Brett Favre, my wife and Lima, Peru
Finding a place that showed the Packer games was always a struggle when I lived in Lima, Peru. The Corner Sports bar on Larco Ave. had a feed, but the owners didn’t understand football. For some reason, they could only show three games at a time, and they were as likely to chose Cleveland/Detroit as anything anyone would actually want to watch. Furthermore, they’d deny they had the ability to change the channel, even when you started breaking things.
In 2006 the Packers had a new coach and I had a new girlfriend. Mike McCarthy would go on to lead the Packers to a Super Bowl title, and I would go on to marry Azucena. But before either of those major events, there were, of course, some rough patches.
It’s always difficult to teach a person how to enjoy football. The rules are quite complicated, and no matter how many napkins or peanut husks you arrange in easy-to-comprehend formations, you always receive nothing but a befuddled look for your efforts. In the end, I just assured Azucena that there was only one thing she had to know.
“Just watch that guy, number 4, Brett Favre. He’s the greatest player in the history of the NFL.”
We ordered beer, the game began. Four hours passed. The game clock hit zero with the Packers failing to score a point for the first time in Favre’s illustrious career.
“Zero,” Azucena said with contempt, “I guess that Favre guy’s terrible. He’s too old, he should retire.”
This led to a fight of course.
A couple days, or maybe weeks, later we’d patched things up and McCarthy/Favre went on to lead the 2006 Packers to an 8-8 record. However, Azucena’s enduring memory of Brett Favre was the first fight that, in her mind, he provoked. She never forgave him. So, when the Packer/Favre divorce happened a few years later, Azucena was delighted. She was the first Packer fan to fully embrace Aaron Rodgers as the new starting QB, and referred to Favre only as “the traitor.”
In 2009 Azucena and I moved back to Wisconsin, and one of the first things I did was get tickets to a game in Lambeau. I thought watching a game in Green Bay would help my wife more fully understand my love of all things Packer related. By then, Brett Favre had moved on to the Minnesota Vikings, and what more historic game was there on the schedule than the meeting which would bring Brett Favre to Lambeau as a member of the visiting team?
We made the drive from Chippewa Falls to Green Bay and knew we were approaching Packer country when all the radio stations started broadcasting polka music. We found a place to park our car in the 1950s neighborhood that surrounds Lambeau field, and made our way to the stadium.
In the parking lot, Bridgestone had set up a display and were awarding footballs to anyone who could throw a ball through a tire. Azucena convinced them to allow her to throw from closer than the indicated range, and delightedly claimed her prize when her toss went through. A few minutes later, we saw Lynn Dickey sitting at a booth signing autographs.
“Let’s get that football signed,” I said.
We handed the ball to Dickey. “What’s your name?” he asked.
Azucena started to spell her name, but with her accent the “z” sounded like a “c” to Lynn and he ended up writing Acucena. Azucena pointed out the error.
“Oh, that can be fixed,” Dickey said, and he changed the “c” to a “z.” But Azucena wasn’t satisfied.
“Can I have the marker?” she said. Dickey handed the marker to her with a confused look, only to watch her cross the “z.”
Dickey laughed, “You’re such a chick.”
We took our newly signed football and entered the hallowed halls of Lambeau. At our first look at the field, Azucena stopped and stared.
“Impressive isn’t it?” I asked.
“Yes,” Azucena said. She gestured at the people sitting in the row in front of us. “There are Packer fans sitting next to Viking fans.”
“So?” I asked.
“In South America, they don’t let fans of opposing teams sit next to each other.” She seemed utterly shocked.
“Oh,” I said, “Um, do you want a beer?”
“They serve beer?” she was again surprised and delighted.
“In South America, they don’t serve beer at games,” she explained.
“Oh,” I said, and then wandered off to buy a couple of beers.
When I returned, I had to ask more about sports spectating in South America. “Why don’t they let fans from opposing teams mingle?”
“People get killed at soccer games,” she said, drinking her beer. “There was an incident a couple years ago where a referee stabbed a player.”
“Stabbed?” I asked, “what happened to the player?”
“He died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital,” Azucena replied.
“What happened to the ref?”
“He was decapitated,” Azucena answered.
“What! By who?”
“The fans,” Azucena said, “When they saw him stab the player, the fans rushed the field and decapitated the ref. They left his head on a stake next to the goal.”
“What did they decapitate him with?” I asked, shocked.
“Their bare hands,” Azucena said.
I had no response for this.
“That was a minor league game in Brazil, things get really ugly in the big league games.”
I drank my beer.
Favre took the field and the crowd erupted in an enormous, “Boo!”
The game began. It was a nice November day, so I wasn’t too concerned about the cold ruining Azucena’s first trip to Lambeau. The Packers were a little flat in the first half, but they came roaring back in the second with enough ferocity to make it exciting, but not quite enough to get the win. But still, it was a glorious experience, and we left the stadium content.
The Packers would go on to the playoffs where they’d eventually lose in overtime to the Arizona Cardinals 51-45. A year later, the Packers would win the Super Bowl. I screamed so loud during Nick Collins’ INT return for a TD that I terrified our newborn baby daughter.
Mortified, I spent the rest of the Super Bowl screaming into a pillow. Azucena wore her Aaron Rodgers jersey proudly to work the next day. I wasn’t allowed to wear mine because I was student-teaching at the time and my “mentor” teacher was a Viking fan.
Still, my enduring memory of Lambeau with my wife was listening in on the phone call she made home after the game.
“I was impressed by how civilized they are, they let the fans of both teams sit right next to each other, can you believe it?”
The trip worked, and my wife now fully embraces the ritual of being a fan of the Green Bay Packers.
She still doesn’t like Brett Favre, though.
Walter Rhein is the author of “Reckless Traveler,” a novel about living as an ex-pat in Lima, Peru, for 10 years. Read more about it at www.IncaExpat.com.