WHAT I AM ABOUT to tell you is a fact. Or maybe it isn’t a fact, or maybe it shouldn’t be a fact. That’s what we’re here to decide.
I was born in Wisconsin and lived there my first 11 years. This inherently makes me a diehard fan of the Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Brewers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Wisconsin Badgers.
I don’t know who made this rule, but many sports fans adhere to it, and this is how I have lived my life for five decades. I have been operating on the assumption that this is how it is, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
But here’s another fact: I have lived in Las Vegas for 37 years of my life, far more than any other place. So why do I assume I must maintain my status as a fan of the sports teams I was associated with as a child?
Let’s take this a step further. I lived in Wisconsin for 11 years, but, to be honest, I don’t remember the first five. Nothing. I’ve seen pictures, and a few Super 8 videos, so I know I was really there, but in those years of crying, crawling, learning to walk, and riding a Big Wheel, I couldn’t have cared less about the state’s teams. I became aware of them around age 6, I’d say, and eagerly jumped on board. I wore a faux Packers jersey for a class picture in elementary school. I had a youth-size Packers helmet that still holds a place of honor in my garage. I reveled in the exploits of Bucks forward Bob Dandridge and Brewers shortstop Robin Yount. But what this means is I was directly tied geographically to those teams for just six years. And by the way, not once during those six years of Dairy State fandom did I visit the hallowed grounds of Lambeau Field. (I’ve been there several times in recent years, but didn’t come close to it as a youth.)
Under the presumed rules of my life as a fan, there was no problem adding the Vegas Golden Knights to the roster of teams I support. For whatever reason, Wisconsin does not have a professional hockey team, which left open the possibility of supporting a team from another region of the country.
That was pretty easy, but what about the Las Vegas Raiders?
I cannot possibly support the Raiders, right? I am fully invested in the Packers — much more so than the Brewers, Bucks, or Badgers. I lived and died every week with Brett Favre in the 1990s and have done the same with Aaron Rodgers in the 2000s. I was a fan even in the bleak years of the ’70s and ’80s, when the Green Bay quarterbacks had names like Jerry Tagge and David Whitehurst.
I can’t give up the Packers — I just can’t do it. It’s a lifetime contract, seemingly etched in my DNA. But does that mean I have to shun the Las Vegas Raiders? Can I be a fan of two NFL teams?
Which triggers a memory. In the mid-’70s, I distinctly remember that while I was a Packers devotee like all the other kids in my town, my favorite players were Kenny Stabler, Fred Biletnikoff, and Cliff Branch. Stabler was the quarterback and Biletnikoff and Branch were the wide receivers for — you guessed it — the Oakland Raiders. They were great players on an exciting team that was performing at a much higher level than the Packers were.
Maybe this is a precedent I can take advantage of. When I was 9 and 10 years old, I was a fan of the Packers and the Raiders at the same time. Apparently this was relatively acceptable then, so maybe it can be today. Maybe I can dedicate at least some of my support to Raiders up-and-comers such as Josh Jacobs and Henry Ruggs III.
I’m feeling better now. This whole thing was really bothering me, but I’ve come to realize that my obligations to most of the Wisconsin sports teams are really quite tenuous, unnecessary even, when you look at the numbers, when you consider the possibility of another option.
I realize not everybody follows the rigid rules of fandom I have followed all these years. But I know that many sports fans deal with these questions. Which team should I support, and why? Can I switch allegiances? Will I think less of myself if I do? We want to be able to articulate good reasons why we support one team and not others.
So, here goes something new: I’m happy the Raiders beat the Carolina Panthers in their season opener last week. And I’m hopeful they will win a bunch more games this year. Maybe they’ll even make the playoffs. That would be great!
Deep breath. I was a little nervous at first, but the truth is, that didn’t hurt much at all. I think I can do this. As long as the Raiders don’t face the Packers in the Super Bowl, I’m in their corner.
With this newfound freedom, I boldly declare: When Las Vegas gets an NBA franchise, I’m prepared to dump the Bucks entirely and embrace my hometown team.
Geoff Schumacher is the vice president of exhibits and programs for The Mob Museum.
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