Monday, October 25, 2010

Tranqui Yanqui

My devoted search for a bar in Buenos Aires that was showing the Packers game paid off.  Casa Bar, owned by an expat American as you might expect, not only showed the entire game, but delivered it on multiple screens in full HD with the original American play-by-play.  I didn’t have to listen to a single “Los Packadorés” the entire game (though I was sort of looking forward to hearing “Los Viquantes”).

Casa Bar in Buenos Aires with one other Packer fan
Suffice it to say, that was a huge, huge, HUGE win for the Packers.  Not only did it go a long way to vanquish the Favre demons, but it put the Pack right back into contention in the NFC North.  The only wrinkle of the evening turned out to be the near total lack of Packer fans at the bar.  Usually Packer fans travel well.  So many of us have left Wisconsin like a giant diaspora that we show up just about everywhere.  But besides me and my sisters (and one of my sister’s boyfriends who we converted), there was only one other Packer fan among the crowd of Americans at Casa Bar.  The other 20 or so were Viking fans, and one Bears fan who apparently got lost.

Of course, that didn’t stop me from standing on my bar stool with my hands above my head hollering at every big play the Packers got.  After Desmond Bishop’s pick six, my enthusiasm earned me a “Tranqui Yanqui” from the bartender.  My sister, who’s fluent in the unique Argentine dialect of Spanish, translated for me.  “Tranqui” (pronounced “tranky”) means essentially “go easy.”  Settle down.  Chill out.  Relax.  It is culturally resonant with the Argentine’s easy, non-hurried lifestyle.  “Yanqui” (pronounced “schanky” because Argentines pronounce all “y” sounds, as well as Spanish double “l” sounds, as “sch” – rather than “yo” it’s “cho”) means “Yankee” – as in, an American.

This phrase, as you can imagine, is used fairly frequently down here.  Obviously, it has the acoustically pleasing rhyming quality, “tranky schanky.”  But it also is typically Americans who are the first people who need to be told to chill out… relax… take a deep breath.  As an aside, I'd just like to point out that Argentines aren't exactly mellow when it comes to sports fanaticism.  My other sporting event this weekend was a River Plate game.  River Plate and Boca Juniors are the two professional soccer clubs in Buenos Aires, and, like the Packers vs. the Vikings, you are born into one or the other.  The game between these two teams, which occurs in two weeks, is a rivalry that practically brings the city to a stand still.  The game we saw was against Racing, yet the crowd of 40,000 strong bounced and chanted continuously throughout the game, as captured in this video.  It's no Lambeau, but it was an amazing experience.

Anyway, the "tranky schanky" phrase definitely applied to me as I pumped my fists in the air as the Packers left the field victorious.  But I realized afterward that the phrase was applicable in more ways than one.  As psyched as I was for this win, it’s just one win.  And it came down to one play.  Percy Harvin’s second foot was the only difference between a glorious victory and a defeat so devastating that I may never have recuperated.  We saw in that game the signature elements of what makes Favre Favre and Rodgers Rodgers.  Favre threw three interceptions, one returned for a touchdown, yet he fought through ankle sprains and sacks to the final play and almost won it.  Rodgers played within himself, logging more completions, more yards, and a higher passer rating, yet when he had the chance to put the game away he couldn’t do it.

Rodgers has the physical gifts and the mental toughness, but he still needs to develop that insanely competitive killer instinct.  That X factor that enables him to put the team on his shoulders and deliver it, beaten and bleeding, on the doorstep of victory.  Although it failed Favre Sunday night, he still has a lot of whatever that X factor is.  “Never underestimate the heart of a champion,” or something like that.

And that is why I am heeding the “tranky schanky” advice.  Even though Rodgers finally beat Favre, even though we’re tied for first in the NFC North, I’m trying not to get too excited.  We need to see more from this team.  More consistency.  More killer instinct.  More X factor.  Maybe this win will be for the 2010 season what the Dallas win was last year.  I hope so.  String together a few more wins and maybe I’ll get back to my pre-season optimism.  But for now, it’s tranky schanky.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Los Packadorés

I’m currently on a plane bound for Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Wi-fi in the sky is a wonderful thing!  This vacation is one I have been looking forward to for a long time to visit my sisters who both live there.  The only downside is I will not be in front of my beloved 42” with Sunday Ticket in HD for the big showdown: Packers vs. Favre at Lambeau, the rematch.  This has me scouring the web for an expat sports bar that I can watch the game at.

