With the 2013 Green Bay Packers season officially in the books, there is a plethora of articles all over the World Wide Web looking back at the year and what the Packers can do to improve and contend for a Super Bowl again in 2014.
This is not one of those articles. Well, not 100% anyways.
As you may or may not know, due to a promotion at my real job, I packed my bags and moved from Wisconsin to Minnesota this past August. From the moment I was born until roughly one month from my 30th birthday, I lived in the great state Wisconsin and Packer Country. As of August 1st, that was no longer the case.
Of course the state of Minnesota is home to one of Green Bay’s most bitter rivals, the Vikings. For the first time in my life, I would not be able to watch every single Packer game on television. This fact actually weighed heavily on me when I was debating whether or not to accept the promotion, but I figured that, thanks to the advent of the internet and NFL Game Rewind, I would survive.
I arrived at the start of training camp and it was seemingly clear at that point even to Vikings fans what the NFC North would look like in 2013: the Packers would win the division with perhaps a somewhat stiff challenge from Minnesota. The optimism amongst fans here was that the Vikings made the playoffs in 2012 and thanks to the addition of former Packer wide receiver Greg Jennings, they could challenge Green Bay for the division crown.
As is usually the case in the NFL, things did not go according to the script….for either team.
The Packers stumbled early, but were able to right the ship to sit at 4-2 entering their Week 8 matchup against the Vikings at Mall of America Field. Minnesota, meanwhile, stumbled early and often as their record stood at 1-5 heading into their first game against Green Bay.
Heading into that game, all I could think was “Just win this game. Lose the rest if you must, I just don’t want to get swept by the Vikings while I live here.” Everyone at work at that point knew who I backed and the smack talk was in jest, but there’s a difference between Packers fans and (most) Vikings fans: we Cheeseheads take our team as a source of pride. When they lose, our pride is wounded.
The Packers of course easily won that game 44-31 and I could exhale. At worst, the Packers and Vikings would have a split just like last year and hey, that game basically eliminated Minnesota from the playoff hunt. The Packers were at 5-2 and were rolling. It looked like they could thump the NFC North again if they could beat the Chicago Bears the following week.
Then Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone and the script on the Packers’ 2013 season went in the shredder.
Green Bay lost the following three games which put them back at .500 but somehow they were still in the thick of the division race thanks to the inconsistent play of the Bears and Detroit Lions. It still wasn’t clear how long Rodgers was going to be out, but heading into the Week 12 game against the Vikings it was clear the Packers’ season was on life support. A loss to Minnesota at home would be brutal for the Packers, not to mention my own psyche.
During that three game losing streak, the Vikings fans I knew here were decent to me. Thanks to the putrid play of their own team, they really had no room to trash talk. It was a gesture that I seriously appreciated.
Well, I was at work for that Week 12 game and that was quite the experience. We weren’t too busy so everyone was busy occasionally checking the score. When the Vikings were up 20-7 at the end of the third quarter, everyone was stunned. Vikings fans were shocked that their team was playing so well and I was surprised how poorly the Packers were playing. The Vikings were 2-8 going into that game. I thought that was the one game they should easily win even without Rodgers.
Enter Matt Flynn.
Flynn led a comeback that eventually led to a 26-26 tie. The dynamic was interesting with Vikings fans at that point. I was miffed the Packers didn’t pull the win off and Minnesota fans were upset they blew the lead. They say a tie is like kissing your sister, and I wouldn’t know that because I am an only child. After this game, however, I knew exactly what they meant by that.
Green Bay of course soiled the bed the following week in a 40-10 loss at Detroit to the Lions. At that point everyone thought the season was over. I wasn’t exactly optimistic either, but if watching the team in 2003 and 2004 taught me anything, it was to always believe even in the face of overwhelming odds.
The Packers won the following week in come-from-behind fashion over the Falcons to get back to being only a half game back in the NFC North thanks to that tie. It should have been obvious to everyone right then and there: Green Bay still had a shot.
Then came the comeback for the ages against the Dallas Cowboys at the same stadium the Packers won Super Bowl XLV. Now the playoffs were definitely within sight and Green Bay, despite all the obstacles of the season, still controlled their own destiny. It was unbelievable. At work, everyone shook their heads in disbelief. My only reaction was, “See what a little faith can do for your team?” Vikings fans shrugged their shoulders at me like I was speaking gibberish.
The Steelers beat the Packers at Lambeau in Week 16 but thanks to losses by the Bears and Lions, Green Bay would play in Chicago for the NFC North title and Detroit was eliminated.
We all know what happened next. Rodgers returned and the Packers won their third straight division title in a win for the ages over the Chicago Bears. I was in high heaven. After Jay Cutler threw that last interception to Sam Shields, I skipped around my one-bedroom apartment like a kid at Christmas.
The reaction from Vikings fans at work? Most were in awe and were congratulatory, which I appreciated. The ribbing from them was all in good nature, but there are also a lot of Vikings fans here that I don’t work with and most are insufferable. The moment the Vikings started losing, they stopped caring. I can say firsthand that a good chunk of Vikings fans are very “fair weather.” It’s a stereotype in Wisconsin but now that I spent a full football season in Minnesota, I can say it’s the truth.
The playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers was a sad way to end the year, but I personally will never forget this season. It was a wild ride and I think the season was a success, despite the final outcome. If you had said at the beginning of the year the Packers would lose Rodgers for half the season and still win the divisional title, I’d have sent you some recommendations on a good psychiatrist.
As for what I will take away from this season, two images will forever be embedded in my mind. The first is the postgame celebration in the Packers’ locker room after the win over the Cowboys. There is something about a team, a severely beaten up team, from the smallest market in the league jumping up and down chanting “OUR HOUSE! OUR HOUSE!” in the visiting locker room of a $1 billion+ stadium owned by the richest (and perhaps snottiest) team owner in the league. That’s just pretty darn awesome.
The second of course is the pass from Rodgers to Randall Cobb that sealed the NFC North title. Flynn and company did an admirable job in the absence of both those players, it was almost like that play said “Thanks a lot guys. We’ll take it from here.” That was pretty cool too.
The biggest thing I learned in my season in enemy territory was that for nearly 30 years, I took the Green Bay Packers for granted. I used to live 45 minutes away from Lambeau Field. I could go to that stadium and go to the Packers Pro Shop or Packers Hall of Fame any time I wanted. Now I live nearly six hours away and I realize I didn’t truly appreciate where I lived before.
I knew Lambeau is a special place, but not in the sense many Packers fans feel. Many only get to Green Bay once every few years and there are countless fans that will never get there at all. While a six hour drive is hardly long distance compared to many fans around the country and indeed the world, I feel even stronger about that stadium.
They say “distance makes the heart grow fonder” and I can tell you that is absolutely true. Now that I have gone a season without being able to drive to Lambeau Field daily and see every game on TV, I truly appreciate how special being a Packers fan really is. I have a lot of memories at that stadium and while they were special before I moved out of Wisconsin, now they are moments I will cherish forever and will undoubtedly rank up there with the day I get married and witness the birth of my first child (whenever those occur).
In fact, is it sad that missing Packers games and being so far away from Green Bay made me more homesick than missing my own family?
No, it’s not and that’s the biggest lesson I walk away from the 2013 season with: Packer fans are family.
We yell at each other during and immediately after each game via Twitter and other outlets. Some are bullish on the team’s prospects, others are more pessimistic. At the end of the day, however, all are joined together by one thing and that is love of the Green Bay Packers.
If that isn’t the very definition of a family, I don’t know what is.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke