When it comes to watching football, schadenfreude is as welcome on Saturdays and Sundays as an order of chicken wings.
The concept is the root of the best rivalries: It’s almost as much fun to see your enemies fail as it is to see your own team succeed. The Red Sox have their Yankees, the Gamecocks their Tigers, the Lakers their Celtics and vices versa. As a Green Bay Packer fan, I’ve always had plenty of things to root against: the Bears, the Vikings, healthy food.
This year, as the NFL season begins, I’ve found something new: Eli Manning.
It has little to do with his success, nor his pedigree, not even the fact that his Giants knocked my Packers out of the playoffs last year.
No, I dislike Eli Manning on principle. Because someone who looked like him wanted to fight my friend. Or something like that.
This unfortunate collision course was set into motion late one February night: My dear friend “Rudy” was visiting from out of town, so I thought I’d take him down to Savannah for some revelry. Hours into a night of drinking, dancing and walking places, we found ourselves in a bar with a foosball table, content to happily spin handles until closing time. Shortly after we claimed the table, what seemed to be the groom’s side of a wedding party walked in, all in matching blazers.
And there he was. Fresh off a Super Bowl win, the one, the only, Eli Manning. Well, probably. If you squinted.
But that was good enough. “Eli! Eli! Congratulations!” Rudy and I shouted. All we wanted was a picture. He seemed to acknowledge us, but kept walking, eventually into the bathroom.
“Do you think he just got back from Disneyland?” I asked Rudy.
“I don’t know. Isn’t that the happiest place on earth? He didn’t look THAT happy.”
We shrugged it off, and continued whatever semblance of a foosball match we were playing. The bathroom door opened, and out walked someone wearing the same blazer Eli was wearing. We had another photo op!
“Eli! Eli! Can we get a picture?”
“Congratulations! How was California?”
This Eli was not pleased. Cross, he walked over to the both of us. It was at this point that I realized this guy a) was not the original guy who looked like Eli Manning and b) looked nothing like Eli Manning. If the first one was a Fake Eli, this guy was a Fake Fake Eli.
“Say it again,” said Fake Fake Eli, advancing menacingly towards Rudy.
“What?” Rudy was puzzled. “Why are you so mad? You have TWO rings!”
Fake Fake Eli made like he was ready to tussle — I prepared for the very real possibility I might have to fight a guy who definitely wasn’t an NFL quarterback to defend Rudy’s honor — before another emblazerned peacekeeper pulled him away.
As we saw Real Fake Eli make his way to his rabble-rousing friend, who clearly had never been quite as insulted as he was being compared to a Super Bowl-winning football star, Rudy and I knew the only rational conclusion to the story: We were going to hate Eli Manning forever.
So when I sidle up to the bar every Sunday for the next four months or so, I’ll have a smile on my face. Football’s back. I’ve got my Packers. And every time Eli throws an interception, I know it’ll be deserved: Who doesn’t like Disneyland?