This game has me very nervous.  There’s a lot riding on it.  Just as there was a lot riding on the last Packer game I saw with Spanish play-by-play.  We were in Cancun for the NFC Championship game in January 2008.  Brent Farve’s last as a Packer.  I watched the entire affair alone in our hotel room, listening to the announcers’ animated declarations about what “Los Packadorés” had just done and how “Los Gigantes” had just intercepted the ball in overtime to win the game.  I could hear the raucous cheers from the nearby bar uttered by a group of New Jersey pipefitters down there for some union convention.  They basked in the pool the next day with their Giants gear, beer guts and back hair – high-fiving each other between rounds of cervezas, still celebrating their win.  The whole memory still gives me a PTSD flashback.

The Packer Burro
Something about the translation of “Packers” to “Los Packadorés” really bugged the crap out of me.  It sounds like a pack animal – like a burro or something.  I’m sure if the Packers had won, I would have embraced it fully and been running around the resort shouting something cheesey and mildly offensive like, “Olé, vamanos los Packadorés!  Andalé!  Andalé!”  Only humorous to me, this would have earned me numerous dirty looks from my wife – as well as a potential beat-down by the Jersey pipefitters.  But, as it was, they lost.  So “Los Packadorés” has only painful memories for me.

The only solace in having to endure 3 hours of that word again will be the amusement of hearing what the Spanish announcers decide to name the Vikings.  Maybe “Los Vikingos” or “Los Vik-Reys”.  Or perhaps they’ll go with something with a little more flourish, like “Los Vikantes” or “Los Vikadores.”  I wonder how they’ll explain to the Argentine audience that Señor Favre was once a Packadore but now is a Vikadore.  I’ll just tell them that it’s like someone defecting from Boca Juniors to River Plate.  Not cool.

Unfortunately, one of the things I’m discovering in my search for American sports bars in Buenos Aires is that, unlike in Mexico where the NFL has tried to popularize the sport for decades, Argentines don’t seem to give a crap about American football.  My research has only turned up three options for catching the game, none of which appear to be true sports bars.  Here they are, just in case any other Packer fans find themselves in Buenos Aires for a game:

Hopefully, one of these three will show the game.  I figure my chances are better than most weeks, since it's a nationally (though perhaps not internationally) televised game.  Even if it is in Spanish, missing the Packadores vs. Vikadores would kill me.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Trade Deadline Has Passed

Well... the NFL trade deadline was yesterday, and, as most Packer fans probably expected, Thompson made no moves to acquire a running back.  This analysis (shared by a TriggPack reader) does a pretty good job diagnosing why Ted didn't make a deal for Marshawn Lynch -- as well as why not doing so was a huge mistake.  I continue to believe that we would be at least a win or two better right now if we had a viable running game.

The only trade that did happen before the deadline was for safety Anthony Smith, acquired from Jacksonville for a conditional draft choice.  Obviously, safety is an area of need as well with Morgan Burnett and Derrick Martin both done for the season.  Charlie Peprah is serviceable, but we're getting mauled by big-body receivers and tight ends lately, which I attribute in part to weak safety play.  Not sure what this deal says about Atari Bigby's status.  Could indicate he's still not totally healthy, or that the coaching staff isn't totally confident in him even if he is healthy.  Bigby practiced today (so did Al Harris) and both could theoretically return to action this week.  Getting these guys back to full-strength will be huge.

Mark Tauscher also practiced and should be back for the Vikings game.  Bulaga got pretty victimized on Sunday.  It was a little surprising they didn't give him any help against the Dolphins' Cameron Wake, who had 3 sacks on the day.  I'm not sure Tauscher would have done much better, but having him back should help.  Sounds like Clay Matthews will also play, which is essential if we're to get any pressure on the quarterback.  If we let Favre have the time we gave Henne, he'll carve us apart.

