Football and Me Part IV

This is the fourth post in a series in which I will document this football season. It will broadly be about the Badgers and Packers but will more specifically be about myself in it. Football season does not just happen on the field. It is about great friends, foods, drinks, and merriment. My hope is that it will be interesting for readers but at the very least it will serve as a journal to look back on. I wish I had done this last year.

Once again, I had an outstanding football weekend as the Badgers and Packers continued to go 1-0. On Friday, I celebrated my 25th birthday with a relatively small crew of very close friends. We started off the celebration at DMK Burger Bar, a craft burger restaurant in Lakeview, splitting orders of baked mac and cheese, Wisconsin cheddar fries and sweet potato fries with lemon aioli. For the main course, I ordered a burger with a fried egg, bacon and green chiles. Everything was delicious.

As always, I enjoyed my experience at DMK but was a little dismayed when they wouldn’t make my burger with the griddled rye bread that was offered as the bun for another burger, even after I tried to utilize the method that my roommate’s dog uses when it wants food or attention. That is to say that I tilted my head 45 degrees, widened my eyes and said, “Pleaseee? It’s my birthdayyy” (the dog doesn’t actually talk–to the best of my knowledge–but it implies these begs quite well with its facial expressions) but it was all to no avail. I learned the hard way that they are quite strict about their “no substitutions” policy. They slightly made up for it by giving me a free ice cream chipwich at the end of the meal but I will always wonder what could have been if my burger had rested between two slices of griddled rye.

After DMK, we headed to Will’s Northwoods Inn where we were met by a few more of my friends. A great surprise birthday present came later in the night when one of my good friends, who runs the social media and promotion for Will’s as more or less of a hobby, asked Habib and me where we would be watching Packers-Bears on Sunday. I immediately realized that this sounded like a trick question but answered, “Here, obviously,” to which I was greeted with the response, “Well, how about Soldier Field?” The manager of Will’s had given him two passes to the Miller Lite Party Deck that he would be unable to use so he wanted to know if we would want to go in his place. It took us less than two seconds to oblige.

On Saturday, I actually skipped football for most of the day. In silent protest, I forwent watching the Wisconsin Badgers play South Dakota. I can understand why college football teams would schedule cupcakes in the first couple weeks of the season in order to prepare their players for legitimate competition but I really think that these schools should be playing real teams by the fourth week of the season. There comes a point where it is dissatisfying to carve out a sizable chunk of one’s Saturday to watch a game that ends 59-10 and I reached that level of saturation last Saturday in the second half against NIU. I am well aware how lucky I am to be able to gripe about 49 point victories by my favorite team but, despite the wonderful healing quarterback prowess of #BlackJesus Russell Wilson, I found the advance prospects Saturday’s contest to be wholly uninteresting. I may be in the minority here but I would much rather watch Wisconsin play a game before Big Ten play that they might actually *gasp* lose than watch the Badgers win by a number approaching infinity for a fourth straight week. I will now slowly descend from my high horse as Wisconsin faces its first real opponent next week when it hosts Nebraska at Camp Randall.

On Sunday, Habib and I got to Will’s around 11 AM to pick up our tickets and, of course, put down an order of delicious cheese curds. Superfan St. Vince was already in the house to watch his beloved Packers amongst green and gold brethren and graciously posed for a picture with us before we headed toward Soldier Field.

We stopped for the first half of the early games at Joe’s on Weed Street, had a pitcher of Coors Light and watched all eight games of the early slate at a stunningly break-neck pace. The front room at Joe’s has the best television set up I have ever seen at a bar and is rivaled only by Las Vegas sportsbooks for the best place I know of to view all of the Sunday action. There is a large screen projector in the center with rectangles of four big screen HDTVs on both sides of it. The back room has too many big screen projectors to count and is a great place to watch football if you only want to watch three or four games but there is not a singular vantage point where you can keep track of all the action as you can in the front. Joe’s has $5.00 pitchers of Coors Light on Sundays and its only drawback is that the food is subpar (although not un-eatable*) and there are no real suitable alternatives to eat at in the surrounding area. It therefore astounded Habib and me that there was a group of Packers fans at the table next to us who had gone to Joe’s JUST TO EAT as this is the only reason why we don’t just go there every Sunday for the noon games.

