...Less Than A Month Until Pitchers and Catchers Report
...which is about the only good thing to say about what happened to the Packers Sunday night at Lambeau.
Hope was a river that ran deep, cold and clear heading into overtime as Green Bay won the coin toss at the NFC Championship. Now, it's just another MMSD tunnel, sloughing dark and foul after the Packers fell to the Giants 23-20.
Cheese won't be on the menu in Phoenix February 3rd unless it's served up on a snack tray in a Super Bowl luxury box. The flavor that Packers fans bring to such festivities won't tasted by the hoardes invading the Valley of the Sun two weeks from now. Instead, they get New England's Bill Bellichik who is to personality what Zwieback is to taste. New York brings Big Apple glitz and plenty of side-drama but the Giants are still from...New York. How can you possibly pull for THEM?
There are but three seasons in Wisconsin: winter, construction, and wondering if Brett Favre is coming back for another year of Green Bay football. It began just as Lawrence Tynes' OT kick split the Lambeau uprights and won't be over until Favre goes fishing with his Biloxi newspaper buddy again, or the Favre progeny coax dad into another trip to the ice cream shop.
The Packers COULD'VE won the game, but SHOULDN'T have. The Giants were the better team Sunday night--well coached, hard hitting, exploiting Green Bay's weaknesses while turning the Packers into a one-dimensional team. As the Journal/Sentinel's Bob McGinn pointed out, Green Bay's season ended the way it began: without a running game. Ryan Grant's inability to run the ball meant Favre had to try to save the team with his arm. Three things happen when you throw a ball, and two of them are bad. New York's OT pick sealed the Pack's doom and sent Favre back home to Mississippi to wonder, "what if".
Favre looked old and cold Sunday night, not unlike the way he and the Packers did in the regular season loss at Chicago. Eli Manning and the Giants acted as if it were an 80 degree day at Bay Beach. The New York coaching staff exploited the Pack's weaknesses, exposing Al Harris repeatedly. The Giants' two-headed rushing beast could seldom be harnessed. The special teams consistently gave New York solid if not spectacular field position.
All certainly is not lost--the Packers have plenty to build on. Ted Thompson went from being Wisconsin's summertime pariah to a postseason God...all knowing and never doubted. There are no worries about him restocking the franchise for a fresh run when the draft comes around.
There are no sure things in the NFL anymore--the difference between bad teams and good ones is slight, with most contenders being just an injury or two away from being also-rans. The Packers were blessed with good health most of the season, the only exception being the Dallas game when several key defenders were reduced to spectator status. A healthy Favre with the same crew of receivers and the fresh legs of Ryan Grant could be a dangerous thing. The defense is fine, despite the vulnerabilities exposed Sunday night. What can't be banked on are the intangibles--the injuries, the schedules, the bounces, the calls. All seemed to work Green Bay's way most of the time this past season. Will they again? You'd best make a sacrifice to the football gods, and even that's no guarantee.
Favre with the ball in the waning seconds of a close game was as close as Wisconsin once was to having a sure thing. That's no longer the case. Will the last pass of his illustrious career be a pick? Smart money says "no". Then again, the man who stood all bundled up toward the end of Sunday night's game has the posture and body language of someone who may rather want to be riding the nearest tractor.
The Pack's playoff run was the high tide that raised other boats--I talked to buds who work with other area teams, and all agree that one club's success often rubs off on other area teams. The Green Bay afterglow should continue, at least for a while, as people realize there are other things in life: the Bucks, the Admirals, and the Wave, for starters. That's not to mention Wisconsin, Marquette and UWM college hoop. And, in less than a month, there are the retooled Brewers, poised for another summer of NL Central contention.
That means you have about 27 days or so, by my count, to reintroduce yourself to those people you left behind during the Pack's postseason run. Those people called...what is it now? Oh, yeah! I got it!