At around 4:00 last Saturday afternoon, with about 14 minutes left in the first half of the Green Bay Packers' playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks, quarterback Brett Favre connected with receiver Greg Jennings for a touchdown. The score put the Packers ahead for the first time that afternoon, after falling behind by two touchdowns early in the game.
Snow was falling at Lambeau Field and televised shots showed stands full of bundled fans bobbing in time with Todd Rundgren's stadium anthem "Bang the Drum All Day."
The warm, dry Majestic Theatre on King St. in Madison was equally up for grabs.
As I stood near the bar on the first floor and watched people exchange high fives, dance, hoot, holler and, in some cases, just sit and grin, I couldn't help but wonder why the NFL would want to shut such a gathering down.
But sure enough, according to reports in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and The Capital Times last week, the NFL sent cease-and-desist letters to a handful of businesses planning to host Packer parties.
Don't these guys understand that the appeal of organized sports has everything to do with the shared experience of enjoying games and rooting on your team in groups? Ideally, games are experienced live. But in the case of the Packers, arguably the best loved franchise in sports, it's hard to get tickets. So where should you go if you wanted to watch a game with a large group of your fellow fans?
A sports bar, if the NFL had its druthers.
"A bar showing NFL games is fine, because they are in the business of showing games on a regular basis," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy (no relation to Packers head coach Mike McCarthy) told the Cap Times last week. "If a business makes it an event, we don't allow it."
As I pointed out in a column last week, playoff games have been events for decades due to spectacular plays, intense pressure and winner-take-all stakes. Places like the Majestic aren't turning these games into an event as much as they're trying to meet a demand and make a few bucks in the process. But there was no cover charge and the club actually gave away some door prizes.
And why not? The NFL experience is such a gigantic pie at this point that the tiny slice carved out by the Majestic's selling of $2 beers and $3 brats to eager fans isn't even noticeable. The atmosphere at the party was charming and most fans likely went home feeling even better about their favorite team and eager to consume as much over-the-top coverage as they could in the days leading up to this Sunday's NFC championship. Some may have even bought some over-priced merchandise bearing the NFL logo.
And the question remains: Why would you want to put a cap on that experience? I wonder if the guys who came up with the idea of cracking down on these little gatherings have ever rooted for the underdog in a game. Maybe Brian McCarthy and his bosses in the league office are so far gone that they pull for the teams that will bring in the largest TV ratings or move the most merchandise. These are guys who could learn a lot by seeing a game at Lambeau, sitting in the midst of fans who approach the sport with youthful optimism, rather than corporate cynicism.
Then again, they're the last guys who deserve to.