Sports: A Toxic Relationship

by Dominic Archer

Vince Lombardi once said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Lombardi was known for always chasing perfection, knowing he’d never find it. His tough coaching and never-quit attitude took a once successful Green Bay Packers franchise back to the promised land and climbed the championship mountain 5 times in his 9 seasons as the head coach. Lombardi was recognized by the NFL in 1970 when the trophy awarded to the winner of the Super Bowl was named in his honor. But winning only happens for a short while.

For Packer fans in the 60’s, championships were the expectation. Anything short of a trip to the Super Bowl was a disappointment. In the 30 years following Lombardi’s departure from Green Bay however, the Packers made the postseason only 7 times. I’m a devoted Packer fan and have had the good fortune to see the Packers win a Super Bowl in 2011 and be a perennial contender for my entire life, where my grandfather saw both sides of being a Packer fan. 

My grandfather was born in July of 1947, the end of the historic Lambeau era in Green Bay. His fandom didn’t start until the late 50’s when championship hopes were long gone and winning more games than they lost was a victory. He could recall listening to the radio when Vince Lombardi was hired as the new head coach. His favorite players included hall of famers Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, Ray Nitschke, and Paul Hornung, a core that would win 89 games in a 9-year span. However, he always talked about the mediocre play the Packers displayed until the 90’s, almost as much as the 5 championships.

As much fun as winning is, it’s uncommon. My grandfather was also a Chicago Cubs fan, much like his father. His father was born in 1928 and passed away in 2013, witnessing only 1 trip to the World Series in which the Cubs lost in game 7. Fortunately for my grandfather, he was able to see the Cubs climb to the mountaintop and break a 108-year championship drought. Although in the 70 years prior to the Cubs 2016 championship, the Cubs made the postseason 7 times, and my grandfather never missed a game.

In a 5-year window, my grandfather watched his 2 favorite teams win championships. Before passing away in the spring of 2021, he watched his beloved Packers fail to reach the Super Bowl in back-to-back years following their devastating losses to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Francisco 49ers in consecutive NFC Championship games. Yet, he couldn’t wait until the fall to watch his Packers contend for another championship. 

This past season was the first time that I was alone as I watched the Packers build on their success of the last 2 years. My grandfather and I would cook pasta and watch them play every Sunday, and win or lose, we’d be back the next week. This season was the first time in the last decade in which I thought the Packers had a legitimate shot at winning the Super Bowl. Following a 13-4 season that saw the Packers break records and become the first team to win 39 games in 3 years, the Packers made the postseason and were poised to book their ticket to the Super Bowl. 

A familiar foe in the 49ers played the Packers on a cold night at Lambeau Field. The Packers took an early lead but would find themselves at the mercy of 49ers kicker Robbie Gould’s right foot at the end of the game. Gould, who played 11 seasons for the Packers biggest rival, the Chicago Bears, had never missed a postseason kick to that point. With less than 5 seconds remaining, Gould kicked the game winning field goal that sent the 49ers to the NFC championship and left the Packers heartbroken. I couldn’t help but shed a tear following the kick. I was fully convinced that in the season following my grandfather’s passing, the Packers would win the Super Bowl. It wouldn’t be hard for anyone to decide at that moment that they would never claim to be a Packer fan. But like my grandfather, my fandom of the Green Bay Packers is still as strong as the first time I watched them play. 

My experience as a Packer fan is one that has many highs, but the highs only last for moments. What lasts are the painful losses. I’ve seen this team lose by 20 points in the biggest games of the season, and I’ve also seen them lose at the last second. I have no clue which is worse. But, what I can say is that I’m addicted. I love every minute of being a sports fan, regardless of winning or losing. Maybe it’s an inner desire to fail time and time again, but these agonizing losses only make the trip to the highest peak that much sweeter. On the other hand, if history tells me anything, I may never see another championship. And that’s the beauty of it all: they might.