I’ve often said of my father than he’s a fan of the Green Bay Packers the same way he’s a Methodist—not flashy, not demonstrative, but in the pew every Sunday. And when I was a kid, sports fandom was acquired in the same way religious affiliation was acquired—it was a family thing. And so we’d hustle home from the Methodist church on autumn Sundays at noon to attend services of a different sort, from Lambeau Field or Soldier Field (or Wrigley Field) or wherever they might be taking place.
My first season of full-scale Packer fandom was 1969, the first second year of the post-Lombardi era, when the team retained a few names from the glory years of the 1960s, but the results weren’t the same. Throughout the 1970s, the teams were generally mediocre, but there was never a question of abandoning them to root for another. And I’m guessing that most other fans of mediocre teams in those years felt the same way. Today, the ubiquity of televised games make it possible for anyone anywhere to root for a winner (which explains the proliferation of Yankees, Red Sox, and Duke basketball fans across the country). Not so back then. We had our teams, and we watched them, even on their bad days, even when bad days were many.
At 3:00, the second game of the day kicked off. Then as now, the late game usually involved two of the better teams in the league. In the 1970s, that was generally the Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers, or Oakland Raiders. Thinking back on those games, the image that returns is of late autumn, when it starts getting dark just after 4:00 in Wisconsin, the darkness falling over the house I grew up in, the TV glowing with sunlight from a game in Oakland or Denver or San Diego. I have written before of the way I remember that house as an oasis of light in the darkness, and this memory is another example.
We grow up, we move away from home, we live in new places, we acquire new rituals. The Sunday doubleheader game isn’t what it used to be. (For one thing, it’s no longer the last game of the day since the dubious innovation of the nationally televised Sunday night game, and for another it sometimes features the Packers, as it will this coming Sunday, as it rarely did back then.) But an autumn Sunday rarely passes that I don’t think about how I used to watch the games.
Recommended, If You Dare: At Kliph Nesteroff’s Classic Television Showbiz, check out The Paul Lynde Halloween Special, broadcast October 29, 1976. It stars Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz), Betty White, Florence Henderson, Tim Conway, Donny and Marie Osmond, and KISS. In the fourth segment of the show, they lip-synch their then-current hit, “Beth” and “King of the Nighttime World,” which is appropriately bad-ass, complete with Gene spitting fire. KISS also performed “Detroit Rock City,” but it’s been edited from the YouTube version—KISS enters at the end of segment three, but that’s all we see. (A separate video of the performance exists at YouTube, but the audio has been removed.) The excruciating finale, featuring Lynde’s vocal on “Disco Lady,” is indescribable 70s kitsch. That’s actually an apt description of the whole show, which is available on DVD nevertheless. How did KISS ever remain cool after this? (Much more about the show and the DVD is here.)