I can’t take Jonathan, my eldest son, anywhere. Especially not to Green Bay, Wis., where his impersonation of the Wisconsin accent is so scary spot-on that he has me laughing wherever I go. I practically giggle for the four days we’re there. Even at Lambeau field, he intermittently cheers in a Wisconsin accent. “Stop that,” I admonish him. “Your brain will get stuck there and you’ll forget how to talk in Las Vegas!”
It’s the most otherworldly accent. More so than the sharpest Mississippi accent, a flexing Texas drawl, or nasally New York. It’s Canada colliding with Scandinavia and Bavaria. Thoughtful, pursing, lower jaw slightly forward, long vowels formed just in front of the teeth. At once subtle and obvious. To me and Jonathan, it’s mesmerizing.
We don’t have accents where I come from. I was raised in Arizona, home of the planet’s most neutral (read: boring) accent. Perhaps an expert linguist could spot the geography of my birth, but I don’t have a clue what would make that obvious.
This is our sixth pilgrimage to the little blue collar town by the bay. Our first in the early fall. Definitely was my first Green Bay sunburn, which I didn’t think was possible there. In past visits, we’ve always picked a late season game. That way we include the Frozen Tundra experience, a cold that hangs on you like a living organism. I don’t know why the hands of wide receivers don’t simply shatter like glass against the bullets thrown by NFL quarterbacks. But, as faithful Packers fans, ours is not to question why. Rather, ours is to sit, shiver, cheer and drink Spotted Cow.
We love this town. If you’ve never been there, if you’ve only seen Packers games on television, there is no way to describe to you how small this town is. How utterly Middle America it is. To describe this community as “friendly” is to be guilty of irony. Easy hospitality is a way of life here. In life and in football.
Packers fans bleed green and gold, yes. They are passionate about their heroes. But they are first and foremost football fans. More than most fans, they understand how and why the National Football League needs tradition as much or more than it needs innovation. Packers fans breathed a sigh of relief when the New York Jets returned to Joe Namath’s uniform. And, conversely, we shake our heads in wonder that each year the Seattle Seahawks dress more and more like characters in a bad video game. Go back to the elegant uniform that Steve Largent made famous!
Even our most “hated” rivalries are a “hatred” cached in respect. That is, it’s a kind of ceremonial hatred that is part of the tradition. More of a bragging rights banter. More like two little boys in a sandbox, each saying “My daddy can beat up your daddy.”
Packers fans were disturbed when the Minnesota Vikings threatened to move to Los Angeles in this off-season. See, theater doesn’t work without the foil.
While at the Packers Hall of Fame, I shot a cellphone video of the four Lombardi trophies won by the Green Bay Packers. I sent it to my Minnesota Vikings fan friend, with the addendum, “Just wanted you to know what Lombardi trophies look like.”
Didn’t get a response.
I lost count of the number of San Francisco 49ers fans who told me about the warm welcome they received at Lambeau. I’m bust-my-buttons proud to be included in a fan base that has this reputation.
So, right in front of me, during the game, sits a lone 49ers fan. A young man, sitting in an ocean of Kelly green. Several of us welcome him before kickoff. Yes, it’s his first time at Lambeau.
The Niners are flat beating the crap out of us, in virtually every aspect of the game. But, the poor Niners geek is not satisfied. So he stands up to taunt us with obscenities. The woman to his left stares up at him curiously. She reaches up to touch his arm, gently. The boy-man looks down. And, with a gentle, matronly smile, in a tone almost maternal, she says, in a perfect Wisconsin accent, “Do you really want to pick a fight with us? All these Packers fans? Look around. You’re outnumbered.”
The boy sits back down. He leaves early. He probably thought he was at a Raiders game.
The Packers lose and deserve to lose. We’re disappointed, but the sadness doesn’t last too long. Being a Packers fan with Jonathan is one of the reasons I’m the richest man alive.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.