Alongside Matteo, a friend of mine, about two months ago I started the first ever Packers podcast in Italian.
I know what you’re thinking: “Wait, what?”.
Well, let me start from the beginning.
Italians do love football, just not the one played with pads and helmets. Soccer pretty much dominates newspapers headlines, tv coverage, sports talk on the radio. To the point that on newspapers you’ll find a clear distinction between soccer pages and “other sports” pages.
Finding out about the very existence of those “other sports” takes time and a little bit of luck then.
Of course we know there’s this strange game played with helmets and pads, and we know americans are crazy about it. We see it in movies or tv-series, we even hear about it in the news once a year when this game with superstars performing at half-time is played. We pay little attention, then simply go on with our lives and forget all about it.
At least that’s what most people do.
Then, there’s a handful of pioneers who, for various reasons, LOVE american football, stay up all night watching late games, and even save money for a whole year to go on a yearly pilgrimage to Lambeau Field.
For me, it all started back in 2000. I was still in high-school, and I was looking for a new videogame for my brand-new PS2. Searching through the shelves of the store, I found this strange sports game by EA Sports (publisher of popular FIFA Soccer game, of course). It had amazing graphics and by looking at the screenshots in the back cover I noticed the game was played with a ball resembling the one used in a sport that was growing in popularity in Italy at the time, rugby. I bought the game and brought it home thinking it was rugby. That game was Madden NFL 2001.
Once I started playing I realized that a. it wasn’t rugby and b. I didn’t have a clue on how to actually play the game. What struck me at the time was that there were very few teams to choose from, too. In FIFA you could choose between dozens of leagues and hundreds of teams, meanwhile in Madden there were just a handful of teams.
Sorting through those few teams, I noticed this beautiful Green & Gold jersey belonging to a team coming from a place with such a fascinating name, Green Bay. I started playing with that team, and never looked back.
Of course I didn’t know anything about the Packers and their amazing history at the time, and the internet was slow and lame back then so I couldn’t search for news or videos.
What I knew was that I loved their uniforms, and playing exibition games over and over again I was actually even starting to like the game itself. So much that I thought to myself: “Boy, it would be cool to play this game for real”.
Then, the unthinkable happened: I found out there was an american football team, an actual team with actual people, about 35 miles from where I lived. I contacted the coach (a Seahawks fan, can you believe it?!) and he invited me at practice for a try-out. Being overweight at the time, I ended up on the O-Line, of course. The team had and Under 20 Team for the youngsters, and a Senior Team for everyone else. We practiced at night, two or three times a week.
Talking to coaches and older teammates, I found out that football was actually a big deal in Italy back in the Eighties. It’s not clear how it arrived here in the first place, and why it almost disappeared after a decade in which up to 20,000 people showed up in the stands during an “Italian Super Bowl”. At the time I was playing, there were few teams and far apart from each other, with few young players, many aging veterans and just friends and relatives in the stands watching the games come Sundays. The game was basically surviving thanks to those first pioneers, their children and friends of their children.
I played, poorly I might add, for a couple of years, then an injury and the start of college ended my playing career. What didn’t end was the love for the game and for that team with Green & Gold uniforms.
Once the internet took off, I was finally able to find out more about the amazing history of the Packers. I bought some books, got my first Packers jersey – with a 4 on the back, needless to say – and even started following live games thanks to means the NFL itself wouldn’t have approved of.
Now those times are over, and thanks to the internet everything is just a click away. Rosters, stats, videos, radio shows, podcasts, analysis. Everything can be easily found and shared, and even fans living in God-forgotten places can be up to date with the latest player Ted Thompson brings in for a try-out (speaking of which, what about that empty spot on the 90-man roster?!).
Thanks to Facebook, last year I even found out that I’m not the only die-hard Packers fan in Italy. There’s plenty of us here! We became friends, we suffered during that mind-blowing loss in Seattle, we even gathered to play flag football togheter.
So, going back to where I started: Matteo and I have a Packers podcast in italian. Does it still sound so crazy?
Editor’s Note: Sal Ioppolo and Matteo Rubinato are the creators of the first know Packers podcast in Italian. However, they also speak pretty good English and have interviewd several media members in English language interviews. Check them out at the Italian Packers Fans Network.——————