Welcome to Cheesehead Origins, an offseason series geared toward showcasing Packer fans with interesting fandom origin stories! CheeseheadTV is devoted to Packer fans worldwide, and we want to hear (and share) your stories.
Throughout the course of this series so far I’ve talked to people of all ages and backgrounds. Some of them have been Packers writers or podcasters, others have been barely connected to the online community.
This week’s feature is someone who has been embedded in the Packers blogosphere since its early days and who has influenced many who enjoy writing about the team and discussing it online. It’s CHTV’s editor-in-chief himself, “Jersey” Al Bracco.
“As the nickname would imply, I am New Jersey born, bred and raise,” Al said, “Thought I was actually conceived in Italy and then took a prenatal boat ride when my parents immigrated to this country.”
Al has owned his own IT company for more than three decades, and will be retiring in just over a year, leaving the company behind to his key employees. More time to focus on the Packers, yes, but also his two children and four grandchildren (all under the age of three).
“I can’t wait to spend more time with them and be there for all their key life milestones, sports games, etc.,” he said.
Al has never been a Wisconsin resident and doesn’t have any family connections to Wisconsin or the Packers. And as the child of immigrants, it’s not as though he had the fandom in his bloodline. So how did he become a Packer fan to begin with?
“The first full football game I watched on television was Super Bowl I,” said Al. “As an impressionable 10-year-old at the time I naturally gravitated toward the winning team and their legendary coach and collection of future Hall-of-Famers. Perhaps if the Chiefs had pulled of the unthinkable upset, I’d be a Chiefs fan today.”
Al notes there is a larger presence of Packers fans in northern New Jersey and southern New York than one might expect, especially within his age demographic, thanks to Vince Lombardi’s roots in the area. Lombardi, of course, spent a couple decades coaching in the area at the high school, college and professional levels.
For many people, their fandom is influenced by their parents, grandparents or siblings. But Al found his own way in the fandom, and was influenced primarily by the players and figures of the sport, particularly Lombardi and Bart Starr.
“I remember scouring my town library (way pre-internet) for books about these Packers legends,” Al recalled. “Reading about their values, morals and off-field personas shaped them as my early Childhood role models, shaped me as a person, and solidified that I will always be a Packers fan.”
As Al entered his teenage years, he started to find other ways of exploring his fandom.
“I finally had a little spending money from working in a pizzeria and weekend painting jobs. I remember walking down to our local ‘candy store’ on weekends and leafing through every football magazine on the shelves (there were a lot of them back then). All I was interested in was if there were any full-color pictures of Bart Starr in them. If I found one, I took it home, ripped out the Starr picture and added it to my Bart Starr wall.”
Starr remains, to this day, the only role model Al has outside of family members to whom he ever chose to give that distinction. Unfortunately, he never got a chance to meet Mr. Starr and shake his hand, but he left an undeniable imprint on Al’s life.
Of course, as Al got into his teenage years and adulthood, the Packers entered their own dark ages. Despite arriving at the tail-end of the Lombardi era and witnessing just a year or so of greatness, Al’s fandom never wavered, and he found any way he could to stay up to date with the team.
“One day a year (the Monday after the draft) I would buy a copy of the New York Times simply because they listed every player selected in the entirety of the draft, so I could see who the Packers drafted in every round. Of course, I knew nothing of the players in the later rounds, but just knowing their position seemed to be enough.”
The Packers were a bottom-barrel franchise at the time, so there wasn’t much national interest in writing about them, especially given the tiny market. Al had to get creative to find ways to get his hands on Packers content.
“Somehow I discovered ‘Ray Nitschke’s Packer Report,’ a weekly newspaper-type publication that would bring me news about my beloved Packers,” Al said. “The only catch was that it would take a good 10 days to get to me. That meant that during the season, the Packers would have already played another game as I get news of a game 10 days ago. Still, it was way better than nothing and at least I would eventually learn something about the players the Packers had drafted.”
Al has been fortunate enough to make the trek out to Green Bay to see the Packers play many times. He notes the major difference in the atmosphere of a playoff game in particular, having been to four playoff games in person (three victories). He also saw the Super Bowl victory in person.
His absolute favorite in-person game, he says, was the January 2008 “snow globe” game against Seattle.
If you’ll recall, the team went down 14-0 early after a pair of Ryan Grant fumbles, then came back (in part behind a big game from Grant) to absolutely blow out Seattle in thee snow.
