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Take Three / Three views of the Southland | PATT MORRISON

Blessed Are the Cheeseheads

January 23, 1998|PATT MORRISON

Whatever else I do on Sunday, I will be watching the Super Bowl, and wishing--with the part of me that defies frostbite--that I could live in Green Bay, Wisc.

It must be a wonderful place, Green Bay, for the Green Bay Packers live there. Demigods, they are, giants in the earth (not to be mistaken for the Giants of that other, dreary sport played in knee pants and sissy weather).

I was born in the Midwest, which means I was brought up on football. The family joke is that, in the space for religious affiliation on my birth certificate, my father had to be dissuaded from writing "Big 10 football."

And Green Bay--well, I wanted to be Brenda Starr, comic-strip reporter, not because of her career, but because I thought she was Bart Starr's sister.

The Packers were the Boy Scouts of pro football, clean and green, owned by The People, not by some outfit with Inc. after its name that was liable to up stakes and move to some slick town where even offensive tackles were expected to wear pastels . . . even, perhaps, to Los Angeles.

*

The editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is out here this week for the Packers' sojourn in Super Bowl XXXII in San Diego. So too are 29 of his staffers, but that's nothing. Twenty thousand Packer fans traveled to Seattle for a routine game against a team that only sells out when it plays Green Bay. Some other lame pro team was so desperate to sell tickets that when the Packers come to town, fans who wanted a ticket had to buy one for some other game too--affirmative action for football.

(The only people with the slightest beef about the team, so says Marty Kaiser, are real estate brokers. For four months of Sundays a year, their open houses were not just open, they were vacant. Imagine passing up a Packers game just to go look at a house. In L.A., looky-looing is a Sunday sport ranking just behind brunch.)

Fans make pilgrimages to Green Bay. Kaiser told me that just last year--a Green Bay year being the span between August exhibition games and the Pro Bowl--visitors went to the door of the house where the late coach Vince Lombardi, the patron saint of Wisconsin, once lived. Do you mind, they asked, if we play catch on the lawn, so we can say we played catch on Vince Lombardi's lawn? Some Sundays, when the pilgrims come knocking, the people who live in the house have been known to invite them in to watch the game.

Kaiser ventured a guess that that would never happen in Los Angeles.

He is right, but not for the reasons he suspects. It's been so long since we had a pro football team, much less one anybody loved, that the only coach we remember is the guy on "Cheers."

*

Thousands of Packer fans have come to Southern California for the Super Bowl; I wish them well, and hope their cheese heads don't melt into fondue in the San Diego sun. (If Green Bay wins, they won't stop at the goal posts; they'll tear down all those billboards crowing, "It's the cheese.")

What must they think of Los Angeles--a world city, the nation's second-largest--that has no pro football team? (The Packers won the very first Super Bowl here in 1967, with 61,946 fans in the Coliseum seats. Springsteen has done better there. Promise Keepers has done better. Heck, ABBA could do better.

Green Bay is the smallest city by far to have a pro football team. Its people would mortgage the farm, hock the John Deere, to keep it there. So what kind of profligate city are we, to let two teams, two, slip through our fingers?

This kind:

A city where we don't have to use football as an excuse to huddle together for warmth.

A city where, come winter, we can surf on Saturday morning and ski Saturday afternoon. (I've never known anyone who's done it, but it sounds damn fine in the vacation brochures.)

A city with . . . options.

Sure, a Packers home game is a huge event, rich in tradition and ritual. But I grew up in a town smaller than Green Bay, where the Big Event was often the Only Event: the pancake supper, the carnival, the school play. Be there or be . . . nowhere. If you didn't like maple syrup, or the ring toss, or "Our Town"--or football--you were out of luck.

*

The mayor, the council, the city sachems--they all want pro football back. Here's a bulletin for them: It never left. The Raiders may not play here, the Rams went south and then headed east, but we still have pro football.

There are 30 teams in the NFL; on any given Sunday or Monday, Angelenos can watch the best of them. Every seat we have is on the 50-yard line, every seat is 10 feet from the refrigerator and 12 feet from the bathroom. That's the beauty of television.

TV, like the movies, is the original virtual reality. We created it, and ours is the civic duty of supporting it. That makes every team our home team. And the fans in more inclement climes, like the extras in the bleachers in "Knute Rockne, All-American," starring Ronald Reagan, deserve our support. Now look at the camera, everyone, and say "Cheese!"

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