The final game of the 2013-14 NFL Wildcard Round ended about 46 hours ago. I returned back to Chicago from my day trip to Green Bay about 42 hours ago. That is not enough time for me to process and properly express just How. Freaking. Awesome. going to that game was. But likely there will never be enough time, so here I go.
Road to Lambeau
After a plan to leave at 8 a.m, and a contingency plan to leave at 8:30, we left a little after 9, after five Mexicans helped get the car out of the snow. Just don’t ask. Then we were on the road…
…Where eventually much friendlier road conditions welcomed us in Wisconsin. At least their manifestation of the polar vortex1 didn’t involve roads covered in ice and swirling in snow.
We stopped at a Walmart in Sheboygan to change into our battle gear (five upper body layers for me, three for my legs, the thickest wool socks, boots, a gaiter, hat and gloves). Like every other entity (living and otherwise) in the region, the Walmart seemed to be supporting the Packers.
Now ready, Green Bay was on the horizon!
And it turned out, I would not be the only 49ers fan at this game! An Alex Smith jersey! Alright!
And then we were there!
After paying a Green Bay homeowner $20 to let us park in their driveway (what all the cool kids do on game days), this was the scene at the gate:
Note the open containers in the bottom left corner (small and blurry as they are). They were everywhere. Right before taking this picture two guys shouted out “ANYONE WANT A BEER?”. I would have taken more pictures but doing so required un-gloving my hands, which became unpleasant after five seconds and alarmingly cold after one minute.
But before I had time to really be cold, this was happening:
And then this:
Goodness. I’ve written before about the lack of momentum in sports, and coaches’ flawed decision-making, etc. The inefficiencies of the game. Well like most things, it’s one thing to talk about that in the abstract and a whole different thing to believe it on the field. I still do “believe” in numbers on the field, but wow, is it hard. I’m guessing it’s because I know and understand these things as scientific truths, what probability means and how it works, that home field advantage manifests itself by the fans affecting the referees, not the players2, that Aaron Rodgers isn’t more likely to throw for a touchdown on this drive just because he did on the last one3, etc. I know those things are true, scientifically. But damn, the game is something of an art form, too. Having been there, it’s amazing to me that the 49ers won.
It’s LOUD. There is no yellow line on the field indicating a first down, no live aerial view of the defense. Breathe, and your exhaust poofs in front of your face, impairing your vision. There are well-to-do mothers of four, ‘F’-ing soccer moms, screaming they want you dead, along with 70,000 other people, many of whom are drunk, who’ve spent hundreds of dollars and hours of time to see you lose, and every time you succeed, they get angry. Oh, and you’re supposed to play football in a windchill of negative 10. Just another hum-drum road game in Lambeau Field. Duh, of course all that’s going on! It goes on all the time, in pretty much every road game in professional sports. It’s amazing, and easy to forget, just hearing the general roar on television. But it isn’t general. It’s personal. This is Green Bay. This is where the Packers play football, and where they win football.
The 49ers (as well as the Packers) are pros. By and large they were focused, by and large they executed. And they won. And they weren’t the only road team to do so last weekend, joining the Saints and the Chargers. It’s crazy that professional athletes can do that. Imagine doing your job, or public speaking, in that environment. I would probably bail within five minutes. No wonder these guys make millions.
I certainly haven’t been around the block in terms of professional sports games, but Packers fans must have a strong case for being the best. From what I could tell, there were two other 49ers fans in our section, one of whom was a few seats down from me wearing a 49ers beanie (like a jack@#%, in my opinion). While refraining from physical violence, nearby fans addressed him as “@#%hat”. And there I was, with my 49ers throw wrapped around my chest, tightly secured underneath two jackets lest it slip out and reveal my true identity.4
Despite my preparation, I had not adequately readied behavior. How many team-unspecific cheers are there? I should have had a ready list. Mostly I used “Focus!”, “Fight!” and just “Go team!”. These were good because even my intensity did not give me away; if it’s particularly important for one team to focus, it usually is for the other team, too. But what was I to do when offered a high-five after a good Packers play? Slap away, of course! In my own way, I was pretty much celebrating the same thing: f^!%ing awesomeness. The Packers made some awesome plays, the 49ers made some awesome plays, the game was freaking awesome, Green Bay is freaking awesome, football is freaking awesome, and a United States of America where all this can happen, just for fun, is, well… awesome.
Ultimately, what might have given me away to those close by was my frequent use of “you guys” when addressing Chaia, my friend and certified coolest person I’ve ever known, who took me to the game. “You guys are playing well.” “You guys have gotten some favorable calls.” “You guys have Aaron Rodgers.” “I can’t believe you guys have Aaron Rodgers.” “You guys don’t even need an offensive line, you have Aaron Rodgers.” You get the idea. And a few people next to us might have as well, but they kept their peace. Point is, you’re the best, Packers fans. I know you’ll be back next year, maybe with a little less bad injury luck.
The game happened, people watched it, it was incredible, blah-blah. Seriously it was phenomenal. And not actually that cold, avoiding record-setting temperatures with five whole degrees above zero at kickoff (something like -10 with the windchill). It was physical,
despite on account of the referees, who let a bunch of stuff go. Before the 49ers’ second field goal, Davon House interfered Michael Crabtree in the end zone, no call. On the Packers’ first touchdown David Bakhtiari wrapped his arms around a rushing Aldon Smith, no call. Both were right in front of me. Without specifics, I know some of these went the 49ers way as well. And on Rodgers’ miracle fourth down conversion, Evan Dietrich-Smith went for Ray McDonald’s neck to keep him at bay. Of course in the end, as before, it was Kaepernick’s fleet feet that stood out the most, personally at least. And here we were at the final play of the game:
49ers 23 – Packers 20. Helluva game.
- After going with “Arctic blast,” and then “Arctic outbreak”, the weather people eventually declared it a “polar vortex”. As I understand it, a “polar vortex” is when everyone not wearing at least three layers dies instantly. It doesn’t even matter if you’re inside. Polar vortexes are not to be trifled with. ↩
- See Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won, by Tobias J. Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim, “So What Is Driving the Home Field Advantage?” ↩
- He might be because he figured out the defense, or defensive players were injured and came off the field, etc. That would make him more likely to score on each remaining drive. But the act of scoring on the previous drive, in of itself, is independent of the chances of scoring on the next drive. See here. ↩
- My plan was to rep my 9ers pride if and only if we lost. Rubbing that in after a win, especially a win like that, is unspeakably low. Plus, if we were in San Francisco, I would want to think that we had filled Candlestick with 49ers fans only, so in Lambeau I deemed it polite to create the analogue. ↩