Thursday, January 15, 1998

San Diego, Here We Come!

Two weeks ago, I wrote that I felt pretty good about the Championship Game against the 49ers, but admitted to some trepidations about the game. After all, the 49ers had Home Field Advantage, had a good defense, etc., etc., etc.

A young man by the name of Jarrod Leder wrote a response to my article (BEFORE the game), pointing out eight analytical reasons why the Packers would win the game. Slightly condensed, here they are:

1) The 49ers are an untested team. [...] The Packers had to beat three of the five (not including themselves) best teams in the NFC TWICE!!!! Plus one for the Pack.

2) Barry Sanders. [...] The biggest reason why the Packers are only rated 7th in the league in defense is because of this man. He racked up close to 300 yards on the Packers this year and the 9ers didn't even play him. Plus two for the Pack.

3) Brett Favre. He has a 94.1 QB rating in the playoffs which is higher than Young. [...] Plus three for the Pack.

4) Gilbert Brown. Nobody in the league can run on this defense when he's in there and healthy. [...] Plus four for the Pack.

5) Packers secondary vs. untested receivers. Evans and Williams are [...] the most dominant tandem in the league and you can quote me on that. Plus five for the Packers.

6) Dorsey Levens. He's a freight train in the playoffs. [...] Plus six for the Packers.

7) Home field, Shmome field. The Packers won all three games of a late season road trip which included winning at Minnesota (the 49ers didn't do that) and Tampa Bay (the 49ers didn't do that either). [...] The Packers have no fear of playing on the road. [...] Plus seven for the Packers.

8) I've been right about every Packer game this season including the loss to the Colts (no joke). [...] I have the same feeling about this game that I had for the Cowboy game in November. I had a feeling the Packers were going to completely crush the 'Boys. Plus eight for the Packers.

WOW!! Jarrod, "you da man" as far as I am concerned. As I told him after the game, looking back on it now, it all seems so clear that the Packers were the better team, by far, and that they should have been able to win the game easily. Still, all those many years of something going wrong didn't allow me to realize, before the game, just how right Jarrod was.

Well, here we go again. My immediate, waterlogged reaction after the Championship Game was that the Packers would easily beat the Broncos. This lasted all the way home from 3Com Park. But then, I started to think of all of the talent John Elway has shown over the years, all of his comebacks, the clutch catches by Sterling's little brother, the strong running game led by Terrell Davis. Doubt started to creep in again.

No, forget it. The Packers will win this game, and they will win it solidly (no point-spread prediction here, though). Even if the Broncos are better than the 49ers, itself a dubious proposition to anyone who saw the Monday night debacle between those two teams a few weeks ago, the fact is that the Packers are just the better team, and are on a mission of their own, to make more history for themselves and for our glorious franchise. So sorry, John Elway, that "sentimental favorite" business carries no weight with me, with millions of other Packer fans, or with the World Champion Green Bay Packers themselves.

I have not heard from Jarrod yet about the Super Bowl, but await his analysis with great anticipation.

* * *

On the way out of the Superdome last January 26, we heard a rhythmic chant arise from our fellow Packer fans. "One and Two, Thirty-One and Thirty-Two." (Or for the Romans among us, "I and II, XXXI and XXXII.") It has been a long year since then, with a lot of ups and downs. The Packers have persevered, and are packing their bags for San Diego. All that remains to make this year's dreams come true is for them to win the game.

Monday, January 5, 1998

Battle By the Bay

The Green Bay Packers are headed back to the NFC Championship game for the third year in a row. The trip to San Francisco was guaranteed when the 49ers beat the Vikings on Saturday, and the Packers finished off the Buccaneers. Once again, for the umpteenth time, the Vikings AND the 49ers conspired to do exactly the opposite of what the Packers needed to have happen. This has been going on since at least as far back as the 1989 "Majik Man" year, and it does not look like it will stop any time soon.

In the Freeman household, the 49er victory over Minnesota, while disappointing, at least has a silver lining. We figured that this would happen, and so rather than planning on going back to Green Bay for a playoff game, we saved the airfare and planned on going to the NFC Championship game here in San Francisco.

This week's game will bring back memories for all us, I'm sure. Was it really only two years ago that the Packers were the new kids on the block, sort of like this year's Buccaneers? They came out to San Francisco after beating the Falcons in the first round, and noone gave them a chance. They were facing the world champions, after all, on the road. I remember wavering as to whether I really wanted to go to the game, thinking it would be a miserable day for Packer fans. Then I said to myself, "What am I thinking about?" This was a Packer playoff game, something I had never been to in my life. So we located four tickets, packed ourselves into the minivan, and headed for San Francisco. What a game that was! I don't think I will ever forget the way the Packers took it to the 49ers that day. The fumble return, the way Wayne Simmons was beating up Brent Jones, Antonio Freeman signalling first downs, Keith Jackson open down the middle of the field, even John Jurkovich covering Jerry Rice on a zone blitz. It represented a legitimate beginning of the changing of the guard.

The interesting thing was the reaction of the 49er fans. They couldn't quite believe what was happening, of course. But they were generally very nice to us Packer fans. (The "Piss on the
Packers" T-shirts they were selling in the parking lot are another story, but they were available at sizeable discounts after the game.) The 49er fans even wished us well the following week
against, as it turned out, Dallas.

I think the atmosphere will be different this time. I think the cute novelty of the cheeseheads, and the Holmgren/Sherman Lewis/west coast offense connections have worn off with the 49er
fans. They are starting to work up a fair amount of negative feelings about the Packers. Now that the Packers have beaten the 49ers three times in a row (twice in the Playoffs), the Packers are beginning to be to 49er fans close to what the Cowboys were to the Packer fans. Judy (my wife) heard someone call in to a talk radio show the other day with terrible things to say about any 49er season ticket holder who would dare sell seats to Packer fans.

Anyway, the Freemans will be there again on Sunday, along with thousands of other Packer fans. I still feel pretty good about the game, since I really believe that the Packers are the better team. Sure, I wish the game was at Lambeau, but they are good enough to win on the road, and now all they have to do is prove it again. Judy is more nervous about the game, and our kids are still in that stage where they just believe the Packers will win every game. I hope we can fill every available seat with Packer fans, and eliminate whatever limited home field advantage there is in Candlestick Park.