Monday, December 31, 2007

Set Goals and a Budget for Golf

The golf season is fast approaching. It may be snowing in some areas of the country but it's never too early to start planning for the upcoming season. Golfers who calculate the annual cost of playing their favorite game can be in for quite a shock. But it doesn’t have to be that way. A little Internet research can uncover incredible bargains for the golf enthusiast, to enable them to enjoy golf more and spend less:

§ Amazing discounts on equipment (even brand name)

§ Fabulous, affordable public courses (and even private courses you can play)

§ Secrets to planning a perfect golf vacation, and staying within budget

In fact, doing an annual budget for golf activities is a good idea. Figure out how much you spent last year, and set a goal for next year of, say, 20% more rounds played, but at the same cost, or if time is precious, set a goal of keeping the number of rounds the same and lowering your annual expenditure 20%.

Sounds too easy, right? Well, it really is that easy. The secret is, increasing competition in the golf industry and surplus “inventory”. A golf course can’t sell an unused tee time from yesterday. Once the next day comes, that tee time is worthless. So savvy managers of golf course facilities have learned to discount greens fees at certain less popular times, to encourage play, and to encourage each individual golfer to play additional rounds. It costs less to sell more golf to existing customers than to go out and find new customers.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

An interesting NFL season so far

Of course I'm pleased that the Green Bay Packers have a lock on the playoffs. It looks like we'll be playing Dallas at Dallas for the NFC championship.

The Patriots continue their run at a perfect season and I can't imagine any team taking them down at this point. The Colts have the best chance but they've been looking kind of sluggish in their last few games.

My favorite-to-hate team the Vikings are showing their true colors. Enough said about that.


Monday, December 24, 2007

2 Ways to Improve Your Golf Score

- Making Golf Practice Time Count

Most golfers realize that spending time on the practice range is essential to game improvement—lowering your score. But it's surprising how little time golfers devote to practice. Or maybe it's not surprising: compared to the fun and camaraderie of being out on the course, hitting a bucket or two of practice balls seems downright boring. Here are some tips to making golf practice more effective:

  • Practice regularly
  • Have a goal in mind

Practice regularly. Just as going to the gym once a month and lifting weights doesn't build much muscle mass (and can result in injuries), a sporadic practice regimen is unlikely to significantly improve a golfer's game. The goal of practice is twofold: improving technique and building confidence. Have you ever gone out golfing for the first time after the long, cold winter and found that the club feels like a foreign object in your hand? A consistent practice routine helps you get the “feel” for each club in the bag. And playing good golf requires building a consistent, reliable swing, ingraining that ideal swing in your muscle memory so you can repeat it as needed when you are under pressure on the course. Many golfers mistakenly think they can “build” their swing during the round. The practice range is a better place to work on game improvement, because, you can his as many shots with one club as you need to gain consistency, whereas on the course, you only hit one shot with each club (assuming you advance the ball with each swing) and then use another club on the next shot.

Have a goal in mind. In between rounds of golf, pick up the scorecard from the round and take a few minutes to review how you played each hole. What part of your game is working well? Perhaps your drives were superior, or your chipping to the green was crisp and highly accurate. Then, think about where your swing let you down. Maybe you hooked too many iron shots and missed a lot of greens. After you do this review and critique, pick the worst problem areas and write them down. Then bring the (hopefully short) list with you to the practice range. Spend additional time on the problem areas, and work on your strengths just enough to keep those skills sharp. Good golf is mostly a matter of eliminating mistakes. Pros don't hit every shot perfectly, but they do know how to reduce the chance of scoring double bogies or higher.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What Most Golfers Don't Know About Saving Money

…And Enjoying the Game More

It’s as simple as this: Golfers spend more money than they need to play their beloved game.

Too many of us end up paying full retail price for clubs at a pro shop when great deals on the same equipment are available online. Or we cheerfully pay the posted greens fee when with a little Internet research we can find discounts as much as 50% to play at terrific courses all over the world. Then there’s the double mistake we make on a golf vacation: first we overpay for the hotel room and then compound the error by paying too much for golf.

A vast universe of savings for golfers is right there at our desktop computer. All we have to do is know how and where to look. Besides opening our eyes to savings, we can become much more educated golfing consumers. We can discover discount travel packages to some of the top golfing resort areas in the world, including South Carolina, Florida or Arizona. It is definitely possible to play the courses you’ve always dreamed up and not have to take a second mortgage out on your house. And you don’t have to limit ourselves to golf in the United States. On the Internet we can learn, for example, that it’s possible to book a golfing cruise—yes, you can golf on your Caribbean vacation! Or how about visiting great courses in Spain or the Mediterranean and still staying within budget. You can.

There are so many choices to save money on equipment that it’s almost mind boggling. Besides discount retailers of brand name clubs, you can buy direct-from-the-manufacturer “clone” clubs that are nearly the same quality as the famous name clubs for a fraction of the price. You can visit auction sites and name your own price for the equipment you want to buy. You can sell your old clubs online and turn around and bid on new ones! It’s even possible to have demo clubs delivered directly to your door, try them for 5 days and decide if you want to make a purchase. If you don’t, just send the demo clubs back with no further obligation.

A lot of us have been conditioned to believe our passion for golf comes with a hefty price tag. With the Internet as our ally, that is not the case anymore. We can spend less, play more rounds of golf and have more fun.

Brian Hill

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Window of Opportunity

Over the weekend I was talking to some of my friends who are Packer fans (to be honest that describes 90% of my friends), and one of them said, “Well, even if we don’t get to the Super Bowl this season, we certainly can in 2008.” Then he proceeded to tell me all the positions on the team that could use an upgrade: we could add another offensive lineman, maybe another tight end, and a team can always use more defensive backs.

I asked him, “Why do we have to wait ‘til next year?”

He replied, “It looks certain that Dallas is going to win the NFC this time around. Everybody says so.”

I could see this poor fellow is simply a victim of listening to the national media too much—the columnists and sportscasters who now seem to be instructing us on a daily basis that it in inevitable Dallas wins. In my opinion, their opinions mean nothing. These are the same peerless prognosticators who said last August that the Pack would be lucky to get to .500 this year.

The only way we should be concerned about any of this is if the Packers players and coaches were convinced it is inevitable Dallas wins. But they aren’t. In fact, they seem ready and eager for a rematch.

My whole problem with the “wait ‘til next year” philosophy is that all we know for certain is that we have a great team this year, and lots of breaks have gone our way in important situations during games, so now is the window of opportunity to get to the Super Bowl. Whatever you think causes a team to come together and be outstanding—team chemistry, the right blend of youth and experience, leadership, pure athleticism, having playmakers on both sides of the ball, having someone step up every week and make great plays—the Green Bay Packers of 2007 have that special magic. We didn’t realize it at the time, but they’ve had it since the opening kickoff in September.

