The spoils of victory

Feb. 6, 2011 will go down in my personal history as one of the greatest days ever. This was, of course, the day in which the Green Bay Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, bringing the Lombardi Trophy back to Green Bay, Wisconsin.

It holds extra significance in my life because it was the first time that one of my favourite teams, one of the three I follow with borderline obsessive passion, won a league championship during my era of fanaticism. No matter what happens, this past season will be ingrained in my mind for the rest of my life; I will likely talk about this to my children and eventually their children, taking on the role of “crazy old grandpa going on about his stories again.” Those damn hypothetical children have no respect for their elders, I tell you.

As great as this championship win feels, I still feel hopelessly removed from the celebrations. I’ve loaded my mp3 player with Packer-related remixes of popular songs; I’ve watched every post-game interview and made a point of watching the local TV coverage of the team’s plane arriving back in Green Bay on Monday. I PVR’d the “Return to Titletown” event that was held at Lambeau Field on Tuesday and even watched the NFL Network’s enhanced, condensed replay of the entire game on Wednesday. I contemplated, but held back on, buying all sorts of Super Bowl memorabilia: shirts, hats, door mats, cutting boards, commemorative framed photographs, glassware, wallets, etc..

But all that stuff couldn’t replace the feeling of being there at that game, or being there to greet the players as they came back home with the championship. Being a part of the legion of “Cheeseheads” who live outside of Wisconsin, I don’t think that I will feel the full effect of this sweet victory until I’ve made the ritual visit to the Packer holy land, Lambeau Field. It won’t be cemented until I’ve tasted the finest Wisconsin cheeses, perfectly grilled brats and cold Milwaukee-brewed beer that a Green Bay Packer tailgate has to offer.

And still, for all the joy the 2010 NFL season has provided me, I still can’t help but hope that the great success that the Packers have had this year could somehow transfer over to my own hometown football team: my beloved Winnipeg Blue Bombers. It was through my passion for the Blue Bombers that my sports fanaticism really blossomed. I can think of two games in specific that were directly responsible for jumpstarting my passion.

Back in 2001, when the Blue Bombers played the Calgary Stampeders in the Grey Cup, I was a casual football fan at best. It felt like my entire family gathered to watch that game at my aunt and uncle’s house, including some relatives who were in town from Calgary. As the Bombers last chance to tie the game with seconds remaining came to a crashing halt, I remember the dejected reactions of my Winnipeg relatives as my Calgary relatives basked in the glory of victory. It was in this moment that I first tasted the sour side of being a sports fan, and as I watched my Calgary relatives celebrate, I knew that I just had to live through those emotions with the Bombers.

In 2007, I would get my next chance as the Bombers took on bitter prairie rivals the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the 95th Grey Cup. Surrounding myself only with Bomber fans was little comfort when, for the second time, I witnessed my hometown team lose in the championship game. I felt numb, slumped on the couch as I watched the other team celebrate. The wounds just would not heal and I was faced with an important choice: do I accept the belief that my hometown team will never win a championship, allow my passion to fade and simply jump on the bandwagon whenever they’re doing well, or do I go all-in and fully commit myself to the team?

The answer was clear to me: all-in to win, baby. And so, in the following three years, I don’t think I’ve missed a single home game. Bomber related things started popping up all over my family’s basement rec room, to the point where a quick count reveals there are 47 blue and gold, bomber-related things within your peripheral vision when watching the television. Every summer is devoted to Bomber football, with everything else in my life being carefully planned around every Bomber game.

And Lord knows when the Blue Bombers finally make it to that promise land where confetti rains and trophies are raised for all to see, I’ll buy all the Grey Cup championship merchandise I can afford, I’ll blow off work to be there when the players arrive home at the airport, and for weeks you would find me running through the streets of Winnipeg singing the lyrics of Queen’s “We Are The Champions” at the top of my lungs.