BY M. NICOLE NAZZARO
Go ahead. Tell me your sob story of NFC Championship Weekend woe.
You’re stressed out, you’re worried, and you’re trying to get your 12th Man jersey washed before kickoff. You’re anticipating three hours of angst and pain — and hopefully elation, the kind of elation every man, woman and child in the Pacific Northwest felt at the exact moment last year when Richard Sherman tipped that Colin Kaepernick pass into Malcolm Smith’s waiting arms.
Trouble is, I can’t share your angst this year. That’s because for a select few of us in the Seattle area, we’ve already won.
You see, I own not one, but two NFL quarterback jerseys. There’s the familiar No. 3 of Mr. No-Time-To-Sleep, Russell Wilson.
And sitting right next to it, my No. 12 jersey. The green and gold one. The one with Aaron Rodgers’ name on it.
Yes, this game’s at CenturyLink, but the football ties that bind the Hawks and Pack are planted firmly in the land of cheese curds, bratwurst, and Pabst Blue Ribbon. If you’re a Wisconsin native — or if, like me, you’re married to one — you know that Wisconsinites are issued their first Packers cheesehead along with their birth certificate.
The Packers are the biggest of the big time in a place that values hard work and nose-to-the-grindstone focus. Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, Eddie Lacey, A.J. Hawk — household names all. And don’t even get me started about John Kuuuuuuuuuuuuhn. (Listen for his name cheered on Sunday — yes, even at the Clink — when the Pro Bowl fullback gets the ball.)
Thing is, the great state of Wisconsin is where Russell Wilson got his big chance, too. With a year of college eligibility remaining, he was dispatched from his college team at North Carolina State. No place to play. Until then-University of Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema came calling, with his pro-style offense. Wilson arrived in Madison in the summer of 2011 and went to work. Three weeks later, he was team captain.
A few weeks after that, on a hot Thursday night in early September, my fiance (now my husband) and I found ourselves wheeling and dealing outside Camp Randall Stadium. We scored a pair of tickets on the 50-yard line for the Badgers’ opening game. Russell Wilson’s debut. He destroyed the other guys the way Madison’s college students scarf down Rocky Rococo’s pizza and, yes, pitchers of Pabst.
“Cool!” I said to my honey as we watched Wilson scramble. “Maybe we’ll make the Rose Bowl again this year!” (Side note: We did.)
Four days later we stood at the gates of Lambeau Field, the cathedral of Wisconsin football. My sweetie bought my Aaron Rodgers jersey for me, we took the stadium tour, and we marveled at just how high the “Lambeau Leap” really is (where touchdown-scorers literally jump above the padding surrounding the field for a group hug with the fans).
Then we came home to Seattle, and continued to cheer for the Packers. And the Seahawks, whom my husband has loved equally ever since he moved here as a high-school student. The morning of the NFC Divisional playoffs last year, my husband presented me with a Wilson jersey. I wore it proudly for the rest of the season.
I have a feeling about what’s going to happen on Sunday — Rodgers is utterly brilliant when he’s healthy, but that calf injury could be the deciding factor.
But here’s the thing. It doesn’t matter.
Super Bowl Sunday will be relevant in my family. We’ll have a hound in that hunt. We’ve already won.
So pardon us if you see us cheering for every play, from every player. We come by it honestly: we respect them all.
Have a good game, gentlemen. Just remember to pass the Pabst and the cheese curds.
Nicole Nazzaro’s sports journalism has been published in the New York Times, Sports Illustrated and Runner’s World. She is the co-author of “Fit by Nature” (The Mountaineers, 2011) and a journalist and consultant on health and wellness issues. She writes the daily Every48 fitness inspiration blog at http://every48.wordpress.com. Her professional website is http://www.wellnessplaybook.net. She lives in Bellevue.
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