You can’t depend on the team acquiring better players next year. Football is a game of subtraction as well as addition. Players age and lose their skills, teams can have a rash of injuries at key positions, and of course free agent defections can and will happen. Draft picks can turn out to be busts. There are no guarantees in the National Football League.

Just look at the nightmare that has become the Chicago Bears season. When I was doing my own forecast last August, I didn’t see any way the Bears would finish worse than 10-6. They probably didn’t either. But they had all those things I mentioned happen—age caught up to some players, they had bad luck with injuries, and a few key players departed in free agency or for other reasons. Now they are scratching their collective heads wondering how to right the ship.

The same thing has happened to a number of other teams that were predicted to be good this year, like the Ravens.

Football teams don’t seem to stay on an upward trajectory for a long period of time any longer. In the beginning of Mike Holmgren’s tenure as Packers coach, the team seemed to make incremental strides each year from 1992-1995, until they were ready to win the Super Bowl in 1996. But look at what has happened to this same highly skilled coach in Seattle. His teams have been up and down—he’s even had losing seasons.

One of my favorite “coachspeak” terms is “program.” A losing coach will observe, “That other team’s program is just a little further along than ours.”

What exactly does that mean, if anything? It just seems like an excuse. The Packers have dispelled the myth that it takes three years or more to rebuild your “program”. In the twenty eight games from 2005 to December 2006 the team was a dismal 8-20. In the next seventeen games, up through last Sunday they were a startling 15-2. That is a truly remarkable turnaround. It rivals what Lombardi accomplished from 1959-1960.

My dog has provided me with some insight and perspective on football that was better than anything I see on ESPN. If I fill her food bowl, she will stay there until she has eaten every last bit. If I fill it again, she will eat everything again—even if she isn’t that hungry anymore. To her, there is no guarantee they’ll be food in the bowl tomorrow. All she knows is that she has the chance to feast today. The future is now.

When all the stars seem aligned for a team, like they have been for the Packers this year, it’s important to seize the championship moment while you have it within your grasp. Fortune is fickle; it never stays with one team for very long. And the window of opportunity doesn’t warn you when it's getting ready to slam shut.

Just ask the Bears.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Déjà vu?

At first glance, it might seem like last Thursday’s game in Dallas was an alarming flashback to the mid-1990’s, when the Packers methodically fought their way through each long, tough football season and made the playoffs, only to have their Super Bowl hopes and dreams crushed in Dallas. Here’s a look back at the gruesome results, for those of you with strong stomachs:

1993 Dallas 27 Green Bay 17
Dallas 35 Green Bay 9
Dallas 38 Green Bay 27

You’ll notice that last Thursday, the Packers held Dallas to 37 points, at least showing a one-point improvement from the playoff game in the 1995 season. Definitely a sign of progress for our defense.

But perhaps there were other positive signs as well. Not to minimize the great performance by the Cowboys, but this was, after all, just another regular season game. The media hype surrounding the game had more to do with the NFL Network’s desire to generate more cable subscribers than anything else. From the standpoint of a young team learning how to win, those great back-to-back victories in Denver and Kansas City were far more significant.

Brett leaving the game (especially since the injury appears not to be serious) gave Aaron Rodgers a chance to prove he can step in and rally the team in important situations. This was always a question mark before, with a number of people arguing that he didn’t have the right stuff to be an NFL quarterback. Now the question has been answered to some extent. If the Packers’ defense had held together in the fourth quarter, I think there’s a good chance Aaron would have led the Pack to victory. What I wonder, though, about an ambitious young guy like Aaron is whether his long-term career objective is to be the new Zeke Bratkowski.

I thought it was brilliant strategy on the Green Bay coaches’ part to not show the Cowboys our real offense, making them think all we do is heave the ball randomly downfield into double coverage. Won’t they be surprised when the playoff game comes ‘round.

Winning in Dallas is really the last significant mountain Brett Favre has to climb, in the case of away games. He’s tamed the dreaded Metrodome, which not that long ago looked to be a near impossible task. Far better that Brett earns this crowning achievement in a higher stakes situation such as the NFC Championship game in January, than in a regular season game we will have mostly forgotten when the playoff excitement starts. And as both a movie buff and football fan, I’ve seen over the years that Brett has an even keener sense of the dramatic than Steven Spielberg.

To cure his perennial struggles in Texas, one idea might be to have the team hire a hypnotist to try regression therapy on #4 and see if maybe in a past life he had some especially unpleasant experience in the Lone Star State that he re-lives when he takes the field at Texas Stadium. Maybe he was involved in that famous skirmish near San Antonio in 1836.

Reality Check

I was as disappointed as anyone after the game on Thursday. I was pretty certain the Packers would win. Everyone is touting Tony Romo these days, but it’s difficult to have complete confidence in quarterbacks who have thus far had more success with starlets than in playoff games. Joe Namath was a hell of a lot of fun, but with the game on the line you want the ball in Bart Starr’s hands.

So, still dejected on Friday morning I ran into a friend of mine at the local library who was as glum as I was over the outcome in Dallas. But then reality set in and I loudly exclaimed to her:

“Don’t worry, be happy. We’re 10-2!!!”

The librarian didn’t even try to “shussshhh” me, which is strange because she passionately roots for the Bears.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Night Game Nightmares

Wasn’t that Dallas game fun? The fun part being when it was over and you could forget it ever happened. Watching a T.O. touchdown celebration never gets old, does it? Just like you look forward to shoveling snow.

At my house, we don’t really enjoy watching night games in any case, particularly those played during the work week. We like to unwind in the evening, have a glass or two of wine and read a book or watch a movie. In most films, the conflict builds to a climactic good vs. evil battle between an evenly matched protagonist and antagonist. And the clever filmmakers generally make sure that “good” wins. After we see the good guys prevail, we get a satisfied feeling that all is well with the world and can sleep peacefully.

Football affords us no such peace. For one thing, good doesn’t always triumph over evil. In fact over the course of NFL history, it’s only triumphed about 56% of the time. The other problem is we, the fans, are not just observers of how fictional characters deal with conflict—we’re in the middle of the action. Fans can feel the changes of momentum, the ebb and flow, as though they were right there on the field. Otherwise we wouldn’t be compelled to yell obscenities at the refs’ bad calls, or lose our composure when we see the Packers’ secondary perform with all the focus and concentration of 2nd graders on the last school day before summer vacation.

If the Packers win the night game, then you’re so keyed up you can’t get to sleep until 1 AM or so, playing the touchdowns over and over in your mind or watching the highlights on TV over and over on the 24 hour sports channels. And then you wake up exhausted. If the Pack loses, you lie awake in bed replaying all the mistakes that led to the Packers’ demise that night. And when morning comes, you’re cranky.

