Sunday, December 25, 2005
I rose before dawn Sunday, just like I do every Christmas morning. In the kitchen, I picked up a traditional frosted cookie shaped like a silver bell. I nibbled at the edges, reached for a small plate from the cupboard, then set the cookie on it. I placed it on the living room floor next to the official, Charlie Brown subalpine fir from the Routt National Forest. The cookie served as a traditional sign that Santa Claus had visited during the night.
"Why do I still do that?" I wondered. "We don't have any true believers in the house. There are no 4-year-olds here."
Don't you agree? The true meaning of Christmas (in the secular sense) is embodied in the innocence of a child -- STOP THE COLUMN!
I was about to write another smarmy piece about the holiday spirit. That was until the Bears and the Packers kicked off in what might prove to have been the last football game Brett Favre ever pays at Lambeau Field, or possibly even the last game of his storied career.
Would Saint Brett deliver a Christmas miracle? Or would Packer fans the world over find a lump of coal in their stockings? I knew I shouldn't be watching a football game on Christmas night, but some programming genius at the Fox Network had recognized way back in June that the tilt between the Packers and their hated rivals could yield a Yuletide drama. I was sucked in.
The faithful in Green Bay had driven their reindeer sleighs to that playing field known as the Frozen Tundra, delaying their Christmas goose for a chance to visit the holy shrine. There Curly Lambeau, Vince Lombardi, Willie Davis and yes, even Ray Nitschke had attained sainthood. The long-suffering fans were wearing their giant foam cheeseheads adorned with red ribbons. Others wore traditional red and white Santa hats, and still others wore green and gold Santa hats. Before this Christmas pageant was out, they would all be crying in their egg nog.
Saint Brett always will be remembered as being among the most charismatic of all NFL quarterbacks. No one has ever played the game with more enthusiasm than Favre. He approaches every offensive series like a child who can't way to pull his stocking down from the mantle on Christmas morning. His enthusiasm produces the illusion that professional athletes play the game for the sheer joy of it. It's what all sports fans long to find under their Christmas tree -- a little bit of innocence -- and that's why even a converted Bronco fan can worship him (to a degree). However, as we've all seen during countless Monday night games, what Brett giveth, Brett can taketh away. And so it was no great surprise on Christmas night, when his saintliness gift-wrapped a package for the wrong fans.
With 4:01 left to play in the third quarter, and the Packers trailing 17-7, Favre dropped back to pass from inside his own 15-yard line and threw blindly to a Chicago Bear named Lance Briggs.
It was immediately obvious that Briggs would return the interception for a touchdown -- so obvious that he had time to prance like one of Santa's reindeer, shake his bootie and wave the pigskin at all the good little boys and girls in the stands before he ever crossed the goal line. Favre appeared stunned at his misfortune, and laying a finger aside of his nose, up the chimney he rose.
Packers' punt returner Antonio Chatman, playing the role of Rudolph, gave the faithful in Lambeau a ray of hope when he corralled a pooch kick from the Bears' special teams and raced 85 yards for a touchdown.
At last! There was joy in Titletown USA, and the deficit was trimmed to 24-14. But another of the jolly old elf's reindeer, place kicker Ryan Longwell, flubbed two wishes in the form of field goal attempts of less than 40 yards before finally connecting on one of three. Time was running out on Santa Claus.
Old Saint Brett lined up under center one more time, and with the magic of a true believer, he summoned up a miracle in the form of a 56-yard bomb to Donald Driver. With 1:20 on the stadium clock, Brett was on the Bears' 35-yard line with a chance to tie the game. Could it really happen? Could the most beloved football player in America's Dairyland pull it off?
Saint Brett was sacked on two successive plays and on the third, he yielded his fourth interception of Christmas Day. And all the fans of the green and gold were left to deal with this inescapable conclusion:
"Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. But he doesn't stop in Green Bay any longer."
And I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight, "Merry Christmas to all, and to the pigskin, hold on tight!"