Friday, July 19, 2002

Cause for Concern

One win, one loss, both against teams that look as if they are better than anyone assumed. Things could be a lot worse, right?

Of course they could, but let's take a closer look at what has happened. Michael Vick became the new starter for the Falcons, and proceeded to force the Packer defense to chase him all over the field on an unseasonably hot Green Bay day. By the time the first quarter was over, the defenses on both sides must have had very little left in the tank. But the burden was worse for the Packers' defense, who had to continue to chase Vick. When you look at it this way, the fact that the Packers won the game in overtime, rather than being an embarrassment for the Packers, is actually quite an accomplishment. I was convinced, and my attitude was, "let's see what the defense looks like against the Saints before getting too concerned."

Well, the defense looked pretty terrible, and this time not even Brett Favre could bail out the team. True, the Saints also look better than expected, having beaten the Buccaneers in Week one, and having replaced the departed Ricky Williams with Deuce McAllister without missing a beat. But that doesn't change the fact that the Packers didn't just lose the game. Instead, the Packers lost the game AND the defense looked old, slow, and tired.

So I am concerned. And I was concerned before I found out that Ahman Green would probably miss this week's game. Before I learned that Mark Tauscher would miss the rest of the season. Before the Lions announced that they would start Joey Harrington. Before it dawned on me that this will be the first regular season game in Ford Field. The Packers just have too much history making new starters look like Hall-of-Famers. Especially on artificial turf. Especially in domes. So now I am really concerned.

I have seen the view expressed that the Packers now face two eminently winnable games against Detroit and Carolina. And if they win both of those games to get to 3-1, things will almost automatically look more positive than they do right now. But it just doesn't look that automatic to me. Heck, the Packers almost lost to the equally bad Lions last year on Thanksgiving Day. And the eminently beatable Panthers are sitting at 2-0, so maybe they are not such a bad team, either.

The third game of the season can't really be a "must-win" game. The Patriots last year started out 0-2, and lost their Pro Bowl quarterback for most of the year. But if the Packers don't win this game, it looks like it will be a long season.

The Butler Did It

Just a few days ago, my Packers Trivia calendar asked this question: "who is the only Packer player to have played for each of the last four head coaches of the Packers?" The answer, of course, was Leroy Butler. The only Packer from the Lindy Infante era still active as a member of the team.

Until yesterday. Leroy Butler retired yesterday, due to the fact that his shoulder has not healed properly. Ever the team player, Butler was concerned about holding a roster spot open for him through training camp and the pre-season. What if, after holding the roster spot, the shoulder still hasn't healed? Then the team would have suffered from devoting the spot to him. So he leaves, after a long career, but before Butler or the team had hoped.

Butler will be missed by the team, and by the fans. He was, after all, one of the leaders of the team on defense throughout his career. He also originated the Lambeau Leap, on an icy day in Green Bay at the end of the 1993 season. Butler stripped the ball from the Raider ball-carrier, it was scooped up by Reggie White, who soon lateraled the ball to Butler who carried the ball into the end zone and into the stands. I remember that game, since it was carried on TV here in the San Francisco-Oakland area, even though the Raiders then played in Los Angeles. The Raiders seemed completely psyched out by the cold, and the Packers cruised to a 28-0 victory. Butler's touchdown made the score 21-0, and it was about that time that a Raider-fan friend of the family called to wave the white flag.

On a much warmer day, Butler repeated the maneuver in September of 1996, against the Chargers. This time the Packers cruised to a 42-10 victory, and Butler cruised 90 yards for a touchdown and Lambeau Leap with his second interception of the day.

Butler was selected for the Pro Bowl in both 1993, 1996, 1997 and 1998. He is certain to be elected to the Packers Hall of Fame, and likely to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I was supposed to go to what turned out to be Butler's last game as an active player, on November 18, 2001, but missed it due to a death in the family.

Butler says he wants to stay with the team this year as a consultant. The Packers would be nuts not to make room for him. and I am sure that they will. He will, as a consultant, continue to provide the sort of leadership for the young players that he did as a player.