Kasper, second from left, celebrating the Packer victory of '97 with family and friends.
Kasper, second from left, celebrating the Packer victory of ’97 with family and friends. (Karl Hailperin)
I should preface the following paragraphs with a brief summary of my athletic history: While my family watched football on occasion, we followed figure skating closer than the NFL. My dad grew up outside of Chicago, and my mom moved all over the world for my grandpa’s work in the Air Force. They were not strongly affiliated with any sports team before coming to Wisconsin – the Bears don’t count. After our move to Neenah, it wasn’t long until my parents donned cheese on their heads and attended games at Lambeau Field with their friends. My dad always says that the Packer spirit is contagious. But the outcome of a game was never mood altering, and I don’t remember the colors green and gold playing a large role in my childhood. In fact, the only memory I have of a Packer game is Super Bowl ’97 when we had a few neighbors over to celebrate. So if you’re looking for an article that summarizes an athletic game play by play, you should stop reading now and turn to pages 10 and 11. What you’ll find here is my Sunday night experience and transformation from fair weather fan to dedicated Packer patriot. My night began at the Viking Room with four friends, seniors Wesley Hough-Cornwell, Ilsa Tone, MacKenzie Fye and Billy Bunzel. We arrived an hour early for prime seating and the promise of food. 5:30 rolled around, the players took the field and Christina Aguilera reinvented the National Anthem. By this time, the VR was hopping, with only a few empty booths and several people standing or at the bar. Ten minutes into the game and – Jordy Nelson has a touchdown catch! I found myself caught up in the excitement and mesmerized by the shuffling men on TV. While I have a grasp of basic football concepts like interceptions and incompletes, most plays escape my understanding. But when Nick Collins intercepted the ball and sprinted down the field, evading one enormous Steeler after the next to score a touchdown, I didn’t have to understand anything about football to know something amazing just happened. After that play I was hooked; I couldn’t keep my eyes off the screen and rued my bladder whenever I had to make a bathroom run and heard loud cheers below. Around 6:30, Billy declared he’d already had five beers and left the table, returning minutes later with a Sasha Sunrise. It was almost halftime and everyone wondered about the Black Eyed Peas’ performance. Ilsa voiced her hope that she would “see will.i.am’s boob” – remember the infamous wardrobe malfunction of ’04? All I hoped for was “Where is the Love?” And so halftime began with will.i.am, apl.de.ap, Taboo and Fergie being lowered onto a seemingly circular stage. At first I questioned the planted and synchronized audience surrounding the stage, but when they organized themselves into glowing dancing arrows, I stopped thinking and learned never to question the Black Eyed Peas again. After an appearance by former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash, Usher was lowered onto the stage to sing “OMG.” He ended with the splits and Ilsa exclaimed, “Too much fierceness!” Suddenly, the entire stage lit up in red, and I saw that what had appeared to be a circular stage was actually an “o” in the word “love.” I bubbled with excitement at the prospect of their next song – arguably one of the best songs ever written, or at least one of the best to sing emotionally with a large crowd – “Where is the Love?” With half-time over and a fresh 15 minutes on the clock, I was confident the Packers had this game in the bag. When James Jones dropped the ball, my heart dropped with it. Not long after, the Steelers made a touchdown. MacKenzie, a stubborn Bears fan who wore neither green nor gold to the VR, scolded me, “That’s because Katie said we got this and didn’t knock on wood!” Wesley addressed MacKenzie’s statement: “Is that talk of a Packer fan I hear?” MacKenzie just blushed and mumbled. The Packer spirit had gotten to her too! I spent the rest of the game on the edge of my seat as the Packers and Steelers played neck and neck. Chants sporadically broke out in the VR; “Go Pack, Go! Go Pack, Go!” With three minutes left on the clock, the score was 28-25 Packers and Jordy Nelson dropped a touchdown pass. No! I couldn’t stand still; my life depended on this game. The Packers went for a field goal and brought the score to 31-25 with two minutes remaining, the longest two minutes of my existence. I watched the game so intently that I didn’t even realize when the people around me started jumping up and screaming that we had won. The rest of the night is kind of a blur, but the dedicated journalist in me took lots of notes, which I will now summarize. My friends and I left the VR after being bombarded with hugs and happiness. While the majority of our group abandoned ship at Hiett Hall, Billy and I followed the cheering and fireworks to Downtown Appleton, picking up two stragglers – seniors Ruth Jacobs and Caitie Williamson – on the way. College Avenue was bursting with green and gold. Cars were honking at us and people kept doling out high fives and hand shakes. “I have a quiz tomorrow,” Billy said wishfully, “class has to be canceled or something!” Our first stop was Bazil’s. There, we watched part of the aftershow while indulging ourselves with a beer tower and bar snacks. A fellow Packers patriot approached us to tell of the sacrifices he’s made for the team. He had bought an official Driver jersey, but didn’t wear it all season for fear it would bring bad luck. Afterward he shook Billy and Caitie’s hand, turned to Ruth and said, “We don’t shake hands, we hug.” He then gave both Ruth and I a great big bear – or should I say packer – hug. After Bazil’s came Bad Badger, where we each purchased a newspaper and green-beaded necklaces and then headed toward Anduzzi’s. There I lost my hair tie while dancing and blowing kisses to Aaron Rodgers and Billy finally got to hear the song he’d been asking for all night, “Green and Yellow.” At our last stop, The Bar, Caitie made friends with the DJ and we requested several songs. After The Bar, we headed back to campus content with Packer pride. I never understood what it meant to be a fan until Sunday night. Being a fan means affiliating yourself so strongly with a team that when Charles Woodson breaks his collarbone, you feel a pain in yours. It means living with the players through ups and downs and standing on top of the world with them when they win the Super Bowl.