Some around the country no doubt have long thought Green Bay Packers fans would benefit from psychological analysis. But in this trying season, where one catastrophic injury has turned a Super Bowl contender into a team that needs overtime to beat the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers, we truly need help.
We’ve been spoiled for a generation, watching Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback play each week from Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. With Rodgers missing half this season with a broken collarbone, inflicted by those scurvy savages known as the Minnesota Vikings, we’re learning how the other half lives. Watching Rodgers run the offense was like listening to a virtuoso play a Stradivarius; watching his backup scramble around and throw balls out of bounds is like hearing a toddler bang on kitchen pans.
It didn’t used to matter if our defense stunk, because the two-time league MVP would make sure we outscored the opponent. It wasn’t fatal if the running game struggled, because we were best off having Rodgers throw the ball, anyway. But without their leader, the Packers have lost five of seven games. Aaron Rodgers is Michael Jordan, and the rest of the Packers are Looney Tune characters from “Space Jam.”
As the season slips away, Cheeseheads are slipping into a funk. But there’s good news: Psychological research shows Packers fans are better able to cope with stressors than most Americans. This will come as a great surprise to my wife, who spends Sunday afternoons wondering whether I suffer from Tourette’s syndrome.
A professor at St. Norbert College in DePere has studied Packers fans, and found we’re less neurotic than national norms. Michelle Schoenleber’s team studied 156 Packers fans from 23 states and found they — when compared to national data — are better at handling stress. Give all the credit to Leinenkugel’s.
This isn’t to say we’re good losers. In asking fans how they felt before and after five Packers losses in 2015, Schoenleber’s team found they felt positive before kickoffs: Happy, calm and proud. They felt somewhat anxious — with this defense, how can you not be? — but reported no anger, shame or sadness.
After losses, fan happiness, calmness and pride all dropped. The anxiety remained, and fans reported feeling angry and sad. Paging Dr. Leinenkugel.
Consider, this research was conducted when Rodgers played a full season. Green Bay went 10-6 and won a playoff game. Times were good. Imagine if the same study were undertaken today. The psychologists from St. Norbert would have to conduct their research from window ledges.
We’ve been reduced to hoping the backup quarterback can win what we hope is his final game Sunday before Rodgers makes a triumphant return and wins all of the rest. Then we just might sneak into the playoffs. It doesn’t take a St. Norbert psychologist to see it’s nuts to believe all of that will happen.
Schoenleber noted that coping is about managing negative emotions. Her study didn’t evaluate how long fans felt down after a loss, or what they did to cope. My guess is those who didn’t turn to doing 12-ounce curls took a long look in the mirror and said, “At least I’m not a Bears fan.”
She also points out that Packers fans might be effective at coping in their lives overall, even if they struggle to deal with Green Bay losses specifically. “Yes, we lost today, but the sun will come up tomorrow and I have 5-pound bag of cheese curds in the fridge. It’ll be all right.”
That’s the positive attitude Packers fans need to adopt during this slog of a season. Just because Cheeseheads refer to the Packers as “we” doesn’t mean we must tie our sense of self-worth to the outcome of each week’s game. But if we lose another game and our above-average coping skills fail us, we just might need professional help.