A friend of mine has resorted to recording night games and then watching them the next afternoon. I thought this showed remarkable will power on his part until he admitted he peeks at the score on the Internet.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Life Imitates Art

The game between Green Bay and Dallas this week has been billed as the most important contest of the season in the NFC, possibly a preview of the NFC Championship game to be played in January 2008. And as you may know, controversy has erupted because the game is being broadcast on the NFL Network, which is a TV station not available in all markets across the US. A lot of upset people who won’t be able to see the game have asked, Why don’t they just move the game to one of the “major” networks? Or simulcast the game on the NFL Network and one of the major networks?

I got an odd feeling of “Life Imitates Art” when I heard about this controversy, because this scenario is part of the plot of my novel Over Time. In my story, the rights to broadcast the Dallas vs. Green Bay game belong to a small cable company owned by the main character of the book, who is struggling financially and needs incredible ratings for the game in order to keep his company from going under. My character, a huge Packer fan, bought the cable channel because it owned the rights to that game. (In my story, the game is being played at Lambeau Field). When the game starts to take on eerie, almost supernatural similarities to the legendary “Ice Bowl”, a major network steps in and pays a fortune to simulcast the game, thus saving my main character’s company.

By the way, the Packers win the game.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Giving Thanks

As we approach the holiday season, Packer fans have a lot to be thankful for this year. In 2007 the team has so far exceeded expectations that it’s almost as though we’re living some kind of beautiful dream.

--Demolishing the Vikings 34-0??? That’s the stuff of outlandish fantasy. Many’s the time we’ve been relieved to escape Vikings week with a 3 point victory—even at Lambeau Field.

--Winning nine of the first ten games—the fastest start since 1962. I’m by no means an old timer, but I seem to recall something special happened at the conclusion to that season. Perhaps it’s time to consider the possibility it will happen again.

Please, no one wake us up until after the Super Bowl!

But the truth is, Green Bay fans can feel blessed—and proud--every season. It might not be too much of an exaggeration to say it’s an honor to be a Packer fan. The Packers serve their fans a never ending all-you-can-eat buffet of fun. And I don’t mean cranberry sauce or that peculiar green bean casserole that’s only seen around holiday time. The Packer experience is more like sitting down at a huge table with where you’re surrounded by nothing but all of your favorite varieties of meat, prepared just the way you like them. So, grab a knife and fork and get ready to feast, because as we know, nothing tastes better than victory:

The Main Course: A Tradition of Excellence

The Packers are now in their 9th decade of league play. They have achieved winning records in 6 of those 9 decades. If you see the team play at Lambeau Field, there is a nearly two-thirds chance that you will see them win, based on the historical averages. On the road, there’s a nearly 50/50 chance you will see them win.

The Green Bay Packers have won more NFL Championships than any other team--12. No other team is even close to the Packers, except the mighty but temporarily hibernating Bears, with 9. The Packers have 21 players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In that category, we’re second only to the mighty but temporarily hibernating Bears who have 26 players enshrined.

The Packers don’t just play at a stadium; it’s more like a national landmark. People travel from all over the world to visit Green Bay and see the stadium—even during the offseason. There’s an undeniably magical atmosphere created by the blend of glory days past and the promise of championships yet to be. It’s like a museum and an amusement park combined. Only a handful of sports venues around the country can provide the visitor with such a special, unforgettable feeling. Remember, many NFL teams have trouble attracting people to their stadiums on game day, let alone on a blustery day in March when the players aren’t even at the facility.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Giving Thanks Part II

The Packers have a fan base that is truly national—and exceedingly loyal. The Harris polling organization surveys football fans every year to determine which NFL team is the most popular. And every year, the Packers finish at or near the top of the list, no matter what the team’s won/loss record might be. At away games, it’s amazing to see how many Packer fans are in the stands. Sometimes the fans in green and gold occupy 20%, 30% or more of the seats. At one game I attended in Phoenix, the Packer fans nearly outnumbered those of the home team Cardinals. And the TV announcers said the same (rather dumb) thing they always do: “Look at all the people who came down here from Green Bay!” Sorry, Mr. Announcer, but the people came from no further away than Scottsdale. It was just a typical day in the life of America’s Team, and it is repeated at every away game, every year.

And so the Packer players have something to be perennially thankful for, whether they are having a good season or not: their truly amazing fans.

This widespread fan base also means that no matter what city you move to, you never have to feel alone. Just put on your Packer jersey and new buddies are just a sports bar away. It’s the ideal Alumni Association to belong to because, unlike college, you never actually have to study in order to graduate and become a member.

With the Packers, you get the opportunity to own a piece of your team, without having to be a member of The Billionaire’s Club. This is truly a blessing, because being a billionaire means you have to be arrogant, develop a rude, type-A personality and scream at your employees all the time. Simply put, having too much money is just too much stress, which is why I’ve worked hard at not becoming rich. It doesn’t seem worth it just to sit in a fancy luxury suite at the game and watch your $800 million investment get their doors blown off by a scrappy team owned by 110,000 people most of whom don’t even have country club memberships and who think foam rubber cheese is a fashion statement.

Being a Packer fan encourages you to maintain good health and set a goal of living a long, long time. This of course is because when you submit your application to be a season ticket holder, it will take around 50 years before your name appears at the top of the list. I think I better put in a good hour or two on the treadmill this afternoon. I wonder what the ticket prices will be in 2057?

We can also be thankful that we’ve had the opportunity to see some of our favorite players for ten years or more, special players to whom it meant a great deal to remain a Green Bay Packer. Players seem to come and go so quickly; we barely learn their number and they’re off to another team in free agency. But how about 15 years of being able to see Ray Nitschke play, 16 years of Bart Starr and 16 years (and counting!) of Brett Favre.

And one last thing I’m immensely grateful for as I think of all the seasons I’ve been a Green Bay Fan: anticipating the glorious games that are yet to be played, and the exhilaration we will all feel when the Packers win that 13th NFL Championship.

And then the 14th.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Pleasant Surprises

One of the joys of being alive is when something unexpectedly good happens, a positive surprise, a gift that just arrives at our doorstep. For Packer fans, this football season, though only at the halfway point, has already been like that memorable birthday party from your childhood when you got every single thing you asked for.

A Fast Start…It’s A Miracle!
Since 2003, Packer fans had become accustomed to watching their team stumble out of the gate and have to put on a furious rally in November and December in order to have a chance for the playoffs. This season has shown a striking reversal of that unpleasant trend. How wonderful to think that the topic of Home Field Advantage might once again come up during Thanksgiving dinner, instead of unnecessary speculation about what the components are of that unusual stuffing in the bowl next to the turkey. Some things are just better left to our imagination.