“I went with a friend of mine, both of us Italian, and we sat next to a couple of Wisconsin farm boys from somewhere in the middle of the state,” said Al. “The Sopranos had just ended in 2007 and because we were from Jersey and Italian, our farm boy buddies kind of assumed we lived a similar lifestyle.”
Of course, Al and his friend had to play it up, and talked frequently about breaking kneecaps, Jimmy Hoffa and other such-things. The groups hit it off and enjoyed plenty of beers together.
The game experience was also incredibly memorable.
“The snowflakes were big and wet and falling gently from the sky, which was just a big blur from the top of the stadium upwards,” Al described. “It felt like an out-of-body experience where your entire world did not extend past the confines of that stadium, or that you had been transported to another dimension in some Twilight Zone episode. I still get goosebumps thinking about what I was feeling during those moments. Maybe this was a sneak peek of heaven for Packers fanatics?”
When watching the games from home, it’s a completely different experience for Al. He has to cut himself off entirely so he can stay focused, and avoid having to explain why the Packers are struggling to do something.
“Admittedly, my patience is zero in those situations and my replies will be crt, snippy and sarcastic,” he said. “There’s no reason to subject family or friends to that bad behavior, so for their sake, I choose to watch games alone. It’s better for everyone.”
It should come as no surprise that someone who went to great lengths in the 1970s and 80s to find content about his Packers would eventually become one of the earlier “content creators” in the Packers blogosphere.
Al had always had an interest in writing about the team, and one day about 15 years ago stumbled across Bleacher Report, which at the time allowed anyone with an interest to sign up and start writing about sports. While this accessibility was great, it was also a doubled-edged sword, as for every great content creator there were swaths of bad ones.
For Al, though, writing for the site proved to be a great starting point, and soon he decided to go all-in by starting his own blog, JerseyAl.com (which later became AllGBP.com).
“So much has changed since those early days when Packers blogs numbered less than 10,” said Al. “There has been a proliferation of outlets all competing for eyeballs. Frankly, it’s sensory overload at this point.”
Al particularly bemoans the clickbait articles from sites that have little to do with the Packers or the sport in general, but regurgitate news they take from other sites to manipulate Google algorithms. The idea of an explosion of quantity driven by algorithms is one of the reasons why he takes such pride in the qualify of content produced at Cheesehead TV, where is is the editor-in-chief, and his own personal project, PackersTalk.
“We have writers who do it simply because they love the Packers and love to write,” he said.
Al doesn’t actually follow too many content creators closely outside those that he works with at CheeseheadTV and PackersTalk. There are, however, a few shoutouts he gives.
“One of my favorites has always been Matt Bowen,” Al said. “He can explain complex scheme concepts in a manner that makes it seem obvious. Not many can do that.”
Ie also mentions Andy Herman and Aaron Nagler, saying: “I wish I could produce that volume of talk and have it all sound so logical and entertaining at the same time.”
On Andrew Brandt, Al says: “He always has thoughtful commentary and I’m still waiting for him to write a “Summer of Favre book. Andrew knows where the bodies are buried.”
And with regard to Packer media members and members of the beat, he specifically points to Rob Demovsky, Pete Dougherty, Bill Huber and Matt Schneidman as personal favorites.
Looking ahead to this season, Al is excited for the Packers’ defense and its possibilities.
“Being a bit old school, I’m really excited to see if this defense gels,” he said. “The personnel is there to be a top 5 defense on paper, but can they all get on the same page and can the coaches make the right calls at the right time?”
He’s also looking forward to the evolution of young receivers, and which rookies and up showing the most promise in their first game action.
In closing, i always ask my subjects to provide a shoutout, story or anything else they want to share. Al left us off with a bit of advice geared toward anyone looking to get into sports writing as a career.
“Write every day. Write several times a day, if possible. Don’t worry about getting paid at first. Find other writers whose work you enjoy and think about how they present their articles. And keep writing. Those who have come through the digital halls of my sites that went on to actual careers all had that one thing in common: an undeniable work ethic. There is so much competition now that only those who work at it EVERY DAY have a chance of success.”
Big thanks to Jersey Al for joining me for this week’s edition of Cheesehead Origins! Have a great long weekend and see you all back in this space next week.
Tim Backes is a lifelong Packer fan and a contributor to CheeseheadTV. Follow him on Twitter @timbackes for his Packer takes, random musings and Untappd beer check-ins.