JACKETS: BOTH THE WHISKEY AND LITERAL KIND

Here’s the thing about football: I’ve never…. really…. got it. If you’ve ever read any of my previous blogs you’ll know that I’ve spent a good portion of my typed words talking about football, specifically, rugby league, so this may come as some surprise. Permit me to explain.

I am not an athlete. I have never been interested in playing sport. I avoided it at all costs. And I have always found the experience of not being athletic to be an alienating one, which I assume is not uncommon. It could be why so many people gravitate to sport as spectators. Those who can’t do….watch?

As I kid I bonded with my dad over a love of the Melbourne Demons (Aussie Rules, for those requiring translation). But looking back, I think my love of that experience was more about time with my family. My cousins were all Dees supporters too and I have some really fond memories watching games together. Aside from that, (and one particularly striking nude photo of Stephen Tingay in the Herald Sun circa 2000), I don’t have many of memories of the specifics. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t about an appreciation of the sport itself.

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Lived on my bedroom wall until exposure from the sun over many years faded it away.

Fast forward to 2003 when I meet Hoff, who was a rugby league player and had never dreamt of being anything else. The only one more surprised than me that I have ended up married to a professional athlete would probably be childhood me. Or maybe my mum.

In those early days, I was well and truly a rugby league convert. I went to every game, I devoured every news story and I made a concerted effort to understand the sport and all its nuances.

But, as Hoff and I grew more and more serious, my relationship with sport became more and more problematic. Rugby league, went from being “that thing we do on the weekends”, to “that thing that controls our lives, determines where we live, what we do most days and our livelihood”. Sixteen years of being involved at a personal level is enough to give anyone a slightly different viewpoint, I think, particularly for someone like me who never really understood it in the first place.

All that said, I had an absolute ball at Monday Night Football in Green Bay. Go figure.

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We went to Green Bay with the sole purpose of attending a Green Bay Packers home game. It was a bucket list item for Hoff and far be it from me to stand in the way of lifelong dreams.

We kicked off the experience with a tailgate event, which started a couple of hours before the game. It was incredible. So many people, so much food, so many drinks and not a shot measurer in sight. Eek.

Honestly, these people know how to do football. There were people everywhere and such a joyous vibe about the place, that it was hard not to be excited (even though I could only name one player on the whole team and even then only when I was standing behind Hoff wearing his jersey with said name on it.)

Tailgate

The attire was a site to behold too. Cheese wedge hats (which had me lamenting the finite space in my suitcase), green and yellow pinstripe suits and so many Packers jerseys that I was beginning to think they were compulsory town uniform. From the minute we got up that morning we barely saw a person – working in a professional capacity or not – who was not wearing one.

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Hoff insisted on wearing his as soon as he purchased it at 10 o’clock in the morning

And holy hell was it cold. We’d been keeping an eye on the weather in the lead up to our trip and feeling grateful that it wasn’t looking too bad, then the day after we arrived a cold front blew through the mid-west and knocked about fifteen degrees Celsius off the mercury overnight. We’ve been cold ever since. Green Bay was absolutely no exception. I was so cold that I purchased a lovely pair of gloves, which I think really bring out the colour in my eyes.

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I also chose to combat the cold by donning my ‘whiskey jacket’, which actually proved to be pretty effective (thank goodness for Americans and their generous pours). Also, thank goodness for the 80,000-odd other people who attended this game. It made for a cozy walk to the stadium and a good amount of body heat once we were there.

(I was less excited about the number of people at the game when I went to the loo at one point and genuinely got lost on my way back to my seat. Dammit, Hoffman, if there’s one sports-related thing you’re supposed to be good at after 16 years of professional fandom then stadium navigation should really be it.)

It was a good game too, I’m told. I can read a scoreboard and so obviously I know that the Packers won, but that’s about the sum total of my understanding of how it all went down. You get to yell ‘First Down’ every now and again, which has something to do with yards gained, but as I’m not exactly sure what a yard is either that doesn’t really help me much. Metric all the way, baby.

