Lucy and I had been dating for nearly a year when we dropped by her parents’ home, in Minneapolis, and found candles burning in front of the television. White with purple lettering.
Her mom was on the couch wearing a Daunte Culpepper jersey and a helmet with horns.
“Hiya,” she said.
This was trouble.
I grew up with the Green Bay Packers, in suburban Milwaukee, the way you grow up with gravity. They were wallpaper, part of the furniture, as unremarkable and inescapable as a birthmark.
Dads brought televisions to church and to parties, to check in with the game, little black-and-white boxes set among the deviled eggs. Packers logo-wear was ubiquitous and universally appropriate.
We watched the Packers like nephews. They were good kids, and no one was going to support them but us. We gathered for games as though for a bake sale.
But the Packers were terrible then, in the 1970s and '80s. And the NFL wasn’t yet "American Idol" with less singing and more spandex. Football was for roughnecks, broadcasted by guys named Chet and Stan who looked like they would try to kiss your mom at the holiday party.
After moving to Minneapolis for college in 1990, I didn’t think about football for a long time.
I met Lucy at Camp Wellstone, the weekend training for progressive activists. I was reporting a story for Minnesota Monthly; Lucy was attending. There was a fair amount of knitting. No one talked about football.
When I first met her family, I didn’t realize they were Vikings fans. It was the holidays. There was wine and Wii. No one talked about football then either.
I didn’t mention my affliction. That I had turned on the television one Sunday in the fall of '96 and there was Brett Favre with his shaggy smile, doing the pigskin polka up and down Lambeau Field. A few months later, the Packers won the Super Bowl.
I’d been in Minnesota for almost seven years, long enough to miss Wisconsin but not long enough to put down roots. Here was this line I could tug to feel connected to something, to home.
I began watching the Packers again out of curiosity, an occasional pull on the line, and then my grip tightened.
It seemed harmless at first. I had a job, friends, a library card, but nothing that felt as good as winning. This was an unexpected birthright. It didn’t have anything to do with the Vikings.
But of course it did. “Don’t you want the Vikings to win, even a little bit?” Lucy’s mom asked, when our cards were on the table.
No, I realized. I want them to lose. Every game, every season.
I would try to watch the Vikings with Lucy’s family — in front of the candles, in airports, in a Manhattan bar crammed with purple jerseys and potluck hot-dish — the way I watch “Animal Planet,” not caring whether the cobra kills the mongoose or vice versa. It was the Vikings, after all, and many games we could agree that everyone should be fed to the lions.
But the morning after, I’d listen to the broken hearts calling into KFAN and smile.
Lucy and I were engaged in 2011, a few months after the Packers won the Super Bowl again. The Vikings had fired their coach midseason, watched their stadium roof collapse, and endured cell-phone shots of their quarterback’s penis.
Lucy’s mom remained magnanimous throughout. She made candles for me, emblazoned with “Aaron Rodgers” and “Jermichael Finley,” the erstwhile tight end. She gave me Packers plates, cups, napkins and a green-and-gold beaded necklace.
“Your guys are probably going back to the Super Bowl, duh,” she said.
I’d been watching like my life depended on it: anxious, angsty — “menstruating,” Lucy said. Lashed to players I’d never met, a tenuous thread that the Vikings will always threaten to unravel.
It was a lot to ask of a game.
This season, I haven’t watched a single one. I have a baby daughter now — someone else whose accomplishments I can take inordinate pride in. And I have roots, some with horns.
I’ve never watched a Vikings-Packers game with my in-laws. There have been 11 since we met, and we’ve watched them all from our own dens, with our own kind, afraid of our own claws. Safe from schadenfreude.
It seems like good practice. We’re going to know each other a long time. The wins and losses will pile up, and football will be the least of it.
If it doesn’t happen this Sunday, though, I still have the candles.
Tim Gihring is a former editor of Minnesota Monthly magazine. His reporting and essays have appeared in Best Food Writing, Fodor’s, Salon and newspapers around the world. He authored the Star Tribune's Debut Dad blog last spring.
ABOUT 10,000 Takes: 10,000 Takes is the Star Tribune’s new digital section featuring first-person essays about life in the North Star State. We publish narratives about love, family, work, community and culture in Minnesota. Got a story to tell? Send your draft to firstname.lastname@example.org.