A trip to a frozen Midwest utopia
Every fan at Sunday’s NFC championship game in Green Bay made a decision to feel about as uncomfortable as humanly possible for five or six hours.
It was sub-zero paradise.
It was, indeed, a utopia. Because a good Packers season there makes up for about 90 degrees on the Fahrenheit scale. It makes bland landscapes look magnificent – like art. It mends marital distress and gives the grumpy guy at the office a reason to talk to the weird guy because everybody watched the prior day’s game, didn’t care about their bloated stomachs until the next morning, and probably slept better because the Pack won again. It made shrinks lose business.
See, it wasn’t the dry, shrewd cold – minus-20-something wind-chill, sub-zero Fahrenheit, the kind of weather when the normally composed TV meteorologist tells everyone at the outset of the newscast: “Don’t go outside, you fools! You will die, people!” – that made us uncomfortable.
For me – and I wasn’t overdressed compared to others – it was the three pairs of socks; some sweat pants; jeans over those; a pair of anti-swank snowpants over those; Long Johns under all those that were two sizes too small because they were the only ones left at the department store Saturday night, due to a rush of Packers fans heading up north; a thermal; two or three other long-sleeved shirts (I lost count – it was probably the sweat-induced madness, later neutralized by severe toe pain); a hooded sweatshirt; a Packers beanie; one of those other hats that covers your whole face, except the strip above and below the eyes, the kind of cap that’ll either grow chest hair or help someone rob a bank; gloves; mittens; and my brother’s weighty military boots that probably, single-handedly burned off the hot dog and MGD I had later.
It’s the kind of physical transformation that led my mentally stable, 32-year-old brother to lose track of me in line waiting to enter the stadium.
I was standing right next to him the whole time.
Still, on a scale of 1 to 10, because everybody loves a good 1-to-10 scale, I’d say my comfort level was a solid 7. And consider this: That feeling on a chilly morning when you have to get out of bed, but fear the physical discomfort as you abandon the sheets – that’s a 4. So I was just fine.
Sure, I had the expected toe pain by the end of each half. After all, the reason those military boots were so heavy was because of the steel-toed tips.
My other brother in Florida explained that gaffe to me on a cell phone call while riding to Green Bay when I proudly told him how heavy his boots were and he replied, “Yeah, there’s steel between your toes and the cold air. Steel, that’s metal.”
Yes it was. Thanks for the belated explanation, Bro.
Even the toe thing wasn’t all that bad, though. For one thing, the bathroom was a savior when the Packers still had hope at halftime, winning 10-6, when the Super Bowl was just 30 minutes away, one of those Kodak moments of sorts. That stadium bathroom, the home of those massive, glacier-melting heaters, was both a warm – yet still unsettling, considering the surroundings – reprieve.
It turns out, it was a final reprieve.
The Packers – the state’s second religion – experienced a surprisingly resurgent season at 13-3 under Brett Favre, 38, who still looks like he had gotten out of bed on winter Sundays to randomly choose the white, long-sleeved shirt he would wear in that day’s game. Probably a shirt from the ’90s.
But Giants quarterback Eli Manning didn’t choke. The Giants outplayed the Packers when Green Bay was, its fans had hoped, supposed to take on the immortal New England Patriots and somehow win and give Disney a reason to shoot another bad sports movie starring Dennis Quaid.
Maybe it was my body giving in to the fifth and sixth hour of sub-zero temps. Maybe it was our seats higher up in the first level, parallel to the Giants’ field-goal post in overtime, a perfect yet biting view of New York’s redeemed kicker, who saved his job with one boot, sailing the winning kick into Packers fans’ frozen hearts.
As the ball floated in a painful, upward trajectory, in slow motion from where I stood, the pain in my toes mattered again. I was, for the first time, slightly concerned about that area of exposed skin above and below my eyes. I wondered about the glove I had dropped somewhere in the concourse at halftime.
I left complaining to my brother about the Packers’ lousy performance, uncomfortably cold, far from anyone’s paradise.