasia, star-bellied Sneetches have always been better than plain-bellied Sneetches.

Yet millions of us get caught up in it, our moods wildly swinging from elation to despair based on the performance of a few dozen physically abnormal, incredibly well paid men who most often have no real identification with or relationship to the team's town beyond some high profile feel-good PR/charity projects.

But the team stays. The fans stay and still say "We won". The tears on their faces as "We Are The Champions" plays are genuine.

A huge question mark hands over football's future. Money disputes between players and management may scuttle the next season. I can't even pretend to understand the dollars and egos involved, though my thoughts on sports economics are best summed up by Chris Rock, explaining the difference between riches and wealth: "Shaq is rich. The white man who signs his check is wealthy."

So this particular collection of Packers may not get the chance to defend their title. But for today, at least, even though my joy is vicarious, it's no less real.

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