Monday, November 28, 2005

Lions Fire Mariucci

Yes, I know. It has been a while since my last article. Writing about the Packers this season is a little on the depressing side, to say the least. I didn't even get around to writing an article about my trip to Green Bay a few weeks ago to go to the Steelers game. To make a long story short: we had a great time other than the game result.

What finally got me off my couch this morning was the report that the Lions have fired Steve Mariucci. See Long time readers may recall that I have never been that big a fan of Mariucci. On the other hand, I do feel that he got a raw deal from the 49ers. He was a better coach here in SF, with poorer talent, than he was given credit for being. Living in the SF area, it was hard for me to avoid knowing a little about the 49ers, even though I do not follow them in any meaningful way.

Since Mariucci has been in Detroit, I have followed his team even less, since I am not immersed in Detroit Lions news. Therefore, I really don't have an opinion as to whether he has done as well as could be expected, given the talent, in Detroit. I would be interested in hearing opinions from any of you on that question.

The thing I have been pondering for a few weeks is whether Mike Sherman will be fired. It is obvious that he has never gotten the Packers to the big game, and there have been some disasters on his watch (Atlanta playoff loss, "4th and 26", Vikings playoff loss). Still, I have felt throughout his tenure that the team talent was not even close to the level of talent of the team in the mid-1990's. So, to that extent, I have felt that the team's big losses have been more the fault of the players than of Mike Sherman. In my heart, I have been hoping that the Packers would turn things around enough to finish the season in a respectable fashion, saving Sherman's job, and in the process persuading Brett Favre to come back for at least another year. Favre has said things suggesting that he was not intersted in coming back if there is a new head coach in Green Bay, and I can understand the sentiment that he is getting too old, in "football years," to start over with a new coach (or with a new team, for that matter). Favre has lost some of his magic from the mid-1990's (maybe a lot of his magic), but I am reluctant to see him go, since it may be a long time before this team is competitive again.

Against this backdrop, the firing of Mariucci raises a whole different issue. As we all know, Mariucci was Favre's quarterbacks coach in his early years in Green Bay, and the two were reportedly very close. As I recall, during Mariucci's time in SF, he said that he would frequently speak with Favre during the season. Mariucci grew up as a Packer fan in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and during his years in San Francisco, I remember reading that he kept a cheesehead hanging in his office. Favre and Mariucci always greeted each other warmly on the sidelines before and after games.

At 2-9, the chances for Sherman to survive are looking worse and worse every week. I don't know if he has lost the team (as Ray Rhodes seemed to have lost the team late in his season) or if the devastating set of injuries (combined with the loss of two starting offensive linemen) has just overwhelmed the ability of the Packers to win. But if Sherman is fired, would the Packers hire Mariucci? I am pretty sure that Mariucci would jump at the opportunity to coach the Packers. And I am almost positive that Favre would return to play with Mariucci as coach.

Anyway, this is bound to make things more interesting over the next few weeks.

Sunday, October 9, 2005

Champs for a Day

Don't you wish that we could take a few of the extra points from today's game and get to decide where to allocate them in other games? It wouldn't take many. If we could move just 9 of those points to other games, the Packers would be 4-1 right now, and they still would have won today's game by the score of 43-3. Yes, I know, and if pigs could fly, etc. . . . .

Anyway, if you are going to act like world champs for a day, it is nice to do it right before a bye week, to let some of the bad feelings and bitterness blow away for a couple of weeks. It honestly has occurred to me over the past few weeks that the Packers are not as bad as their record. When the Packers start losing games by a point, with the difference being the first Ryan Longwell missed extra point in over 150 games, you can be sure that the Packers are not that far away from being a competitive team. But, on the other hand, it is precisely those little things that mark the dividing line between a poor team trying to learn how to win all over again (like the Packers in the Cleveland, Tampa Bay, and Carolina games) and a better team that manages to hang on and "win ugly" (like the Browns, Buccaneers and Panthers in those same games).

It is even more clear that, if the Packers were not as bad as their 0-4 record, they are not even close to being as good as they looked today. This was one of those games where just about everything went right (other than Najeh Davenport's season-ending injury, that is), and once it started going that way, things just snowballed on the poor Saints. They have got a few other things on their minds these days, and as Chris Berman said after the game, they are unfortunately going to have some games like that this year. So let's wait for the Packers to put together a few more good games before we start to think they have turned the season around.

For now, it will be enough if they can get a few of their injured players ready to go to Minnesota in a couple of weeks, and then try to string a few wins together. If they can do that, given how bad this division looks this year, they might actually have something going.

Andrew Chen update. The young man from northern California, who attended his first Packer game a few weeks ago, has put his name on the Packer season ticket waiting list. I forget his exact number on the list, but it is something over 69,000. It looks like a long wait.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Lambeau Travelogue

It looks suspiciously as if it is going to be a long year. If the Packers can't beat the Browns at home, on a day they retire Reggie White's jersey, and when Favre throws three touchdown passes and sets two records, then you can't count on much in Titletown.

