Friday, August 22, 2008

Show Us Something

SAN FRANCISCO, CA — I have gone to (by my count) eight Packer games at Candlestick Park, although there could have been one or two more pre-season games that are not recorded on Six of the eight featured Brett Favre as starter, one had Don Majkowski as the starter, and last Saturday's game was started by Aaron Rodgers. This was only the second Packer loss I have witnessed at Candlestick Park, the other of course being the Terrell Owens game. The Packers were obviously in that game until the end, since they only lost it in the closing seconds on that disastrous pass. So it should be obvious that this was by far the worst Packer performance I have ever seen in San Francisco.

So what? It's only a pre-season game. I know, it was only a pre-season game. But when team management goes out on a limb by trading away a franchise player like Brett Favre (whatever the merits of the disputes between the sides), a lot of attention is naturally going to be focused on how the successor fares on the field. That is why the first pre-season game was a success, even though the Packers lost. Rodgers got on and off the field quickly, had some success, and even built a 10-point Packer lead. That is also why the systematic destruction of the Packers by the 49ers last week is a bigger deal than it would be in any other season. The natives are starting to get restless, and according to a Mike Vandermause column in the Green Bay Press-Gazette, even the crowds at pre-season practices are dwindling to numbers not seen in 15 years.

After getting home from the game Saturday night (traffic was light, since the stands were half full to start with, and since 49er fans were leaving to high fives throughout the third and fourth quarter), I watched Brett Favre's brief and successful debut with the Jets, and then I watched about the first quarter of the Packer game. The very best thing I can say about it is that the Packers did not look as bad in the first quarter as they did for the rest of the game. If a couple of dropped passes had not been dropped, maybe things would have looked a lot better. But they were dropped, and so the Packers never really got anything started.

And all this happened against the 49ers, to make things worse. Not only did the Packers own the 49ers throughout the Favre era, with the single exception of the Terrell Owens game, but the 49ers were not expected to be any good this year, coming off their 5-11 season last year. In fairness to the 49ers, they also looked pretty good last night against the Bears, so maybe they have turned the corner with their new QB, and will have a better year than I (and many others) had expected.

(As a side note, I learned by listening to the 49er radio broadcast in the stands that Charles Woodson became something of an oenophile during his time with the Raiders, and has his own wine being released this fall, under the name "24." No, he is not a Jack Bauer fan, but instead he named the wine after his player number with the Raiders. That is all well and good, but really, shouldn't a football player from Ohio, who played at Michigan, Oakland and Green Bay, have his own line of beer, or brats, or cheese or ribs, or something other than wine?)

Getting back to football, this leads us to tonight's game at Denver. The last time these teams met, on Monday night in mid-season last year, there were lots of fireworks, with Favre hitting Jones on a bomb in the first quarter, and Jennings on another bomb in overtime. Greg Jennings apparently will play tonight, and as a result Packer fans will be looking to see how Rodgers and Jennings look. It would be nice if other injured players (especially Ryan Grant) would also play tonight, but at least Jennings has been cleared to play. If Rodgers does not connect on some long balls to Jennings or someone else tonight, the suffocating pressure he is under is only going to get worse.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Final Thoughts on Favre

SAN FRANCISCO — The unthinkable happened last week when Brett Favre was traded to the New York Jets. I initially wrote "two weeks ago" before I checked the date of the trade and realized it was only a week ago. More proof that this saga has been going on too long. So now Wisconsin CBS stations are making plans to show as many Jets games as possible, the NFL Network is planning to show Favre's pre-season debut with the Jets on Saturday, and I am sure that, later in the season, some Jets' games will be moved to prime time under the NFL's flex schedule plan.

Meanwhile, in Aaron Rodgers' first start for the Packers, he looked good, in fact better than the box score suggests. The interception bounced right off the receiver's numbers, and there were several dropped passes that could have padded his numbers. Rodgers was pulled pretty quickly, and was all smiles after the game. I discovered this week just how divisive the Favre situation has become for Packer fans. I sent around a copy of an article about Favre to a small group made up of mostly family members, along with a few others with whom I regularly correspond on Packer matters. Instead of sending the article to all recipients as "bccs," I sent it with all recipients being shown on the "To" line. It is now three days later, and responses are still going back and forth among the recipients, some of whom don't even know each other, arguing about who is more at fault, taking shots at each other, and suggesting that others should calm down. I am ready to move on to the current season, and I will just add that I am disappointed with the way the Packers handled this situation, and I am even more disappointed with Brett Favre for the way he has tarnished his reputation in my mind.

When Aaron Rodgers took the field on Monday night, and the crowd gave him a standing ovation, I think the message was clear. Some in the crowd obviously thought it was his time, while others would have preferred to see Brett Favre on the field. But the standing ovation sent the signal that Rodgers is the starter now, and as loyal Packer fans, the fans in the stands wish him nothing but success. I feel the same way.

I will of course be in the stands in
San Francisco on Saturday to cheer on the Packers. Aaron Rodgers will presumably have lots of fans watching him, since he is from Chico, CA and went to college at University of California. I am hoping that Rodgers will play for most or all of the first half, and that most of the players who sat out last week's game will be playing this time. Before leaving for the game, I will first set my recorder to capture a game on the NFL Network that I always wanted to see again. On Saturday, at 1:00 pm EDT, noon CDT and 10:00 a.m. PDT, the NFL Network will show the September 20, 1992 Cincinnati at Green Bay game. Yes, the third game of the 1992 season, when Don Majkowski was knocked out of the game, Brett Favre came in to relieve him and pull off the first comeback victory of his career. This game was not on TV locally in San Francisco, and it was several years before DirecTV got the NFL Sunday Ticket. But as luck would have it, the Freeman Family chose that day for a pilgrimage to the (now defunct) Packer bar in Redwood City, CA. So all of us, including our 2 and 5 year old kids (now 18 and 21) were able to witness Brett Favre's first win. More next week after the San Francisco game.