Tuesday, September 25, 2001

Never in Doubt

When the Redskins and Packers get together on Monday Night Football, you can always count on an interesting game. The last time, in 1983, the two teams combined for the highest-scoring Monday Night Football game in history. The Packers prevailed, 48-47, when Mark Moseley, the last of the "conventional" NFL place kickers, missed a 39 yard field goal in the closing seconds. I
was on an airplane from San Francisco to Los Angeles the morning after that game. Presumably not a lot of Packer fans or Redskins fans on the plane. But the Monday Night game was all anybody could talk about that morning.

This time around, only a Packer fan or a Redskin-hater could really appreciate the game. I would imagine that half of the audience switched off the game by early in the third quarter. The Packers were so dominant, and the Redskins so powerless, that there was no doubt that the Packers would win from very early on. I remember having a little bit of nervousness when Favre's pass was intercepted at the end of the first half. The Redskins were only two touchdowns away from the lead, after all. But who was I kidding? The Packers were in complete control, and it would have taken some really bizarre events for the Packers to lose the game.

I had two favorite moments from last night. One was before the game, when the players rushed out on the field, led by Chris Gizzi carrying the flag. It was a stirring moment, made all the more poignant when it was mentioned that he had been chosen for the honor because he is an Air Force Reserve Officer.

And the other was the touchdown pass to Bill Schroeder. Living in the San Francisco area, I have suffered through any number of Montana to Rice or Young to Rice slant passes for touchdowns over the years. It always seemed as if the passes led Rice perfectly, hitting him in stride, and that Rice would accelerate through the gap between the defenders and be off to the end zone. I remember one of these passes to Rice against the Packers, where the defenders were chasing Rice for maybe 40 or 50 yards to the end zone. Anyway, the pass to Schroeder last night was EXACTLY like those passes. The pass could not have been more perfect, Schroeder never had to slow down to get it, and he turned on the jets to run right past those guys to the end zone. This was not the most dramatic Packer touchdown pass I have ever seen. The most dramatic was probably either Favre's very first game-winning touchdown pass, to Kitrick Taylor, after Don Majkowski was knocked out of the game what seems like many years ago, or maybe the game-winning overtime pass to Freeman last year. But it is the prettiest Packer touchdown pass I have seen in some time.

Let's not get carried away with this win. Neither the Lions nor the Redskins are very good teams. But, on the other hand, how many times over recent years have you seen the Packers play down to the level of the competition, either squeaking out a victory over an inferior opponent, or even losing the game? I am encouraged by the way that the Packers dominated these two very weak opponents. Now the Packers need to carry that intensity on the road, as they play two better-quality teams in the next two weeks, the Panthers and the Buccaneers. We will know a lot more about what the Packers' season will look like after those two games.

Sunday, September 16, 2001

A Quiet, Sad Sunday

The NFL is quiet today, as the nation continues to mourn the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on Tuesday. I expected the cancellation of this week's games, even though I have mixed feelings about it. The logistics of moving teams around on Friday or Saturday would have been difficult, and press reports suggest that the NFL players were strong(although not unanimous) in their view that the games should not be played this weekend.

It was almost unthinkable that the Packers could have played this weekend in Giants Stadium, just 10 miles or so away across the river from lower Manhattan. Indeed, it has come out that contingency plans were being made to play the Packers-Giants game in Green Bay, with gate proceeds being donated to the relief effort.

But the biggest factor probably was Pete Rozelle's often-expressed regret about not canceling the games on the weekend of President Kennedy's assassination. I don't know if Paul Tagliabue considered the cancellation of the games to be a close call, or a clear mandate. Certainly, in light of Pete Rozelle's comments, I think Tagliabue would have resolved a close call, if he perceived it as such, in favor of cancellation. Despite my mixed feelings, I feel that the Commissioner made the right decision.

My family and I visited the World Trade Center Observation Deck for the first time just four weeks ago. I was amazed at the massiveness of these impressive buildings, and at the beautiful views. I am amazed now that these buildings could have been brought down by the acts of fanatics wielding knives and razor blades. And I was repulsed by the pictures of celebrations by Palestinians in Nablus, and by reports of threats to the news agencies not to air those pictures.

Let us all pray for the families of the victims, and for the perpetrators of this crime to be brought to justice. The NFL will return next week, but it is safe to say that it will be a long time before our lives return to normal.

Monday, September 10, 2001

A Good Start

A well-timed family visit brought me to Wisconsin this past weekend. So (of course) a visit to a rainy Lambeau Field on opening day was on the agenda. The last time I went to an opening day game, the up-and-coming 1995 Green Bay Packers laid an egg. They lost to the St. Louis Rams, providing the Rams with their first-ever victory since moving to St. Louis. The weather was much worse this time around, but the football result was much better. [Ed. note - the Packers beat the Lions, 28-6.]

Opening day is a great time of year for football fans. Everyone has high expectations, or at least high hopes, on opening day. There is frequently ahint of fall in the air, and for those with kids, the new school year has either begun or is about to begin.

