Friday, August 10, 2007

Packer Puzzlement Part I

I’ve been a Packer fan since I was about 8 years old, so one would suppose I should have a good understanding of the game by now. But, on the contrary, there are still a lot of things about the Packers, and pro football in general, that I find baffling. Here is a brief, and by no means exhaustive, list of the things that leave me puzzled, or in some cases hopelessly confused:

1) Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect. NFL teams almost seem to practice year-round these days. In the early spring, they have Teeny Camp, then Tiny Camp in May, then Mini-Camp where they re-learn what they learned in Tiny Camp, then comes the all important Maxi-Camp where they “install” the offense, then of course grueling Mega-Camp where they find out the offense they installed doesn’t work, so they install a new one—and then they head off to Training Camp in July and start all over again.

Given all that intensive practice and planning why do so many teams look disorganized, even clueless, when the first preseason game is played? I went to the Packers first preseason game in San Diego last year, and the offense looked as though they had just seen a football for the very first time that night, and were not sure what to do with the oddly shaped thing. I could picture Aaron Rodgers in the huddle saying, “Okay, guys, the objective is to move toward that goal post down there.” And then the offensive lineman remarking, with a little awe in his voice, “But it seems so far away…we’ll never get there.”

Then we have this year’s first preseason game, against Pittsburgh. Our first team offense netted a whopping 17 yards in its first 12 plays, and ZERO first downs. Note that if you’re 6 feet tall and fall forward 12 times you gain 24 yards.

Just imagine how poor their performance would have been if they hadn’t spent so much time ‘camping’.

2) When History Repeats. Why were the national news media so skeptical when the Packers hired Mike McCarthy as head coach? Seemed like a no-brainer to me. He was Offensive Coordinator for the 49ers, he’s a little pudgy, and his name is Mike. That’s one of the most successful business models the Pack has ever had in a coach. In fact, even if all he had going for him was his first name, history shows he is likely to win approximately 63% of the games he coaches, well above the all-time Packer team average of 56%. Just to be on the safe side, the Packers Executive Committee did a thorough background check on McCarthy to make sure “Mike” wasn’t just a nickname, and his actual first name was Lindy, Forrest, Lisle, Gene or heaven forbid, “Scooter.” Ideally, he’d be named Michael Vincent McCarthy instead of Michael John McCarthy, but we can’t have everything.

3) The Siberia Factor. I can’t tell you how many times I have read Internet posts warning that the Packers are about to return to being the “Siberia” of the NFL, the grim, dark place no really good players, particularly free agents, want to play. This almost seems like one of those nonsensical “Urban Legends.” People posting these dire warnings usually bring up the cold weather in Green Bay, and the small town atmosphere, as being major turn-offs for today’s young pro football players. But they never seem to come up with any evidence that the players themselves feel this way. If weather were any factor at all, then Arizona, Miami and San Diego would field consistently winning teams. But they don’t.

As far as small town atmosphere, you can’t discount the impact of being a friendly, welcoming place to live. As Bob Harlan has said, it’s the warmest cold city in the country. And here’s what first round draft choice Justin Harrell said about Green Bay: “Just riding through the neighborhoods, it looks a lot like home and it’s a place I know I’ll be able to get settled in and have a good time.”

I remember reading a classic story from the 1930’s about Packer players saying how fortunate they were to live and work in Green Bay, where there are so many great outdoor activities to enjoy—hunting, fishing, etc., in contrast to being stuck playing in New York where there was nothin’ to do. But it’s fair to say that players in those days weren’t paid quite enough money to enjoy all the diversions and delights available in the Big Apple.

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