On the John
With apologies to Tony
Originally completed October 6, 2009
When I arrived at the bar, a tall, big-shouldered, dark-goateed man was standing outside in a green Aaron Rodgers jersey. It was Tony the Packers fan: he was smoking a cigarette and taking a phone call.
…but really he was taking one more moment to compose himself before starting his bartending shift. Because just a few moments earlier, his Green Bay Packers had received the opening kickoff from the neighboring Minnesota Vikings. And while Aaron Rodgers was playing ball in his Aaron Rodgers jersey, a man in a fresh, purple FAVRE 4 was standing on the Minnesota sideline. It was Brett Favre, the Greatest Packer of Them All. And very soon, the man who Lambeau Leaped his way into the hearts of old Wisconsin would be using his mighty right arm to oppose Tony, Tony’s Packers, and Packers fans everywhere in the cheese-eatin’ world.
When Favre signed with the Vikes, I knew Tony was in trouble. We hardly spoke at season’s start—highly unusual during Bears-Packers week—though I now realize that he and many other Pack fans were looking only to one game: Week 4, Green Bay at Minnesota, the day Number 4 would face the green and gold.
He emailed me at the start of this week:
gonna be really hard to root against him. no offense to the rivalry, but this game feels bigger than any recent bears packers game. who do you want to win?
I shuddered when I saw that question. It didn’t feel like a challenge, or basic curiosity, or even a simple sports conversation starter. Instead, it felt like an emotionally battered child questioning his divorced father in an effort to provide himself with reassurance that all is not lost in the world: “Do you still love us? Do you still love Mom? Who do you want to win?”
I went inside and greeted our friends Ben and Ben.
“He’s a wreck,” I said, motioning to Tony, who was now behind the bar.
“Hasn’t said much since we’ve been here,” said Ben.
“Hasn’t said much all week,” Ben said.
Rodgers led the Pack to the Minnesota 24 after the opening kick, but the Vikings killed him for a sack and lost fumble to end the drive. The bar was a confused mix of Vikings fans, Packers fans, Favre supporters, Favre bashers, and curious onlookers, and the game’s first big play provoked a roar from some and a groan from others.
Meanwhile, Tony was twisting off tops to a few Miller Lites. He did not appear to see the Rodgers fumble.
Nor did he make much noise a few minutes later when Favre went play action to his right from the one yard line, faded back to the right hash at the ten, and then fired a ball all the way across the field to Visanthe Shiancoe in the left corner of the endzone.
And nary a peep was heard from our man Tony when, on the ensuing drive, Rodgers made a Luckman-esque jump-pass to rookie receiver Jermichael Finley, who eluded one defender and dragged another into the rectangle for the game-tying score.
In fact, Tony did not make a single game-based reaction until early in the second quarter on a fourth and three, when a Rodgers pass to Donald Driver was batted into the air and plucked safe by a diving Greg Jennings for the first down. A quick “woo!” and a slap of the bar was all we got. Then he was back to work.
At our table, we were pulling for the Vikings. It was simple enough: if the Packers won, the Bears would be locked into a three-way tie for first place. If the Vikings won, we would be a game up on Green Bay, and the Vikes would be talk of the town: undefeated at 4-0 and stuffed full of the cheer that accompanies a MNF win against a division rival in a showcase game of Great Significance.
And since we all figure the Vikings will fade in late November anyhow, better to have them burn out following a 4-0 start punched full of ‘We won Favre v. Packers I’ enthusiasm. To quote Tuco Benedicto Pacifico Juan Maria Ramirez: “I like 4-0 football teams like you. When they fall, they make more noise.”
So we were go-go Vikings all the way around. Except there was poor Tony, tending bar with a burned out I’ll-get-through-this look in his eyes.
“I know we said Minnesota, since it’s better for the Bears,” Ben said, “but I might switch. I’m feeling kind of bad for him.”
“What?? Bad?! This is football!” said Ben. “Don’t feel bad for him!”
Tony’s quiet courage continued as the Vikings built a 30 to 14 lead behind a crippling pass rush and a wonderfully Favrian performance: 24-31, 271 yards, 3 TD, no picks, and a 135.3 rating, the 13th time in his career that he has posted a passer rating of at least 135. (In that span, incidentally, Bears quarterbacks have accomplished that feat three times.)
Each time Favre hit a receiver with a score, pumped his fist in a throwing motion out of excitement, leapt to chest bump a teammate in celebration, charged to make a block on a reverse, or ran on or off the field, Ben said: “Great. He only has so many of those left in that arm. Each one he uses up is one more he doesn’t have against us.”
And when the final horn sounded and the Vikings were the victors, Tony shook our hands one by one as we stepped out into the night, shaking his head and saying, “Next time. Next time.”
Copyright 2009, jm silverstein