Raising a Packers fan in Giants country
"Are you from Wisconsin?"
It's not the typical question I hear while watching my two elementary-age boys play on the blacktop after school in Brooklyn. Then I see my 7-year-old Everett streak across the playground. Among a sea of New York Giants-clad schoolmates, his blue winter jacket is unzipped to show off his Jordy Nelson jersey. The pompom on his Green Bay Packers hat bounces up and down as he beats a defender and tosses a football to a friend.
I smile and answer, "No. My son's just obsessed with the Packers."
It all started with a plush toy. On a trip to Milwaukee to visit his godmother when he was 4, Everett received a cartoonish Green Bay Packer player shaped like a ball that he affectionately named "Packer." He slowly accumulated more gear -- jerseys, T-shirts and trading cards.
But it wasn't until the 2014 NFC Championship Game that I knew we were in trouble. During the fourth quarter, when it was clear the Packers were going to be eliminated by the Seattle Seahawks, Everett screamed at the TV. With his fleece green rally cap on, he yelled, "100 percent stupid Seattle!" Tears streamed down his puffy, red face.
My husband and I, surprised by his emotional reaction, laughed. But at the same time, my gut tightened as I realized Everett was becoming a full-fledged football fan. How did I wind up with a son who bleeds green and gold?
Growing up in suburban Connecticut, I didn't know any football fanatics. My family favored tennis and attended Yankees and Mets games. I'm not sure how much my Chinese immigrant parents actually enjoyed watching players run the bases, but it was a chance to connect with American culture. When the Mets won the 1986 World Series, a year after my father died, the victory offered a moment of solace and joy for our family.
Occasionally, I watched Giants football games Sundays with my brother. While I cheered on the likes of Phil Simms, L.T. (Lawrence Taylor) and Mark Bavaro, I didn't have a clue what was going on. But Big Blue became my team. The only thing I knew about pigskin fans I gathered from the cameras as they panned the seats -- bare-chested, face-painted men. Would my son soon be one of these die-hards standing on the bleachers at a snowy Lambeau Stadium?
I was conflicted by Everett's passion for football. Mostly, I didn't want him to love the game because I didn't want him to play the sport. And he wants to play. While he knows my concerns about concussions and getting hurt, he dreams of being drafted by an NFL team. One day, I overheard him asking his dad, "Do you think Mommy will let me be a kicker? Kickers don't get hit."
I thought he'd lose interest like he did with other obsessions. But his passion only intensified, both for football and the team from Wisconsin. While his friends don Odell Beckham Jr. and Eli Manning shirts and Giants hats, he proudly wears one of his three Green Bay jerseys. He runs plays in our house, reenacting diving catches by Davante Adams or Aaron Rodgers scrambling away from an encroaching defensive line. While I cringe and hope he doesn't knock over a shelf, I can't help but smile.
Everett's enthusiasm for the game and his team is infectious. He's turned our household into Brooklyn cheesehead central, and it's connected him to a larger community of fans. Every week, he witnesses the players' commitment to hard work and watches as they work together and stand by each other as teammates. Being a fan has taught him to dream big. Even when the Packers were 4-6, he believed. While many wrote off the Packers' playoff chances, he never gave up hope.
Most importantly, he's learned to have pride in himself. He's not intimidated or embarrassed by his affection for Green Bay when his schoolmates cheer for New York teams. It doesn't faze him to be a dot of green in Giants home territory.
Everett already has his game-day outfit picked out when the Giants and Packers play in their wild-card game this weekend: Rodgers jersey, yellow football pants, Clay Matthews socks, football gloves and a Packers helmet. I haven't yet decided which team I'm rooting for, but we'll endure the ups and downs together.
Christine Yu is a New York City-based freelance writer. She's written for The Washington Post, Runner's World and Triathlete Magazine. Follow her on Twitter here.