This, again?

Lara Regan Kleinschmidt
9 min readJan 25, 2021

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Jumbled, incomplete thoughts on football, Aaron, and loss.

We instinctively know that all things have the possibility of ending and yet — bless our hearts — we never quite see it coming. Whether or not that ending is quiet or explosive, timely or too soon, it never ever makes it any easier. When something is over, the absence of it — the “if onlys” and the “what could have beens,” — strip you raw, and knot your stomach up into a ball. You go to sleep with the thought. You wake up with the thought. And, at first, it follows you around everywhere, never loosening the grip. The only thing that helps is time. Ultimately, we are goldfish, and usually, we forget. That is, of course, until it happens again. Then we remember, we so vividly remember, and the culmination of the hurt overcomes us all at once. This, again?

This can be true of all loves and endings. And I could wax poetic about this feeling in many areas of my life; various painful endings and disappointments with family, friendships, lovers, career. But today, it’s not any of those things that are responsible for my melancholy. Today, it’s football. It’s Aaron Rodgers and my Green Bay Packers. A team I have loved since childhood. A team that is the strongest — if only — connective tissue between me and my family. A team I have studied, screamed over, cried for, flown to, embraced strangers in celebration of, and daydreamed about, endlessly. A team who, for at least the fourth time in my life, utterly broke my heart yesterday.

I know that for you, whoever is reading this, it might all seem so dramatic. Or irrelevant. Or, even, downright tone deaf for me to talk about a football team breaking my heart in the year 2021. And you’d be right. But you’d also be wrong. I want you to know that I envy the shit out of you for not caring about this. I envy your ability to invest nothing of yourself in this game, and I envy the fact that on top of all of the world’s more legitimate suffering, you don’t have to have your heart broken by this too. But above all, I simply envy the fact that you don’t place meaning in a game, that you don’t zoom out and see it as something bigger than what it is: a couple of guys out on a field, tossing around a ball. Most days, I feel sorry that you don’t see what I see. But today, that view of football sounds pretty damn good.

Unfortunately for me, I do find meaning in this game. And I do zoom out and see it as something bigger. To me, football is about a lot of things. Broadly speaking, it’s about a collective identity; it’s about the visceral experience of connecting with hundreds of thousands of strangers over a shared obsession. Or, in my case, having something to talk to my dad about. It’s about the ability to recognize yourself — or recognize a shared understanding of something important — in someone, merely because you root for the same team on Sundays. Oh, he likes the Packers? That guy’s okay. It feels like a well kept open secret. We know something those other fans don’t. It’s also about the art of discipline, momentum, perseverance, dedication, and athleticism. It’s about distraction, and history, and community, and, sometimes, it’s even about fun. But for me, the most compelling thing about the game of football, is that it is about hope. Because when you’re paying attention, and you understand the narrative, it either has the potential to be pure magic, or the potential to be earth-shattering. Talk about high stakes.

Of course, I’m writing this today, so truly and utterly gutted over what transpired at Lambeau yesterday, because I understand that narrative all too well.

I’d been tense all week. This would be Rodger’s 5th appearance in the NFC Championship. I attended the only one he ever won, against the Bears in January of 2011. He won the Super Bowl two weeks later. But since then, there has been crushing playoff loss after crushing playoff loss. The one that sticks out in my memory is the NFC Championship game against Seattle back in 2015, during the 2014 season. Brandon Bostick and the botched onside kick. Today, as I was emo-reading Twitter, I came across some tweets that summed that loss up: it forever changed the way I watched football. It scarred me. It made me bitterly aware that what should happen doesn’t always happen. I watched it on a plane, and sobbed my way through the final two minutes. For weeks afterwards, I woke up with the kind of pain in my chest that one experiences in the early weeks of a break-up. It felt like something had died. And, indeed, it had; the hope I was talking about above. The story coming to an abrupt end.

And so all of last week, I held my breath. An NFC Championship loss is scary because an NFC Championship loss is brutal. No pomp. No circumstance. So close to greatness you can taste it. And then, poof. All that momentum. All that speculation. For nothing. I’ve lived through it before, a number of times.

I texted everyone that I couldn’t emotionally withstand another crushing NFC Championship loss. I’m not stupid and Tom Brady is scary. We’d already lost to him once this year.

Don’t worry, they told me, this year is different.

And it really was. We had the MVP. The defense had come together in December. We had the greatest red zone offense in league history (read that sentence again). This year was different.

I exhaled.

There’s that hope again. It’ll get you every time.

On Sunday afternoon, I left the TV room after the first play of the second half. I feared the inevitable outcome. I remembered, vividly, the losses of years past. This time was supposed to be different. I could not watch it happen in real time. Instead, I obsessively refreshed the score on Google from my dark bedroom. I begged various group chats to text me only if it was good news, and to please, for the love of god, say nothing if it was bad.

Brady intercepted!

Intercepted again!

Three times!