So even though I am a bit of a sportaphobe, I’ll always be grateful for having had this once in a lifetime experience. Not only was it all kinds of fun, I got to forget all my hang-ups about sport and just be a fan. (Coldest, least knowledgeable fan ever, but a fan just the same).

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BADGER-HEADED CHEESE BUTT

The only thing I knew about Wisconsin I learned on our previous trip to the States. I saw a man sitting in a bar watching football with a hat on his head shaped like a badger and a ‘cover’ on his butt shaped like cheese. He was essentially a badger-headed cheese butt. Being late October at the time, I asked Hoff what Halloween costume he thought old mate was going for and Hoff simply says, “oh nah, he’s just from Wisconsin.”
Apparently, Green Bay Packers fans are sometimes called ‘cheeseheads’ and one of the college teams up there are the Badgers, so there you go. Looking at this odd dude with his badger hat and cheese butt, I knew Wisconsin was a place I’d need to visit one day.
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That day came on Sunday when we picked up a car and headed north, to Green Bay.
Whenever I plan a trip, I do the adult thing and select dates that work for everyone: children, employers, child-lookerafterers, it’s a rich tapestry. Whenever Hoff plans a trip, he looks at said dates and sniffs out any professional sport that may be being played in the vicinity. On this occasion, there just so happened to be a Green Bay Packers home game a mere 3.5 hours away. Apparently, this is a big deal. For Hoff, it was big enough to re-route our entire trip and devote two days (and a fair chunk of the trip budget) to the getting there.
So we hit the road for another stint in the car with my trusty itinerary for stop offs along the way.
Pleasant Prairie saw us tour the Jelly Belly Factory and get free jelly beans for our trouble – score. I also now know more about the manufacture of jelly beans than perhaps anyone outside the confectionery industry ever should. We got free hats too.
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Our next stop was the Mars Cheese Castle, so-called I guess because of the state’s infatuation with cheese and anything of the dairy-related nature. It was a cool place with heaps of great local groceries, beer and deli items. Plus now I know where old mate probably got his cheese butt. Blessed are the cheese-makers indeed.
Back in the car for a vastly more sensible stop – the Wind Point Lighthouse in Racine, which looks over Lake Michigan. Up until this point Hoff and I had been sniggering whenever locals referred to Lake Michigan’s shore as a ‘coast’. It’s a shore, not a coast. Chicago even has a neighbourhood called the Gold Coast, so named for its proximity to the shore of Lake Michigan and because of some convoluted story about how some rich dudes built their houses there. Unlike our Gold Coast which is presumably so named because it’s actually a coast and it’s kind of gold-looking. Anyway, the sniggering stopped when we saw how big Lake Michigan truly is. It might as well be the ocean, so ‘coast’ might be an apt descriptor after all.
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Our final stop of the day took some sleuthing. I’d read that in 1962 a bit of space junk crashed landed to earth outside an art gallery in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. It later turned out to be a bit of the Russian’s Sputnik IV and the actual site is marked by a very nondescript brass ring embedded into the road, and a modest plaque on the nature strip. It took us four laps of the block before we spotted it.
Apart from being a quirky stop on my ‘itinerary of kitsch’, as Hoff has taken to calling it, the space junk site also proved to be a good excuse to visit the county that is infamous for being the setting of ‘Making a Murderer’. I have some moral reservations about sticky-beaking around sites that are related true crime because I know there are very real victims, but man is it hard to switch off your inner rubber-neck. So we may or may not have toured the justice-related sites of Manitowoc County, but we assuaged our guilt by winding down the windows and loudly debating the location of the space junk to anyone who may have been within earshot. That way they’d think we were space nerds and not true crime ghouls (which is only marginally preferable, probably).
My last job of the day was to steel myself for what was to be an onslaught of sport for the duration of our next stop – Green Bay. Hoff is a veritable encyclopaedia of international sports knowledge and American football is no exception. In fact it’s a specialty. We’ve been together for 15-odd years now and I’ve always prided myself on my authentic-seeming engagement with Hoff’s running commentary and rattling off of facts, which he does with increased speed and frequency, the more excited he gets. So excuse me while I nibble on some cheese and Google fan chants in our hotel room. Go, Pack, go.