As most readers of this feature know, I grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin, a city about the size of St. Cloud, Minnesota. Appleton is 30 miles southwest of Green Bay and, not surprisingly, most people who live there are Packers fans, assuming they care about football at all.
I also came of age in the 1970s, a time when the football gods were not smiling much on the Badger State. The Packers were, in the main, a terrible franchise: ineptly run, poorly coached and lacking in NFL-caliber talent. For much of the 1970s, they were able to coast on the goodwill of a rabid fan base and the memories of glory from the Lombardi era. That didn’t make it much easier to watch the product on the field.
Since the Packers were doomed most years, many of the kids I grew up with adopted a so-called “second team,” a more successful team they could cheer for once the Packers were eliminated from contention, usually around Veteran’s Day. A fair number of kids chose the Cowboys, others picked the Raiders. More than a few followed the Steelers, especially since local hero Rocky Bleier was an important member of those teams. My second team in that era was the Redskins, who were a factor but generally second fiddle to the Cowboys in those days.
There was another aspect to fandom in those days: the team you hated. For me, it was the Cowboys. They would beat my Packers and also beat “my Redskins.” They always struck me as corporate and smug in that era. They even dared to call themselves America’s Team. Couldn’t stand them at all.
Despite that, the team that tormented the Packers and their fans the most in the 1970s was the Vikings. Oh, those were frustrating days. Fran Tarkenton, Chuck Foreman, John Gilliam, Alan Page, Paul Krause — a true rogue’s gallery. I can still see Tarkenton bobbing and weaving, leaving a gasping Mike McCoy in his wake, then tossing a bomb to Gilliam. Or watching Foreman catch a screen pass and run through the befuddled Packer secondary. And when the Packers had the ball, it was only a matter of time before Eric Torkelson would get 2 yards, Barty Smith would get 1 and Lynn Dickey would be sacked on third down.
Even so, I don’t remember really hating the Vikings. My dad would always tell me that it was up to the Packers to get better and that Bud Grant was someone to admire. And looking back on it, he was right.
So why bring all that up? It’s always been very interesting to watch the reaction that the Packers receive from this side of the St. Croix. Among a lot of Vikings fans, there’s a hatred involved that seems almost puzzling, especially these days. The modern Packers are everything the 70s era teams weren’t — talented, well-coached and thoroughly professional. They aren’t an especially colorful team and they don’t trash talk much.
So I have a question for the audience, especially the Vikings fans. What is it about the Packers that you hate? And if you are in the process of choosing a “second team” for this week’s game against the Bears, would you choose the Packers or the Bears? And if so, why?