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The Green Bay Packers are fierce and focused on football — when they’re not nerding out about ‘Dragon Ball Z’ and other anime, that is

Jarrett Williams

Mike Daniels is a vital part of Green Bay’s defense. He signed a $41 million extension last season, appeared on the NFL Network’s Top 100 players list, and serves as an enforcer for the Packers’ front, destroying the opposing offensive lineman and creating space for his linebackers on most plays. “My job is: Get a hand on a player, you slam him to the ground hard, and then you tell him about it, ” Daniels said.

When he’s not on the field, though, the 27-year-old defensive end focuses on a job that’s nearly as important: leading the NFL’s only known anime ring.

“OK, it may be for nerds, ” said Daniels, “but we are a new wave of nerd who can beat you up.”

Anime, the Japanese animation characterized by flashy graphics and crazy plotlines, is wildly popular in some circles. Thanks to Daniels and his crew, those circles apparently now include the Green Bay locker room. Dragon Ball Z is the team’s collective favorite, and in case you’re not aware, it’s based around a character named Goku fighting everything from alien princes to a bubble-gum-colored flesh blob in baggy pants called Majin Buu.

While some non-Packers certainly love this stuff, they don’t assemble en masse to talk about it in the locker room. Tennessee Titans guard Chance Warmack, for example, fell in love with anime while living in Detroit at age 5. He loves Dragon Ball Z and other series, like Inuyasha and Naruto, a story about a kid ninja. Warmack said he’s met one other player who liked anime, but the player was cut shortly after minicamps in 2015 before the two had ever really discussed their shared passion. “A lot of guys don’t like talking about that in the locker room, ” Warmack said. “There’s a stigma attached because you wouldn’t expect an athlete to like this stuff.”

There are no such reservations in Green Bay, where Dragon Ball Z plot discussions and training-camp anime movie trips abound.

The anime bond began to form in early 2013, when Nick Perry’s now-wife, Audrianna, and Daniels’s wife, Heaven, were chatting on the phone. When Heaven mentioned to Audrianna that Daniels was watching his “Japanese stuff, ” Audrianna noted that Perry does the same. The next day in the locker room, Daniels said, Perry approached him. “Naruto?” Perry simply asked.

An anime-based bromance was born.

Daniels started watching anime when he was 10. He began with popular programs like Pokémon and Sailor Moon, a series about a school girl searching for the “Legendary Silver Crystal, ” and became enamored with how visually arresting and unique the shows were.

That love has lasted a lifetime, and it’s not hard to spot. In the fall of 2013, Eddie Lacy started noticing Daniels and Perry talking about anime on social media. “And I’m all about Dragon Ball Z, ” Lacy said this training camp. Lacy’s half-brother Donovan Grayson, who’s about seven years older than Eddie, put on an episode when Lacy was in elementary school. Soon after Lacy’s first viewing, he said, came a turning point in the franchise: “I got really into it when Vegeta and Goku were fighting — [Vegeta] threw a moon into the sky and turned into a Great Ape, ” he explained. He was hooked.

“It just looks really cool, ” Lacy said. “Guys flying around, disappearing, then reappearing real fast. It was a violent, cool carton.”

Source: theringer.com