I'm nervous about this game.  It will be a huge momentum boost if we win, and a significant setback if we lose.  Maybe I can start writing about the San Francisco Giants as well.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Being a Winner at Losing

The Packers are on a losing streak – 3 of the last 4 games have been losses, all by fewer than 3 points, two in a row, both in overtime.  We are now a .500 team.  Two games behind the Bears in the NFC North with the Vikings about to overtake 2nd place in the division if we can’t beat them next weekend.  That’s the reality.

Being a good sport at losing is not a skill that comes naturally to most people.  It’s human nature to want to win.  My son’s soccer team lost Sunday too.  They lost badly, in fact – down 6-0, before getting two late goals to bring it to 7-2 final.  It’s taboo to admit it, but nobody wants to lose.  As affluent suburban parents, we are conditioned not to emphasize winning or losing too much.  Sports like soccer are supposed to be about “having fun.”  In my son’s soccer league last year, they didn’t even keep score.  There were no official winners and losers, even though every kid on the field knew the score.

There are several reasons, excuses, for the Packers’ loss Sunday.  Obviously, there are the injuries.  We’re at third-string defensive linemen, third-string linebackers, and third-string safeties.  Water boys are getting reps at practice.  There were also the penalties.  Late hits, shots to the head, and pass interference that weren’t called.  Illegal contact, holding, and lining up over the center that were.  Then there is the lack execution – the dropped balls, the missed receivers, the busted assignments.  There are many reasons one could cite for the loss.  But none of those reasons matter.  They don’t put an asterisk next to your record at the end of the season and put you into the playoffs because you had injuries or didn’t get a call.  Just like, apparently, they don't give your son's youth soccer team a goal if you shout at the referee for a missed foul and throw a lawn chair onto the field.  (It's worth noting that kind of outburst can also get you a warning call from Child Protective Services -- or, at least, that's what happened to a friend of mine.)

The Packers need to learn how to lose.  They need to learn how to take what’s positive and correct what’s negative.  In other words, they need to use their losses as something constructive to build upon and get back to winning.  I don't see that attitude right now on the Packers.  All I saw on the field Sunday was bad losers.  Everyone, starting with McCarthy and Rodgers, seems to have a sense of entitlement.  It was an hour of shrugged shoulders waiting for a call,  indignant glances at teammates, exasperated glances up at the replay on the jumbotron.  A pervasive sense that the adversity they faced was inflicted by some external, unjust force.  Not their fault.  Bad luck.  A raw deal.  “We should have won that game” was probably the most likely declaration by Packers players and fans alike afterwards.

Memo to the Packers: nobody gives a shit that you were consensus favorites to win the Super Bowl.  The other 31 teams aren’t going to just roll over and hand you the Lombardi trophy.  Stop expecting to win and start deserving to win with your performance on the field.  Don’t show us your frustration and exasperation, show us your determination.

If the Packers had started this season without Ryan Grant, without Jermichael Finley or Donald Lee, if they had no Mark Tauscher, Ryan Pickett or Mike Neal, if Morgan Burnett was never drafted, Clay Matthews was on the bench and Nick Barnett never existed, the Packers probably wouldn’t have been such a favored team coming into this season.  The pundits would have placed them right where they are: a .500 team struggling to make the playoffs.

But none of that matters now.  Our expectations have been reset.  And there are two ways they can go: they can either fold the tent and wait until next year, or they can suck it up and take this loss, revel in it, learn from it, and come out next week all the more determined after it.  Last year, it was the Dallas game that turned our season around.  That was when they realized that the adversity they'd faced was in their own control.  That was when the team matured and played with confidence.  I’m praying Sunday night against the Vikings can be this season’s Dallas game.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Favre at 41

Despite the recent firestorm around Brett Favre, I have to admit that I still find the guy impressive.  If there's one topic that divides Packer fans, it's Favre -- still now more than two years after he left Green Bay (though perhaps less after this week).  But the one aspect that even the biggest Favre hater can agree with is his longevity is truly unbelievable.  Favre turned 41 on October 10.  I will turn 41 in December.  So we're almost the same age.  The idea of stepping out onto the football field at my age is horrifying.  Favre gets tendinitis from throwing passes as a starting NFL quarterback.  I get tendinitis from typing.

