Thursday, December 6, 2007

Raider Memories

The last three games went exactly as I expected. Wins against Carolina and Detroit, and (another) unfortunate loss against the Cowboys in Texas. It is easy to make excuses and argue that the Packers will have a better chance, if it comes down to an NFC Championship game at Dallas in January. The Packers were without several starters on defense, Favre was injured in the first half, etc. Now the absence of Charles Woodson and KGB really was a big deal, so that can't be discounted. But the reality is, the score was 27-10 by the time Aaron Rodgers took his first snap, so I don't think Favre's injury was a big factor in this game. In fact, after Favre was hurt, the Packers seemed to abandon their peculiar "all bombs, all the time" strategy on offense, which allowed the impressive Aaron Rodgers to almost bring the Packers back. But the bottom line is, even if the Packers have a better chance next time, it is hard to be convinced that they would actually win the next time around.

With four games left in the season, the Packers now host the Oakland Raiders this week. The Packers and the Raiders have only played each other 10 times in history (not counting pre-season games). But there is a fair amount of history in those games. The first game, of course, was Super Bowl II, on January 14, 1968. The Packers won their second straight Super Bowl, this time by the score of 33-14. I was a teenager at the time, and although I don't really remember the game, I remember the mindset we had in those days. We could not imagine that an AFL team could keep up with an NFL team, and so we assumed that the NFL teams would continue to crush the AFL teams in Super Bowls for years to come, just as the Packers had the first two years. It was only a year later that Joe Willie Namath and the Jets showed that our belief in the invincibility of the NFL teams was an illusion. As if to prove the point, the Raiders went on to win 5 in a row against the Packers after Super Bowl II, and only a 4 game winning streak by the Packers has brought the record back to an even 5-5.

In 1993, the Raiders went to Green Bay on a cold, December day, and were shut out 28-0. One of our Raider fan friends called around halftime to concede the game. But the game is famous for a defensive touchdown, after Leroy Butler forced a fumble, and Reggie White recovered the ball. The big man pitched it to the smaller and faster Butler, who ran it in for a touchdown and (spontaneously, as far as we know) jumped into the stands for the first "Lambeau Leap." That play will undoubtedly be shown on the game broadcast this week.

And then there was that game four years ago in Oakland, also in December, when the Packers were playing in the Monday night game the day after Brett Favre's father died. We have been to a few games at the Oakland Coliseum, and Raider fans are a tough crowd. But not that night. I have never seen Raider fans show as much respect and affection for an opposing quarterback as they did that night. And the Packers' receivers just stepped it up, catching anything that was anywhere near them, as the Packers went on to win, 41-7. It was a magical night, with tears in the eyes of many of the Packer fans in the crowd. You can expect to see highlights from that game, as well.

This week, it was announced that Brett Favre is the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year. The issue is not out yet, but the article is available online. Packer fans simply must read this article, as it is filled with great memories of things we all know about, and (at least in my case) details about Brett Favre the man that we never knew. The article can be found at

Finally, I want to wish a warm welcome back to a relative of my wife, First Lieutenant Daniel Belzer, who has recently returned from Iraq. I sent Daniel DVDs of the Packer games over most of the last season and a half, and I gather that he is far from the only Packer fan in the Army. Now that he is back, I understand that he is catching up on the DVDs from the last few weeks, since we were advised not to send any more packages after a certain date, since they would not arrive in time. The recording of the Cowboy game may not be to his liking, but there are lots of other great moments from this season to watch over again.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

I'm a Believer

SAN FRANCISCO, CA — Remember the old Neil Diamond song, originally performed by The Monkees, "I'm a Believer?" Yes, I know, I am dating myself, and lots of readers are probably saying "You mean the song by Smash Mouth and Eddie Murphy in Shrek?" The truth is, I didn't realize it was written by Neil Diamond until I looked it up, but in my mind, it is definitely a Monkees song. Anyway, I am getting to be a believer in the Green Bay Packers. It was only a few weeks ago that I called them the worst 5-1 team in the league. But since my last column, they finished off their road trip by winning at Kansas City, even if the game was closer than the score, and then they absolutely whacked the Minnesota Vikings, 34-0.

