It took roughly 40 minutes of conversing with a reporter for Aaron Nagler to concede what his wife Carolyn likely discovered within seconds of watching her first Green Bay Packers game with him.
"Really, I have no problem saying this: It's hard being married to me sometimes because I'm so obsessed," Nagler said.
Now, obsession is a relative term in Green Bay, where a quick scan of the Lambeau Field parking lot on any given Sunday can mean deer antlers sticking out of one fan's noggin and full-on Packers-centric papal regalia from the guy next to him grilling brats.
So when Nagler talks about his particular Packers fixation, he's referring to a unique level of fan devotion that extends to the Internet and beyond. The kind where being connected with the team on an emotional level also means being plugged in via phone, Facebook, Twitter, RSS feed – pretty much every form of technology available so that the latest update on cornerback Tramon Williams' new contract doesn't slip past him during a busy workday.
"Even when I go out to dinner or a movie, anything, out in the park with my (three) kids, I'm always on. I'm always checking. I'm always ready," Nagler said.
Such is life for one of the biggest cheeses in the burgeoning Packers blogosphere, a fan-generated pocket of the Internet that delivers the kind of up-to-the-minute commentary and rapid-fire banter you'd expect of traditional media outlets – only without the bonus of being able to shove a microphone in Coach Mike McCarthy's face or collecting the requisite paycheck that comes with being credentialed.
With anywhere between 100,000 to 150,000 visitors a month, Nagler's New York City-based CheeseheadTV.com is one of the most popular fan–driven platforms available for voracious consumers of Packers news. It's why even as a full-time employee in the public affairs office at The Blackstone Group, the Appleton native is engaged 24/7 with the Packers news cycle by trading e-mails with Cheesehead co-creator Corey Behnke and site contributor Brian Carriveau, avidly Tweeting exchanges with beat writers or devoting entire Tuesday evenings to his site's "Packer Transplants" live webcast.
On those nights, Nagler drives to Behnke's Manhattan apartment to record their web show/podcast, a "humongous commitment" that keeps him busy from 7 p.m. (Eastern time) until 12:30 a.m.
And that only puts him back home, not to bed.
There's still work to be done while sorting through blog and chat feedback following the straight-talk session that typically features player guests contacted through Twitter and local sportswriters. In underground "indie cred" fashion, it all takes place in a spare bedroom that resembles "'Wayne's World' if created by Packers fans," said Behnke, the freelance video designer/webcast engineer who sets it all in motion.
"It all really started from phone conversations Aaron and I would have where I'd call him and we'd talk for hours about the Packers," Behnke said. "We'd both be yelling at each other and it'd be like this … catharsis."
Granted, there will always be fans who watch or attend a Packers game for three hours, then effortlessly move on with the rest of their day. They don't need to know who's on injured reserve or the team's practice squad, who's in line for a contract extension or what media insiders are saying about the team in post-game live chats.
Nagler isn't one of those fans.
"It very much is a second job," he said. "I'll work from 9-to-5, get home around 6, 6:30, spend some time with my girls before they go to sleep at 8:30 p.m. Then my wife and I will spend an hour or so together just catching up, getting ready for the next day. She'll be in bed around 9 or 10 p.m., and then I'll be up until anywhere between 1 and 3 in the morning, whether it's watching the game again, doing site posts or breakdowns, cutting up video, listening to audio from the podcast, whatever.
"Then the girls are up at 6, and I'm doing it all again. I don't know, it's just this incredible ability to not need sleep. But every four or five days, it will catch up to me and I'll just pass out at 7 p.m."
Browsing the blogosphere
While not all blogs fire at the same 'round-the-clock capacity as Cheesehead, chances are, if you're in the blogosphere and more than five people are reading your latest dissertation on Dom Capers' 3-4 defense, you're connected with Nagler, Behnke and other omnipresent members of this misfit community.
Holly Phelps, a Packers fan based in Washington, D.C., began commenting on Cheesehead posts before Nagler asked her to contribute insight on that week's opposition through his site. She's since joined a fellow band of bloggers on a Cheesehead web radio show and also contributes thoughts to BrentFavre.com, which bills itself as "the Packers blog born from treachery."
Two of her radio co-conspirators are blogger Al Bracco, a lifelong Packers fan from Wayne, N.J., who created JerseyAl.com, and C.D. Angeli, a Shawano-based blogger who runs Tundra Vision. Bracco and Angeli are also among the long list of names who've contributed to PackerChatters.com, a sprawling fan portal created in the mid-'90s by former Green Bay resident Larry Garot.
