Packerphernalia: An ode to Wisconsin sports fans

Last week I suggested that the rugged and endearing simplicity of the Wisconsin voter helps explain schizophrenic voting patterns that can, in the same year, protect Gov. Scott Walker in a recall then elevate a liberal like Tammy Baldwin from the U.S. House to the Senate. That same behavior, instilled at some inexplicable, primordial, engrained level, explains the audacity of a packed football stadium in Green Bay, WI when the wind chill is 2°. I made a pilgrimage to Lambeau yesterday; consider this post a catharsis to continue the cause of thawing my posterior.

We know how to party.

When I worked in Washington, D.C. four summers a go, the group of interns I worked with suggested going to a Nationals game and tailgating beforehand. After weeks of $10 Miller Lites, stupid cover charges for lame bars, and enough high-brow work-related snobbery to make a Kardashian blush, my cohorts were speaking my language. Duties were assigned and divided — who would bring the grill, who would bring plates, who would bring food, etc. (One guy emphatically suggested making shish kabobs because he had grilled out once before a Dave Matthews concert. He would not be shopping.) For fear our group would end up drinking IPAs or swirling mint juleps and munching on lamb chop with mint jelly, I volunteered myself to bring the beer and pick up some brats.

The eventual tailgate was a parody of itself. First, we had to find a parking spot “by the grass,” since there was a 2-yard strip of green that ran the perimeter of the asphalt. (Dude, it’s a tailgate, not a picnic.) The guy responsible for the grill just bought one, without any tools to put it together. One of the ladies managed to forget plates. Fortunately, with a bit of Midwest finesse, I managed to hand-tighten the grill together. When it came time to light it, the group collectively grew afraid of fire, an invention that’s been around since before Elizabeth Taylor’s first marriage. I took care of that, with gusto. And when it came time to serve, the group was quickly taught to hold a bun open, pick out a brat with some tongs, slather it with ketchup and take a bite, then enjoy some chips straight from the bag. They were all so puzzled that I managed to put this together so nonchalantly.

That D.C. adventure was only one of a hundred tailgates I’ve enjoyed, both at Miller Park and Lambeau Field. The atmosphere of music, grill smoke, bag toss, happy chatter, rain or shine, always reminds me of Rodney Atkins’ “These Are My People.” They’re the passionate types, who know that the experience is mostly about the sense of community. Win or lose, after you go into the game half-bagged, you have each other to rely on, because you were in it together in two-degree temperatures.

More importantly, it’s that community dynamic that decides the nature of the state’s politics. It was easy for Tammy Baldwin to beat someone like Tommy Thompson, who was effortlessly painted as a Washington insider who’s been playing politics for too long. It’s the same reason you’ll see almost every candidate in some photos slugging down a beer.

So while the frustrating simplicity of these Wisconsin voters, who decide how to vote based on emotional connections tied to their pursuit of the Wisconsin dream (to steal a line from Jack Donaghy: Beers, Boats and Buds), causes strange fluctuations in policy and the dynamics of representation nationally, it also means during the interim, the State Religion can be the Packers, consecrated with cold beer, and celebrated in a community of fans.

Quote of the Day

“Thank you, Sarah. Growing up in Memphis, Tenn., I can honestly say that’s the first time I’ve ever been racially profiled by a white woman.”

-Justin Timberlake, accepting Favorite R&B/Soul Artist at the American Music Awards, responding to presenter Sarah Silverman’s ribbing that the category included two white men (Timberlake and Robin Thicke) and a Barbadian woman, Rihanna.

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About the writer: Nik Nelson is publisher of and Founder/CEO of OpenBox Strategies, where he connects political candidates and small businesses with excellent digital marketing tools and strategies.