Now everybody knows that a game can get out of hand, and that the Packers are not 34 points better than the Vikings. But that was a pretty dominating win, on both sides of the ball, from the start to the finish. When the Packers control the ball for 41 minutes, when they become the first team all year to run for over 100 yards against the Vikings, and when Favre completes passes to 10 different receivers, you know they must be doing something right. And to see the Packers being aggressive well into the 4th quarter, in fact throwing the final touchdown pass with 6 minutes left in the game, is gratifying after watching them let the game slip away against the Bears in week 5.

So now is when things get interesting. The Packers are heavy favorites over the Panthers, raising the specter of a possible "trap" game for the Packers, what with huge games against the Lions and the Cowboys coming up in the next 11 days. Even though Brad Hoover is still with the Panthers, and is evidently the starting fullback, I still think the Packers will be OK. The novelty factor of the game is that there are 82 years' worth of starting quarterbacks on the field, what with Vinny Testaverde starting for the injured David Carr. When Favre was asked why Vinny would come back to play at his age, Favre said "must be the love of the game, or he's broke, one of the two." And for Favre, this is one of the rare instances in recent years when he is not the oldest starting quarterback in the game.

It seems like a lot to ask for the Packers to win today against
Carolina, and then to complete another 2-game road sweep against the Lions and the Cowboys. If I had to guess, I would guess that they will lose one of those games (probably, unfortunately, against the Cowboys). But, as the cliché goes, they just have to play them one game at a time.

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After mentioning in my last column that my recording of the Monday night Denver game got messed up, three readers volunteered to send me a copy. Wisconsin reader Tim Shea was the first to volunteer, followed quickly by another Wisconsin reader, John Daley, and, get this, a reader in
Brazil, Bruno Siqueira. Bruno is not a transplant from Wisconsin, in fact he has never been to the U.S., but he is still a Packers fan. Que homem! Vão Os Packers! Anyway, I took Tim up on his offer to send a DVD, since he was first, but I want to thank Tim, John, and Bruno for their prompt and generous offers.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Bombs Away

SAN FRANCISCO — The combination of a business trip and a visit to our college student daughter brought us to New York last weekend. I spent parts of Sunday getting ready for my business meeting, with the Giants-Dolphins snoozer in , and then parts of the Jets game on in the background. This reminded me how thankful I am for my satellite dish, since I would otherwise spend my time at home watching 49ers and Raiders games. The New York and Bay Area markets are, without doubt, the worst places to watch NFL games on broadcast TV, because of the two home teams monopolizing the airwaves.

While we could watch the Monday night Packer game anywhere, including our hotel room, we decided to look for a Packer bar in or near Greenwich Village, so that our daughter, with her crazy schedule, could watch at least part of the game with us. At some point, I remembered that Scott Crevier's web site actually has a list of Packer bars on it, so I checked it out there: [note: no longer available as of October, 2009]

Sure enough, this led us to the Kettle of Fish bar, on Christopher Street in the Village, close to the West 4th Street subway stop. I am not being compensated for this plug in any way, but I highly recommend this place. It has two rooms, and (I think) 5 decent-sized TVs. They obviously must have a satellite dish, since they show the Packer game every week, but I am told that even for a Sunday game, EVERY TV shows the Packer game. No ambivalence here - no attempt to please everyone, just all Packers, all the time. If you didn't come to watch the Packers, you are in the wrong place. We arrived about 20 minutes before the game, and the place was already pretty full. Since we were probably the oldest people in the bar, some of the young Packer fans helped to find extra chairs for us so we could sit down during the game. The owner eventually declared the place full and refused to let late-arrivals in, except for our daughter, since I had pre-arranged this with the tough looking door monitor.

When game time arrived, they turned the ESPN audio up loud, although it is still tough to follow what the announcers are saying in a bar full of 200 or so Packer fans. But the special audio feature in this bar is that when the Packers score, they turn off the TV audio, and instead play the song "I Love My Green Bay Packers" as people celebrate. During halftime, they play nothing but Packer music, including the infamous "The Bears Still Suck" song. They don't serve any food, but they have a thick envelope full of delivery menus, so all throughout the game delivery guys are bringing in everything from Chinese food to Pizzas to sandwiches.

