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Green Bay Packers: Success or Shambles, No Such Thing as Fair-Weather Cheesehead

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Green Bay Packers: Success or Shambles, No Such Thing as Fair-Weather Cheesehead
Matt Ludtke/Getty Images

Clichés are part of life when talking about the Green Bay Packers. It's the smallest market in the NFL by a mile, yet the team has one of the most active and enthusiastic fanbases in sports.

Don't believe me? Try to get season tickets and see if you live long enough for your grandchildren to get off the waiting list.

As a result, sportswriters and broadcasters love to talk about Small Town, U.S.A. also being Titletown, U.S.A.

Recently, one of the writers for one of my favorite websites, thebiglead.com, wrote an article about fair-weather fandom and took a shot (sort of) at this Norman Rockwell aura. In that article, writer Jason Lisk notes:

Green Bay is one of the most popular teams, right? Well, they have also been one of the winningest teams consistently over the last 19 years (2 losing seasons in that span). From 1992-1996, they consistently polled as the favorite team for only 2-3% of fans. So that’s right, in their one Super Bowl year prior to this one, they were not really popular until after they won it. The next year, they shot up to 13% and stayed near 10% or above for a while. Then, when they actually had a losing season in 2005, the numbers were cut in half. They just rebounded last year and will likely shoot up again

- "Lots of Fair Weather NFL Fans Out There"

There appears to be nothing wrong with the statistical breakdown of the data; however, the conclusions he draws are somewhat specious.

Intuitively, it makes perfect sense that winning is tied to fan support, and the numbers bear that out. Indianapolis, for example, was ranked 27th in the poll in 1999. The year prior, the Colts went 3-13.

Since 2005, the Colts have been in the top 10 every year and were second after each of their two appearances in the Super Bowl.

Win, and you'll have more fans. Duh. 

The Packers, however, seem to be a much different case. From 2002-05, the Packers were either first or tied for first in the Harris Poll . As you might expect, Green Bay went to the playoffs from 2001-04, winning the division all but one year.

On the other hand, the Packers didn't win a single second-round game over that same time period.

In contrast, the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl in 2009 and were second the following season. In 2008, the New York Giants beat New England to win the championship, and their ranking actually went from seventh to eighth.

Likewise, the aforementioned Colts won in 2007 and were just fifth the following season. 

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So what do all of those numbers mean? In relation to what Jason Lisk is saying, yes, the Packers have enjoyed peaks when they've won a lot and relative valleys when they haven't, but since 1998 the Packers have ranked no lower than sixth.

Over that same time period, Green Bay has had two 8-8 seasons, a dismal 4-12 season and a post-Brett Favre 6-10 season.

Fair-weather fandom is Oakland going from No. 3 in 2003 to No. 21 in 2009 or Tampa hopping from No. 18 to No. 4 after winning the Super Bowl and then falling to No. 17 the following year.

I would argue that any drop or increase in Packer fans is due to non-local fanbases, and those fans are rarely the types we intuitively include in a discussion about fans (for instance, critics say the Miami Heat have bad fans because they don't sell out arenas and don't draw big local television numbers).

In fact, the numbers prove the Packers enjoy the broadest fanbase in the NFL.

Look at Dallas, which, like Green Bay, consistently ranks in the top spots despite not enjoying overwhelming success over the last decade.

Now remember that 104,057 people live in Green Bay.

The city of Dallas has approximately 1.2 million people, more than 10 times the population of Green Bay.

Harris Interactive, who conducted this survey, polled 2,620 people in 2010 when conducting this survey. Only about half of those people said they follow football, and that is the pool from which Harris derived these fan figures.

That means only about 1,300 people were used to conduct this survey. When you're looking at a sample size that small where those random people are 10 times more likely to have previously lived or currently live in Dallas than Green Bay, it is somewhat staggering to see the Packers at No. 3 no matter how much winning they're doing.

Expanding those numbers to the metropolitan area creates an even greater disparity.

New Orleans, the fifth-ranked team in the 2010 poll (after winning the Super Bowl, mind you), has a metropolitan area four times larger than Green Bay.

Pittsburgh, which had won two Super Bowls in the past five seasons, has a metro area almost eight times as large as Green Bay yet ranks behind the Packers.

Indy, fresh off its Super Bowl defeat and ranked second, has a metropolitan area six times larger.

Dallas-Fort Worth, though, represents by far the biggest challenge in the top five with a population in the metro area more than 20 times that of Green Bay.

More people live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area than in the entire state of Wisconsin.

Matt Ludtke/Getty Images
The streets of Green Bay are mobbed on a Sunday before a game, even in the dead of winter

In order to be even close to cities that size and for so long, the Packer fanbase has to be both broad and loyal.

Fans in Green Bay, in Milwaukee, in Madison and all over Wisconsin don't change their loyalties based on a few wins. Cheeseheads are the most ferociously passionate fans in football.

To that point, in 2005, the Packers were just 3-12 heading into a final game against the eventual Super Bowl representative Seattle Seahawks

It was freezing cold that January Sunday, yet the game drew a sellout at Lambeau Field.

Green Bay won 23-17, and fans stayed through arctic temperatures for the entire game to watch a team playing for a draft spot, not a playoff spot.

In 1999, the Packers were 7-8 and coming off three straight losses under new head coach Ray Rhodes heading into the final weekend.

Driving rain and snow mix would have kept a lesser fanbase on the couch. Green Bay's roster was nothing like the near-dynasty teams from the mid '90s, yet that game against a terrible Cardinals team drew a raucous crowd, and the Pack won 49-24.

Ask any Packer player or fan, and they'll tell you that the Green Bay Packers have the best fans in the world. Go to a game and you'll feel it.

Look at the numbers—they'll prove it.

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