Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Do Politics and Football Mix?

Greetings from the sunny state of California, home of the ever-more-bizarre Gubernatorial Recall Election. Today's news is that Arianna Huffington has dropped out of the race. This leaves Governor Davis running against his own pathetic record, with the main candidates trying to take his job as Cruz Bustamante on the far left, Tom McClintock on the far right, and Arnold Schwarzenegger somewhere in the middle.

A week or so ago on one of the local talk radio shows, the host, Ronn Owens(who thought up the name Ronn, by the way?) was interviewing one of thec andidates. McClintock, if I recall correctly. McClintock argued thatBustamante, from his perspective, is even worse than Governor Davis. Owens responded, only slightly facetiously, that he has said all along that Governor Davis' anti-recall slogan should be "Bustamante would be even worse."

How, you might ask, am I going to connect this up with the Packers? Here is how. I know that the Packers have a kind of a new slogan, referring to the remodeled Lambeau Field: "Rebirth of a Legend." But as long as they are coming up with new slogans, how about this one: "The Bears and Lions are even worse." Kind of catchy, isn't it?

This is my way of saying that I wouldn't want to get too excited about the Packers' dominating performance over the Chicago Bears last night. Oh, it was fun to watch, and all. But it was only the Bears. My wife even started to feel a little sorry for the Bears, but I wouldn't go that far. Let 'em suffer!

The Packers may have evened their record at 2-2, but I am afraid that there is a real good chance that they will be 2-4 in a couple of weeks. Both of the next two games are at home, so the Packers certainly have a shot at winning at least one of the two, but the Seahawks and the Chiefs just look like better football teams to me right now, as much as it pains me to sayit.

I liked the aggressiveness of the Packer defense last night, although it was a bad sign when even the Bears started to make the game close early in the4th quarter. I still wonder why the Packers are not taking a few more shots downfield with the passing game. Maybe the problem is that they are not completing the few long passes they try, so they are shying away from it.But nothing loosens up the defense like a long completion once in awhile.The point was made vividly in this football market on Sunday by the vaunted match-up between two of the biggest jerks in the NFL, Randy Moss and Terrell Owens. The Vikings, even with their backup quarterback, just like to chuck the rock downfield. Moss goes up for the ball, and most of the time he comes down with it. Either way, the defense has to adjust to take account of the long ball. By contrast, Owens complains early and often that the49ers are not throwing the ball downfield, as he takes shots at his teammates, his coach, etc. The result is that it is not that hard for a good team to shut down the 49er offense.

I have not seen much of the Seahawks or Chiefs this year. I do know that, unlike the Bears, both of these teams have hugely successful running games.Blitzing on the majority of downs, like they did with the Bears, will not have the same effect on the Seahawks and the Chiefs. The Packers need to find a way to slow down Shaun Alexander and Priest Holmes, and they need to be more efficient in taking advantage of their own scoring opportunities. A few turnovers won't hurt, either.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Hottest Team in Football?

Wait - did you think I was talking about play of the Green Bay Packers? Actually, they might be the hottest team in football three days from now. The forecast for Phoenix Sunday afternoon is for a high temperature of 104 degrees. Of course, it is a dry heat.

Setting aside the weather forecast, the Packers have a long way to go before they can be considered the hottest team in football. Favre, in particular, looks like he is not in a groove yet. But the running game was working so well, and the defense played well enough to dominate the game against the Lions. So much so that, after about 10 minutes of the game, I had to remind myself that it was way too early to count the game in the win column.

It was good to see Antonio Freeman back on the field, and it was nice to see the warm welcome he got from the fans. Whatever his problems, and however much he has lost a step since 1996 and 1997, he was a big part of the reason that the Packers went to the Super Bowl those two years.

This week's game is one of those games that can turn into a nightmare. It is, as Wags [Ed. note - Wags was another columnist on the South End Zone web site at the time.] pointed out in his column, all too easy to take an opponent lightly. And if you wanted to take an opponent lightly, this would be a logical candidate. And the heat, dry heat or not, has to be debilitating on the players as the game goes on. So it is not too hard to envision a scenario where the team that is more used to playing in those conditions wears the other team down as the day goes on.

The good thing is that there is, as far as I can tell, no such thing as a home field advantage for the Arizona Cardinals. In last week's game, I read that there were 27,000 tickets sold, but maybe only 15,000 people present. This, in a stadium holding 72,000 people. For this week's game, I read somewhere that 55,000 tickets have been sold. Who knows how many will actually show up for a game with the temperature over 100 degrees, but it is a very safe assumption that the majority of people in the seats will be rooting for the good guys. I hope they have plenty to cheer about.