Some Packers-related items to get you through the ‘bye’ week……….

Many years ago, my then-fiance and I were out in the San Francisco area to attend the wedding of a cousin of mine.  As it happened, the night after the nuptials was a nationally televised pre-season game between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Not being familiar with the area, we drove around Burlingame looking for a sports bar that might be showing the broadcast.  It was quickly nearing game time and the only place we could find was this little Italian restaurant, so I ran inside to see if they had the game on.  The bartender looked at my Packers’ shirt, smiled, and responded that, yes, they were showing the game.  Being focused on my ‘mission’, I failed to take in the surroundings.  I went back outside to fetch Jody from the rental car and it wasn’t until we returned that I noticed all the Steelers paraphenalia on the walls along with all the team-clad patrons gathered around the bar. 

It turned out that the place was a Northern California hub for expatriates from Western Pennsylvania who gathered there for every Steelers game.  We were a little apprehensive at first watching the game in ‘enemy territory’ but it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had watching a pre-season football game on television.  There was a lot of good-natured ribbing from our new Steelers’ friends, eased somewhat by the fact that the Packers won on this particular night and perhaps moreso that it didn’t count in the standings.  It was a small vignette that gave me an appreciation of the kindred nature that exists between the fan bases of these two franchises.  I regret that time has robbed my memory of the name of the place but, given the passion of its regulars, I have no doubt that it still exists.  And ever since that night, I have looked forward to the prospect of a Packers/Steelers matchup in the Super Bowl; a hope that is finally coming to fruition this week.  Because I know that, should the unthinkable happen and the Packers lose, I will still have respect for the victors and their fans (unlike oh, say the Jets).

***************************************************************************************

Since I’ve already broached the taboo subject of a Packers’ loss in Super Bowl XLV, I’d like to touch on one further thing.  I hope that fans won’t let a loss in the sport’s ultimate game (on the off chance that should occur) overshadow what the Packers have accomplished this year. 

At the beginning of the season, I was probably in the minority in that I thought predictions of Green Bay in the Super Bowl were a year premature.  Teams usually need to follow a progression to get to that goal and I believed that these Packers still needed some playoff seasoning before realizing their potential.  Then, when the injuries began to mount up to crazy proportions, my expectations were lowered even further.  After the loss in Detroit, I figured they’d be fortunate to just to make the post-season much less win 3 tough playoff games on the road.

Don’t get me wrong; I want the Packers to win and I believe they actually match up better against the Steelers than they did against the Bears.  Now that they’re in the ‘big game’, I want them to take advantage of the opportunity because you never know what can happen in the future.  Under the best of circumstances, a lot of things have to go right for a team to advance this far and we well know that wasn’t always the case with this year’s Packers.  But even at this point, with all the players expected to return, one could make the argument that Green Bay is better positioned for next season (assuming there is one).

I’d just like to think that, if the Packers do lose to the Steelers, fans will be able to look beyond their disappointment and appreciate this team for all that it overcame to become NFC Champions.  And to know that they will be back.

***************************************************************************************

It seems that nearly everyone else on this site has offered an opinion on what has come to be known as “Picture-Gate” so I might as well weigh in with my two cents on the subject.

Packers’ Coach Mike McCarthy was justifiably miffed that tight end Jermichael Finley and linebacker Nick Barnett took to Twitter to publicly complain about being left out of the team’s Super Bowl photo, but he has to own some of that, too.  The fact that team captains Aaron Rodgers and Charles Woodson felt compelled to address the situation with McCarthy should have been an indication that the matter had more gravity than was assigned to it by the head coach.  Since McCarthy has reportedly pointed to the photos of the championship teams on the walls of Lambeau Field as a motivational tool throughout the team’s playoff drive, it’s certainly understandable that some players would be upset at their exclusion and disingenuous of McCarthy to dismiss their concerns.  There is also a perception issue in the locker room and around the league of how the Packers treat their players.  You can’t preach ‘family’ and then turn around and ignore the players who have contributed but, through no fault of their own, are currently unavailable to play.

It was a pointless, if minor, distraction that could easily have been avoided with a little consideration and foresight on the part of management.

