What does betrayal feel like? Just ask the entire state of Wisconsin.
I don’t want to be the 746,123,582,783th person to weigh in on this, but after watching Brett Favre’s first and (hopefully, though probably not) last return to Green Bay since giving the finger to the people of the Cheese State, I feel compelled to be the 746,123,582,784th person to weigh in on this. Let’s face it, unless you’ve been living in a cave Saddam-style for the past few years (or decade), you know who Brett Favre is. Even my mom, never one to be accused of proficiency in American culture or the English language, called me Sunday afternoon, leading to this conversation:
Mom: You study good in school?
Me: Ya mom, I’m studying right now.
Mom: You not watching Brett Fah-ver?
Me: (Lying) No.
The point of that story (besides demonstrating the social dynamic between Chinese mothers and their sons) was to show you that Brett Favre has even reached someone as hermetic as my mother. How could her son (hopefully less hermetic) not write about Brett?
As if that weren’t reason enough, I also happen to live with a proud Wisconsinite who lives and breathes Packers (and cheese).
How Wisconsin is he?
1. He drafted Jermichael Finley, a back-up tight end for the Packers, in the sixth round of an eight-team fantasy league (meaning there were still players like Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez on the board).
2. His family flew over from Wisconsin so they could watch the big game together with him.
3. He once ate two entire blocks of Wisconsin cheese (sent from home), suffered gastrointestinally for the next few days, then claimed that Yale’s lack of consistent sources of cheese (“the most important part of the food pyramid”) made him a weak-blooded, lactose-intolerant wuss (he didn’t use the word wuss).
Needless to say, I was sucked into this game even before I Wikipedia’d Brett Favre and realized his middle name was Lorenzo.
Even so, the game surpassed my wildest expectations. There’s something about Packers fans that just seems to embody fanhood. Maybe it’s the way that they cheer on their team like their lives (or the next helping of bratwurst) depend on it. Maybe it’s the way that moments in Lambeau Field are so timelessly intimate, yet so ephemerally historic at the same time. Maybe there’s just nothing to do in Wisconsin besides milking cows and watching the Packers. Regardless of what it is, seeing Green Bay respond to their hero-turned-anti-Christ was as surreal a sports moment as I’ve ever experienced.
From the first time that Brett “Wrangler Jeans” Favre stepped onto the field, 73,000 fans rose up and booed. They continued to boo. And they didn’t stop booing. But even through the TV, it was obvious that there was something besides just anger or hate in booing; there was a sense of betrayal.
It’s not just the fact that Brett Favre, one of the greatest players of all time, turned his back on the Green Bay Packers after 15 years. It’s the fact that he toyed with the Packers fans with his constant “I’m retired; I’m no longer retired” act, then signed with their blood rivals, the Minnesota Vikings. That’s the equivalent of your girlfriend of 15 years leaving you, marrying some smug billionaire who happens to be better looking, younger, and better endowed (financially), then moving across the street and making amorous love with the curtains open.
For the nerds among us who don’t have girlfriends, it’s like having your World of Warcraft character transfer to Harvard.
As the camera panned across Lambeau Field, you could see grown men trying to hold back tears, grown women dousing their sorrows with beer, and unborn fetuses double-fisting bratwursts in an attempt to eat their pain away. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
To make matters worse for Wisconsin, Brett Favre had a career day and threw four touchdowns. At one point, I jokingly texted my Wisconsin suitemate: “time to start the whiskey.” He replied: “time to switch to Dubra.” If you weren’t empathizing with him before, the fact that he would mention a brand of vodka that’s been proven to burn through iron should get your attention.
This was a state that had been spat on, kneed in the groin, then defenestrated by one man. Yet even in the throes of defeat, they were still cheering on their team. When Green Bay started gaining momentum in the third quarter, fans got so crazy that even the HD cameras were shaking. In a moment that brought chills down my spine, 73,000 strong shouted “Dri-ver, Dri-ver, Dri-ver” for two minutes straight as their 34-year-old workhorse wide receiver lay prone on the ground, the wind knocked out of him.
It was at that moment that I realized that no matter what the score was, the Packers had come out of there with a victory. Brett Favre had been THE Wisconsinite, THE quarterback, and THE Green Bay Packers for so long that these fans didn’t know what to do without Brett. It ran deeper even than betrayal. It was a complete and utter loss of direction — an identity crisis on steroids.
But when Brett came back to Lambeau and delivered that beat-down on the entire state of Wisconsin, he cathartically allowed the fans to finally let him go. The fans still had their team. The fans still had football. The fans still had Brett.
Earlier in the season, my suitemate (the same suitemate who duct taped a big X on his worn-out #4 jersey) jumped up in ecstasy as we watched Brett Favre throw a miraculous, 40-yard game-winning touchdown against the 49ers with no time on the clock. He turned to me and joyfully shouted, “BRETT FAVRE IS THE GREATEST QUARTERBACK IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD!!!” Then he whispered, “If you repeat that to anyone on earth, I’ll kill you.”
You see, deep down in every Packers fan’s heart, there will always be a soft spot for the quarterback that has now amassed just about every record for his position. Deep down, they will still cheer for a 40-year-old with a teenager’s passion and joy. Just like you get those unavoidable strings of involuntary sniffles after a cathartic cry, Wisconsin finally involuntarily let out its ire for Brett. Some Green Bay fans may only admit it in their wills, but Sunday night’s heart-breaking loss is what will ironically allow them to finally reconcile their feelings for Brett Favre and cheer for the greatest quarterback in history.
As the cameras swept through the stadium again in the dying seconds of the blowout, they focused on an elderly couple that held up a sign saying “We Love You Brett, You’ll Always Be A Packer.” They’re already letting out the sniffles. It’s OK, Wisconsin, you can let it out, too.
John Song is a junior in Berkeley College.