My friend Rob tells the story of how he became a Chicago Cubs fan with some level of acidity. His dad, a professional musician, had gone on a road trip to Chicago and brought little Rob, at the tender and trusting age of 5, a Cubs hat as a souvenir.
“I remember asking him what team it was a few times before I decided it’d be MY team,” Rob said. And so, little Robby joined the official Cubs fan club, built a complete Wrigley Field out of Legos and sold his young soul to the Lovable Losers.
“I still haven’t forgiven my dad for it to this day,” Rob said. “I mean, it could have been a White Sox hat and I’d be a happier person.”
All sports fans have a story like Rob’s. And like mine. I became a Green Bay Packers fan in 1975 at age 9 simply because my first youth league football team was called the Packers. I’ve never really been able to root for another team since – and as you fellow Packers fans know, the ’70s and ’80s were pretty lean years. Not Cubs lean, but lean.
This brings me to my girlfriend Cynthia’s son, Nikolai. Nikolai is 7, with cherubic cheeks and a mop of curly blond hair, and only began to show interest in football last year. This happened when his mom bought him a long-sleeved Packers shirt that looks almost identical to one I have. One day last season, I wore mine on the same day he wore his, and you’d have thought a miracle had occurred.
“Hey Kevin! Our shirts look just alike!”
It’s gone to another level this season. Suddenly, Nikolai is obsessed with Aaron Rodgers and is actually showing interest in the game of football. Armed now with a Rodgers jersey and a small Nerf ball, he’s eager to play, showing off his passing form and saying things like, “I’ll run toward the goal line, and you tackle me!” And then he runs off in a random direction and keeps going. Where are the goal lines in a 7-year-old’s reality, anyway?
And the truth is, he doesn’t want to take off that jersey. Like, ever. When picture day at school rolled around, Cynthia tried her best to get him to wear a nice polo shirt or perhaps a plaid button-down, but Nikolai insisted on wearing his Rodgers jersey. So, she took him to school and noticed that about half the boys in class were wearing a sports jersey of some kind. (See, Mom?)
Well, after I recently ordered a Packers cap from the Packers Pro Shop, I discovered something intriguing inside the box with my new hat: a promo offer to join the Green Bay Packers Kids Club. For just $20, you not only get to join, you also get a ton of cool Packers swag (my son is grown, so I think I may sign up my dog).
You probably already know where this is going: Cynthia now has a color 8×10 of Aaron Rodgers hanging in her dining room. Nikolai needed it hung there, he said, so he could look at it while he was playing with his Legos.
In Cynthia’s hallway, next to the kitchen doorway, there is a Packers dry-erase board on which Nikolai wrote, “I like you, Aaron Rogers [sic]. You’re the best!” (Cynthia tweeted a photo of it to Rodgers but didn’t get a reply).
My point of all this is to wonder aloud: Is Nikolai officially hooked? Is this the part of his life when he establishes his love of football and his enduring loyalty to HIS team? I got him hooked on the Beatles and the Ramones two years ago, and he’s still on that bandwagon.
Hey, the reason I love the Beatles to this day is because my family had all their records; they provided the soundtrack to my childhood. The Packers were no different for me. People always seem to spend a lifetime loving what they loved as children. For Nikolai, this may be the beginning of a journey as a Green Bay Packers fan.
I’ll say this much – for Nikolai’s sake, I’m glad I’m not a Jaguars fan or a Raiders fan. I’d hate for him to go through what poor Rob has been through. Maybe I’d better buy Nikolai a Cheesehead hat, just to make sure.