Good men, the last
wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds
might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against
the dying of the light.
-- Dylan Thomas
Go north, to what
seems the farthest reach of America, the topmost latitude of the world. It
isn't, but it can feel that way, even in the hot dazzle of high summer. Roll
past the dairy barns red as bud roses and the storybook milk cows spattered
black and white, and the U-Pik strawberry patches and the outlet-store
billboards, and the hills swelling soft beneath them all. Drive north to Green
Bay. � That this is not the northernmost home of American professional football
is merely geographical fact. In our mythology it remains the Fortress of
Solitude--frozen in its ancient fame and its lonely arctic greatness--the
holiest, most remote outpost in the NFL. � Lambeau Field, the city's heart and
the first thing you see as you cross the Fox River, looms huge above the
bridges and the tree line and the tidy homes strung along the tidy sidewalks.
In late July of a new football season the noise of joy and human struggle fills
Before you've even
parked the car, you'll hear and feel the grunt and thud and the cheering.
Packers training camp is under way. This little town, so distant from so many
of us that it feels set at the edge of the world--as all small places not our
own must--has again become the center of something.
The practice field
is just across from the stadium. There are hundreds of people here, families in
from Appleton, Eau Claire, Racine and Fish Creek, Manitowoc and Wausau and
Waukesha, the mothers and fathers and sons and daughters of Wisconsin standing
five deep in the summer funk. On the field is the football team, scores of
young men sweating and swearing and thundering back and forth in their
iridescent green and gold. One of them stands at midfield, lofting passes with
an easy motion and a rhythm like received grace. Each ball cuts a long, sharp
arc through the air. "That's it!" yells a woman as the footballs rise
and fall. "Way to throw!"
She yells this to
the man most of them have come to see, and on whom their season, and their
psychic fortunes, will rise or fall. He is slender in the fat shadows of the
bellies and bull necks around him, slight and nearly boyish. With his
three-quarter-length pants and low-cut socks and his shoes hidden in that deep
grass, he appears to be playing barefoot. From the sideline the close-cropped
hair still looks blond, and the freckled right arm is still loose and strong,
and the smile and the smirk still say, "All right, then, I'll go to
hell." Thus, with every attribute in place but the bamboo fishin' pole,
here is the NFL quarterback rendered as Huck Finn grown.
To read the dour
columnists this year, though, Huckleberry should be taking his first snap under
center this season from the comfort and safety of his Medicare-approved
personal scooter. Candy-apple red, perhaps, with a handlebar shopping basket, a
bicycle bell, and an AARP bumper sticker that reads: i brake for grandchildren.
Because, they say, Brett Favre-- Huck Finn grown and now grown old--shouldn't be
playing football. Our heroes must never grow old.
And yet here he