Since I am in no mood to rehash Sunday's game, I was searching around for an idea of something else to write about for my long-overdue column. VOILA! My friend Peter Chen, a Northern California attorney with whom I worked years ago, and who is in my fantasy football league to this day, took his son Andrew (a huge Brett Favre fan) to Green Bay for the game as a 15th birthday present. Peter then sent me an account of the weekend's festivities. It serves as a reminder of how fortunate we have been to have Brett Favre with us these many years. If you have a son or daughter who would appreciate going to see Brett Favre play at Lambeau Field, you might want to get cracking since, the way things are going, you probably have exactly 7 more chances to do it.

Anyway, here is a slightly edited version of Peter's account. I have agreed to give him half my fee for writing this column (remedial math lesson: 1/2 x $0 = $0).


5 pm: arrive Green Bay, after a flight from O'Hare that included a few Browns fans from the famed "Dawg Pound." One funny exchange during the flight:

Dawg Pound guy: Hey lady, are you going to the game too?

Elderly Lady: No, I'm from Eugene, Oregon. I'm going on a scenic bike tour of Wisconsin!

Dawg Pound Guy: a bike tour?! Whoa. I think I've had a few too many!

The flight lands safely, and the Dawg Pound heads for parts unknown.

Our hotel is 2 blocks from Lambeau; both are on Lombardi Avenue.... we wander over to Lambeau. Andrew buys a cheesehead at the Packer Pro Shop, which he proceeds to wear for most of the weekend.

A wedding party emerges from the stadium.... According to the tour guides, Lambeau is booked solid for weddings for the next 18 months! It's a destination wedding site.

The stadium was redone in 2003, and has wide concourses and Camden Yards-like brick everywhere, along with a 5-story enclosed Atrium housing the pro shop, sports bar, ice cream parlor, and the Packers Hall of Fame.

6:30 pm: the wait at Brett Favre's Steakhouse for dinner is long (they don't take reservations on home game weekends), so we opt for a snack of mini-burgers, chicken wings and ale/root beer at Curly's Pub, the sports bar and restaurant inside Lambeau. As the food arrives, the big screen shows Michigan State beating Notre Dame in OT. Curly's erupts into a mixture of cheers and groans.

9:45: dinner at Brett Favre's Steakhouse. There are lots of photos of Brett and other Packers all over the walls. Brett playing youth football in Kiln, MS. Brett winning the Super Bowl.... etc. Brett was there on Friday, says our waitress...the restaurant is at the end of a little alley near Lambeau, called... Brett Favre Pass. Pretty good steaks.


By 10 a.m., Holmgren Way is teeming with tailgaters, and a gazillion Packer fans wearing # 4 Favre jerseys and # 92 Reggie White jerseys.

We wade through a sea of tailgaters in the parking lot, and go inside Lambeau to the Hall of Fame. My favorite exhibits are the life size re-enactment of the Bart Starr QB sneak in the 1967 NFL title game, the story of the Lambeau Leap, and the replica lockers of Packers in the NFL Hall of Fame.

1:30: into the stadium, for pregame warmups. This was fun -- Andrew and I, and hundreds of others, watched the entire Packer warmup, leaning on the rail at Row 1, not more than 20 yards from the field!

Favre and ex-Cal QB, Aaron Rodgers, run the offense. Rodgers must be on Cloud Nine. It's his first (regular season) game at Lambeau.

By the time warmups ended, the stadium was packed, and kickoff was only 20 minutes away. Yet not one fan or security guy asked anyone to move. At most pro or college sports events, you get ordered to "find your seat" long before the game starts. Not at Lambeau.

There were many fans holding signs reading, "My 1st Packer Game," as it is hard to get tickets. (The waiting list for season tickets is about 60,000, and very few become available every year.)

3:15: The Packers are retiring # 92 of the late Reggie White. His daughter sings the National Anthem...4 F-16 jets fly over...the place goes nuts.

The stadium is more like a college facility -- a fairly steep bowl with about 70 rows of aluminum bench seats, bleacher style. There are club level enclosed seats and luxury boxes too.

After all that, the Packers then proceed to lose to the lowly Browns, 26-24!? The Lambeau home field advantage seems to be dissolving, as the Packers are 4-6 in their last 10 Lambeau games.

Favre has a record-setting day. He tosses 3 TDs (breaking an NFL record for most TDs in one stadium) and throws for over 300 yards (joining Marino and Elway in the 50,000 yard club). But the Packers D, which surrenders a career day to Trent Dilfer, could've used Reggie White!

I'd recommend a road trip to Lambeau, for all. There aren't any other pro football teams that play in a college atmosphere, in such an historic stadium. And if you go in September, the tundra won't be frozen.

Post game, we had an ice cream at the "Frozen in Time" ice cream parlor inside the Atrium. We then bumped into Reggie White's family as they were heading out! His son looks ready to suit up for the Pack. They could use some help on D.

Next, we went back to the pro shop for one last souvenir hunt, and then upstairs to Curly's for more brats. We watched the Sunday night game and Sunday night baseball on the big screens. A father and son in the booth across from us ask us where we're from.... they were from Los Angeles, and were also on a pilgrimage to Lambeau! After 30 minutes of conversation, it turns out he's swimmer Mike O'Brien, 1984 Olympic gold medalist! Nice guy too. A fun way to finish up the weekend.

My son is 15, a sophomore in high school, and with his school schedule and my work schedule, we can go for days without much meaningful interaction. So it was great just to be with him for a weekend, and super special for that weekend to be at such a sports shrine.