Thursday, October 3, 2002

3-1 Underachievers

Two more weeks under the Packers' belts, and there is good news and bad news. The good news is that the Packers are now 3-1, in sole possession of first place in the NFC North, and tied for the best record in the NFC. The bad news is that the Packers have given their fans almost no reason to think that they can continue to win 75 percent of their games.

They came close to losing to the Lions in Detroit, in a game very reminiscent of last year's Thanksgiving Day affair. And then the Packers barely survived the invasion of the Panthers, with a missed chip shot field goal being the only thing that saved the Packers from overtime. On the plus side, the defense actually looked quite a bit better against the Panthers, despite the fact that they continue to give up big plays at the most maddening moments. And given the slew of people on both offense and defense who were on the injury list, maybe surviving a scare for a 17-14 win isn't so bad. None of us who saw it will soon forget Mike Sherman's temper tantrum on the sideline after the officials originally ruled Bubba Franks' touchdown pass an illegal forward pass. Whether the purpose of the tantrum was to stall until the replay official upstairs had time to call for a replay, or whether he was trying to fire up the team, or whether he just plain lost it, it was a sight to behold.

And now it is Packer-Bear week. It has been said many times, but it really is true that this is the greatest rivalry in the NFL, maybe in all of professional sports. It has everything you could want in a rivalry. Over 80 years of history, big city vs. small town, a genuine historical dislike between the teams and the fans. Halas vs. Lambeau and Lombardi, Nitschke vs. Butkus, and I could go on and on. Both teams have been hit hard by injuries early this season, so a big part of the game may be which team has been able to adjust better to the personnel changes. I would be more worried about this game, given how the Packers have been playing, it I had not seen the Bears blow a 20 point lead in week 3 to lose to the Saints, and then lose again in week 4 to the Bills. So the Packers have a decent shot at this game.

The key to the Packers season, as things appear right now, is for them to keep winning most of the close games until they get healthier, and until the defense gets to the point where it is playing more consistently. Last week was a real improvement for the defense, and this week would be an excellent time to keep that momentum moving in the right direction. I can't wait for Monday night.

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This week's column is dedicated to the man who took me to my very first Packer game, 40 years ago this week. That man was my Dad, who died peacefully last week at age 90, unfortunately a few days before we arrived for a visit. Continuing the generational tradition, my wife, kids and I stayed in town and went to the Packer game on Sunday. Thank goodness the Packers kept up their end of the bargain by winning the game. Oh, by the way, that first Packer game I went to, 40 years ago, was also a Packer-Bear game. Packers 49, Bears 0, September 30, 1962.

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