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.

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