Here are a few things that struck me about the game and the stadium.

The parking situation is not as bad as was advertised. I over-reacted to the talk about parking problems and plunked down the money for a reserved spot in one of the Ticket Star lots. But this turned out to be quite unnecessary, as it seemed to be just about as easy to find a parking spot near the stadium as in past years. (In fact, I could have parked in the Ticket Star lot to which I was assigned for $5 less than I paid Ticket Star.)

On the other hand, foot congestion going into the stadium was pretty bad. I don't know if they are really enforcing the requirement that you enter only through the gate marked on your ticket, but there seemed to be a larger-than-usual backup going into the stadium. People should definitely allow some extra time to get in by opening kickoff.

The bunting in the stadium looked nice, but would have looked much better on a bright, sunny day. The smattering of boos for Antonio Freeman as he was introduced was perhaps to be expected, but still disappointing to me. Although he was not much of a factor in the game, I hope he is able to rehabilitate himself with the fans. In that connection, he did a nice job blocking on one of the running plays, which may help.

If there was any doubt last year about whether Ahman Green is the real deal, this game goes a long way toward dispelling that doubt. Green broke tackles on both of his long touchdown runs. If only I had him on my fantasy football team! Brett Favre (who is on my team) was also very sharp, with a high completion percentage despite 3 or 4 dropped passes, two TD passes and
no interceptions. Plus Favre did a great job blocking on a reverse and on another running play. The fact that the Lions were missing 3 of their defensive backs is probably good reason not to over-react to how good Favre looked on opening day, though.

But I don't think it is an over-reaction to say that the defense looked great. Ed Donatell, the defensive coordinator, called a great game and the players responded. KGB (Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila) was an exciting presence on the defensive side of the ball. He had 3 of the Packers' 7 sacks, and how can you not like a player whose name includes the word "beer", and whose initials are KGB, if you include his first name, or GB if you don't. Darren Sharper seems to have picked up exactly where he left off last year, with 2 interceptions including one for a TD, although the TD was called back.

Anyway, a great way to start the season. The Packers have a tough schedule this year, so they can't afford to give away any games that they should win, and by the end of the first quarter yesterday, it was pretty clear that they were not going to give this game away.

Saturday, September 1, 2001

View From the "Net"

The name of this column is the West Coast Offensive, so naturally I was in attendance at the Network Associates Coliseum last night, along with 32,000 friends and acquaintances. The game was disappointing in many ways. Not much pass rush by the Packers, not much rushing offense, no rushing defense come to mind. I would rather have had the Packers look really sharp in this
game, which they did not. But still, this was the final pre-season game, on the road, and many of the starters played only a couple of series, at which point the game was tied, 7-7. And the Raiders are no slouches, either. They were in the AFC Championship game last year, after all, and they clearly have a "Super Bowl or Bust" mentality this year. So, on the whole, I was not that discouraged by the performance.

And there were some good things, too. Seeing Corey Bradford catch that bomb from Favre, and then running away from the defensive backs for an 87-yard touchdown. (Admittedly, Anthony Dorsett took the wrong angle in trying to run him down, but still. . .) Maybe Bradford is finally ready to make some noise this year. Robert Ferguson got involved in the game, after enduring some ripping in the press this past week, and caught 3 passes for 59 yards before being knocked out of the game on a vicious, way-too-early shot that will surely draw a fine of a week's pay for the perpetrator.

And most of all, Henry Burriss. Our 3rd string QB finally got to throw a pass, 24 of them in fact, and he was fun to watch. He was wild at times, he seems to have no touch pass in his repertoire, and he and his receivers seemed out of synch at times. But he is mobile, has a cannon for an arm, and really looks like he has a future in the NFL. He looks like a big improvement over Billy Joe Tolliver.

Other observations from the stadium that probably did not find their way on camera:
  • In the second half, I noticed a family of Packer fans in the first row of seats, behind the Packer bench. From where I was, it looked like a woman with her two kids, the daughter dressed in Packer duds and the son going incognito. The woman seemed to be trying to get the attention of Packer players, so I watched to see if she had any success. I finally did see Brett Favre wave in the direction of someone in the crowd, and I think it was toward this family. Then, later, I saw a security guard taking something from Bill Schroeder and deliver it to this family, so my suspicion is that they succeeded in getting Billy's autograph.
  • The most animated group of Packer fans in my vicinity was a family,a woman and several kids. The woman was wearing a Na'il Diggs jersey. In this part of the country, a Na'il Diggs jersey is definitely a special order item. Could they have been family members?
  • In the closing minutes of the game, the police came out in force to make sure people keep off the field. I noticed Barry Stokes having an extended and apparently amiable discussion with a member of the California Highway Patrol.
  • After the game, Eric Allen (the other defensive back beaten on the Bradford bomb) brought his two young kids onto the field to meet Brett Favre. It was a cute scene.