Frustrated Green Bay Packers fans at Lambeau Field. Fans of the Green Bay Packers react to a following the first half of the Packers’ 34-20 loss against Detroit Lions during their football game Thursday, September 28, 2023, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Wm. Glasheen USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Sports fandom involves suffering. You tolerate the misery for the hope. In some ways, it’s the purest form of the human condition. How do you cope when things don’t turn out the way you thought they would? Most fans endure some time in purgatory throughout their lives. A precious few have been spared the nomadic existence of wandering through a desert of despair.

Green Bay Packers fans have grown accustomed to reveling in a charmed life. They’re used to proudly wearing their cheeseheads each NFL season with earned optimism. The Packers might not win the Super Bowl, but at least they were legitimate contenders to reach the NFC Championship. Decades of having first Brett Favre and then Aaron Rodgers behind center would make any fanbase smug.

Until this season, many Packers fans had enjoyed the luxury of not knowing real fear— the abject terror of the possibility that your team could be embarrassed at home in front of a national television audience. Last week’s 34-20 defeat to the Detroit Lions (3-1) on Thursday Night Football felt like a pivotal moment. Yes, it’s early, and there’s plenty of time for Green Bay (2-2) to improve. But their fans might have to come to grips with the likelihood that this franchise might not be special anymore.

Packers fans are now just like the rest of us, not knowing what to expect week to week. And that there’s no superhero ready to bail your team out when everything goes sideways.

For so long, Green Bay was the envy of everyone. The Packers followed up a Hall of Fame quarterback with an even better Hall of Fame quarterback. The statistical probabilities of that kind of successful succession plan are astronomically low. The only thing close in the history of the NFL is Steve Young succeeding Joe Montana. The odds that Jordan Love develops into Green Bay’s third elite QB in a row are infinitesimal.

Having Favre or Rodgers brought a certain amount of comfort that no deficit was insurmountable, any coaching blunder could be overcome, and every roster error could be managed. It’s the peace of mind that Kansas City Chiefs fans are experiencing now. Watching a football game in the stadium or on TV without panic must be pure bliss. Just sit back and enjoy your beer, wings, and nachos.

But in 2023, everything has changed for the Packers fans. They even suffered the indignity of Lions fans invading Lambeau Field. That’s something you see at AT&T Stadium or SoFi Stadium. It’s not supposed to happen at Wisconsin’s hallowed grounds. Yet it did, and the national audience chuckled.

There’s reason for hope. The NFC North looks like a mediocre division with only one team having a winning record. The Packers have the second-east remaining schedule in the league. That should give them ample opportunities to reach the playoffs. Love, who turns 25 next month, is still in the early learning stages on a team with the NFL’s youngest roster. If Green Bay lands a true No. 1 wide receiver in the offseason, and if the defense improves, it could be a contender again soon.

That’s a lot of ifs Green Bay could overcome before with Favre and Rodgers. Those days are gone, and they’re probably not coming back.

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.