Timing is Everything
A seldom discussed aspect of success in the NFL is catching a good opponent during a time of the season when they are struggling. Such as: Playing the Eagles before they figured out that holding onto the ball is in the punt returner’s job description (they apparently thought that dancing skills were the most important thing). Playing the Giants before they stopped listening to Tiki Barber and discovered they were a good team. And of course playing the Chargers while they were still adjusting to a new coaching staff and philosophy.

Not since the Lombardi Era…
Whenever you hear a broadcaster start a sentence that way, you know he’s about to say something positive about the Pack. Last week, the Not Since Vince was the amazing feat of having won six consecutive road games (including the end of last season). The team has gone from Road Worriers that sometimes played tentatively away from home and let excellent chances for victory slip away in maddening fashion, to a team of Road Warriors that never gets down on itself when the opposing team takes the lead.

Bouncing off “The Wall”
How many times were we told prior to the start of the season, that once Brett Favre turns 38 he will mysteriously and suddenly hit “the wall” and be unable to throw a football any longer, because that’s what happened to Elway and Marino, and thus it must be so, now and forever. I think the 40 or so defensive backs that have tried without much success to slow down the Packers’ passing game this season might respectfully disagree with that notion. And the top three quarterbacks thus far in average passing yards per game are: Favre, Brady, Romo.

We should all be lucky enough to hit a “wall” like that during the course of our careers.

Over Time, the novel

Monday, November 05, 2007

Pleasant Surprises Part II

Here are more reasons Packer fans are so happy this season, and a look ahead to the last 8 games...

Winning the West
When the schedule came out last April, the game at Denver and then at Kansas City within a six day span seemed like a cruel Halloween trick. First the Packers have to wear themselves out trying to suck down enough oxygen to survive the thin Denver air, then fly to one of the most difficult places for the “away” team and attempt to concentrate on the game instead of on the great barbecue they serve there. Who concocts these schedules, anyway…Freddy Krueger? But the expected Nightmare at Arrowhead turned out to be a tasty treat indeed. In fact, winning both of those games might turn out to be the pivotal stretch that enables the Packers to re-capture the NFC North title.

The Felicitous Foursome
The “experts” said the wide receiver position might be a question mark for Green Bay in 2007, which is why an alternate definition of expert is someone who can speak fluently on any subject he knows practically nothing about.

With eight games in the history books, it appears that the foursome of Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones and Koren Robinson combined are as talented a group of receivers as the team has ever had.

(Except of course when Don Hutson took the field alone).

A Look Ahead...

Not to be greedy, but there are additional presents the Packers could give their fans in the 2nd half of the season, as the season of giving approaches:

A blowout victory or two at home might be nice, just to get us some Lambeau Mystique (in case you don’t recall, that’s a hard-nosed competitive attitude, not a cologne on sale at Kohl’s) in time for the playoffs.

Playing a strong game in Dallas will be important, because that’s one place the Packers really, well…um…stunk, when both Green Bay and Dallas had great teams in the 1990’s.

Beat the Bears. I don’t believe further explanation is required.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Bye Week Blues

NFL Players and fans alike approach the bye week with mixed emotions. If your team is on a roll, like the Packers are this season, during the week you miss the adrenaline rush of anticipation for the upcoming game. There’s a void in your life. Your rhythm and routine seem disrupted. You might even feel a bit depressed.

On the other hand, since all the games so far have been nail-biters, full of stress and worry that the opposition was going to score late in the game and beat us, there’s something to be said for giving the old nervous system a week off to knit the frayed wires back together.

And the Packer players have more than frayed nerves: their bodies are starting to get seriously bruised and battered by this time of the season. They definitely can use a rest, and a break from the mental strain of preparing for each game (those that actually do prepare, that is).

Instead of moping around the house lamenting the fact there’s no Packer game, maybe we should get out and do new things this Sunday.

Physical Activity. Do you ever notice how NFL players seem to bounce back quickly from a bad loss, but fans of the teams remain in the dumps all week? The reason is physiological. Vigorous exercise releases chemicals in the brain that produce a feeling of bliss, even euphoria. This allows players to forget about last week’s loss and focus on the upcoming game.

(You remember euphoria…like when Al Harris picked off Hasselback in the 2003 playoff game and ran it back for a touchdown to seal the victory).

Getting out and exercising, then, is one way to rid the mind of Bye Week Blues. One disclaimer though: Tubby-wubbies who haven’t gotten up off the couch in, say, 25 years or so, should visit their doctor before starting any strenuous exercise. We don’t want to lose loyal fans to sudden heart attacks.

Attend Church on Sunday. Churches are those buildings you see people going in and out of while you’re on your way to the store to buy salami and cheese before kickoff. On Sundays in these buildings they put on several shows they call “services.” Churches usually have rousing music to begin the game, and a Coach who stands up and gives an inspirational message at half-time of the service. The Coach offers forgiveness to those in attendance for all the plays they messed up the previous week. And several lessons are usually read from the playbook. Prayer for the sick is always encouraged, whether you’re talking about an anemic offense, or a defense that has lost its way.

A pleasant surprise is that many churches serve delicious food between services. When you go, be aware that some terminology and customs may not be familiar to you. Be careful to not commit a faux pas such as asking why there aren’t any cheerleaders.

House Cleaning. I have a friend who, when the Packer games get too tense for her nerves to handle, immediately begins frantic house cleaning. She still pops in and out of the TV room to check on the score, but by keeping busy swinging the mop or broom, she finds that she is at least able to hold down her lunch. Her vacuum cleaner is so loud she can’t hear the inane commentary of the announcers, which is an added bonus. After our first six games this season, her house is pretty much spotless. A surgeon could set up shop in her kitchen and build up a successful practice. In fact, you can walk in her front door on a Sunday evening and immediately tell the how close the score was in the Packer game, by the overpowering scent of Pine-Sol wafting through her house.

Read a good book. If you enjoy non-fiction, I’d recommend a book titled The Making of a Bestseller. And reading a suspenseful novel about Green Bay Packer fans might be the next best thing to watching a game. In that case, I’d try a book titled Over Time.

Travel. Since gas prices are dropping back to reasonable levels, it might be a good idea to re-invent that old pastime, The Sunday Drive. Get in the car right before kickoff and explore our great country for three hours or so. See the vibrant Fall colors. Stop and buy a pumpkin or two. Bring plenty of music CDs so you aren’t tempted to check the scores of other games on the car radio. And never, ever, stop at a sports bar for lunch. You trying to take a break from the tension of football, remember. Packing a tasty picnic lunch and a blanket to spread out in a verdant meadow is a much better idea.

