Commentary

Why Green Bay is 'America's Team'

Owned by fans and beloved by many, the Packers have plenty of history on their side

Originally Published: January 30, 2011
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

Donald LeeJeff Hanisch/US PresswireIt's no leap to say the Packers have the most rabid fans in the NFL.
Remember the movie, "Working Girl?" Vintage Melanie Griffith in all her vacuum-cleaning, high-heeled glory?

Anyway, Griffith's Tess McGill resorts to identity theft to climb the corporate ladder. She junks her Staten Island accent, borrows her injured boss' Chanel outfits and helps engineer a huge radio network acquisition. But her best friend warns her: "Sometimes I sing and dance around the living room in my underwear. Doesn't make me Madonna. Never will."

That's how I feel about the Dallas Cowboys. They can sing and dance around their $1.2 billion stadium all they want, but it doesn't make them "America's Team." Never will.

And while I have a very soft spot for the Pittsburgh Steelers, they're not "America's Team," either. They're not even Pennsylvania's team.

No, it's the Green Bay Packers. Has to be. And this just isn't me talking. Someone once asked the late, great NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle to name the best football city in the country. Rozelle didn't hesitate.

"Green Bay," he said. "A small town. People owning their own football team. Rabid supporters."

Exactly. The Packers are the only publicly owned major sports franchise in the country. No dividends are issued on the 4,750,937 shares held by the 112,158 shareholders. Instead, these people invest in the Packers out of football love, not profit. How American is that?

They bailed the franchise out in 1923, 1935, 1950 and 1997. They pepper the team president and team general manager with questions, good ones, at the annual shareholders meeting. NFL commish Roger Goodell attended last July's event -- and got Q-and-A'd into submission by the football-savvy Packers owners.

And, by the way, shareholders vote for the team's board of directors. Nothing against Steelers fans, but Packers followers do more than wave Terrible Towels. They influence team policy.

Curly Lambeau and George Calhoun established the Packers' franchise in 1919. That's 14 years before Art Rooney Sr. purchased the then-named Pittsburgh Pirates. That's 23 years before Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was even born and 33 years before the Dallas Texans became the last NFL franchise to fail.

Sorry, "America's Team" isn't supposed to fold.

So the Packers have history on their side. First publicly owned NFL franchise. First NFL franchise to hire a gap-toothed Vince Lombardi as its head coach. First team to win the Super Bowl. First team to win two Super Bowls in a row. First team to have a Broadway play about its head coach. First team to make "frozen tundra" part of the football lexicon.

The Packers are the ultimate American success story. They survived and now prosper in the smallest city in the league. They've won 12 NFL championships. Hmmm. Maybe that's why it's called the Lombardi Trophy, not the Jones or Rooney.

Don't get me wrong. The Steelers and Cowboys have formidable trophy cases, too. But it took the Steelers 41 years to win their first championship. And the Cowboys franchise was still in diapers when Lombardi was beating the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl I.

Ever been to Lambeau Field? It's the Fenway Park of the NFL. It's perfect. It's also unpretentious.

At JerryWorld you get The Art At Cowboys Stadium, including such exquisite pieces as "Unexpected Variable Configuration: A Work in Situ." At Lambeau, you get a hot brat, a cold beer and a chorus of "Go, Pack, Go" while smooshed next to some guy wearing a cheesehead and orange hunting overalls. You tell me what sounds like more fun.

The most-watched show in the 2009 fall TV season was a Packers game. The second-most-watched show in cable history is a Packers game. Five of the top 20 most-watched shows in the fall of 2010 were Packers games.

The real "America's Team" doesn't have professional cheerleaders or a domed stadium. (And to the Rooney family's credit, neither do the Steelers.) You go to a Packers game and you feel like you're at Army-Navy, Bama-Auburn, OU-Texas.

I don't care how much merchandise they sell or how big their stadium is, the Cowboys aren't "America's Team." How can you be "America's Team" when just as many people are rooting against you as they are for you?

Plus, the Cowboys aren't football relevant anymore. In the past 15 years they've won exactly two playoff games and appeared in zero NFC Championship Games. Compare that to the Steelers over the same period (14 wins, two Super Bowl wins, three conference titles) and the Packers (12 wins, one Super Bowl win, three conference titles).

The Packers and Steelers are built for success. The Cowboys are built for melodrama and coaching turnover. And as it turns out, JerryWorld was built so the Packers and Steelers could play Super Bowl XLV there.

So on behalf of the Packers, thank you, Jerry.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.

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