Tuesday, January 5, 1999

End of a Season, Not an Era

Let's get it out of the way right at the start. Yes, it was a fumble. Yes, it was a bad call. So what? I have always considered it poor form to sit around and complain about bad calls. I have described the fans of other teams as "whiners" for sitting around complaining about bad calls. I'm going to try real hard not to do it myself, and I urge other Packer fans not to do so, either.

Now, the question whether instant replay should be brought back is a different matter. I am in favor of that, and have always been in favor of that. Not having instant replay review available is just crazy. The fans want it, the media wants it, the players want it, and maybe now even the team owners will recognize that it is required. People have always said that "one of these days" a bad call is going to cost some team a playoff game. It is very arguable that it happened twice this past weekend. If you agree with this, do something about it. Write to the League, or call the League. The address is:

National Football League
280 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10017
Phone: (212) 450-2000
FAX: (212) 681-7575

Or sign the "cyber-petition" at http://www.fans4replay.com. Or do all of the above. But don't just sit around whining about bad calls.

As for the game, I went with my family, as we always do when the Packers are in town. But the atmosphere was different this time. There seemed to be far fewer Packer fans in attendance than there were for the last two playoff games here. Was it the weather, wreaking havoc with the plans of people who thought they would just fly out for the weekend? Was it the fact that a lot of the Wisconsin and ex-Wisconsin sports dollars had already been committed for trips to the Rose Bowl before this game became a certainty? I don't know, but the difference was noticeable.

The crowd was revved up to a feverish pitch throughout the game, much more like what I expect at Lambeau Field than like what I have come to expect at 3Com Park. I think there are two reasons for this. In the last two games, the Packers jumped out to a big lead, or were in control of the game from fairly early on. This really did take the crowd out of the game, whereas Sunday's game was both thrilling and close at all times. In addition, the dislike of the Packers by the 49er fans has grown exponentially since that first playoff game 3 years ago. This has gotten to be just like our "Dallas" and the crowd reacted just like Packer fans must have last year when Dallas came to Green Bay.

On the way into the stadium, we were taunted by some drunk, who informed us that the Packers are not going to the Super Bowl this year. I told him that neither of these teams are going to the Super Bowl this year. I believed it then, and I still believe it. These were two good, not great, teams fighting it out in what turned out to be a great game in all respects except for the final score. But neither team has what it takes to go to the Super Bowl. As a matter of fact, it is that belief that has allowed me to take this loss a little easier than the loss in the Super Bowl last year. It took me two months to sit down to write about that game, whereas I am writing about this one two days after the fact. I still have not watched the tape of the Super Bowl, but I am working my way through the tape of this game.

This just was not the Packers' year. That began to dawn on us at the time of the Minnesota and Detroit losses in Weeks 5 and 6. At least in my case, I deluded myself with the thought that the Packers would put it together later on in the season, as they worked through their injury problems. I also told myself that the Vikings would do their usual collapse. That didn't happen, either.

It was an unfortunate end to the season, but it is not the end of an era, even if Mike Holmgren leaves, and even if the Packers lose more of their players to free agency. This team still has Brett Favre as its quarterback, and as long as it does, it will be a contender, much as Denver has hung around with Elway for many years. Favre needs to play smarter, Ron Wolf needs to fill some holes, and he may need to find new coaches as things look right now. But I am confident that this team is not finished. As a matter of fact, I think the Packers have a better shot to be back in the playoffs next year than the 49ers, given the 49ers' age and salary cap problems.