But, as you venture out into nature always remember: Don’t Feed the Bears.

Use Technology to Create An Imaginary World. I have a video collection of 50 or so Packer games I have taped over the last ten years. We usually play these during the long offseason, but it might also be fun to put one of these in the VCR this Sunday, and pretend that game is "live". This is analogous to a nicotine patch for the smoker who just can’t seem to quit even for a week. And, in the glorious little world of my VCR, the Packers always finish the season 16-0. Strange, but I can’t ever find the tapes of the games we lost. Except the tape of the playoff loss to
Philadelphia that featured the gruesome Fourth-and-26 play. One morning I found that tape crushed to little bits on the driveway.

Admittedly, pretending an old game is new requires a certain suspension of disbelief, because you will see taped commercials for TV series that were cancelled a long time ago and you only have a dim memory of having seen them. But despite the passage of time, some things do remain constant, such as the remarkable breadth of John Madden’s waistline.

Watch Other Teams and Poke Fun at Them. If you simply can’t spend an Autumn weekend without the NFL, watch the Packers’ rivals play and laugh at their miscues and foibles. You’ll quickly see that ours is not the only team that has suspect play calling from time to time, or inexplicably fumbles the ball at the absolute worst moment. We sometimes take the Packers, and their tradition of excellence, for granted—especially in the last 15 years of almost uninterrupted winning. Put yourself in the other teams’ cleats for a while. For instance, pretend to be Vikings fans for a day, and then you will truly appreciate how lucky you are to root for the Green and Gold, kind of like when your mom urged you to eat those yucky lima beans or the broccoli on your plate—and appreciate that you have food at all—because there are starving children in other lands.

And cheer up! It’s not that long ‘til the 29th.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Coping With Defeat

Now, you really didn’t think the Pack was going to finish 16-0, did you?

Even so, watching the third and fourth quarters of the game vs. the Bears was like enduring slow, painful torture. Even consumption of a tasty anesthetic lager didn’t seem to ease the suffering. And it was a strange, almost surreal sensation when the game ended, as though the numbers on the scoreboard had somehow been transposed to make it appear as though--NO!--we lost.

In times like these it’s helpful to step back and examine the situation with a fresh perspective. Here are some positive things that happened Sunday night.

Continuing to Build Team Chemistry. The game defined the term “team effort.” When rookie sensation James Jones fumbled away scoring opportunities not once, but twice, on other teams he might have encountered cold stares and even harsh words from his teammates when he got to the sideline. Not our Packers. Perhaps worried that the promising young player might go into a irreversible funk, veteran stalwarts like Brett Favre and Charles Woodson made a couple of foolish, ill-timed errors of their own, an interception and a fumbled punt, so their teammate would not feel isolated. This kind of unselfishness is what builds a championship mentality.

Discovering a New Frontier of Play Calling. There was something very unusual at the start of that game that clearly bodes well for the future. I’ve heard it originated in a mid-week strategy meeting between the Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator. The Coordinator had noticed that when the Packers were on offense, it appeared there were several players standing next to Brett, looking eager but perhaps a bit left out of the action. He mentioned to the Head Coach that these players didn’t seem to have much to do during the course of the play. “Any ideas?” he inquired of his boss, who thought carefully and then remarked, “We could have Brett hand the ball to these guys once in a while. And they could… run with it.”

“What a great idea!” the Coordinator exclaimed. “The other team will never expect it.”

“That’s why I get paid the Big Bucks,” said the Head Coach.

Helping Those in Need. You always get a warm, fuzzy feeling inside when you reach out to someone who’s going through hard times. So, at least for one night, we made the Bears fans happy, let them again experience the joy of winning on national TV. Most of us have friends or colleagues who are fans of our rivals from Chicago. We’ve felt their pain and desperation as they sank to 1-3 on the season (while we tried hard not to giggle). And with true Green and Gold generosity, we helped them rise above their struggles and experience what we’ve been enjoying for eight consecutive games. Packer fans are truly amazing people.

Guarding Against Overconfidence. Every year it seems there is a team that sprints out to a 5-0 or 6-0 start, then fades in November and December, and exits the playoffs after the first game. The cause of these late-season collapses is often simply overconfidence: the players get the erroneous notion they are invincible, start to relax, and forget the hard work--and lucky breaks--that enabled them to start off so well. The Packers were far too clever to fall into this trap. They knew that a bitter loss like the one they suffered on Sunday night could serve to keep them hungry, focused and motivated. They can come out fresh in the next game vs. Washington, without that heavy burden of having to keep a winning streak going.

Staying Right on Track. Let’s not forget how far above expectations this team has performed in the first five weeks, reversing the trend of dismal 1-4 starts the last few seasons. If we look at the Packers’ last three championship teams, here’s how they began the year:

1996 4 Wins, 1 Loss

1967 3 Wins, 1 Loss, 1 Tie

1966 4 Wins, 1 Loss

Feel better?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

My Favorite Year

Most of us have a favorite Packer memory, a season or even a game that stays with us forever. Packer fans are always at the top of the league in terms of their appreciation for the great teams and players of the past. As well we should—ours is the team that has won the most NFL Championships—12--a total only the Chicago Bears are anywhere close to reaching, with 9. (The New York Giants are a distant third, with 6).

Twelve Championship seasons—that’s an entire library of wonderful memories for generation after generation of Green Bay fans to enjoy. Sports memories are powerful things. It’s almost as though the excitement we experienced and the inspiration we received from a special game or an unforgettable season never fades, and we can tap into it as needed, sort of a bank account of exhilaration that can’t be overdrawn. After all, the whole point of having a passionate rooting interest in a team is that part of their success belongs to you.

I wrote a novel with the central premise that a group of lifelong friends who grew up in the 1960’s wish they could re-live the legendary Ice Bowl game—and their wish comes true. The effect of this magical event on their lives is profound: By reliving that moment of victory from long ago, they learn how to become winners in their own present-day lives.

If you’re too young to remember the Ice Bowl, you undoubtedly have another Packer memory you cherish just as much. Maybe it was the terrific 1996 season, when Green Bay won the Super Bowl, erasing all those years of frustration and failure that had occurred since Vince Lombardi retired. Going back a little further, who could forget the improbable success of the 1989 team, when Don Majkowski led the team to one amazing last minute victory after another, with a group that talent-wise wasn’t anything close to being championship material. Sometimes the best, most lasting memories are made when something wonderful happens that you didn’t expect. Which brings us to 2007.

When the 2007 schedule came out, the Packers’ prospects for the first 5 games looked grim. Right out of the gate, four playoff teams and a game at the Dome of Doom in Minnesota. Ouch! The consensus forecast by fans and media seemed to be that the Pack would win 7, 8, or 9 games this season—at best.

