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.