****************************************************************************************

On the surface, it would appear that the Chicago Bears would be poised to challenge the Packers for the NFC North Division title for the next few seasons, especially now with the Minnesota Vikings seemingly back to square one in their search for a starting quarterback.  But I’m not so sure that the Bears won’t take a step back next year.

Much like the Vikings the year before, nearly everything went positive for the Bears in 2010.  In contrast to the Packers, Chicago was among the teams in the league with the fewest player-games lost to injury.  They even drew a favorable matchup when the sub-.500 and playoff unworthy Seattle Seahawks upset the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.  But the fact that their luck finally ran out in the NFC Championship against Green Bay might be more of a harbinger for the future.  The Bears this year nearly mirrored the Vikings in 2009 with both teams losing in the conference final.  We saw how Minnesota fell back down to earth this year; a similar fate could await Chicago in 2011.

Those who are chastising Bears’ QB Jay Cutler for his lack of toughness are missing the point.  I have no doubt that Cutler was too injured to return to the game.  Not surprisingly, Cutler’s teammates publicly rose to his defense.  But there has been plenty of speculation that Cutler isn’t the most popular guy in the Bears’ locker room.  The real problem for Chicago is that he was playing poorly before he was hurt. 

In all honesty, I’ve never been a Cutler fan.  His tenure in college was marked by a 11-35 record at Vanderbilt and he didn’t have a winning season in the NFL until this year.  For me, the red flags went up on him when Denver was willing to deal him.  Guys who put up numbers like he did for the Broncos simply aren’t let go unless there’s something else going on.  And I’ve seen nothing from him in Chicago that has made me change my mind.

I look at Cutler and I see Jeff George reincarnate.  Like George, he has more than enough physical ability to be successful.  But you can pretty much say that about most starting QBs in the NFL.  At that level, winning teams need their QB to be a leader.  That’s why Aaron Rodgers is an elite QB and, IMO, it’s also why Matt Flynn is still a Packer and Brian Brohm isn’t.  At this point in his career, it’s unlikely Cutler will grow into that role; that’s something you either have or you don’t and I don’t think he does.  If nothing else, it speaks volumes about his reputation around the league that so many players (not reporters mind you, but players), felt no compunction whatsoever about throwing him under the bus.  

Another quarterback that Cutler has often been compared to is Brett Favre.  He has the same rocket arm and the same tendency to throw interceptions.  That’s not a formula for success in today’s NFL.  In my estimation, Cutler will always be a tease.  And in the long run, he’ll provide the Bears with more frustration than fulfillment.

******************************************************************************************

While I’m on the subject of the Bears, Packers fans need to back off of linebacker Brian Urlacher.  Many Packer backers got all upset when Urlacher was quoted as saying he wanted to see the Packers lose in the Super Bowl.  First of all, he made that comment about 5 minutes after his team lost so his frustration was understandable.  Plus, that line was taken out of context; the full quote is below:

“Hell no I’m not rooting for the Packers in the Super Bowl. I have a ton of respect for that organization and the head coach, but I don’t want them to win the Super Bowl. They’re in our division, I want them to lose.”

I can certainly understand Urlacher’s point of view.  I remember back in ’85 when the Packers sucked and the Bears were in the Super Bowl.  Going into that game, I had planned to root for the Bears because they were in our division and I thought it would be nice to see a different team win for a change.  But once the game actually started, I just couldn’t bring myself to root for Chicago.  It didn’t matter anyway as New England got destroyed but in the end I was unhappy that the title went to the Packers rival.

I have no love for Urlacher but Packer fans can’t expect him to act any differently than they would themselves.

******************************************************************************************

An often overlooked aspect of the Green Bay Packers return to prominence is the stability of the coaching staff.  Since McCarthy hired Dom Capers as defensive coordinator, their coaching staff has remained largely intact.  That may be about to change.

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and one of the manifestations of that in the NFL is raids on the coaching staffs of winning teams.  Last year, McCarthy blocked quarterbacks coach Tom Clements from interviewing for a position with the Bears.  This year with the Packers going to the Super Bowl, the profile of Green Bay’s assistants is about to be raised ten-fold.  There was speculation before Denver filled its defensive coordinator position that the Broncos might be interested in line coach Mike Trgovac and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has reported that the Philadelphia Eagles want to interview safeties coach Darren Perry to replace fired D/C Sean McDermott. 

