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GREEN BAY - I've been a Packers fan for a long time now, longer than I'd like to think about, although I still frequently brag that I saw my first Packers' Super Bowl win at 3 months.
(And no, sadly, it was not in 1997.)
Through 45 + years of ups and downs, championships and blown first round draft picks, (Tony Mandarich, anyone?) I learned that the Packers were more than just a collection of (usually) talented individuals who played professional football.
It's all about the team. And the fans.
That was especially true in the 70's and 80's. Although people like my friend Kelly, who worked Packers' training camp in the summers during college could tell you who the starting quarterback was, who got cut and shouldn't have, why the team won and lost the games they did during those years, if you were me, growing up in small town Idaho, you had very little idea of who was playing.
You simply knew they were bad.
Yet, I cheered for them anyway. I would scan the newspaper for the scores weekly, usually disappointed in the outcome, but sometimes rewarded with a series of wins.
I knew of no other Packer fans in the immediate area besides my own father, although, as it turns out, there were of course others in the area.
As we moved into the 90's, and renewed success, it became easy, even necessary, to follow who the individual players were on the team.
For me it didn't start with Brett Favre and Reggie White, but with Don Majkowski.
"Majik" always intrigued me, and I was genuinely heartbroken when he got hurt, although that was healed in great measure when his backup proved to be greatness personified (on a football field, anyway).
I began to track stats and players as well as wins and losses. It was suddenly also far easier to find fans, even in Idaho. Bumper stickers, even flags, began to pop up.
While I feared many of these fans had 'bandwagon' written all over them, it seems that the vast majority of them stuck with the Packers through the Favre saga and are still going strong.
With the advent of blogging and social media, it has proven hard not to know almost every intricate detail about players, often disclosed by the men themselves - who their spouses and kids are, what they like to do for fun, the fact they like to quote Princess Bride (a la Aaron Rodgers) or Hall & Oates (Marshall Newhouse, much to my delight).
It is easy to keep track of injuries - who has a 'knee' on any given day - and the recovery process as well as what Mike McCarthy and the coaching staff are thinking and planning.
In fact, it's so easy to get bogged down in these detail that one might be in danger of forgetting that we're fans of a team, not individual players (although you can certainly be both).
Most fans, however, seem to get it - it's about the team. Not the individuals on it.
While the friends I've made within Packers Nation (and a few are among my closest) can talk politics, kids, work and life in general with each other, and often do, always the topic of conversation turns back to the team and the chances of winning and losing.
That's true no matter who's injured, out, currently in disgrace or held in high regard. We cheer for the Green and Gold, for the Frozen Tundra, for the tradition and the pride of knowing America's smallest market also possesses America's Team. (Yeah, Jerry Jones, I said it.)
We cheer each other up when the injuries mount and the kicker doinks the upright with a potentially game winning field goal. We are Packers Fans.