Last week, when Pastor Walter Mitty talked to Matt and Brian, his two nephews in Manitowoc, it sounded like the whole state of Wisconsin was going through the five stages of grief after the 49ers beat their beloved Packers in the snow and cold at Lambeau Field.
And some of those cheeseheads even seemed to be stuck in the stage called denial. It sounded to Mitty like a lot of the folks back home couldn’t shake the belief that the Pack would somehow be playing again the next Sunday.
Meanwhile the buzz around Poplar Park was about Ryan Poles. Stealing him from the Kansas City Chiefs to be the Bears’ new GM was giving the Bears nation hope for next year. He, after all, was the one who drafted Mahomes. Maybe, just maybe he would be the savior we’ve been waiting for.
One of the problems with football fans in the Windy City, at least for those 45 years old and up, was that they remember 1986 like it was yesterday. Talk about dominating! Sweetness, the Fridge, Mike Singletary, the Superbowl Shuffle.
What the Bears need in 2022, everyone was saying, is a general manager who would finally get some good players. They still have not forgiven Ryan Pace for drafting Mitch Trubisky instead of Patrick Mahomes (evidently, all Bear GMs are named Ryan).
Then last Sunday, the conversation at coffee hour shifted to speculation about who was going to win the Super Bowl, the Cincinnati Bengals or the Los Angeles Rams.
Dorothy Aschenbrenner tried to show some interest in the conversation but finally gave up, walked over to Mitty who was enjoying a brownie and lamented, “Pastor, you gave a really good sermon, but instead of discussing that, all the men want to talk about is football.”
Growing up 40 miles from Green Bay, Mitty was, of course, a Packer fan, and once they were eliminated he lost interest in football until next fall. So all he said in reply was, “Yeah, Dorothy. I hear you.”
But the octogenarian wasn’t finished. “I mean, Russia is getting ready to invade Ukraine, millions of children are facing hunger in Afghanistan and Yemen, and their blood pressure is going up arguing about who will win a football game.”
Dorothy paused and added, “By the way, Pastor, what is FanDuel?”
On Monday, Mitty and his neighbor Michael decided to get together for coffee in the parsonage. They didn’t want to go out to a coffee shop because of COVID and were tired of talking on the phone.
“Good coffee, Walt.”
“Yeah, I like it. It’s from Sumatra. Fair trade of course.”
After agreeing they were grateful that the temperature outside had warmed a bit, Mitty told his good friend what everyone was talking about the day before after the service.
“I have to admit,” said Michael, “my interest in football has gone down since the Bears have been mediocre for so long. My philosophy is that if you keep your expectations low, you won’t be disappointed.”
Pastor Walt nodded and said, “Michael, do you remember when we were in Bernie’s book store a few months ago when COVID seemed to be letting up and we got onto the subject of football?”
“I do, and he was comparing America’s love of football — or did he call it an obsession — with the gladiators back in ancient Rome.”
“And if I remember correctly,” Mitty continued, “Bernie told us that way back then the Roman emperors promoted gladiator fights to the death and ‘bread and circuses’ as ways of distracting the populace from the real problems in their society.”
The two friends batted around why football fans are so passionate about the game. “Like I don’t understand,” said Michael, “why 80,000 fans would sit in a snowstorm and zero-degree temperatures for three hours to watch grown men play a game.”
The conversation then shifted to the salaries pro football players make. Mitty noted that Aaron Rodgers was making $33 million a year.
“Hey,” said Michael with a smirk, “the guy has to put food on the table.”
“And I read somewhere,” Mitty added, “that the lowest paid player makes something like $165,600 for a whole season.”
He did the math in his head. “Michael, it would take me only about two and a half years to make that much here at the church. And my body wouldn’t get destroyed in the process.
Which made Michael laugh.
“I just imagined you playing linebacker for the Bears and after the very first play being carted off the field and on the way to the hospital.”
“You know, Michael,” said Mitty shaking his head at the thought of every bone in his body being broken, “professional football is survival of the fittest to the max.”
The two friends drank their coffee as they pondered.
“But, Walt,” Michael said, breaking the silence, “isn’t that what life is like? Survival of the fittest? I read that right now 70% of the wealth in this country is owned by millionaires and billionaires.”
“You have to have money to make money, right my friend?”
“I watched a documentary a month or so ago,” said Michael, “by Henry Louis Gates about how things have changed for Black folks since the civil rights legislation was passed in 1964.”
“And what was the conclusion?”
Michael sighed. “He said that for the top half of the Black population, life is a lot better.”
“And for the bottom half?”
“Nothing has changed.”
As his neighbor was putting his coat on to go back home, Pastor Walt said, “Michael, I just came to a profound conclusion. I don’t think God cares who wins the Super Bowl.”