Rather than my usual “three observations”, I thought I’d go with something that Packer fans will, hopefully, find therapeutic in the aftermath of this devastating loss. So I give you my seven stages of Packer playoff grieving, as a template for how you might cope with this tragedy yourself. At the very least, through the telling of my experience, you can take comfort in the fact you're not alone.
7 Stages of Packer Playoff Grieving
Stage 1: Shock – There is no better word to characterize my reaction to that final play. Pure, slack-jawed shock. My brain literally couldn’t process what my eyes had just seen. I was so certain, after Rackers shanked the field goal in regulation, after winning the coin toss to receive the ball, after nearly hitting Jennings for a TD on the first play of OT, that we were going to win that game, that I just couldn’t accept, for several minutes, what had just transpired.
Stage 2: Denial – With my Tivo remote clenched in my hand, I rewound the final play, whispering “no, no, no…” That didn’t just happen. This is a bad dream. They must have missed something. Wasn’t there a penalty somewhere? Shouldn’t there have been an instant replay?? Wasn’t there something that was going to reverse what I had just witnessed!?!? The Packers were supposed to win that game. Everyone thought so. Last weekend, the Cardinals themselves looked like they'd ceded a loss. Hell, many of the experts were picking Green Bay to go to the Super Bowl. This couldn’t have happened!
Stage 3: Anger – As I prepared to hurtle the remote control through our 40” plasma, my wife gently reminded me to “model good behavior” for my two sons who were lagging behind a little in the Shock and Denial phases. (By the way, it's very difficult to calmly answer the question, “Daddy, does this mean the Packers are out of the playoffs?”). So, with a clenched, maniacal pseudo-grin, I proceeded to explain to my offspring why daddy was “disappointed” in the following people:
- Dom Capers who seemed to think a game-plan was un-necessary and evidently lost his notes on the back of a Southwest cocktail napkin from the week earlier. His so-called #2 defense got rung up for 531 yards, 45 points (I won't count the defensive TD), and managed to force only one punt. Embarrassing.
- Aaron Rodgers for throwing an interception on the opening play, over-throwing Jennings twice on a pass that “daddy could have thrown”, and assisting Karlos Dansby with the final interception with his foot.
- Tramon Williams, Jarrett Bush, Josh Bell, some guy named Giordano, and anyone else they threw out there to play in the defensive secondary for failing to get within 5 yards of an open receiver. When someone named Early Doucet snags 6 catches for 77 yards and 2 TDs, someone "didn't do a very good job."
- The entire defensive line for getting zero pressure on Warner all day and allowing 156 rushing yards, including an 18-yard scramble by some dude named Stephens-Howling.
- The entire offensive line for giving up 5 sacks, including the game loser.
- Every NFL analyst who picked the Packers to go to the Super Bowl and got my hopes up
- Troy Aikman for relentlessly mis-pronouncing our city Green Bay and the razor-sharp insight that “The Packers defense needs to show they can stop the Cardinals here.”
- Brett Favre, just because.
- Myself for wasting many late-night person hours this fall writing this dumb ass blog.
This was simple. We’d just call up Roger Goodell, and politely point out that the refs may have possibly over-looked some penalties that could have changed the entire outcome of the game. He would, very rationally upon seeing the review, agree and declare Green Bay the winner. Does anyone have Roger's number?
Stage 5: Guilt – My anger phase was coming back to haunt me. How could I have said that about Aaron Rodgers!? The guy went off for 422 yards and four touchdowns – setting a team playoff record for passing yards and tying it for touchdowns. Better than Brett ever played. What an ungrateful fan I was for expecting him to shoulder even more than he already had.
I also felt guilty that I had infected my own children with this disease, this obsession. I’d set them up for disappointment. I couldn’t stand the looks on their faces, huddled quietly on the couch in their Packers jerseys.
Stage 6: Depression – The futility of my emotional roller coaster set in on Monday morning. This season just felt like such a lost opportunity – such a promising team that was tragically cut off before their time. It was like euthanizing your dog you’ve played fetch with every Sunday afternoon. You know there’s going to be this big empty void, as you eagerly reach for the remote next weekend only to remember… they’re gone. Will they be able to field a team this good next year? How will they fill the gaps? What if Rodgers or Woodson gets injured next year and they tank? You need to seize opportunities like this when you get them, and we didn’t.
I was bitter about the in-authenticity of Cardinal fans, gloating over the victory of their transplanted team under their retractable roof. I was sullen about the other teams who were advancing while the Packers cleaned out their lockers. I was sickened by the thought of reading, listening or watching any news about the Packers. I do this every year – over-indulge in every bit of Packers news I can get my hands on like a Minnesota truck driver at Old Country Buffet, and then, when the Packers season ends, I’m suddenly repulsed by it. Packer news that was so titillating two days ago looks no more appealing than the crusted over day-old lasagna at Sbarro. I can’t eat another bite, and I regret my gluttony in the first place.
Stage 7: Acceptance – I’m not sure “acceptance” is a stage I’ve ever been able to fully achieve with the Packers playoff losses. The overtime loss to the Giants in the 2007 NFC Championship game, the Randy Moss mock-moon in the 2004 wild-card loss to the Vikings, the infamous “4th and 26” loss to the Eagles in 2003, the Michael Vick-led blow-out by the Falcons in 2002, Favre’s six interceptions in the Rams dismantling of the Packers in 2001, the last-second catch by Terrell Owens to propel the 49ers past us in 1998, and, of course, the Super Bowl loss to Denver in 1997. All these games are etched on my brain like they were yesterday. Losing seasons aren’t as painful or memorable for some reason. It’s getting your hopes up, as mine were each of those playoff years, only to have them shattered that makes them so hard to accept.
But it’s time to pick up the pieces of the 2009 season and look forward to 2010. We have a great, young nucleus of a team. There are certainly several holes that need to be filled (more on that later), but I believe this will be a learning experience for the team – and one they will come back to avenge next year.