Sep 252012
 

I grew up watching a variety of sporting events. One of the things I always appreciated was listening to the post game radio interview after a basketball game, and hearing a basketball coach refuse to blame the loss on an official’s call, or a missed free throw, shot or lay-up that had occurred at the end of the game. The coach on these occasions would point out that the failure to make plays at key moments throughout the game was the cause of the loss as opposed to an official’s call, a missed free throw, or a missed shot at the end of the game. Thus, potentially one of the most frustrating and disappointing things to come out of last night’s game is the opinion that this game was stolen from the Packers. I disagree with this popular sentiment.

The Seattle Seahawks are a gritty, tough, team, and they are a lot of fun to watch. The Seahawks are a play or two away from being 3-0. Who was not impressed by the inspired play of the Seahawk defense, and their plucky quarterback, rookie Russell Wilson? In addition, Marshawn Lynch and Golden Tate were nearly equally as impressive. Consequently, the Seahawks collectively won this game, and let’s give credit where it is due.

In contrast, can the same thing be said about the play of the Green Bay Packers? Giving up eight sacks in one half of play is inexcusable. Yes, Mike McCarthy and his staff made some much needed adjustments at halftime. Further, the much maligned Packer defense has suddenly become a bright spot for the team. The Packers played winning defense, and Aaron Rodgers rendered the type of second half performance that we are used to seeing from him.

However, where was the Packer offensive line in the first half? The tackles were consistently abused and exposed throughout the first half, and the offensive line as a unit delivered a miserable performance. The unit improved its play in the second half, but was the damage already done? In the aftermath of the game, though, rather than some of the Packer linemen acknowledging that they could have played better, these players opted to blame the replacement officials and the NFL for the loss.

I will acknowledge that I am highly critical of Roger Goodell’s handling of this matter. It is my opinion that there has been a lack of leadership on his part in addressing and ultimately resolving this matter. The game and its reputation are being damaged given that it is apparent to all that the lack of quality officiating is damaging the brand of football that we have grown accustomed to watching.
This point is reinforced by what happened last night. Rather than acknowledging the fact that the best team last night won the game, we are blaming the officiating for the Packer loss. Based upon what I witnessed, the Seahawks were the better team and they won the game by virtue of being the better team last night. When it comes down to it, the Packers have no one to blame but themselves for the loss. If the Packers had made more plays throughout the game, the Packers would have won that game going away.

Yes, the failure of the officials union and the NFL to reach an agreement is ruining the game we love. This issue needs to be resolved today. As opposed to discussing what was a great football game last night, played by two pretty good to potentially really good teams, we are blaming the officials for a loss. This is not fair to the Seattle Seahawks, the Green Bay Packers and football fans as a whole.

Sep 252012
 

If the Baltimore win over New England was influenced by sub-par officiating, then the Seattle win over Green Bay was downright decided by it.

A replacement referee ruled that Golden Tate maintained simultaneous control of a last second 24-yard Hail Mary by Russell Wilson with Packers defender MD Jennings and ruled the play a touchdown, lifting the Seahawks to a thrilling 14-12 victory over the Green Bay Packers Monday night.

The only trouble with the call? There was never simultaneous control. Rather, it was clear on replay that Jennings first had possession of the ball and that Tate then fought to gain joint possession of the ball. A second official properly ruled the play an interception but was overruled on the field.

According to the NFL Rulebook,

If a pass is caught simultaneously by two eligible opponents, and both players retain it, the ball belongs to the passers. It is not a simultaneous catch if a player gains control first and an opponent subsequently gains joint control.

Unless you are a Seahawks fan, this video can only show that Jennings secured control of the ball and even turned away from Tate before Tate was able to anchor an arm on the ball to establish mutual possession (not control).

Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy refused to discuss the officiating, limiting his comments to, “I was told M.D. Jennings had the ball. I’ve never seen anything like that in all my years in football.” Quarterback Aaron Rodgers took the subject on right away. “”It was awful. Just look at the replay. And then the fact that it was reviewed, it was awful,” Rodgers said. “That’s all I’m going to say about it.”

There was some dispute after the game as to whether or not the ruling was subject to review, though one would suspect that because all scoring plays are reviewed, the call could and should have been made to rule the play an interception. That was not done however, and it took the teams a full ten minutes to return to the field to complete the required extra point in order to end the game.

