Pack-Stage Drama

reports detailing Packers’ off-field dysfunction suggest they aren’t that different from other NFL teams

Luc Anthony

KEITH ALLISON / CREATIVE COMMONS 2.0
KEITH ALLISON / CREATIVE COMMONS 2.0

We Upper Midwesterners pride ourselves on being people who get to work and get the job done. We will occasionally gripe or slightly panic, but when you need to do your job, you do it. This makes us “hearty,” with a good worth ethic and sometimes a “gee whiz” disposition. This stereotype has been extended to one of the biggest cultural touchstones of our region: the Green Bay Packers. They’re in a small market by national standards, they always sell out season tickets, they use UW-Green Bay cheerleaders, fans sit on benches, etc. The Packers are like family.

You could say the past year was un-Packer-like. Coach Mike McCarthy was fired mid-season (unlike any coach in the franchise’s history), an Aaron Rodgers-led team played to a losing record, and bad body language was apparent in the middle of game telecasts.

Families also experience drama, although that aspect of life is considered antithetical to our local society. Yet drama has been the primary focus of the Packers as the current offseason has progressed, with a recently published deep-dive exposé detailing the dysfunction at Lambeau Field.

You could say the past year was un-Packer-like. Coach Mike McCarthy was fired mid-season (unlike any coach in the franchise’s history), an Aaron Rodgers-led team played to a losing record, and bad body language was apparent in the middle of game telecasts. These seemed the sort of behaviors one would expect from teams with a history of grabbing attention for reasons other than Xs and Os (say, the Raiders or the Cowboys). What was this team?

In the wake of these stories and neo-tabloidian information, interest in the team has not abated. Any time Rodgers speaks, the ensuing discussion takes primacy on Wisconsin sports talk radio. As a sports talk contributor myself, I’ve been witness to the takes and perspectives of fans during what should be quieter moments of the football calendar. Wisconsin never tires of Packer chatter, and what better stimulant than gossip?

Perhaps because the Packers are unrecognizable compared with what we consider to be their normal disposition, we cannot stop talking about them. It’s sort of like rubbernecking at an accident. Sure, much of our passion comes from being a state with a high percentage of passionate fans – fans who are wondering when their potential GOAT (Greatest of All Time) quarterback will ever get back to the Super Bowl. However, as with any aspect of our “quaint” Midwestern lives, we are inherently drawn to innuendo and controversy, whether significant or small-scale.

This is also a time with precedent in Green & Gold history. Remember when Brett Favre retired … and then, contrary to the desires of Packer management, wanted to return and again be a starter? Fans openly booed Aaron Rodgers on Family Night in the immediate aftermath of the Favrian soap opera. By comparison, a few stories with anonymous sources seems somewhat mild.

Yet I almost feel a bit of homogenization occurring over at 1265 Lombardi Ave. That major story on the Packers referenced how the team has become less family-like and more corporate, with the bottom line becoming an ever-more-important factor in organizational decisions. The Pack has been seen as one of the traditional, no-frills franchises in the National Football League, with a staid-but-steady reputation akin to that found with the Giants and Steelers.

However, those two teams have seen a disproportionate share of NFL off-field dramatics in the last couple of years, with the button-down Steelers having two star players sit out game time for contractual reasons and their quarterback accused of exceptionally poor character by teammates. The Packers simply seem to be joining the club of league stalwarts having their alleged behind-the-scenes actions publicized to all.

Does this mean that our team (well, not my team, but you probably already knew that) is no longer representative of our supposed Upper Midwestern values? Maybe to a degree, but NFL franchises are, by and large, identical. They take some cues from their owners’ characteristics, and sometimes from their fan base, but there are a certain number of talented players, coaches, and management personnel available nationwide to lead a team to a title. Sometimes the most-talented will not be best buds among themselves, and we will occasionally learn about what happens in a given locker room – and, to be honest, what has probably happened to the Packers for decades. Maybe the Green Bay Packers never really were like us western Wisconsinites … and maybe they were more like us than we ever imagined.

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