Because I had been busy in the week leading up to the game, I had not really followed the extent to which Favre had been criticized in the press for some of his underthrown balls in the Redskins game. Does he still have the arm strength? Has he finally gone over the hill? That sort of thing. I really only became aware of this criticism in listening to Favre's post-game interview Monday night, where he (tongue-in-cheek) thanked the media for challenging him prior to the game. Anyway, a game-tying perfect 79 yard bomb in the first quarter, and then a game-winning picture-perfect 82 yard bomb in overtime seem like pretty good answers to the criticism. I guess the old guy still has a little gas left in the tank. I have never considered accuracy of long passes to be one of Favre's strengths. Lynn Dickey, for all his other weaknesses, was far more accurate with his long balls. But those two passes of Favre's on Monday night could not possibly have been any better. A couple of those a week and this team will win a lot of games.

As you might imagine, the place went completely bonkers when the winning touchdown was scored. Several minutes earlier, the Packers had been one play away from losing the game, but the defense managed to stop Cutler's run and force the tying field goal instead. Still, the Packers had not scored since the first half, the defense was getting tired, and the Broncos had tied the game in fairly dramatic fashion. All the momentum was going the Broncos' way, and all they had to do was get the ball back and continue doing what they were doing. I would have felt pretty good if I were rooting for the Broncos. Then, one play and ten seconds later, the game was over. Back at the Kettle of Fish, people were screaming, hugging and high-fiving. One guy tripped over a chair in his excitement (and inebriation) and people started piling on top of him on the floor. Then, when the Packer music started playing, people (including yours truly) started dancing the polka in the bar. It was great fun, and I would go there again if I am ever in on a Packer game day again.

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The only bad part about the game is the fact that my DVD recorder flaked out on me while I was out of town, and so I don't have a copy of the Denver game. If there is anyone out there who recorded it and is willing to make a copy for me, or better yet let me borrow and return your copy, please contact me at .

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Happy Bye Week!

SAN FRANCISCO — It is indeed a happy bye week for the Packers. After their disappointing Sunday night loss to the Bears, they had one more game before the bye, against the Washington Redskins. The Redskins, according to some analysts in the days before the game, actually had the best defense of all the teams the Packers had played this season. Thus, it would be important to win that game, to avoid going into the week off with a two-game losing streak.

Before getting to the Redskins game, a word or two on the loss to the Bears. After an impressive first half, in which the Packers staked themselves to a halftime lead of 17-7, it seemed as if the Packers were in position to win again. But in the second half, the Packers scored only 3 points, while the Bears scored 20 and won the game. During the second half, John Madden made comments about the Packers playing very conservatively on offense, and watching the game, it certainly seemed that way to me, too. At the time, it seemed like the Packers were so convinced that they had the game in hand, that they thought they could, in effect, just run out the clock on the second half. It was painful to watch the game slip away that way. I always admire teams that keep on pounding with whatever is working until the game is out of reach. The Patriots, for example, seem to do this, continuing to play aggressively, without mercy, until the game is almost over. The best single example of what I am talking about was the NFC Championship Game after the 2000 season, during which the Giants attacked the Vikings with the long ball from the very beginning of the game. After building the lead, they did not let up, or start to use up time with the running game. They just kept hammering the Vikings until it was over, 41-0. So it was very disappointing to see the Packers seem to think that they could just play it safe and protect their 10 point lead for 30 minutes of football. It was also disappointing to hear Mike McCarthy deny that the Packers had played conservatively. How refreshing it would have been to hear him say that, in hindsight, maybe we did play too conservatively, and that is a mistake we will not make again. But I guess coaches just don't say things like that.

As for the Redskins game, it was a terrible day on offense for the Packers, during which Favre set the all-time interception record, and did not throw a touchdown pass. While there have been hints of an improving running game in a couple of the earlier games (ironically, especially in the loss to Chicago), the running game was totally ineffective against Washington. After three games in a row where Favre threw for more than 300 yards per game, these figures were almost cut in half, as Favre threw for only 169 net passing yards.

