I could feel the middle-aged woman’s eyes, studying me like I was an animal at the zoo. She shouldn’t have been surprised by what she saw, but she was. I heard her not-so-quietly ask her friend for an explanation. Finally she asked me.
“Excuse me,” she said. “Why are you wearing a cheesehead?”
It was an interesting phrasing of the question. It turns out she meant it in the most literal way possible—she had no idea Green Bay Packers fans wore such a thing or that she was at a Packers bar. Had I never come across a cheesehead, I don’t think I’d know to call it a cheesehead. I’d probably ask, “Why are you wearing a hunk of foam cheese on your head?” but that’s just me.
Two days after the Packers’ 37-20 playoff loss to the New York Giants, I can’t shake that woman’s naïve question. Why was I wearing a cheesehead?
On the first of the year, I hopped on the Packers’ bandwagon. It was a quick and dirty way to get behind a winning team. The defending Super Bowl champions were favored to repeat and I wanted to celebrate when they did. This was not uncharted territory for me. As a youngster, I wore my Troy Aikman jersey almost weekly, cheering for the Dallas Cowboys as they won three Super Bowls. Aikman retired, so I dumped the ’Boys for the New York Jets, a hometown team many of my friends supported. It looked like a poor investment initially, but the Jets came within a game of the Super Bowl the last two seasons.
This season, while the Jets were officially eliminating themselves from the playoffs, I was at Lambeau Field changing my NFL allegiance for the second time. My hopes of impressing others with my cheesehead at this year’s Super Bowl party vanished with the Giants’ dominating upset.
Green Bay trailed by just seven entering the fourth quarter, but this never looked like a game the Packers would win. They lost three fumbles and Aaron Rodgers was intercepted once. The Packers dropped an estimated 30 passes all season, but had as many as 8-10 drops in Sunday’s game. Green Bay’s most effective performance came from the referees.
I watched the game at a Packers bar in Manhattan, of which the Internet tells me there are several. I wound up at Tom and Jerry’s, which didn’t have any Packers memorabilia but did have some enormous animal heads on the wall to give it a Midwest feel.
One fan brought a matryoshka doll, also known as a Russian nesting doll, even more commonly known as those wooden dolls that keep getting smaller as you open them. The largest doll was Rodgers, the star quarterback. Next was running back Ryan Grant. Then the dolls started getting really small, as wide receivers Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, and Jordy Nelson were depicted. It was fitting considering how small they played in Sunday’s game.
Eli Manning, however, came up as big as the stuffed moose on the wall. In our current sports media culture, the NFL quarterback is the most over-analyzed individual on the planet. So while the talking heads will debate whether Manning is “elite,” if he will have a better career than his brother, and if his incessant shoulder shrugging is indicative of playoff success, I’ll simply say this say: Eli Manning is an awesome quarterback. I’d take Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady over him right now, but that’s probably it.
Manning and the Giants move on to the NFC conference championship to face the San Francisco 49ers. The Packers, 15-1 in the regular season, are done. The good thing about being a bandwagon fan is I don’t feel the sting of losses like a real fan. When the University of Michigan or the Mets lose an important game, I’m crushed. In the NFL, I’ll live to find a new team.
Given my recent history, fans around the country are hoping I don’t choose their team.