And then silence.

Imagine this; you are, by nearly every statistic imaginable, the best at what you do. But there is only one measure by which you will be broadly remembered, one measure by which your entire legacy will be defined, and in that one particular category, you have underperformed. And now imagine that the reason you have underperformed is not because you blew it —yes, sure, you did, sometimes, but more often than not it was not always exclusively on you — but because there has been institutional failure for a decade, wasting your god given ability and setting you up for near certain defeat. Imagine that year after year, people alternate between praising you and doubting you; endless speculation about the actual extent of your talent, always narrowly defined by this one specific measure. Imagine that the organization meant to support you, instead brings in your replacement, a sobering reminder that your days are numbered.

Now imagine that you shoulder all of that, you let it embolden you, organizing your mentality around it, dedicating your entire being to the pursuit of proving them all wrong. After years and years of finessing, your commitment culminates in stunning run of performing at the highest level you‘ve ever reached. Setting new records. Mystifying opponents. Silencing any naysayers. And then, there you are, you are standing on the precipice of greatness, with minutes left to go, and instead of trusting you to get the job done — you, the best at what you do — they don’t give you the shot. They take the opportunity away from you. You don’t get another try. Then, abruptly, it’s over. The end. Can you imagine what that does to a person?

But, as they say, “any given Sunday.” And, of course, no one moment ever completely defines a game. By the time LaFleur opted to kick the field goal (you know the one) instead of allowing Aaron to go for it on the 4th down, so many atrociously bad things had happened. I’ll leave the analyzing of these details to those who are both better equipped and better comforted by the act of doing so. I won’t talk here about failing to execute on 3 turnovers, or allowing a touchdown in the final six seconds of the first half. But it’s the moment that will stick with me. And it’s worth noting the metaphor; in what was likely the final opportunity for Aaron Rodgers to define his legacy, the Green Bay Packers didn’t trust him. Many will disagree, they’ll make the claim I’m over simplifying, that there were three-time outs, a 2-minute warning, that the analytics indicated that it was the right thing to do. Nevertheless, it is symbolic, it’s the story of his life, the story of his career. The best who ever did it, who never really got the chance to be the best who ever did it.

So why do I care? I care because time on this earth is precious and fleeting and dumb, and it matters what we care about, even if it’s a football team in a tiny town in the middle of Wisconsin. I care because I do not take the greatness of people like Aaron Rodgers for granted, and I understand that it is very likely that he will be the best QB to start for the Packers in my lifetime. I care because I love watching him play football, and so too does anyone who delights in watching the game. I care about talent. I care about hard work. I care that the good guys are supposed to finish first. And, damnit, I care about the narrative. I care that this might be how the story ends. In truth and in fact, my life doesn’t change at all because the Packers don’t advance to the Super Bowl. But Aaron’s does. What a sad, sad story indeed.

I also care about the story that will eventually be told. What will ultimately be remembered? I can take a guess. And it’s not the Super Bowl ring, or the multiple MVPs, the record smashing or the breathtaking hail marys…Certainly not when you exist at the same time as Tom Brady. A figure so dominating that the extent of your achievements look microscopic in comparison, even if they aren’t.

It’s all so random, and that’s sad too. I’ve pointed fingers in the above, but really, who can say definitively what moments lost them that game, or why it was that they imploded, or why they kicked the field goal. But with every passing playoff loss, it becomes increasingly unlikely that Aaron Rodgers ever plays in another Super Bowl. Football is all about momentum, and I am not sure that even he can bounce back from a gut punch like this one. He really thought this was his year. So did we. Plus, exceptional teams require a certain je ne sais quoi between teammates, and this team will look different next year. He even said himself, in the post-game press conference, that his future with the Packers is uncertain.

I couldn’t sleep last night. Was it a goodbye? Was that the last time I would see Aaron play as a Green Bay Packer? Of course, emotions were high. Maybe he didn’t mean it like it sounded. Though, if he did, could I blame him?

But then again….“Maybe next year, maybe next year, maybe next year.” What a maddening platitude, even for the hopeful.

I think a lot about the plaque that greets the Packers as they run through the tunnel and out onto Lambeau Field. “Proud generations of Green Bay Packers Players, World Champions a record 13 times, have run over this concrete to Greatness.” I really love the Packers. And I love them all the more because I love Aaron Rodgers. If this is the end, the story I will tell will be about the privilege of watching someone like him play the game that I love so much. How he made it come alive for me. The truth is, while I was born into this fandom, it’s watching Aaron Rodgers that made a Packer Backer out of me.

I know myself. Come September, I’ll have a new ridiculous, stupid, short-sighted, deranged hope. And I’ll scream and shout when we beat the Bears (who still suck, for what it’s worth). And I’ll cry tears of joy if we win the NFC North, advancing to the playoffs, for another round of this, knowing full well it will either be magic, or heartbreak. I will never, ever learn. Go Pack Go.

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