It seemed clear early on in the Redskins game that only the defense could put the Packers in position to win this game. And that is exactly what they did, scoring the go-ahead and winning points on a fumble return for a touchdown by Charles Woodson. Not the most impressive way to win a game, but at least it leaves the Packers at 5-1. Now, I would argue that they are the worst 5-1 (or 4-1, or 4-2) team in the league. But then, in the past, haven't Packer fans said pretty much the opposite? Last year, weren't the Packers the best 8-8 team in the league? Or the best non-playoff team in the league? At least as a mediocre 5-1 team, they have the chance to get their act together, get their running backs healthy and hopefully more effective, get all their receivers healthy and keep Favre in one piece, and win a bunch of games.

Friday, October 5, 2007


SAN FRANCISCO — A quarter of the new season has gone by, and the Packers, to my amazement, are 4-0. Ignoring the pre-season, the Packers have won 8 games in a row. And they are playing (this year) without Ahman Green. In fact, you could go farther and say that they have no running game at all. Plus, they have had a rookie (James Jones) starting at wide receiver opposite Donald Driver most of the year, and they are still the youngest team in the league.

Would any of us have given the Packers a chance to be 4-0 before the season started, with a 3-0 record in the conference? Particularly if you consider that they have played 3 playoff teams from last year, with a 4th coming up on Sunday night? I certainly would not have done so. A record of 2-2 at this point would have been considered a moral victory. I would have expected this to be a rebuilding year of sorts, with the best case scenario being that they get the offense together fast enough to win a bunch of games late in the year and maybe sneak into the playoffs.

A few observations about specific players. At the end of last season, one of the articles I intended to write, but never got around to, was an analysis of how the kicking game may have cost the Packers a slot in the playoffs. All year long, my wife complained about Dave Rayner, and as time went on, I had to agree with her. He certainly played a significant role in losing several games, and if those games had gone the other way, the Packers would have made the playoffs with a team that was on the roll at the end of the year. Not in the sense of missing a game-winning field goal at the end of the game - that did not happen. But missed field goals at key points in games helped to put or keep the Packers behind in games they might have won if they had picked up extra field goals here and there. So how delightful it was to see this kid Mason Crosby start out the year strong, including not only a game-winning kick in the first game, but consistently deep kickoffs. And while we are discussing the kicking game, it is only fair to give a tip of the hat to the holder, Jon Ryan, who made that first game-winning kick possible by grabbing a high snap out of the air and getting it down in time for Crosby's kick.

Rookie receiver James Jones has impressed me. One of the TV announcers compared him to Sterling Sharpe, and as soon as he said it, I realized that he was right. Jones has a style reminiscent of Sterling Sharpe, and we all know how valuable a Sharpe-like receiver can be in a Favre-led offense. Now that Jennings has started to play again, it is not clear exactly how much playing time Jones will get. But the way he has played, he certainly deserves to get some chances.

The grizzled veteran, Brett Favre, seems to be playing better than he has in years. He continues to make throws and take chances, as he always has. But he seems to be using better judgment as to which chances are worth taking. Perhaps he realizes how precarious the offense is right now, without a running game, and realizes that even though the passing game (and the defense) will have to carry the team for now, it is Favre's responsibility to not make the kind of mistakes that can kill a game. It was great to see him break a number of all-time records in the first quarter of the season, and get that behind him, so he can concentrate on winning games. Did anyone else notice that Favre's last TD pass, on Sunday, to James Jones, looked eerily similar to that very first Favre TD pass in 1992 to the trivia-question answer, Kitrick Taylor? I did not realize until I looked it up that that pass was the ONLY TD pass Favre ever threw to Kitrick Taylor, but indeed it was. He may not have had a great career in the NFL, but he was there at the beginning of the legend.

Meanwhile, the defense has been doing more than its share of the hard work. Nick Barnett leads the team in tackles, while KGB leads the team in sacks. Both are near the top of the stat charts in these categories for the entire league. As Favre continues to break records almost every week, KGB will soon set the record for sacks as a Green Bay Packer, by passing Reggie White's record. (Obviously, most of Reggie's career sacks were registered while he was an Eagle, and KGB has a long way to go to approach Reggie's 198 sacks, or Bruce Smith's 200.)

And now the Bears come to town. Sure, the Bears went to the Super Bowl last year. But they were exposed as pretenders in that game. And they certainly have not improved since then. The Packers could find themselves guilty of over-confidence this week. And the Bears could rise to the occasion in an attempt to resurrect their season. But I doubt it. Mike McCarthy will have the team ready, and the Packers will roll.