It's hard to be a 40-year-old pro football quarterback. It's harder to live in Wisconsin and not care about the Green Bay Packers. Or worse, not give a rip about the NFL at all.
Those of us who fall into this last category generally keep it to ourselves. We're here, though. We're your siblings, your office mates, your neighbors. We occupy otherwise normal lives, milling around on Planet Packer like the diminishing handful of unpossessed earthlings in an alien takeover movie.
Nobody just wakes up one morning indifferent to pro football. It's not like you go to sleep thinking to yourself, "McCarthy better tighten the secondary or get used to yielding mid-yard gains," then wake up the next day and say, "Wow. Pro football is a cartoon for grownups inhabited by millionaire man-babies."
We're veteran anti-fans, and our ambivalence putts along parallel to Packer hysteria. Our ability to maintain invisibility is easiest, curiously enough, during the height of the football season. This is when mania is so pervasive that we just ride it, our bodies passed across the top of the Packer mosh pit that is Wisconsin.
Every non-fan has his or her own reasons for pushing away the Green-and-Gold Kool-Aid. My turn-off is a mixture of athletic, genetic and cultural ingredients. Let's start with sports.
"Clay for three, Clay for three, Clay for four, Clay for seven, Clay for three" is not my idea of a thrilling sports spectacle. I know Clay is a Badger, and we're talking about Packers. I also know Clay is going to carry the ball on the next play and, hey, he's a metaphor here. Those seven seconds of game action, whether it's a three-yard run or a 20-yard throw, are surrounded by many more seconds of nothing. Huddles, time outs, flags, play reviews, commercials, clock stops and general ass-scratching.
Give me a basketball game any day of the week. Even a pro one.
There's never been a pro football franchise in Kentucky where I grew up. This only partly explains my I'd-rather-play-with-dolls attitude toward the NFL, since games were on constantly in our house. Being a football fan sometimes simply skips generations. My dad, who started his career as a sports writer and editor, adopted the Baltimore Colts, mostly because in his college days, Johnny Unitas was quarterback for the University of Louisville.
Game days my father would do everything he could to coax me into the TV room. "Watch this Unitas pass!" he called one Sunday. "And on his weak side! Overtime!"
"Does this mean Bonanza will be on late?" I asked.
"Bonanza?" his face said. "You're worried about Bonanza? What the hell is wrong with you?"
These reactions push a kid even further into the anti-pro-football closet.
Walking away from football was easier to do in Kentucky than in Wisconsin, where the infants are photographed wearing cheesehead hats, where people spend hours per week discussing the game and hours more watching it.
My wife, Peggy, is among them. This doesn't necessarily put a strain on our marriage, but it's not exactly a rallying point. Like so many, her devotion to the Pack took root during the Favre era. His leaving Green Bay only drove the roots deeper. She took it personally. And now she's the one who beckons from the TV room for me to come in and watch a replay.
I admit that I watched most of the Vikings-Packers game earlier this month. I love a good freak show, and I wasn't disappointed watching Favre bite the head off one chicken after another. Being with Peggy and a roomful of friends with delicious fried food and beer was a good time, too, no matter what was on the screen.
Those good times are the silver lining in the long, dark months ahead. I'll appreciate the chance to gather with friends, even as the games drone on.