THE CHEESE STANDS ALONE

 

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When I can’t no more I go to poetry. When I hurt so badly I go to poetry. When there’s something so inexplicable in my life I go to poetry. It helps me in ways I’m never able to say but always seem to try. It’s the way I pepper my life.

If you find a quote or two in this column a little surprising all I ask is your indulgence.

It was the ’85 Bears season my freshman year and I was going to this small liberal arts college in Wisconsin that had a number of bars in its town, just like most of the towns in this wonderful state. It just so happened the most popular bar was also a bar owned by a Bears fan. Ah fate! Just my luck.

My thinking was that Bear fans would be there and I would root with them all the way to a Super Bowl victory.

Wrong.

Well, right. The Bears of course won, but where were my Bear fans?

I actually found more Packer fans there, not watching the Packers but rooting against the Bears.

Ugh.

That to me said a lot to me about Wisconsin’s feisty relationship with its brother of a state next door. FIB’s I heard a lot in school, and when I completely moved to Wisconsin after college, the distaste for this bordering state was definitely breathing and ruminating in its population.

I’ve been in this state for almost 35 years watching the majority of Bear games here and you might think it would be a no brainer to find a place where like minded masochists might be able to get away, not bother anybody and try to find something to cheer about with this horribly middling franchise. No.

It makes me think of Emily Dickinson when she says, “there’s a certain Slant of light/ Winter afternoons-/ That oppresses, like the Heft /Of Cathedral Tunes-.

Something about that heavy oppressing force that makes Wisconsin growl in the gristle like a badger to the bear invading its space. 

Wisconsin has so much rugged beauty to it, too. The rivers and lakes are so unbelievably muscled and present with achievement it can make drunk people feel like they own it all, if only for a fleeting, misguided moment. 

To be sure the people from Illinois want to be here and buy the land the state has to offer, and I think a lot of the people in this state have been sick of it for years.

Never mind all the economic boons the state receives from such a cascade of people coming to visit. There’s something proprietary about it. Something about it that says you can own our properties but don’t tread on me.

It also flavors the meat of this rivalry so that even a non partisan vegetarian can come to know that great smell cooking on the grill.

It was all encapsulated in the look of an animal faced freshman four inches taller than me, whose hatred for the Bears reached such a frenzy in that ’85 year he almost kicked the shit out of me for throwing a beer in his face, after I had enough of my ears being victimized all game by his bullshit.

When I was escorted out the back, I lost my place to go, and was subjugated to radios and small dorm room tv’s.

The vitriol behind the hatred is complicated, and in writing this I realize there are points I’m going to miss. Love is a so much better way to live. Hate is, well, just ask Dante about why he wrote “The Divine Comedy.” 

I find even after all these years of living in Wisconsin under the enormously prosperous reign of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, still the state likes to give Bear fans that extra pimpful nudge.

When you mention you’re a Bears fan they kind of apologize for you and say things like “I understand, ” or “oh I’m sorry.”

I think the dominance with which the Packers have beaten the Bears over the past couple of 25 years have made the Packer fans feel a lot like that cat that keeps playing with its dead prize, to make it more alive. Many try to console me now when the Packers quite routinely pull out the victory in the last minute.

Don’t get me wrong, the state is amazing. It is by far the greatest state of them all, by leaps and bounds the most generous, kindest, funniest people I’ve ever met. 

My dad liked to say about great people, “they’d give you the shirt off they’re back.” 

They never call themselves great, either.

I used to canvass door to door for various causes and the people I talked to whether red, white, black, brown, yellow, blue were genuinely interested in what I had to say. Even if they disagreed they would help me and many would also give a drink of water, a coke, something to eat, invite me in out of the cold.

They do what great people do instinctively. They care.

It was a template I recognized and it gave me the model I used in trying to become a decent man, throwing beers in obnoxious Packer fans faces during the foolishness of my youth notwithstanding.

I also have a confession. It’s taken me a while to work up to it and you might be tempted to think I’m a Benedict Arnold because of it, but I’m also a Packer fan in addition to being an enormous and even bigger Bears fan.

Not a very good Packer fan though, but one all the same. I too can find creeping up from within me a Bear fan rooting against the Packers, especially if it helps the Bears get in first place or make the playoffs. 

But I can also say I’ve been to Lambeau field twice. Great seats 35 yard line, 12 rows up. Great friend. Vince Lombardi statue. Parking in somebody’s front yard. The Lambeau Leap statue! Everybody walking like free people with beers in their hands in the morning. An absolute and unequivocal privilege.

I know it might look like I’m organizing a petition to stop the killing at the Roman Colosseum only to find me buying a ticket and cheering the carnage on in my little secret corner of the world. Maybe I am.

I understand paradox. Whitman teaches, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” 

While the Packers have 4 losses so far, and have got some obvious holes in their defense, I feel they will be the team to beat if the Bears are actually going to make the playoffs this year.