But Packer fans had a wish of their own for 2007: that Brett Favre would get to experience another season of greatness, and finish his career on top, as we all know he richly deserves. We probably would have been willing to borrow a couple of victories from future years (with apologies to Aaron Rodgers), if that were possible, and give them to this year’s team—and Brett.

After watching Sunday’s game against the Vikings, the improbable seems to be coming true. Even well-known skeptics and outright curmudgeons in the media are waxing poetic about the Packers. In four short weeks the Packers have gone from supposed also-rans to: “A legit team”; “An elite team”; “One of the four best teams in the NFL”; “A Super Bowl Contender”; “The Year’s Feel Good Story”.

As for Brett, he’s gone from being regarded by the press as an intriguing has-been to a player being spoken of as being in the running for MVP. Wistful nostalgia for the past has been replaced by eager anticipation of the future. Everything old is somehow new again.

These first four games have been amazing to watch. There is clearly something special going on this year. We were supposed to be satisfied with a gritty young team that would use stout defense and conservative games plans to stay in close games, and maybe win a few. Well, Greg Jennings blazing 57 yards through the Chargers’ secondary to score a go-ahead touchdown didn’t look gritty to me. It looked brilliant. It looked like what everyone expected the high-powered Chargers’ offense to do. It looked like a team that doesn’t let the concept of losing enter into their thinking process.

Sure, lots can happen between now and the end of the season. Lots of teams that start 4-0 sputter and stall by December. On the other hand, history has shown that Green Bay Packer teams that have started 4-0 tend to…win Championships.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if twenty years from now, you and your Packer buddies are having a back yard get together on a hot night in August, discussing the Packers’ prospects for the upcoming season with the aid of a few cold beverages, and one of your friends asks you, “What do you think was the most exciting Packer season ever?”

“You mean, what was My Favorite Year?”

“Exactly,” he says as he helps himself to yet another of your beers.

“I’d have to say 2007,” you say without hesitation.

“That was a season for the ages, wasn’t it,” he’ll reply. “The team achieved the impossible.”

And for a few moments it will be totally quiet in your back yard, as the memories come back, fresh and everlasting.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Why Football is Important

As strange as this may sound, from time to time I’ve encountered people who are critical of my year-round passion (they often use the term obsession) for NFL football and the Green Bay Packers in particular. These individuals find it especially odd that:

--Each year I spend a lovely April weekend sitting in front of the TV watching the NFL Draft for 9 hours at a stretch.

--On Saturday nights in August, I check the score of meaningless preseason games every, oh, ten minutes or so.

--I let the national media’s goofy “Power Rankings” seriously elevate my blood pressure, when the Packers are not given the respect they are due.

--Besides watching every minute of every game the Packers play on Sunday, at my house we stay up until early Monday morning watching game highlights and analysis—over and over and over.

--We have two Christmas trees: a conventional one with colorful ornaments and pretty lights and so forth, and then THE PACKER TREE, with green and gold garlands and ornaments featuring somewhat rude, but festive, holiday greetings for Bears fans.

These skeptics try to tell me that if I cut down the hours I spend devoted to the Packers, I’d free up valuable time for other activities. What fabulous activities do they have in mind, I ask them: Yard work? Going to the opera? Visiting relatives I’ve never really liked?

I feel sorry for these people because they just don’t get it: Football Is Important. And here are a few--out of the hundreds--of reasons why:

Order out of chaos. It’s getting more and more difficult to understand the world around us—politics, the economy, international tensions, climate change. Events sometimes seem to be spinning out of control. And most of the time we can’t tell if we’re winning or not. Football is the opposite. At the end of the game, the scoreboard shows the absolute truth, expressed clearly, and for all time. Nothing vague, nothing uncertain. Total clarity.

Forestalling the bleak wintertime. A popular TV commercial has the tagline: Life Comes At You Fast! In many parts of the country, winter comes at you fast as well. Too fast. It seems as though you’ve just gotten back from the beach on Labor Day and snow flurries start to fall. NFL Football provides a kind of national hearth, where we can warm ourselves with our team’s success and avoid dealing with the grim concept of grey skies and freezing temperatures until after the Super Bowl in February.

Closing the generation gap. Who says parents and kids, or grandparents and kids, don’t have anything to talk about? Packer fans have 80+ years of glorious history to remember and discuss. Packer passion is something that is passed down the generations. It adds spirit and just plain fun to any family gathering. Let’s put it this way: Would you rather spend Thanksgiving dinner talking about complicated playoff scenarios or have a lively discussion about how Aunt Louise keeps that turkey so moist every year?

(continued in next blog)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

More...Why Football Is Important

Lessons about teamwork. You can learn important lessons about success in life from observing what succeeds in football. Coaches and players talk all the time about “team chemistry,” but it’s easy to spot the teams that have true chemistry versus those who just talk a good game. There’s a sense that they can overcome any adversity or bad break. Teams without that chemistry tend to splinter apart when they hit a bad stretch in the season. Watching your favorite team successfully deal with adversity can teach you valuable lessons you can apply in your own life and career. For instance, it seldom works to march into your boss’ office and demand to be traded to another company.

Turning total strangers into instant friends. Suppose you are out shopping, wearing your Packers sweatshirt and hat of course, and you encounter other people wearing the green and gold. You would have no problem saluting them with GO PACK GO! And they will undoubtedly respond in kind. You might even strike up a conversation about the upcoming game or the team’s prospects for the season. Contrast this cheerful camaraderie with just walking up to a random stranger and trying to strike up a conversation. They’ll probably run away or summon store security.

A boost of energy to get us through Monday. Think for a moment how different you feel at work on Monday morning after the Packers have won the game the day before. The challenges you face seem somehow less daunting, the co-workers who are normally unbearable seem less obnoxious. Then think of occasions where the Packers lost a playoff game the day before and you show up at the office grumpy and snappish. In such instances, I’ve found it’s more humane to your co-workers if you just call in sick.

A tree house for grown-ups. Human beings have a need to belong to a group, a tribe. And satisfying this need involves finding a tribe that fits your personality. Football addresses this need. And in true American free enterprise spirit, we have freedom of choice: 32 tribes to choose from. There are significant differences among the tribes. In California, for example, contrast the mellow, happy San Diego Chargers fans versus the permanent Halloween that is Raider Nation. Just go to any popular sports bar that has enough TVs to show a number of games at once, and observe how fans of a given team naturally cluster together—just like Neanderthal man seeking out a familiar, safe cave.

