Essay — From the January 2017 issue

The Lords of Lambeau

On family, fate, and Packers football

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We’re somewhere around Wautoma, in central Wisconsin, when it starts to take hold: my father and I are finally going to a Green Bay Packers game. It’s the morning after the third presidential debate. make america great again signs stand in front of houses that could fit comfortably inside a two-bedroom unit at Trump Tower. The very pinewoods and cornfields seem to declare their allegiance to the G.O.P. ticket. The only signs for Hillary suggest that she should be in prison. One shocks us with its crudity: trump that bitch. But we laugh, thinking how a simple comma would change its meaning entirely.

Photographs of the football game between the Green Bay Packers and the Indianapolis Colts, and fans outside Lambeau Field, November 6, 2016, Green Bay, Wisconsin, by Balazs Gardi

Photographs of the football game between the Green Bay Packers and the Indianapolis Colts, and fans outside Lambeau Field, November 6, 2016, Green Bay, Wisconsin, by Balazs Gardi

More significant to us this morning, however, are other signs, which tell us that we’re nearing Lambeau Field, long a kind of secular Mecca for my family. In Lodi, where we stop for coffee, the flattened G of the team’s logo hangs among the unlit neon signs in a liquor-store window. A bulging leaf bag designed to look like a Packers helmet sits in the middle of a raked yard. The guy stocking shelves at Walgreens is wearing a Jermichael Finley jersey — never mind that Finley hasn’t played since suffering a bruised spinal cord on this exact date three years ago. Back in the car, passing the exit for Portage, I get the sense that even the prisoners in Columbia Correctional Institution, where Jeffrey Dahmer was incarcerated, will be watching the game tonight.

When we pass an Amish farmer in a horse-drawn cart on the highway shoulder, I say, “I bet he’s the only person we’ve seen who won’t be watching the game.”

“That’s why I could never be Amish,” my father says.

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is the author of Almanac: Poems (Princeton University Press) and is currently a Jones Lecturer in Fiction at Stanford University. His short story “Leap Day” appeared in the August 2015 issue of Harper’s Magazine.

More from Austin Smith:

Story From the August 2015 issue

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