It was a cold night in January of 2010. Our gazes fixated on an overtime game between the Vikings and the Saints. Our hopes were piqued.
Then it happened. The Saints made a 40-yard kick by 23-year-old Garrett Hartley. That was it. The Saints–and not the Vikings–were headed to the Super Bowl.
My husband Mark yells something out and then gets a tear in his eye. Our youngest son, Luke, who was eight years old at the time, takes his lead and breaks out into a full sob ... I saw something shift in him that day.
Luke didn’t denounce the Vikings though. He stuck by my husband’s side, faithfully watching them every Sunday during the football season. But he also wanted a Saints jersey. And ordered Saints paraphernalia–a towel, a bracelet and a helmet.
Fast forward five years, when we moved a little closer to Wisconsin.
“Dad, I think I’m a Packers fan,” Luke cautiously admits. He was met with silence.
I thought, “Oh, no. Don’t do this to your father.” You see, Mark has been a Vikings fan since he was an infant, and Bud Grant was in his prime leading the Vikings to Super Bowls. He gets giddy when the preseason games start and has a sense of melancholy when the weather turns cold and the regular season begins. We’ve spent time in Mankato for training camp and often celebrate my birthday watching the draft.
We didn’t talk about that day for several months, but the topic wasn’t going away.
“You know, I really think Aaron Rodgers looks good this year,” Luke says during a faceoff between the Vikes and the Pack. An argument breaks out. This banter continues the rest of the season. Then a Packer jersey arrives in the mail with Luke’s name on the package. There was no going back now.
Fast forward five more years.
A lot has changed. Mark has learned to embrace his differences with Luke and offers to take the three of us to check out this year’s Packer’s training camp.
We arrive at the Ray Nitschke practice field an hour and a half early and enjoy conversing with Packer fans. Mark tries to hide his love for the Vikings, but it’s hard. Thankfully, Packers fans are really nice.
Spectators filter in. It’s getting close to 10:30 a.m., and the usher says there’s no saving seats after 10:15 a.m. They pack us in like sardines and a line of people wait for seats to open up.
I strike up a conversation with the guy next to us, Paul Manders, who’s been coming to watch training camp since the 1960s. I ask him why he comes here. He responds, “To meet Minnesota fans who want to be Packer fans.” He tells me an interesting fact about training camp. “They take all the beds out at St. Norberts College (where the players stay) and bring in bigger ones for the players. This started in ‘59.”
In comes Aaron Rodgers. He’s one of the special players who gets dropped off by a shiny black Suburban three feet from the field so he doesn’t have to walk in with the others.
At the training camp, Luke was hoping he could hear the coaches and pick up a few tips. But I suspect the loud music during their practices and the forbidding of video recording is to keep all inside information secret.
Luke, who currently plays college football at the University of Northwestern-St. Paul, has a life goal to be a coach. He has folders everywhere full of stats. Playing football is something he never thought he could do in college as he was diagnosed with Perthes disease in fourth grade. Perthes is a disease that causes the top of the femur to deteriorate inside the hip socket. While he was laid up for six weeks with a three foot pole between his ankles to help reform the bone inside the hip socket after surgery for the disease, he filled countless folders full of football stats he gathered from books, cards and cable sports stations. This trip was all on his bucket list as a Packers fan.
There are probably other defectors like Luke in Minnesota. I know that my best friend’s husband, John, is among them. For me, I chose a different path in 2010. I left football fanhood for the most part and choose to spend my Sunday afternoons baking or pulling weeds. Every once in a while, when the Vikes are looking good, I’ll jump back in. Only to quickly jump out again when we lose to “da Bears”, which ushered in those nasty Eagles who took our rightful place at the U.S. Bank Stadium for the Super Bowl.
Training camp in Green Bay was a fun experience. It was a simpler and less impressive way to spend training camp had we gone to Eagan. But overall enjoyable. And Mark understands Luke’s attraction to the Packers over the Vikings, as this never seems to be the year for the Vikes.
But as we leave the Ray Nitschke practice field, Mark comments, “I’m not too worried about the Packers.”
Traci LeBrun is the editor of the Messenger.