Good triumphs over evil. There’s something cathartic about watching a ferocious protagonist/antagonist battle, especially one where they are evenly matched and the outcome is in doubt. This has been true since the ancient Greeks staged the first dramas, right down to modern times and Hollywood movies, Westerns in particular. Look at the frequently used term to describe Brett Favre: gunslinger. He’s simply a modern-day “Shane,” the rare individual with the courage to stand up to any and all bad guys, and save the town—in Brett’s case 150 times thus far. One important difference though is that in the film Shane, the bad guy (Jack Palance) didn’t dress in purple. Somehow, that wouldn’t have been as menacing.

There are many other reasons of course why football is such an important part of our lives, of the very rhythm of our existence. I’ve always liked how F. Scott Fitzgerald expressed this in a wonderful short story he wrote about college football, The Bowl:

“All that is childish? Find us something to fill the niche of victory.”

Monday, September 24, 2007

Lucky Socks

For a football fan, perhaps the biggest thrill you can experience comes from seeing your team win a game in the final seconds, and the biggest letdown is losing a close game. A blowout win or loss doesn’t seem to have the same emotional effect on us—perhaps because most of us have never actually stayed around to see the final seconds of a blowout loss, and we assume all of the Packers' games should be blowout wins, so we aren’t surprised when that actually happens.

But after this intense feeling of elation or depression fades, and the passage of time gives us a chance to look back at the game with at least a certain degree of objectivity, it’s an interesting exercise to ask the question: Why did the Packers win in such thrilling fashion? Or, Why couldn’t the Packers pull the game out at the end?

There are a number of factors that contribute to a team’s ability to win close games, and with the razor thin talent margin between so many NFL teams these days, that ability is critical to staying in the playoff hunt.

With the Packers, for the last decade and a half, it’s been pretty easy to identify one of the chief reasons the Packers win more close games than they lose: Brett Favre’s amazing will to win, or we could also say, his absolute refusal to lose. Having a player like #4 as your leader is bound to make the other players on the team more confident of victory. And in any profession, if you approach your task with confidence you are more likely to succeed.

The other important reason the Packers have been able to win so many close games over the years is:


I don’t know how many hundreds of NFL games I’ve watched, but I’ve seen enough to come to the conclusion that the collective will to win of a team’s fan base is a kind of energy that is transmitted to the players on the field. And I don’t just mean the so-called “12th Man” the media speaks of, the fans attending the games whose raucous enthusiasm creates a hostile atmosphere for the opposing team.

I would include the millions of Packer fans around the world who have never set foot on the Lambeau Field parking lot—or have never even been to Wisconsin. These are the loyal fans who gather in sports bars all around the country and live or die by how the Packers perform on Sunday. And of course the fans who put on their green and gold garb on Sunday morning and stay at home and watch the game on satellite TV.

How, you might ask, can the stay-at-home fan in California or South Carolina contribute to a Packer victory in faraway Lambeau Field? I’ve learned the hard way that for your team to be successful it is extremely important for you, the fan, to have a pregame ritual, and never deviate from it.

The two key aspects of the ritual are: 1) What you eat for breakfast on Sunday; 2) What you wear to watch the game.

The consequences of not sticking to the ritual can be disastrous, as you'll see in the blog that follows.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Lucky Socks - Part II

The two key aspects of the ritual are: 1) What you eat for breakfast on Sunday; 2) What you wear to watch the game.

In 1995, I ordered a very nice hunter green polo shirt from Packers Pro Shop. I wore that shirt to watch every game from 1995 through 1998—as you well recall, tremendously successful seasons for The Pack. At that time I watched the games at a sports bar in Phoenix that caters to Packer fans—and serves fabulous hamburgers. Over time my shirt acquired at least one grease stain from each and every burger I consumed. By the end of the 1998 season, that shirt was starting to become an embarrassment, so I

de-commissioned it and bought a brand new gold shirt for 1999.

This turned out to be a bad idea. That season was the first one since 1991 in which the Packers didn’t achieve a winning record. I still wonder what might have happened if I had stuck with my trusty old grease-stained green shirt. Would Carolina have won that late fourth quarter victory against us in game #13? I sincerely doubt it. I blame myself to this day.

The pattern was repeated in this millennium. In 2001-2004, I wore another green shirt, which I again had to replace in 2005. Yes, I switched to a gold shirt and the consequence of that poor decision was enduring a long and torturous 4-12 campaign. As they say, those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Which brings us to the first game of the 2007 season. At my house, we have a pregame breakfast that never varies: hot cakes and sausage. I’m quite sure that our devotion to this menu has brought the Packers good fortune on numerous occasions, with the added bonus that medical researchers at the Johnsonville Institute have shown that sausage is one of the most important food groups for the maintenance of good health and guaranteeing longevity.

Unfortunately, the Friday before the game vs. the Eagles, we got some really bad news. We found out our Irish Setter had to go in right away for a root canal operation. (yes, a root canal, believe it or not). This was traumatic because you always worry when a dog has to go under anesthesia, and because the operation was going to cost $2,400. When I heard that, I needed anesthetic, too.

So, in all this confusion, we forgot to buy the pancake mix and sausage. And then right before kickoff I realized that my lucky green shirt was in the laundry, and the only clean one was the dreaded, jinxed gold shirt. Friends were coming over to watch the game, so I couldn’t wear a dirty, wrinkled shirt.

It was 1999 and 2005 all over again. I had to act quickly to chase away the bad karma. But I had no time! The teams were warming up on the field…The FOX network pregame team had already said their first 5 really inane things of the season…What could I do...?

I rummaged through every bit of Packer logo clothing I owned until I found a solution:

A pair of white socks with the green “G” above the ankle and green and gold on the bottom of the foot. I’ve always thought these socks were a little tacky, so I’d never worn them, but I was desperate, and I put them on right before our guests arrived to watch the game.

You know what happened. A thrilling last second victory for Green Bay against a perennially stubborn foe. Fresh hopes of reclaiming home field advantage. Visions of making the playoffs this season. The world seemed brand new.

I believe I owe all this good fortune to my LUCKY SOCKS. Now I can relax for the remainder of the season because I know that as long as I have these socks on, I have done everything I can to help the Packers win.

(Postscript: my Irish Setter came out of the operation just fine. However, my VISA card will require several months to heal).

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Imagine What It Must Be Like...

Imagine what it must be like for a Head Coach in the National Football League, right before a game. Think of all the emotions that run through him, the mixture of excitement and worry, the thrill of leading a group of men into battle versus the nagging concern that, perhaps, you haven’t done everything you could to get your players ready for the game. This is precisely the situation facing the fictional hero of my novel OVER TIME, the Head Coach of the Green Bay Packers, as you will see in the excerpt below.