Before newspapers like the Green Bay Press-Gazette and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel expanded their online operations, Garot would manually type in articles from both papers, essentially serving up daily red meat for the site's message board masses. In many ways, that precursor to the blogosphere paved the way for the sense of camaraderie felt among fans who not only needed an online place to vent, but felt compelled to deliver an emotionally-driven viewpoint members of the mainstream media are trained to shy away from.
"We came to the team first, so everything that we do is filtered through that lens," said Phelps, who points out that most Packers bloggers have never met each other in person. "So our perspective and where we sit on a lot of issues, our reaction to events, may be filtered differently, because we aren't sports writers. We're always fans first. I think we take pride in that."
It didn't take long for Bracco, a Packers fan who has been infatuated with the team since watching the first Super Bowl on TV, to realize his opinions were just as valid as the ones he'd been reading online. Though he jokes that starting his blog was something "I could've come to regret for the rest of my life," it's a role he takes very seriously – at times, maybe too seriously.
"I take notes while watching games. My wife thinks I'm crazy," Bracco said, laughing.
"But no, I did have to step back a bit, because it almost got to a point, you know, a few months ago, where as much as I enjoy doing this, I had to look at how much time was involved. It's funny, because there's no reason there should be any pressure to keep up a blog. It's all self-imposed pressure to have a certain number of articles, to talk about all the topics that you want to cover. So I had to step back and say, 'Hey, there's more to life than that.' I do have a regular job. I do have a family who would like to see me from time to time.'' (Laughs.)
Life will interfere with the weekly Cheesehead "Transplants" show this month when Behnke's free time is swallowed up by his paid gig of webcasting the New Year's Eve ball drop in Times Square. It even belatedly dawned on Chris Lempesis, a Minneapolis-based blogger who started Ol' Bag of Donuts with his college friends Adam Somers and Gene Bosling, that being physically present at today's Packers-San Francisco 49ers game would prevent him from writing his usual post-game recap.
"For me, it's straight up love for the game," said Lempesis, who studied journalism at the University of Minnesota. "I get to combine two of my biggest passions, writing and the Packers. There are no gatekeepers, so to speak. It's just three friends who get to run with whatever ideas we have and be part of something unique."
Expanding the Packer bubble
It also helps that this is the Packers we're talking about.
All the mythical qualities that comprise the team's well-chronicled history as a small-market franchise owned by its fans play a large role in keeping the spirit of 1265 Lombardi Avenue spread across all corners of the country.
"I'm sure for those who can't just drive to Lambeau Field when they want, they're trying to get a connection back to the organization they love by writing. It's made the Packer bubble that much bigger," said Angeli, an "elder statesman" with a five-year blogging resume he jokes feels like "80 in Internet years."
"If you look at blogs for other teams … say when we played the (Atlanta) Falcons, there was like, one blog. That was it. With the Packers, there's a huge consortium of different blogs and different voices interacting with each other every single day. It's very much a community."
That the expense of helping build this insta-feedback fraternity is relatively minor remains essential to its evolution. More grandiose sites like Cheesehead and Packer Chatters stay in the black through sponsorships and Google ads, though Nagler admits that last year, it was "definitely costing us money to be bloggers."
Mainly, it's the time commitment. When asked why he invests so many hours in the Packers blogosphere – time without a paycheck that could be spent on leisurely activities around New York City with his girlfriend – Behnke pauses, then delivers a half-serious "I don't know" before letting out a boisterous laugh.
"For instance, I know that on Sunday I have to take five hours out of my day to make the live game-day blog happen and for everyone to be happy," he said. "So as nerdy and boring as that is … yeah, why do I do that? Why do I moderate comments and moderate Tweets? I don't know. It's fun. Two hundred to 300 people come out every week and really make it their thing, you know?"
For Nagler, it stretches back to the original motivation for starting his first little-read blog in 2005 – the desire to create an ongoing dialogue with other die-hard fans. That it's come to this – nerding out with tight end Jermichael Finley on a webcast, getting credentialed for the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis and even having quarterback Aaron Rodgers politely chastise a blog critique of his through Twitter – is all sweet reward for selling one's soul to the Green and Gold.
"Look, it's the Packers. I'm already obsessed. I can't remember a time when I wasn't all in with what was going on with the team," Nagler said. "Luckily, there are a lot of people out there who have that same obsession."