Yet perhaps the most striking problem that the Packers face is the sense that they are specimens in a laboratory. Their behavior is constantly studied; there are no secrets. Even Gregg, who spent 14 years as a player in Green Bay—"I love the Green Bay Packers. I love this city. I wanted this job"—acknowledges: "It's an obvious fact we live in a fishbowl here. They know what you put in your grocery basket, but then, you're also not supposed to be mortal, so they also want to know what you're doing in a supermarket."
Gregg, a large and forbidding man who regularly lapses into quasi-military jargon (he refers to his players as "people" the way officers refer to their troops), makes no bones about being angry that the "attention" brought to bear on the various sex cases has distracted him and his lieutenants from the task of improving the team. Still, he sees some consolation in the fishbowl: "One thing about it: You sure know what you're here for." Whether in church, at K Mart or the Top Shelf, the people of Green Bay never let the Packers forget that they're football players.
Johnnie Gray is a black ex-Packer who was married to a local white woman. They are divorced now, but he remains in town, working as fitness director at a Y in order to be near his young daughter. Says Gray, "Most people draw the conclusion that it was the white-black thing that broke up our marriage. It wasn't. It was the Packer thing. She just got worn down at never being anything but a Packer's wife, and I can't blame her. I've lived in a lot of places in my life. The matter of adjusting to the people here—to being a black among whites—wasn't that much of a problem for me. The problem is that all the people here want to do is talk football with you."
"We're just so accessible," Wright says. This matter of being constantly recognized, constantly badgered, eventually wears the players down, and, says Tom Flynn, a former Packer free safety, it "takes a toll on the psyche."
It is a hoary NFL bromide that each team will draft the best possible athlete irregardless of position. Douglass, for one, thinks that Green Bay alone cannot afford that luxury. "When the Packers consider a player, they ought to look at his social upbringing," Douglass suggests, "because a lot of adjustments have to be made when a player comes to Green Bay, and not a lot of guys can manage." It's like many men can serve in the Navy, but only a few are temperamentally qualified for submarines.
By Dec. 1 it is not uncommon for Packer wives to have packed up, taken their children and departed for wherever home really is to prepare for Christmas, leaving their husbands to play out the long season, living in a hotel. Bob Long, the ex-Packer who resides in Milwaukee, has remained in the NFL Players Association, and is privy to player gripes. He says, sadly, that he often hears the expression "getting out of prison" in reference to some player who has been traded away from Green Bay. "As a former Packer and someone who loves this state, that hurts me deeply," he says.
The Packers have been playing selected "home" games in Milwaukee since 1934—which would make Milwaukee the fifth-oldest NFL city in point of service if it had its own franchise. Long believes that Green Bay must own up to the modern realities and share more of a coordinate role with the real big-league city two hours to the south, encouraging players to live in Milwaukee, to assume more of a pan-Wisconsin identity.
But nobody expects Green Bay to do that. The people are a proud and stubborn folk. When Wisconsin was seeking statehood in the 1840s, it made plain to Washington that it was tired of being patronized as a territory. "A fool can sometimes put on his coat better than a vise man can do it for him," an activist petitioned the government. Don't lecture Green Bay. Anyway, the 4,626� shares of Green Bay Packers Inc. are tightly held by 1,800 people, almost all of them local. Besides, if sold, the stock cannot bring any individual profit, so the stockholders are more trustees than partners; only that American Legion post can benefit by a transaction. Bart Starr was evidently kept on for years after he had proved to be no great shakes is a coach because, Zuidmulder says, "it was hard to fire your neighbor." If Green Bay couldn't fire a man, it certainly isn't going to fire itself. Not surprisingly, the words commonly used to describe the Packer operation are the likes of insular, incestuous, paranoid. Lombardi, the utter outsider, agreed to come in only when he was granted near-dictatorial power, and he alone has brought success to the franchise since World War II. That's a hard truth.
"Don't do a hatchet job on us," says Bowman. "After all, 20 years of getting your teeth kicked in has preconditioned us to being defensive. Look, I'm not altogether sentimental about my town. In a place this size, there's a tendency to be cliquish and clannish. But people here will listen to you; they're not opinionated. It's cleaner here, and there's not so much crime, and, at least until recently, we could say we didn't have any drug problems. Certainly, it's still a better place to raise kids.
"But we don't have heroes anymore—not even in Green Bay. When I played we were idolized. There was a certain mystique, an aura. But now, there's such a rift." Bowman shakes his head. "And the athlete must take his share of the blame for that. It's sad. There's such a division now between the player and the blue-collar fan. In fact, there's a regular canyon now. More and more, it's them and us."