Of all the great dialogue exchanges on Seinfeld, there is one often overlooked in “The Subway” episode -- which centers around all four of our heroes’ outlandish encounters on the rail. Jerry falls asleep in one of the cars, only to wake up to an overweight nudist across the aisle. Jerry’s incredulous, and the scene cuts away soon after. By the time we return, the two are locked in a debate about the Mets:
Nudist: They still have no pitching. Gooden’s a question mark. You don’t recover from those rotator cuffs so fast.
Jerry: I’m not worried about the Mets’ pitching. They got pitching. They got no hitting.
Nudist: No, they got hitting. Bonilla, Murray. They got no defense.
Jerry: Defense? Please. They need speed.
Nudist: Speed? They’ve got Coleman. They need a bullpen.
Jerry: Franco’s no good? They got no team leaders.
Nudist: They got Franco! What they need is a front office.
Jerry: But you gotta like their chances.
Nudist: I love their chances.
Jerry: If they win it this year, I’ll sit naked with you at the World Series.
Nudist: It’s a deal.
Obviously, the “joke” is that the Nudist is just like any other guy. The reason the joke "works" is because of its accuracy in depicting the polarity that can exist within, and between, sports fans. Together, Jerry and his new friend point out strengths and weaknesses within almost every branch of the Mets, never agreeing just where those strengths and weaknesses truly lie. As their compliments and misgivings accumulate, you may be thinking the Mets are a middle-of-the-road team. Lots of good, lots of bad. But then they agree the Mets could very well win the pennant.
I’d like to think Jerry’s encounter was just some sort of dream (he had been sleeping, after all), where the obese nudist was actually one side of his personality poking at the other. I entertain that idea because the obese nudist in me has come out frequently this offseason, hauling my conscious into similar roster tête-à-têtes. This is in part because I don’t know how long the Super Bowl window will remain open for my own team, the Green Bay Packers.
In my head, Green Bay is in a weird place right now, which puts me in a weirder place as a fan. They won a Super Bowl two years ago, took the division crown in the two years since and won 26 of 32 regular season games along the way. But they have about a half-dozen problem areas on their roster, which seems like a lot, while the rest of the team has really only marginally improved since that wonderyear.
And over the past two years, New York and San Francisco – two teams who seemed (at the time, at least) like more complete packages – convincingly dismissed Green Bay from the postseason. I think of Green Bay’s squeamishness to free agency and I think of the limited chances rookies have to make immediate impacts and I think of the shopping list of needs and it all makes me feel kind of icky.
What I mean by “icky” is that these thoughts – which sound suspiciously like I’m (unjustifiably) panicking about a team who’s been running wild with success – make me feel uncomfortable as someone who generally has a healthy relationship with his team. I swear I’m not one of those ungrateful bastard-fans. Please believe me.
But I’ve started to wrestle with the obese nude man inside me (that sounds weird, but hey it’s a metaphor), and like his new friend Jerry, I can’t decide what direction the team should go in. They need a tackle! Come on, Bulaga has his game figured out and we just need Sherrod to be healthy. We have no running back. Please. We always need a running back and do fine without one. We need a new middle linebacker. Hawk isn’t a playmaker. How typical of you to under-appreciate him. He’s fantastic against the run. The defensive line’s going to keep suffering without a nose tackle who can help Raji. The D-line is deeper than safety, though. They need a thumper back there.
And so on.
I'd like to think the reason I’m having these thoughts is because it’s simply the time of year when fans think about what their teams needs and doesn’t need the most. During the season, you tend to think more about standings, team health, winning third-down situations and stuff like that. I’m hoping I settle down on Sept. 8 because, after all, there’s so much to go bonkers for in Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers! Clay Matthews! B.J. Raji! Randall Cobb! (Sorta, also, kind of) Jermichael Finley! And general manager Ted Thompson has done well to keep a championship team afloat for so long. Baltimore, it seems, hardly lasted one month.
Meanwhile, Green Bay is said to be on the goal line with Rodgers about a new contract. Once the deal is completed, the Packers will have effectively locked up its two giant, marble pillars, with Matthews becoming the league’s highest paid ‘backer after signing a new contract in mid-April. Rodgers will literally strike gold like no other NFLer before him. The deal – expected to be worth between $110 and $160 million – will account for around one-sixth of the team’s total payroll, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
But then comes the worry again, as I lay emotionally bare to the harsh reality of a sports league with a hard cap. I juxtapose the success Green Bay’s system has had with young bench warmers blossoming into reliable, if not Pro Bowl-worthy, starters or role players with the length of time it might take to happen. This creates -- at least in the obese nude man inside me -- a sense of impending doom because of the required time risked to develop players to attach to the Rodgers juggernaut. Sometimes it happens quickly (Cobb, Sam Shields, Casey Hayward). Other times, it takes a few years (Desmond Bishop, Tramon Williams, T.J. Lang). I worry about whether my expectations for one, two or maybe three players to make such a leap next season will ruin the entire thing if it doesn't happen. Then I think about players split from the team, and how, as of late, Green Bay has struggled to keep up with the departed (Cullen Jenkins, Nick Collins, Scott Wells and Chad Clifton).
But then there's Aaron. Even the obese nudist in all of us can’t deny his capabilities. For fans, conversations about the Packers in the playoffs or the Super Bowl wouldn’t be possible without him. With a player like him, we know teams like the Packers can afford to have a no-name backfield and a shaky left tackle moreso than most teams, and that’s why they’re willing to dump colossal amounts of cash on him.
Which brings everything full circle. Yes, that may sound both irrational and rational at the same time. Great players give teams extra breathing room, sure, even if you don’t necessarily want to leave them hanging out to dry and doing all the work (Rodgers does have a crack team of wide receivers, but the point remains). But appreciating that these type of stars can do what we pay them to do is what makes being a fan fun.
When you have a player who can give one hell of a piggyback ride if he needs to, you become okay with the fact that Green Bay probably will not be able to fix all of its problems over the weekend or in training camp, and Rodgers’ new deal may strain cap space in the future. As long as he’s around with a fairly good supporting cast, that Super Bowl window is going to stay open.
A player like him is enough to make any fan and the obese nudist in his head to shrug their shoulders, maybe give a little smirk and conclude with, “But you gotta like their chances.”
We’ll leave it at that. Though, seriously, put some pants on.