Brent Hazelton is a friend as well as the associate artistic director at the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, and he is a big and perceptive fan of the Green Bay Packers.
And he has just ridden to my rescue.
I have spent hours and hours trying to figure out what to say about the epic collapse of the Green Bay Packers against the Seattle Seahawks Sunday afternoon.
There is so much to talk about, but how, I’ve wondered, do I get to the heart of the matter?
Then I see Hazelton's post on Facebook. I read it. I asked him if I could run the whole thing in my column Tuesday. He said yes.
And so, here it is.
"My senior year in high school, I was playing at No. 2 Doubles in our conference tennis tournament. My partner was a very talented freshman (who would go on to play No. 1 Singles), but we had a miserable season – just couldn't figure out how to mesh our skills, and we wound up seeded eighth (out of 10), heading into the tournament.
"We started to figure it out leading up to the tournament, and won our last two dual meet matches – so we came in feeling cautiously good. We upset two high seeds in our first two matches (No. 3 and No. 4, if memory serves), and were playing a third (No. 2), for a berth in the championship. We were up 6-1, 3-0 (two of three sets in high school), and I could feel my partner starting to coast.
"Despite my efforts, I couldn't convince him that we hadn't won until we won (because I don't have Marshawn Lynch's "if you celebrate now I will MURDER YOU RIGHT HERE" face), and we wound up going down 6-1, 3-6, 1-6 (and then got drubbed 0 and 1 in the third-place match).
"I can clearly remember looking in his eyes as we were walking off the court, and reading utter astonishment and bewilderment that we had lost. I promised myself in that moment that I would never, ever, experience what I was feeling again – that awful mix of fury and regret in the aftermath of an irreplaceable moment resulting in an outcome taken for granted before it was achieved, that the work was completed before the work was done, that the best effort wasn't made, that laurels were rested on before they were secured.
"And I can honestly say that I haven't felt it since – until Sunday afternoon.
"And the reason that I'm feeling that particularly awful mix of rage and regret right now (though it probably means that I'm far too invested in something in which I'm ultimately not responsible for the outcome in any way), is because the Packers let me down today (which, admittedly, is a ludicrous phrase to type). Not simply because they lost a football game, but because of the way in which this team lost that game -- in deciding, apparently, that the deal was sealed with five minutes remaining on the clock. By thinking the work was done before the work was done, and being shocked into stupefaction to realize that it wasn't.
"I think we feel, at our deepest, loyalty to sports teams not out of mere regionalism, but because they reflect in their collective character some larger expression of how we see ourselves as a people – those ineffable values that we use to define our larger respective regional cultures. I think that's why certain teams – irrespective of win or loss records – either succeed or fail to connect with their local fan bases. Those that do, in some way, "get" what the people of their region value, and reflect those values in the composition of their rosters and the way that they approach the game – they take on the personality of their region – and those that don't, don't. Certainly more a natural evolution than an intentional one, and the same can be said of any cultural or public institution, really – arts organizations primary among them.
"But this is one of, at least for me, the greatest things about being a fan of the Green Bay Packers (except for that blip with those dirty Forrest Gregg teams in the '80s – the exception that proves the rule, I think) – their entire essence, from organizational structure to the individuals on the roster, reflect our local values at their best. The hard work, quiet professionalism, and communal endeavor that we hold most dear in our midwestern genes. But most of all, going back to the Lombardi era, they always seem to almost literally embody the sense that the job must be seen through to its conclusion--and, more largely, that despite the outcome, hard work, diligence and dedication are rewards in and of themselves.
"Today, they failed not simply in making the plays that were there to be made, but in a larger sense. In celebrating that Morgan Burnett interception like it was a game-concluding play, they forgot that the work wasn't done until it was done. At the most crucial moment of the season, the moment of balance in which character is weighed, they were found wanting.
"Vic Ketchman's (a writer who works for the Packers) great editorials have really helped me find perspective and mature as a fan. But at this particular moment, I'm feeling this one on a more personal level than I can ever remember feeling over a sporting loss that I wasn't actually part of, and I guess I'm trying to find some larger philosophical notion to make myself feel less ridiculous about it. But I do, in some way, feel a little personally let down – like a group of people I thought I knew turned out to not be that at all. And that's a strange feeling to carry into a very long offseason.
"But at least the Bucks are fun, right?"
Thanks Brent. I'm pretty sure you have summed it up well for a lot of us.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as OnMilwaukee.com keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.
Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.