The play ruined what was otherwise an extraordinary football game that, while it suffered from some abysmal calls, was a fair and hard fought battle dominated by the Seahawks defense until the Packers struck late to take the lead. The Seahawks were able to pin the Packers deep in their own territory and force a punt, setting up the Seahawks in Packers territory to start the final drive. The Hail Mary occurred on fourth down, and Golden Tate got away with an incredibly obvious offensive pass interference in the end zone that also should have negated the play. While offensive pass interference is rarely called in such situations, this play was obvious to a blind chipmunk living in Maine watching the game on the radio. Unfortunately for the Packers, the chipmunk was not officiating the game.

The game’s bizarre ending had the ESPN analysts going off again, a scant one week after Steve Young’s justified tirade against the league. Tonight both Young and Trent Dilfer spoke eloquently about the harm that the league is doing to the game, and the insult that the league is paying to the fans, players, and former players. As Young noted, the league is destroying the esteemed place that the NFL holds in professional sports, all for the sake of beating the union and controlling the officials. In the interest of saving money and asserting dictatorial control, the league seems willing to demean its own product and render the games meaningless.

Sixteen hours of talks took place over the weekend with the involvement of both Commissioner Goodell and a federal mediator, but the talks broke down. Word is that the NFL is now trying to re-ignite talks, likely in the wake of a disastrous weekend for the replacement officials. But the NFL sent a memo to its clubs updating teams on the progress of the talks, which unfortunately read like a press release justifying the stance of the league, according to Pro Football Talk. Coupled with the revelation that the league has resisted the desire of players to have concussion experts on the sidelines, it is clear that Goodell’s proclamations about the importance and value of player safety are hollow, and the NFL is willing to sacrifice both the integrity of the game and the safety of the players on the field to maximize its own profits.

While I hope that the situation can be resolved with a positive outcome in the near future, all games played with replacement officials are a continued disgrace to the league. These officials are not going to get better, and the evidence suggests that the situation is getting worse by the game. Roger Goodell’s legacy is quickly being reduced to a monumental joke and one must begin to wonder that if this situation does not get resolved soon, if it is time not only for players, coaches and fans to call for a resolution to the lockout, but also call for the resignation of Roger Goodell.

And I imagine that nearly the entire state of Wisconsin is ready to sign the petition. I’m pretty sure they already have one circulating in Louisiana.

Sep 132012
 

Being a Chicago sports fan, I’ve lived my entire life rooting for teams with natural rivals. The Cubs have the Cardinals, the White Sox have the Indians, the Bulls and Blackhawks have the Pistons and Redwings. Then there is the Bears and Packers rivalry–which, I think, is one of the best rivalries in sports. I will comment more on that later.

Rivalries occur in all major sports and are an important aspect of each of those sports. If you happen to be a fan of a team that has a rival, you know what I’m talking about. Having a rival to root against only enhances the experience of following a team. Having that rival could be the reason you decide to root for that team in the first place. Plus, having that one team that you despise above all others creates a level of excitement rarely matched by other opponents. Even if your favorite team isn’t playing that rival, there is a certain amount of satisfaction gained by seeing them lose.

Throughout history, there have been some really heated rivalries that still exist today. Some of these go back many, many decades. The Yankees-Red Sox, Michigan-Ohio State, Lakers-Celtics, Dodgers-Giants, Duke-North Carolina, and the Cowboys-Giants are just a few that come to mind. These rivalries exist due to a number of factors; geographic, longevity, frequency, bad blood because of players or coaches are just a few examples. Regardless of the reason, rivalries can promote and grow the sports in which they exist.

As with most rivals, the level of hatred can be passed down from generation to generation. Fathers and grandfathers telling their sons and grandsons, stories about their most hated rival and how their team got screwed because of a certain play or blown call is what keeps these rivalries going. Having friends who root for your rival can also add a certain dynamic to the friendship. I have no doubt that friendships have been lost because someone’s feelings were hurt during relentless bantering between friends because one team just dominated the other. Without rivals, I think sports would lose some of its appeal–especially to those casual fans that only watch because of the rivalry.

In my opinion, the Bears-Packers rivalry is the best in sports. This rivalry dates back to the 1920’s when the Chicago Staleys shut out the Green Bay Packers, 20-0 on November 27, 1921. There have been 184 regular and post season games between these two franchises, which is the most in NFL history. Currently, the Bears lead the Packers with a 92-86-6 record. The two teams have combined to win 22 NFL Championships (including 5 Super Bowls) and have 48 members in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, of those 5 Super Bowl wins, the Bears have only one win.

This brings me to the downside of a rivalry. It’s rare if both teams have an equal number of championships. Usually, one team has been historically better than the other, which can also fuel the rivalry. While the Bears may hold the advantage of winning more games, the Packers have won more Super Bowls and it’s these wins that matter the most.

