Ice Bowl Fires My Fanaticism

Your father takes you to the Hudson Elks Club, sits you at the bar, gives you all the soda and snacks you want, and tells you to watch the football game on TV. You are seven years old. 

 Packer fans at the December 1967 "Ice Bowl."

Packer fans at the December 1967 "Ice Bowl."

Dad sits near you with his friends and checks in on you frequently to make sure you have eaten some real food and that you understand what is going on in the game. "Who do you want to win?" he asks. Your Dad's friends ask the same question. You are baffled by the spectacle on the television hanging over the bar. Your feet don't reach the brass foot rail on the mahogany bar so you spend more time spinning on your bar stool than watching the television. You don't even know who is playing or what the rules are but you really like the gold helmets of the team in green jerseys. Plus, there is a big "G" on the helmets like the first letter of your name, so you respond, "I guess the guys in green."

The game comes down to the final seconds and everyone tells you to watch. Number 15 from the green team does something that is hard to see but most everyone in the bar cheers. Your Dad and his friends are smiling and tell you that your team scored and has won the NFL championship.

 I brought it to school. It was confiscated by the teacher.

I brought it to school. It was confiscated by the teacher.

It is Dec. 31, 1967, and the guys in green are the Green Bay Packers and they are playing the Dallas Cowboys for the NFL championship. The game is being played at the Packers' Lambeau Field in Wisconsin. It is the coldest NFL game ever -- temperatures drop to minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit with a wind chill of nearly 40 below zero.

It is a seminal moment in your life, setting you on the path of rooting for the Packers, reading books about them, putting up posters of them in your room, cutting out photos of them in newspapers and magazines. Your Dad's friend gives you a book by a Packer lineman, Jerry Kramer, Instant Replay, and you are so absorbed in it that you sneak it into school so you can read it under your desk during class.

 What Super Bowl entertainment looked like in 1968.

What Super Bowl entertainment looked like in 1968.

A few weeks after the "Ice Bowl," the Packers play in something called the Super Bowl. They win easily and you are happy but you mostly you remember the gigantic Packer and Raider papier mache statues that come on the field before the game.

Then the Packers go from best to worst. They stink for many years, through your teens and twenties. You root for them anyway and take solace in the fact that they occasionally have a good player, like John Brockington, or when they have decent seasons in 1972 and 1982. You have to explain to your friends why you root for such a bad team from so far away. "You see, my Dad took me to the Elks Club when I was seven..."

Then you have your own kids and you brainwash them to love the Packers. You buy them Packer gear before they can walk. They love the Packers but as they grow older, they are more indifferent to the game and wait for the playoffs to sit with you to watch a Packers game on TV. 

The Packers get better in the 1990s, led by a dashing MVP quarterback, Brett Farve. They win a Super Bowl and in the years they don't, they are still among the best. You take your boys to Lambeau Field in Farve's last year as a player so they can see him in person. The Packers win big and you gleefully shout with the entire stadium "Go Pack Go" dozens of times when prompted by the scoreboard.

 Christmas at the Sheffer house was often green, here for Peter.

Christmas at the Sheffer house was often green, here for Peter.

Then Farve "unretires" -- a couple times -- and ultimately plays for the rival Minnesota Vikings. Now you hate him for besmirching his Packer legacy. But your team gets an even better quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, and you go to Dallas to watch him play in a Super Bowl. You put white tape over the "Farve" name on the back of your Packer jersey and with a black sharpie write "Rodgers" on the tape. On the front and back of the jersey, next to Farve's number 4 you write with white tape "x 3 = 12" -- Rodgers' number. Your jury-rigged jersey is a big hit among Packer fans sitting near you and they ask you to pose for photos after the game, which the Packers win.

The Packers continue to make the playoffs year after year but often lose in heartbreaking fashion -- the last two years in overtime. You become so nervous watching games you can't even look at the TV at crucial moments. Your son, Peter, lives in Hong Kong but gets up in the middle of the night to watch games but has the same anxiety about the outcome, walking out of the room when things begin to go bad for the Pack.

You know the Packers have a playoff game tomorrow against the hated Giants but you might not watch because it is too excruciating. You might jinx them. You are a grown man, for goodness sake. You wonder why you invest so much emotion in a game. Then you remember those helmets with the big "G" and the joy you felt as a boy when your Dad and his buddies slapped you on the back and told you "your Packers" won.