...not only the heart of a place called Gopher Prairie, but ten thousand towns.... not a dozen buildings...suggested that, in the fifty years of Gopher Prairie's existence, the citizens had realized that it was either desirable or possible to make this, their common home, amusing or attractive.
Green Bay alone did what the other 10,000 Gopher Prairies in the United States didn't. It built a team and an edifice to honor it, and with that, it deflected all the sneers that urban sophisticates had patronized small towns with for generations. Green Bay became Titletown U.S.A. It took the measure of all the Zeniths, of the Gothams and Windy Cities and Hubs, made charming what was provincial, romantic what was obscure, quaint what was merely small.
Unfortunately, Green Bay also glorified the adage that winning is everything (which is, ironically, the ultimate big-city smugness), and now, for that, defeat appears all the more devastating. The main question seems to be: Can the Green Bay Packers and Green Bay, Wis., ever again be on the same team?
A variety of things have transpired. Some are quite indisputable. The record shows, for example, that the franchise has decayed since the transcendent era of the sainted Vincent Lombardi; last season's Pack was 4-12, the worst in 28 years. Also, there is little argument that a lot of players don't want to spend their salad days in a one-horse town. This is especially true of black players, who bemoan the lack of a normal social life. They even have trouble getting a proper haircut in Green Bay. About one in every 300 people in Brown County is black—some 500 all told, about 0.28% of the 185,000 citizens. "If you're a black man in Green Bay," the expression goes, "you're either a Packer or you're passing through. If you're a black woman you're either a Packer wife or a dancer."
Some other things are more subjective. Black players—even those on rival teams, visiting for a day or two—profess to feel like freaks and are "uncomfortable" (the word often used) just walking down the street in Green Bay. The Packer franchise, a community-run operation more resembling the United Way or a library, may be an antiquated enterprise, at a huge disadvantage compared with other NFL franchises (save perhaps the one carried around in Robert Irsay's hat), and so—goes some of the thinking—the team is obliged to accept bad actors. "Thugs" and "hoodlums," Mike Ditka, the Bears' coach, characterized them. You must consider the source of that statement, of course, but in just three seasons, the Packers have gone from the third-least-penalized team in the NFL to the second-most.
And, finally, one other thing has surfaced in Green Bay's relationship with its team—although it may well, in fact, be only symptomatic of a new scandal in the sports world at large. This concerns what appears to be the growing number of athletes, collegiate and professional, who are being arrested for sexual assault. In Green Bay, Mossy Cade, 25, a cornerback, went on trial on Monday—the charge is second-degree sexual assault against a woman in his house in 1985. The woman is an aunt by marriage. James Lofton, 30, an All-Pro wide receiver, also went on trial the same day in Green Bay on the same charge—the jurors, however, are from Janesville, 120 miles to the south.
Moreover, Charles Martin, 27, an obscure defensive lineman who is best known for his flagrant attack upon Bears quarterback Jim McMahon last season, was involved this past fall in an altercation in a Green Bay bar with a woman who objected to his gross public advances.
Martin subsequently apologized and paid the woman $500 to settle the matter. This inglorious cavalcade of incidents has even led to local saloons posting the Packer Joke of the Week. Did you hear they fired Forrest Gregg and brought in Dr. Ruth as the new coach? No? Well, no less than the attorney general of the state of Wisconsin quipped publicly that the state should build its new penitentiary in Green Bay so that "the Packers could walk to work."
Some reactions speak more to the point. Morning Glory Farms has stopped running photographs of NFL players, including Lofton, on its milk cartons.
There have been sad editorials, there have been angry editorials. " Green Bay can tolerate losing but it will not tolerate losers whose amoral or immoral acts sully the name of the team and the community," the Press-Gazette said at the end of last season. The Milwaukee Sentinel ran a cartoon of Coach Lombardi's cemetery plot, with curses rising from his grave. Once, the gag went, Lombardi treated all his Packers equally—like dogs; now, the citizens sneer on talk shows and in letters to the editor that Packers are all dogs.