Rodgers makes the cheese stand alone.

It’s always so much healthier to root for a winner than a loser, and maybe that’s why I am at the very least one who always needs to be taking his medication.

Though I mingle and merge among them, I remain a Bear fan in occupied Wisconsin.

 

THINKING FOR YOURSELF

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“Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?”

Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

 

When you look at what the Bears could be and what they are, it’s a lot like the student who shows all kinds of promise but still keeps getting C pluses.

I know because that once was me. I always went to class. I took notes. I did homework. I talked in class. I read the book/poem only once, and when I got my paper back it was always just a little above average. 

I’d look at papers of students with jealousy at their A’s and A minuses. I was easily as bright as them and wanted to be that good but I wasn’t. Eventually I turned it around but it wasn’t easy, and it definitely wasn’t handed to me or done for me. So what changed?

Well, the first thing I think was I tried to have an original idea about the subject. To think outside the box. A lot of teachers don’t want you to simply regurgitate what is being talked about in class. They want you to think for yourself. I think NFL coaches might feel the same way.

I started to read through the material more than once. Sometimes I had to read through it several times before something would then come to me. It might’ve come from another piece the author wrote. It might come from a hint of something else. A perception, a feeling, a shape, a smell.

It helps also to have a sense of history, too. History about the subject and the author. History about where in time and place it’s happening. A knowledge of history maybe repeating itself. Often subjects that are  tangentially related can also help tremendously. Like if I’m writing a paper about free verse I might bring up the subject of jazz, as an example. I might write my whole paper about it.

I began to turn it around when I began to interpret the story or poem for myself, and develop arguments that sought to assertively prove and disprove my theories. It helps to know your weaknesses too, on the football field and in English class.

I also began to turn it around when I wanted to say something I didn’t think anybody else would want to say. Call it that thing that makes you special. Makes you stick out. Something extra. Something that almost shocks the reader’s sense and sensibilities. Something to wrestle with. Something to discover. 

I think the same might hold true for these Bears.

If the NFL is a poem, and I think it most certainly and emphatically is, then what about it is inspiring you to perform at your best and/or at your worst. In essence, how do you perceive the game you play, and what is your take on how you fit in?

One thing that sticks out to me about this team that isn’t true for other Bear teams for many years now is that they seem comfortable in the hurry up and get points back quickly when they do. When the QB doesn’t have to spend those extra mili-seconds deciding. When it’s quick and easy. 

I remember John Madden being asked why a team that hasn’t been able to move the ball at all, once they get into a hurry up all of the sudden are able to march down the field and score. It happens almost in every game, all the time. Why is that?

His answer was very telling to me, he essentially said he didn’t know. John Madden. Didn’t know. All NFL. All Madden. All everything. Professor Emeritus of the NFL. Didn’t know. 

But then he would also give several ideas before, during and after the game that would answer the question he said he didn’t know.

I don’t remember him saying these points, per se, but I do think I learned them from him, as much as from my own watching of the games.

One—-An offense that is challenging the field vertically makes the defense play tentative and back on its heels. Conversely, a defense that pressures the QB makes an offense play back on its heels as well.

Two—The offense always has the advantage because only they know where they are going and thus can fool the defenders into thinking they’re going to one place when they’re really going to another.

Three—-An offense can pick on the weaker defenders that aren’t as good and exploit the defense. The offense can do this forever until the defense discovers how to solve this problem.

Four—A team that is marching down the field makes the defense tired and forced to play substitutes.

Five—-It’s an easier game of pitch and catch when the quarterback just makes his reads and hits the open guy, or dumps it off or throws it away when nobody is open. 

Six—It’s an easier and more relaxed game for the QB when he isn’t being hit by defenders all the time. 

Seven—-Football is a game of momentum. When you use it more to your advantage you have a better chance at winning.

I get the feeling that Matt Nagy might start going to the hurry up more often. Scoring is always a great way to lift the team up.

My read on the Patriots game was that Mitchell Trubisky in addition to being inaccurate was also forcing a lot of throws. Maybe he needs to play a more gut and feel game as opposed to a mind and read game. Maybe he needs to think less about the game to be more in it.

That’s how I see it. I see them like the student that’s trying to figure out why they’re not doing better. 

One last thing. I also found that going to see the teacher about the very problem I was having was a really good idea. Particularly if you came to the teacher and showed them you were thinking about the subject and presented them with your thoughts, rather than just asking for the answer and wanting the better grade. Often they were not like they were in class. The good ones were appreciative of your concern. They tried to work with and help you generate new ideas or think in fresher ways about old ones. They really wanted you to succeed.

Maybe the key to the Bears isn’t in any of the film or stats or lessons being taught from the coaches. Maybe the keys are found elsewhere. Maybe the keys can be found with individual perspective.