These two teams will square off again tonight when they meet at Lambeau Field on the NFL Network. I think this is a statement-game for both teams. Green Bay needs to prove last week’s loss against the 49ers was a fluke and that they are still an elite team in the NFC. Let’s not forget that the Packers now have lost two straight at home if you include last season’s playoff loss. That doesn’t happen too often. They cannot afford to lose another game at home especially against a division opponent. I have no doubt McCarthy will have that team ready to play even on a short week.

The Chicago Bears are looking to move into that elite category and will need to beat the Packers in order to do so. The Bears finally addressed the wide receiver issue that has plagued them for as long as I can remember. Acquiring Brandon Marshall was a significant accomplishment and should not be overlooked. Having that go-to receiver will hopefully give Cutler the confidence to lead this offense and put some points on the board.

I think the keys to this game will be defense and special teams. Green Bay didn’t have that good a defense last year. I know it’s only one game, but it looks like this year’s team isn’t much better. I think San Francisco exposed some gaping holes in their secondary. Those holes were created because of their defensive lines inability to get after the quarterback. Other than Clay Matthews, the Packers don’t have a pass rusher that can get to the quarterback one-on-one. So teams are shifting their offensive line and double-teaming Matthews. So now Green Bay has to blitz more, which exposes the middle. Until the Packers can get consistent pressure on the quarterback with just their front four, the middle will be open. Dom Capers has his work cut out for him.

As far as the Chicago defense goes, they need to get pressure on Rodgers as well. If they cannot get the sack, they need to at least get their hands up and close some of those passing lanes. They also need to avoid the big plays. Momentum will be a huge factor in this game and eliminating Green Bay’s ability for big plays will keep that momentum on Chicago’s side. Green Bay doesn’t have much of a run game to speak of, so I fully expect Chicago to concentrate on the passing game.

Any team who plays the Bears has to deal with Devin Hester. Do we or do we not kick to him? These special team plays can be huge in determining field position. The Chicago offense has improved but they can be even more dangerous, if given a short field. Green Bay will need to decide if they are going to let special teams decide this game.

With all this said, I see it being a relatively close game. I wouldn’t be surprised if the team who has the ball last, wins the game. Being the homer that I am, I see the score being 34-27 with Chicago winning. If Chicago wins this game, the odds of Green Bay making the playoffs after going 0-2 are slim. That’s why this is a statement game for both teams and should be exciting to watch.

Like them or not, rivalries play a large role in sports. Rivalries can bring people together or rip them apart just the same. Being a part of several great rivalries, I enjoy the fact that my team has a natural rival. I feel it gives me an extra bit of excitement when they play against each other. For those three hours, I’m not only rooting for my team to win, I’m rooting for them to completely demolish the other team. I want that other team to remember the beat down they just received and for it to leave sour taste in their mouth. This will only intensify the next meeting and make it even that more exciting.

So needless to say, I will be glued to the TV tonight rooting for my Bears to dominate the Packers. Even if they lose, having that extra bit of excitement will be well worth it. Besides, it could always be worse. I could be a Cleveland Browns fan!

Aug 142012
 

Disappointing news from Bears’ camp.

Dick Butkus didn’t undergo knee surgery; he performed knee surgery. On the field. Usually at the expense of Packers running backs.

Dick Butkus can’t spell “arthroscopic”. So what? He can kill Lions with his bear hands. (Get it?)

Dick Butkus didn’t have an off-season. He spent the months of February through August in Sweden and Denmark, hunting Vikings.

Hurry back, Mr. Urlacher. You still have big shoes to fill.

Aug 132012
 

Yes, it’s the first game of the pre-season, but…

…I did not realize how much I missed football until I tuned into ESPN’s Monday Night Countdown this past Thursday and felt myself not only hanging on every word that was uttered by Boomer, Ditka, Keyshawn, Cris Carter and Tom Jackson, but almost wishing I could kiss each one of the lips of the guys uttering those words. Then, an hour later the game started and I had a completely different reaction to the team that many think may be one of the best, if not the best, teams in the NFL, the Green Bay Packers.

During Countdown I listened to Aaron Rodgers talk about how this year’s version of the Packers will prepare themselves better for the task at hand, and how the team, given that there is not quite as much hoopla surrounding them this year, prefers to be more of the “hunter” as opposed to the “hunted”.  This may indeed be correct.  However, what became immediately apparent to me on Thursday night was that this will only go as far as a defense and a running game, or lack thereof, will take them.

