Today, the folks over at Public Policy Polling confirmed what we’ve long suspected: the Dallas Cowboys are no longer “America’s Team”.
That title, like the Lombardi trophy, belongs to the Green Bay Packers.
Here’s a bit of data from PPP:
22% of voters say the Packers are their favorite team in the NFL to 11% for the Cowboys, 8% for the Bears, Giants, and Steelers, 7% for the Saints, 6% for the Patriots, 4% for the Redskins, and 2% for the Jets. 24% say someone else is their favorite team or that they don’t have a favorite.
…we also asked a straight up ‘horse race’ style question about whether people like the Cowboys or Packers better. The Packers come out ahead 49-28 on that one.
The Cowboys did come out first on one question in our poll: Americans’ least favorite NFL team. 22% pick the Cowboys on that front to 11% for the Bears, 8% for the Packers, 7% for the Patriots and Redskins, 6% for the Steelers, 4% for the Jets and Giants, and 1% for the Saints.
Shocking. More than one in five football fans call the Packers their favorite team; the net favorability of the Pack is through the roof (around +40%).
But what makes the Packers so lovable?
It is important to note that the market in which the Packers play (Green Bay) is by far the smallest of any NFL team. Even when Milwaukee (which is very close to Bears country) is added in, the Packers still rank near the bottom.
The rest of the teams at the top of the popularity list play mostly in massive markets: the Cowboys (4th), Bears (2nd), Giants/Jets (1st), Patriots/Redskins (Spread around the northeast). The outliers here are the Steelers, who have had a tremendous amount of success in the past decade and benefit from a number of horrible teams in Michigan and Ohio, and the Saints, who recently won a feel-good Superbowl.
The Packers are unique in that their support is spread across a broad swath of America, not concentrated in one major metropolitan area. The lack of a substantial built-in fan base means that the Packers’ massive popularity stems from something greater than regional loyalty.
It’s easy to attribute their popularity to fair-weather fandom, but it’s about a great deal more than being really really good at football. Sure, the Packers won Super Bowl XLV last year and look to be the class of the NFC again (despite a little hiccup last week), but in 2008, they finished 6-10. The Steelers, for example, have had more sustained success than the Packers over the past half decade, but enjoy far less popularity.
History is certainly on Green Bay’s side, but this too is overrated. The Packers dominated the early NFL, Vince Lombardi is a legend, but history is just as powerful an ally in Dallas, where memories of Tom Landry and championships past linger.
More recent Packer history is dominated by Brett Favre, whose invocation today draws far more irritated groans than fond memories from NFL fans.
In the end, the Packers are popular because they’re the most dignified of professional football teams.
You won’t find any Rex Ryans, Chad Ochocincos, or Ben Roethlisbergers in Green Bay. The most polarizing guy in Green Bay is… Mike McCarthy (follow this link and wait for the end).
The Packers collectively embody the consummate professional. Veterans abound, and they conduct themselves the right way. No aimless youngsters wander around the field in the green and gold; nobody ever looks helpless or hapless.
But the most important contributor to the Pack’s transcendent dignity is its ability to stay above the media circus that surrounds most of the NFL.
Flashback to August 2008, at the onset of Favre-a-palooza: Brett Favre announces he’s coming out of his five-month-old retirement. The Packers cut ties with him after 16 seasons and trade him to the Jets for a draft pick. In doing so, they sent a budding perennial distraction and impending national disgust away from Green Bay.
As a result, Aaron Rodgers (who had spent three seasons under Favre, waiting for an opportunity to play) began his development into (arguably) the league’s best quarterback.
Now, while the Packers play at an exceedingly high level, Rodgers and the rest of Green Bay’s quiet corps of superstars stay under the pop-culture radar, avoiding Dancing With the Stars, jail, and Roger Goodell.
They’re classy (or at least they are perceived as classy).
The Packers have earned every bit of their nationwide popularity; they command respect from all corners as faithful purveyors of pure, great football.
They’re an old-fashioned, all-business escape from the obnoxious megalomania of rabid metropolitan fans, petulant stars, and money-grabbing owners.
For today, at least, America belongs to the Packers.