David Bakhtiari’s body betrayed him at the precipice of glory. That sentence can’t be unwritten. To paraphrase the words of the late Kevin Greene, Bakh is gone. He’s not coming back. Not in the story of this unbelievably good 2020 Packers football team, at least.
Outside of life itself, the beauty of which we’re all too close to see, sports is the most profound improvised drama in the world. Amazingly, the writers of sports never forget to introduce conflict in ways the viewer least expects. Bakhtiari’s injury — suspected to be a torn ACL — is another example of that. In the wake of the most satisfying victory in years, the day after signing a secret weapon (‘Snacks’ Harrison) to solidify a weakness, on the cusp of the true path to their fifth Super Bowl championship, the Packers are brought low by something unexpected yet dramatically obvious. The Aaron Rodgers injury is played-out plotwork, the Bakhtiari injury is believable yet totally unexpected. Of course this is all a metaphor, because sports and the drama therein are improvised. There are no writers, and no creative director responsible for the pain of this injury. The suffering just is. That’s lifelike.
My brothers and I have a podcast based off a joke that turned into a way of processing our collective irrational emotional investment in this team. Superheroes aren’t real and neither is the Packer Force. But both exist and you can stream them online. The Packer Force is a personification of our Packer-fan alter egos. They reflect the way in which we love the team and think about them, the conceptions of our respective bonds with the team, and the lens through with we see them. One thing I have come to realize is that no matter your level of investment, whether you are Corey Behnke himself, or just dating a man who likes the Packers and happen to get easily invested in competition, your understanding of what makes the game tick, how we get from one plot point in the season to another, is as valid as anyone’s. There is no wrong way to be a fan.
The Packers are going to win the Super Bowl this year. It is going to happen. It can’t just happen, but it will be the end result of the journey that is set to take place between now and then. You can call it a jinx if you want, but it’s what I feel in my heart. The plans we have laid will lead to victory. We have to win many battles as part of the execution of said plans, but we are ready to do so. It’s no longer contingent on my worries, critiques, and emotions, it is ready to win, and I believe it will.
David Bakhtiari’s injury is deeply sad and difficult to accept. If we lose in the playoffs, it’s likely that Bakhtiari’s absence will be a primary reason why. There are possibilities ahead of games with five surrendered sacks, where the team struggles mightily and doesn’t prevail. Even just one fatal sack at the wrong time could bring us back to the moment we heard this news. That possibility looms in the future, but so does the possibility of overcoming. A focused team will simply adjust its course.
The Black Mountain is Peder’s alter ego, or superpower, or whatever, and Peder is my brother. The Black Mountain is “the collective hopes and aspirations of the greater godhive of Packer fans.” If you were to zoom out from the game itself and see every person watching the game in synchrony, you would be seeing the Black Mountain. Anyone who gives a shit or is adjacent to a shit-giving Packer fan is included. Bakhtiari’s injury is a great force sending shockwaves through the Black Mountain, shaking it. The vacuum created by millions of jaws dropping open over the course of a moment, the blankness felt the world over from the unheard comments made to those still privately processing shock in reaction to the news. The cosmic landmass in which all those ripples are felt is the fabric of the Black Mountain. When you see a Packers fan who is a stranger and you speak to them like they are your neighbor, that is Black Mountain collegiality. They too visit the Black Mountain, and you feel safe speaking in this manner to your compatriots.
It’s the season of Christmas, and New Year’s, and magic, and the Black Mountain is magic, too. Like Christmas magic, the Black Mountain doesn’t really exist, yet everyone who has partaken in either can point to examples and say “there it is,” and you find it hard to deny them their truth. The Black Mountain, like Christmas, requires belief. Belief cannot exist without doubts to spite. So, in order for there to be magic, there must be hard realities that bring about doubt. With or without unforeseen debilitating injuries, these doubts will come. Injury is just one form this needed plot element may take. While the news and its impact may get lost in the malaise of New Year’s tonight, it will surface every week from now through the end of the season. It is a defining doubt.
To continue my above sampling of Kevin Greene’s prophetic wisdom, it is time. These next six weeks will define everything. They will define most plainly this Packer season, but also the overall arc of the franchise, and the careers of its most prominent figures, and the days of the millions and millions of us watching, breathing through every play, hoping for another moment in time we can safely call our own. It will define the features of the Black Mountain.
Greene’s passing is yet another in an unfortunate series of deaths from the annals of Packer history just this year, following Paul Hornung, Willie Wood, Willie Davis, and Herb Adderley, among others. The legends of Packers history watch over Lambeau too, in spirit, as part of the Black Mountain. As do the elders in our own lives, who introduced us (or introduced those who introduced us) to the game of football, the rituals of Sunday afternoons, and the joy of the chorus “Go Pack Go.”
As we say goodbye to the year 2020, it’s safe to remember that football is just a game, and that there are things in life of far greater importance than a meaningful 3rd and 7. But 2020 taught us also that it’s OK to let go, temporarily, of life’s most rugged realities and indulge in something that’s sheerly cultural. It’s OK to derive meaning from the stories we tell, and it’s OK to believe in the magic of those stories, even if they’re unfolding before our eyes in a reality we know to be cold and heartless. It’s OK to close your eyes, and picture the Black Mountain — the loved ones you’ve lost donning their finest Packer gear, Reggie White with his helmet raised in his fist, Bart Starr shoulder-to-shoulder with Vince Lombardi discussing strategy, and you, along with everyone who was at the bar where you watched that Cowboys game that one time, and everyone you would have watched with this year if we were allowed, and every Lambeau Field crowd ever. You can be there. We’ll all be there watching. Get ready. The magic is about to begin.