The Packers trotted out James Starks at running back. James Starks is not the type of running back that a team aspiring to win the Division, the Halas Trophy and ultimately the Lombardi Trophy starts at this crucial position. Yes, he has shown flashes of solid play at times. However, Starks is not the every- down/big-play type of back that is going to strike terror in hearts of opposing defenses and their coordinators.

Yes, but the Packers have Aaron Rodgers at quarterback and a bevy of big-time receiving targets for him. Who needs a star running back when you have this feature in your offense? To answer this question one needs to only go back eight or so months ago to a cold day in Kansas City when Romeo Crennell showed everyone how tight coverage, a solid pass rush, and limiting the amount of possessions the Packers have in a game can serve to slow down an offense that lacks a premier player at running back.

There has been discussion of second-year running back out of the University of Hawaii, Alex Green, filling some of the void at this position. However, Green has been limited by injuries thus far, and is it enough to pin the hopes of a rushing attack on a second-year player who has yet to play significant minutes in his brief NFL career?

I still have similar concerns with the defense. Yes, I liked the play of Nick Perry. His first sack was especially encouraging. The penalty administered in the aftermath of the play attests to the fact that Roger Goodell needs to immediately resolve the ongoing dispute with the NFL officials, but I digress.

Desmond Bishop got hurt early in the game. This is especially concerning for a team that will try to compensate for the loss of Nick Collins by starting an aging Charles Woodson at safety. Woodson was on the sideline dressed in civilian attire, and with Bishop out of the game early it seemed like I was watching the 2011 Packer defense make an appearance in the first preseason game of 2012.

Although, Nick Perry may provide some needed pass rush, I see a defense that will again struggle stopping the run and ultimately getting off the field in the aftermath of third down. Yes, it was the first game of the preseason, yet the glaring weaknesses of the 2011 defense were on display throughout the game.

A few weeks ago I picked the Packers to win a heated divisional battle over the Bears and advance to the NFC Championship. However, based upon what I witnessed on Thursday evening, I believe that this is going to be a third place team in the NFC North that will struggle mightily to win 10 games and earn the Wildcard.

Football is still a simple game. Winning football is played by teams with a strong defense and a running game. It looks like the Packers will have neither one of these essential qualities in 2012. Consequently, it could be a disappointing year for the Pack.

Cleat-Gate

 Posted by
Jun 052012
 

Just saw the video of “cleat-gate”.

Seriously?

That’s what all the fuss is about?

Packers WR for life Donald Driver throws the cleat towards the woman in the green shirt. The kid reaches over and swipes it from in front of her. She promptly takes it back.

That’s it.

From the discussion on talk radio around here, you’d think Driver had walked into the stands and handed the cleat to the kid, along with notarized proof of ownership, only to have said cleat ripped from his grasp once Driver made his way into the locker room. Clearly, whoever this woman is, she must be the spawn of Satan. Or at least his half-sister.

This reminds me of the flap a couple months back over the foul ball in Texas. Why the hell are kids any more entitled to stuff thrown into the stands than are those of us who have been attending games for more than 30 years, yet have nothing to show for it?

Stupid kids.

Supposedly, Driver intended to toss the cleat to the kid. Considering his aim, it’s a good thing the Packers have Aaron Rogers on the roster.

Question: if the woman had not been able to secure her hold on the cleat, would Driver have “done the right thing” and arranged to present her with autographed swag?

If he had, I suspect the story would have taken on some seriously weird overtones…

Jun 052012
 

I am not a “Cheese Head”. I grew up in Central Iowa where college football reigns supreme, and college football fans on Sunday watch the Bears, Chiefs, Packers and Vikings. I liked the Packers, but I also liked the other three teams I referenced. Although I respected and appreciated how Brett Favre played the game, I would not have described myself as necessarily a “fan” of his.

I met my wife in 2003. She was both a big time Packer and Brett Favre fan, and maybe not even in that order? Her family has had Packer season tickets for years and I started attending Packer games on a regular basis that year. Consequently, I developed a greater allegiance to both the Packers and Brett Favre. I felt as though I was privileged to have the opportunity to personally witness a true Packer and NFL legend such as Favre lead the Packers, and I especially enjoyed the playoff runs of the ’03, ’04 and ’07 seasons.

I felt the pain of the playoff losses that ended those seasons and the opportunity for Brett Favre to earn another Super Bowl ring. I will particularly always remember yelling “No!” when Favre hurled what would turn out to be his final pass as a Packer in overtime of the NFC Championship. A few months later, I watched him tearfully say what I thought was goodbye to the sport he loved, in addition to the organization that I thought he loved, and I guess that I thought loved him.

