Two weeks ago, I was in Green Bay, Wisconsin, home of my favorite American football team, the Green Bay Packers.
I’m not a die-hard fan, but I’m a fan. I enjoy watching the game, cheering for the boys, ogling Aaron Rodgers. I love the culture of the team, the culture of the fans. I love Wisconsin. This was my first time to Green Bay, though. It entirely delivered on my image of what the culture of the town is. Just a fun, immensely friendly community. A place my dog can walk around off-leash right next to where the boys practice.
One morning there, I paid $21 for a ticket to a guided tour in the swelter of an uncommon heat wave. I don’t like guided tours (and this can be its own article), but it was the only way to get in, so I booked the shortest one and went.
I’m a bigger fan of the Packers, and of football overall, by a good margin now, because of that tour. So much more I learned of this cool culture, of the great resilience, and what inspired me the most was Vince Lombardi. The guy came on to coach one of the worst teams in the league (the were 1-10 in 1958 and Vince came on in ’59) and went on to take that very same team, with most of the same players, to five championships in his nine years coaching. Five of those ramshackle players from Lombardi’s era are in the Hall of Fame.
They had the potential the whole time. They just needed someone to come along and show them.
Standing in Lambeau Field was so special. All that talent, all that greatness, all that determination to do one’s best and then the doing of it. Plus all the fans’ passion and energy and love…. It all exuded out of the ground, from the concrete and aluminum of the bleachers, where it has been absorbed for 64 years and pulsing back out like a heartbeat. I felt the jubilant power of it all.
I actually had a human celebrity encounter. At a bar, I met and hung out with Kevin Barry, a retired offensive tackle who played with Brett Favre and has a formation named after his jersey number (the U-71 formation).
He is a super nice guy, and we talked about basketball and working with kids as educators, and I talked to him about how I used to play soccer and how much I loved it, and so we talked about what we miss about the sports we used to play.
Celebrity is a weird thing. We exult these other humans who are really just humans. I wanted to play it cool with Kevin, but I must admit I was enamored with his celebrity and pleaded for a good story about Brett Favre.
I think I understand it though. These people (and places) we see only on television, or on the internet, or in magazines have this allure of the unreachable. They are “over there,” while we are “over here,” and an encounter isn’t just reaching the “over there” place, but it’s affirming that anything is reachable. Anything at all. Because we made it this far.
That gorgeous green field that I see only on TV, I can actually go there, and I did. It means that anything is possible!
And so because I talked to Kevin about the hole in my heart when I stopped playing soccer, I started thinking of myself again as an athlete. Add to that the reminder of anything being possible. Then my next stop on this adventure was Spirit Lake, Iowa, to see friends I’ve known through the comedy business for 18 years, and we played golf. I even said at that point, “I think I could be good at this,” because I was now believing again that I’m an athlete.
I have fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, and irritable bowel syndrome, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be an athlete. It is in me, and I just have to be my own Vince Lombardi, show myself my potential, and get out and do my actual best.
Before I returned to Pennsylvania, I registered for a bicycle event in Spirit Lake. Since I’ve gotten back, I discovered a beautiful bike trail that I’ve ridden a couple times now; last Thursday morning I rode 11 miles on it. I’ll do more tomorrow. Also last Thursday, I bought new golf clubs. I finally have clubs made for a women, who’s my height. I’ve got a tee time this coming Thursday.
I’m an athlete again and it feels so right and good and freaking brilliant.
So back to that whole celebrity thing. Let’s talk specifically about athletes. I called my stepdad from Green Bay and talked to him about my experience, sent him a picture of the Bart Starr statue that Amica and I walked by, and he told me, “Bart Starr is my hero.”
So many of us revolt against such statements. Heroes are firefighters, nurses, teachers, soldiers. People who save lives and make a real difference. It seems wrong to call a guy who plays sports and makes millions a hero.
But I understood, when I stood on Lambeau Field, when I felt the power in the bowl.
Great professional athletes do all they can to excel. That’s admirable of any professional in any field. Pro athletes are dedicated and passionate and do the hardest work to achieve their full potential. That’s incredibly admirable.
They only got where they are because they believed they could, and they went and did it. That is the very spirit to emulate.
And athletes each have their own story, and we can each find amongst all these stories one that parallels our own.
So, it’s really not a stretch at all to see how an athlete can be someone’s hero. That such manifestation of talent and passion can make a profound difference in someone’s life.
You know, I consider myself an artist. I’m a creative person who works a non-traditional career built from my arrangement of words. I’m a person of deep passion and purpose, and I can honestly say that if I can’t live my life doing what I love, my life isn’t worth living.
Anyone who has ever inspired me, supported me, challenged me, or taught me, truly has saved my life. They are all heroes. That includes Kevin Barry.