In this scene, the Packers are about to take the field against a powerful opponent that has beaten them many times before. Green Bay’s Head Coach, Errol “Brick” Denton, is struggling to find the right words to inspire his players to victory. He has a young team this year, untested in battle, but undeniably talented, including a promising rookie quarterback nicknamed “Wildass”.

An Excerpt from the novel, OVER TIME
© 2005 by Brian Hill and Dee Power

Seventeen minutes before kickoff, seven minutes before they had to go through the tunnel to the field. You could feel the vibrations in the massive cement and steel buttresses of the stadium, caused by the roaring crowd. It was not unlike the frighteningly exhilarating feeling the astronauts get when the giant rockets are engaged, and the tremendous forces are released, carrying them into the unknown. Seven minutes was all the time left for Brick Denton to make a difference in the game.

Suddenly, and totally unexpectedly, all of Denton's pregame uncertainty was gone; he felt completely alert, totally calm, totally in control. For the first time since he had accepted the job of Head Coach, he no longer felt alone. "Gentlemen," he began in a voice that was clear and firm.

"For too many years, we have had to take to this field and compete against two teams simultaneously. No one should have asked that of us. We had to play against the Bears some weeks, the Vikings on others. But we also had to compete against our own formidable team--every week--and all of the championships they won. We had to play a memory--one that got more grandiose over time. We were measured against them, and always fell short. We never had the toughness they did. We were paid too much. We didn't have the desire. We were spoiled, just in it for the money. We didn't try."

Now the players listened to his words. The gum was chewed more slowly. The eyes focused on Denton.

"How could we win, carrying that anvil on our shoulders? On this given Sunday, maybe it's time we threw this weight off, looked at things another way. When we take that field today, the tradition of excellence comes with us. It's our armor, our shield, not a heavy burden. We have won eleven championships: no team can match that. We don't have to exceed what those past teams did. The opponent has to try and exceed it. We already hold the titles. The titles belong to us. The nation is waiting for us to come back, they need us to come back. We play for small town America. We dare to do battle against the titans, the big cities, the rich owners. We play for the uncomplaining fellow who goes to work each day and does his damnedest. He doesn't get the recognition or the glory. He lives all that through us. When you win the championship again...and again...and again--which you are destined to do, I am absolutely certain, they won't just be dancing in the streets here....but in places all over the country that none of us has ever been to. People who couldn't find us on the map want a piece of our glory. We stand for something that people need in their lives.

"The media talk about 'America's Team' all the time. Well, what is America's Team? I will tell you. It is a team that plays natural grass, in front of fans who live and die by that team, who feel physical pain when that team loses; the games are sold out fifty years in advance, for America's Team. These games would not be a once a week amusement, they would be cornerstones of people's pride in their community, in themselves. The players, when they looked around them, would see history in all directions. I surely don’t deserve to be the Coach of America's team, I probably never will, but you damn well deserve to be its players. Harness the power of that greatness, gentlemen, of that tradition. It's here in the building. It's alive. It's not a ghost."

"I feel it, Coach," cried out Wildass, forgetting he was supposed to be a frightened rookie.

"I do, too," echoed in the room.

"Then play that way, men. Don't do it for me. Do it for yourselves. Write your names into the history books. The legends never died, gentlemen. You become the legends when you walk on that field. Our game goes on forever. Our season never ends. We never leave the field."

Denton then looked in each face, as though to impress the message permanently into their minds. Then he turned and opened the locker room door, and pointed the way.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Nobody Knows Anything

This pithy little axiom was coined by Academy Award winning screenwriter William Goldman to describe the motion picture business, where everyone runs around Beverly Hills claiming to know what the next mega-hit movie is going to be, when in fact no one has a clue.

But Mr. Goldman’s observation is equally useful for NFL football fans at this time of year, when seemingly everyone with a word processor publishes their predictions of how teams will finish in the standings. Some of these “experts” in the broadcast and print media are quite confident, even cocky, about their forecasts.

For the past several years, the Packers have not received very much respect from the national media. For Packer fans, reading some of the extremely negative views about the team can cause unpleasant side effects such as irritability at work, elevated blood pressure, and even stomach upset.

I would advise not spending any time whatsoever fretting about what the scribblers and the chatterers in the media think about the Packers. A better strategy is to read their predictions and poke fun at them. Laughter truly is the best medicine.

Here’s an example: ESPN recently placed Green Bay in lowly 24th place in their 2007 preseason Power Rankings behind powerhouses like the Giants, Redskins, Dolphins and yes, Cardinals.

Remarkably, ESPN says their Power Rankings were the combined effort of seven journalists. Did you know at ESPN they have a special committee of four seasoned broadcasters they call upon when a light bulb needs changing in the studio?

You see, Packer Nation (i.e. The United States), there’s really no need to let these people get to you, because THEY HAVE NO CLUE.

And this bold statement is easy to prove by just going back one year and looking at what they predicted for the 2006 Green Bay Packers. Let’s start with a widely read preseason magazine, Lindy’s Pro Football. On page 101, editor Howard Balzer gazes into his crystal ball-zer and comes out with some very curious predictions.

At least they are honest enough to subtitle their Prediction page “Another Chance to Look Foolish.” Here were Lindy’s predictions for the NFC North in 2006, along with Mr. Balzer’s comments:

(First Place) Chicago – If Rex Grossman stays healthy, this could be a special team.

(Second) Minnesota – Brad Johnson brings stability to a team that needs a hug.

(Third) Detroit - Can Mike Martz work wonders with Jon Kitna and Josh McCown?

(Fourth) Green Bay – It won’t be long until Brett Favre wishes he retired.

And now, for comparison purposes, let’s recall what really happened:

(First) Chicago – With a defense as awesome as the Bears’, who cares if Rex Grossman stays healthy?

(Second) Green Bay – By the end of last season, the rest of the league wished Brett Favre had retired, especially after he ruined the Bears’ New Year’s Eve party.

(Third) Minnesota – Brad Johnson was adding tremendous stability to the bench by the end of the season.

(Fourth) Detroit - The “wonder” was the admirable loyalty of the Lions fans who kept showing up for the games during a dismal 3-13 season.

For something even more irritating than the predictions in Lindy’s, let’s visit, where a lad name Adam Schein said this was how the NFC North would look in 2006:

“NFC North

1. Bears 10-6
2. Lions 7-9
3. Vikings 7-9
4. Packers 3-13

Packers: I toyed with 2-14 for the Packers. But I just like Greg Jennings and Abdul Hodge too much. Or something like that.”

Wow. Those are some really putrid predictions. He was in effect saying the Packers would be just about the worst team in the league. I especially enjoyed his lucid analysis: “Or something like that.” These guys should at least include a caveat that their predictions have a margin of error of + or – five games.