When I was in fourth and fifth grade, there were two questions that year that could make or break friendships and divide a classroom into a war of insults.
The first was “Backstreet boys or N’sync?” It was a very big deal which of the two bands you liked at the time, at least among my friends.
But the most important question at the time is one that I’ve noticed still affects adults as much as it affected my fourth-and-fifth-grade friends.
Any newcomer to the classroom was asked this all-important question on arrival and was then both welcomed to one side, and booed by the other side.
“Packers or Vikings?”
I’ve never actually been that much of a football fan. I can watch a good homecoming game, and enjoy that, but I’ve just always preferred soccer.
I didn’t grow up in a house where anyone really watched sports of any kind on TV, outside of the Olympics, so I just never got into football (apart from good old homecoming).
I had never heard of either team until one day, a friend asked me if I liked the Vikings or the Packers.
I didn’t even know what she was talking about.
When she explained, I told her I didn’t really follow football.
That was only the first time I’d been asked that question. I’ve heard it many times since. If you live in the area, chances are you’ve heard it too. And chances are, you have a definite opinion.
The divide between Packers and Vikings fans was deep back then. I remember loud arguments between a fairly evenly-split class. For a classroom celebration once, we had a cake that was split between half Vikings and half-Packers decorations.
But at the end of the day, regardless of football team affiliation, we all worked together on group projects, played together at recess, and had fun.
The arguments between the two groups were fun too. It was a merry competition.
I always felt a bit left out, back then, because I wasn’t a football fan.
Nor did I really watch any other sports, so any time conversation turned to sports, I was left out. I had nothing to contribute.
I tried to watch football. I’ve had friends invite me to parties to watch football games. I’ve tried to watch other sports, and though they’ve all been nice, I just haven’t gotten into them.
I went to a couple of baseball games, and they were fun, but I never started following baseball.
I attended a few football-watching parties with friends. The parties themselves were still very enjoyable. I had fun hanging with my friends, but I felt a little sorry that I had nothing to contribute to any conversation about the game that was playing on TV. My only relevant conversation was questions about some of the finer points of the game, if a call I didn’t understand was made.
In our society’s sports-driven culture, it is not easy not to be a fan of any sport. So I tried to find one I could watch.
Football, as I said, did not work for me. Tennis, and golf did not work for me. Skiing, figure skating, speed skating, wrestling, did not work for me. I just could not find a sport that I really, truly enjoyed sitting and watching.
Until last year, when I happened across a FIFA Women’s World Cup game on TV.
I found myself watching the game. I used to play Park and Rec. soccer as kid, and loved it. I understood the game, I was seriously impressed with the Women’s National Team’s skills. I found myself caring about what happened in the game.
I found myself watching, waiting through commercials, to see the end of the game.
I watched the rest of that game, despite having to stand with one hand on the bunny ears to make the TV reception come in correctly.
I was actually excited about a sport I was watching on TV.
I finally understood what my friends experienced watching the Packers or Vikings. I finally got it.
So now, at long last, when a new friend asks me that all-important question, I have an answer for them. It’s not one they’re expecting, but it’s one I like.
“Packers or Vikings?”
“U.S. Women’s Soccer Team.”