Of course that was far from the end of the legend of Brett Favre. What ensued in the aftermath of March 2008 heightened tensions among both Packer and NFL fans alike. I was one of those fans who quickly turned against Favre for what I perceived to be his narcissistic shenanigans. Other Packer fans I knew remained loyal to Favre during the ’08 season when he played as a member of the New York Jets.

These fans believed the Packer organization had done the unthinkable in the aftermath of the NFC Championship in 2008 when the organization demanded that Favre make a decision about his future in short order. After all, Favre was a Packer legend and the rationale of many was that the organization should have afforded Favre the luxury of making the decision on his own time. Of course, this sentiment went out the window when Favre’s overtures with the Minnesota Vikings became more and more public. Just as the Packer organization had done the unthinkable by giving Favre a timetable to make his decision, Favre had done the unthinkable as a result of his willingness to play for a Packer archrival.

I recall listening to Steve Young on the Jim Rome Show back in the summer of 2008. Young was talking about what was then transpiring between Brett Favre and the Packer organization. Young explained that no matter on how good of terms a quarterback may be with his organization there is nothing that can prepare that quarterback for the feelings that will arise internally when that quarterback realizes that his organization is preparing for its future without him as quarterback. This is the cold hard fact of the business side of the NFL. Further, Favre’s situation was likely compounded by the fact that there is potentially no other general manager in the NFL who is colder when it comes to the business operations of the organization than Packer General Manager Ted Thompson.

On the other side of this issue was a fact that Fox NFL color analyst Troy Aikman brought up late in the 2009 Packer/Viking game in Green Bay. Aikman stated that he was not so sure that Favre wanted to stay in Green Bay given that Favre may have felt that his best chance to win another Super Bowl was as the quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings? Aikman said that he felt like this was a side of the Favre/Packer saga that was never really explored. I think Aikman was correct with this analysis.

Of course, like so many things in life, the truth of who was at fault probably lies in the middle. Further, now three years removed from this matter it has become clear to me that it was in the best interest of both the Green Bay Packers and Brett Favre for Favre to end his career with the Minnesota Vikings. The Packers won Super Bowl XLV, and had it not been for a penalty for having too many players in the huddle Brett Favre likely would have won Super Bowl XLIV. Both the Packers and Favre are probably better off today as a result of that painful split that occurred back in 2008.

Back in 2008 and 2009, I was as critical of Brett Favre as anybody. However, the time has now arrived for the Packer organization to recognize all of the wonderful things that Favre did for the organization, the City of Green Bay, the State of Wisconsin, and the NFL and its fans. Likewise, it is also time for Brett Favre to acknowledge that he would not be where he is today without the Green Bay Packers.

I was in Wisconsin for Easter weekend. I heard on the local news that weekend that Brett and Deanna Favre had reached out to a soldier and his family who were from Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I appreciated hearing this story.  About a month later it was reported that the president of the Packer organization, Mark Murphy, stated that the organization will likely retire Favre’s jersey sometime in the next couple of years. Murphy’s statement seemed to leave the decision up to Brett Favre as to when this will occur. No.

I say that it is time for one of both of these parties to rise above all of this and do what is right for the Green Bay Packers, for Brett Favre, and for Packer and NFL fans alike. Let’s accomplish this sooner, rather than later. How about this coming season?

May 222012
 

 

Green Bay Packers

Head Coach: Mike McCarthy

Projected Starting Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers

2011 Record:  15 wins, 1 loss (1st in NFC North)

0-1 in postseason (lost in Divisional round)

3rd in Total Offense, 32nd in Total Defense

2002-2011 10 year record: 99 wins, 61 losses (T-4th in NFL)

6 wins, 6 losses in postseason

1-0 in Super Bowl appearances

4-1 All-time in Super Bowl

May 222012
 

 

Chicago Bears

Head Coach: Lovie Smith

Projected Starting Quarterback: Jay Cutler

2011 Record:  8 wins, 8 losses (3rd in NFC North)

No postseason appearance

24th in Total Offense, 17th in Total Defense

2002-2011 10 year record: 82 wins, 78 losses (14th in NFL)

3 wins, 3 losses in postseason

0-1 in Super Bowl appearances

1-1 All-time in Super Bowl

May 222012
 

 

Minnesota Vikings

Head Coach: Leslie Frazier

 

Projected Starting Quarterback: Christian Ponder

2011 Record:  3 wins, 13 losses (4th in NFC North)

No postseason appearance

18th in Total Offense, 21st in Total Defense

2002-2011 10 year record: 77 wins, 83 losses (18th in NFL)

2 wins, 3 losses in postseason

No Super Bowl appearances

0-4 All-time in Super Bowl