*Eatable – adj. Iteration of edible that takes taste and quality into account

At halftime, we hopped in a cab to Soldier Field and made our way to the Miller Lite Party Deck. The MLPD is a standing room only area above the upper deck of the north end zone and is an interesting and different way to view the game. There is an MC/DJ presiding over a party atmosphere and all of the fans on the deck received their tickets for free directly or indirectly through Miller sales reps. In order to see what is happening on the field, you have to be standing right on the railing and we luckily got there just in time to be able to do so. If you have a spot on the railing, you get a solid view of all the action. On the other sides of the MLPD are unbelievable views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline. There aren’t many, if any, 360-degree views I have enjoyed more in my life.

Although most of the other fans on the deck were Bears fans and drinking heavily (I chose not to even have one beer because the day that I will pay $8.50 a beer will be a day that I have SIGNIFICANTLY more disposable income than I do right now), they were drinking heavily responsibly (People who can hold their liquor are able to accomplish this feat) and were generally affable despite the fact that I was wearing a Clay Matthews jersey and Habib was wearing his patented felt Packers pancho that he bought a few years ago on Spring Break in Mexico. Completely counter to my experience watching Bears-Packers at Soldier Field in 2007*, we did not feel unwelcome in any way.

*Top-five worst day of my life, extremely cold, wind swirling, awful game by Brett Favre, intolerable Bears fans in every direction, eight hour drive halfway home to Connecticut immediately following the game. A shiver is sent down my spine every time I think about it.

Obviously, it was the ideal circumstance for us that the Packers won handily as I imagine that the experience leaving the stadium would have been quite unpleasant in the event that that was not the case. It was telling that the Packers were able to win by 10 points even though they did not particularly fire on all cylinders on offense or defense. Aaron Rodgers was very good, going 28-38 for 297 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. All three touchdowns were to Jermichael Finley, who as you might know, I am and have been a HUGE fan of. With Finley, I feel ownership of his success in a way that mirrors those who were fans of a band “before they got big.” He is a match-up nightmare as he is too big to be singularly covered by defensive backs and too fast for linebackers. Also, I won 50-yard line seats to Packers-Giants from his wife on Twitter last season in the coolest way ever*. The Bears fans around me thought that I was prophetic after I called for the Packers to throw the ball his way before each of his touchdowns but I explained to them that this isn’t an indicator of predictive talent because I do this before every snap.

*If by some miracle you read this far, we are running at 1,800 words so I am going to save the story for another diary where there is less material.

The Packers came out hot and built a 14-0 lead before the offense became somewhat stagnant. When the Packers get leads, for some reason they stop going with what was working (yesterday, passing on first and second down and targeting Jennings and Finley) and start to run the ball more. Even though Ryan Grant had a solid day, rushing for 92 yards on 17 carries, James Starks had an off day, rushing for just five yards on 11 carries. When the Packers start running the ball more, it takes Rodgers out of rhythm and he becomes a little bit less precise. Habib and I continually just wish the Packers would be like the Patriots which is to say that they recognize what they do best (PASS!) and stick with it regardless of where the score and clock are at. I am well aware that the Patriots lost to the Bills with this strategy yesterday so it might actually be a good thing for Packers fans that I am not employed to call plays.

Next week, I am going to Madison for the Nebraska game and to Green Bay to see the Packers play the Broncos. This of course means that any number of obstacles are going to block my way between happiness and Friday; it never fails that weeks where you are immensely looking forward to hand you the biggest annoyances. Right on schedule, it began with my not being able to fall asleep last night and needing two coffees this morning (a very rare occurrence) to become something even close to a functional human being. Thank Gd the Packers beat the Bears yesterday or I would really be battling from the depths of despair today. Until next week, Let’s Go Red and Go Pack Go.

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