One thing working in the Packers favor is that other teams have to wait until after the Super Bowl to hire any of Green Bay’s coaches.  With the success of the defense this year, many fans were worried that Capers may leave to pursue a head coaching position.  The guess here is that those fears will be unfounded.  The only head coaching position that remains open is the Tennessee Titans, who parted ways with Jeff Fisher this week.  Capers has already been a head coach in this league and at this point in his career it would probably take a strong situation with another team to get him to leave Green Bay.

On the other hand, another coach who has probably saved his job is special team’s coach Shawn Slocum.  Through most of the season among notable breakdowns in the Packers’ special teams, it looked as if Slocum was a ‘dead man walking’.  Through the current playoff run, the play of the specialty units has been mostly respectable and at times above average.  Unless there’s a complete special teams meltdown in the Super Bowl, it will be difficult to justify removing Slocum from his duties.

RANDOM SAMPLINGS:  Ohio State’s basketball team is the class of the Big(11)Ten this year, if not the country.  I was holding out hope that Purdue could challenge the Buckeyes for the conference title this year but OSU handled the Boilermakers pretty easily this week.  It looks like freshman center Jared Sullinger is going to be everything that former phenom Greg Oden wasn’t………..If the Washington Wizards were to play the Cavaliers in Cleveland, would anyone win?  Cleveland has lost 19 straight games and 29 of the past 30 while Washington has dropped 22 consecutive road games………..Going into last night’s game at Toronto, the Milwaukee Bucks projected starting lineup at the beginning of the season had missed a collective 83 games to injury.  But the Bucks have won 4 of their last 6 and are starting to get some of their injured players back.  Hopefully, they haven’t buried themselves too deep to yet make a run at the NBA playoffs………..You have to wonder about the direction of the Tennessee Titans now that they’ve decided to move forward without both quarterback Vince Young and head coach Jeff Fisher………..It’s been a few decades since I avidly followed pro tennis (the heyday of Borg, McEnroe, Connors) and I’ve barely paid attention at all since Pete Sampras retired.  But I didn’t realize how out of touch I was with the sport until I heard on the radio this week that someone named Caroline Wozniacki is the number 1 ranked women’s player.  Really?!!……….Fox Sports Radio reported this week that no Arizona Cardinals player received even a single vote for the NFL Pro Bowl.  That’s an amazing decline for a team only 2 years removed from a Super Bowl appearance.

Thanks for reading.  Enjoy the rest of the weekend.  Here’s wishing safe travels to all those venturing down to “North Texas” (Don’t call it Dallas!) for the “Big Game”; may The Pack bring the Lombardi Trophy back home where it belongs.

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

  • Chris

    Nice SF memoir. I have nothing but respect for the Steelers organization and their fans. Perhaps because it’s like looking in the mirror.

    Your takes on Cutler and Urlacher…spot on.

    I didn’t know who Caroline Wozniacki was until I read it in your post (although, for a minute, I thought she might have gone to SPASH). My knowledge of men’s tennis these days: Two Euro guys dominate, Andy Roddick is America’s best, probably because he’s married to Brooklyn Decker.

  • http://www.pocketdoppler.com BigSnakeMan

    For all I know, Wozniacki may have gone to SPASH; haven’t kept up with the alumni.

  • foundinidaho

    11-35 and he got drafted how high? Dear God. And he has the personality of a turnip, to the public anyway.

    I laughed my ass off when he went to Chicago, because my cousin, a Bears fan was SO excited. And I said…”If he’s so damn good, why is Denver trading him?” I stand by my statement.

  • http://www.pocketdoppler.com BigSnakeMan

    I said the same thing when Cutler went to the Bears and excited Bears fans were all ready to purchase Super Bowl tickets. His skill set just doesn’t seem to mesh with their philosophy.

  • Ryan

    Oh man, look at this . The Steelers have their own comic strip now at “Fans N’at” at http://fansnat.com (or steelercomics.com).