Like many people, when I turned 40 last December, I made a resolution to get back in shape.  Not NFL-ready shape, just not out of shape.  One month later, I made a similar New Years resolution.  Now it's October, and I'm finally getting to that particular item on my "to do" list.  I used to be an avid runner -- actually managed to finish the New York Marathon, twice, back in the day (the second in 3:28, thank you very much).  But running at my age takes a toll.  It's too high-impact.  Hurts my back.  So I've decided to try to take up swimming.

Everyone says swimming is "such great exercise."  And you certainly see swimmers with broad shoulders, six-pack abs, and 0% body fat.  I've never particularly liked the sport because I don't have a great affinity for that feeling you're going to drown.  My retort to the "it's great exercise" refrain is "no kidding, it's amazing how willing you are to exert yourself when faced with the threat of imminent death."  Escaping a pack of wolves or climbing a tree to avoid a bear mauling are probably good exercise as well.  Doesn't mean I want to do them.  I prefer my treadmill with a TV, headphones, and a handy caddy for my water and towel.

But I decided to give swimming a try.  The first thing that's daunting about swimming is the suit.  I was standing at our local SportMart, holding up Speedos and trying to determine which one I'd look the least ridiculous in.  No guy revels in the idea of a Speedo (at least, no American guy -- Europeans can speak for themselves).  I finally selected a pair of black Speedo briefs, which was neither the full-on banana hammock nor the long, biker-short style, but something in-between.  Dignified and classy.  Babe magnets.  The ostensible purpose of these suits is to make you more streamlined in the water, but I think the real reason people wear them is to humiliate yourself into getting some exercise.

Exiting the locker room with that suit on felt like walking into a ladies auxiliary tea party without pants.  But, after a final check in the mirror (confirming that I do, in fact, need to get on an exercise regimen), I shuffled bashfully onto the deck of our local pool.  After the first lap, a few things became quite clear to me: first, swimming is, indeed, excellent exercise -- as evidenced by the fact that I could no longer lift my arms above my head; second, sucking wind under water doesn't work so well unless you want to end up wheezing on the pavement with the lifeguards debating who should give you mouth-to-mouth; and third, my swimming form was absolutely horrendous.  Something between a dachshund trying to make its way to shore and an alligator digesting its prey.  I really needed a lesson.

I saw a perfect opportunity -- a walk-in adult swim class offered every Tuesday and Thursday.  This would save me the embarrassment and expense of a private lesson.  Just give me a few tips I needed to improve my form.  I showed up promptly this Thursday for the lesson.  Most of the lanes were full with fit, middle-aged women effortlessly doing laps to warm up.  The instructor, upon seeing my first flail down the pool, suggested, "Why don't you share lane one with Walter?"  Walter, it turned out, was an octogenarian with a kick-board and flippers.  And water wings.

By the third lap, and three near-collisions with Walter, I was starting to cramp up.  I decided to try a few of my signature strokes.  Like the sideways crawl, back float, and, my favorite, grip onto the wall and catch my breath.  But I needed to get back in there, or Walter was going to lap me.  So, after some suggestions on my kicking technique by the instructor (some of the spectators in the adjacent pool had complained about getting splashed), I punched it into the next gear with several consecutive laps of front crawl.

The class finished after an hour.  I had to ask the receptionist to lift my right arm so I could sign-out of the membership book.  I wish I had torn a rotator cuff so I would have had an excuse for getting out of the pool earlier.  Fortunately, the next class isn't until Tuesday, so I have a few days to recover.  I hope I can muster the courage and physical strength to get back in the pool.

Speaking of getting back in there, it sounds like Rodgers will start Sunday (though these concussion things can be unpredictable), and Donald Lee is probable as well.  However, Clay Matthews is likely out, so is Brandon Chillar.  Ryan Pickett and Mike Neal are both listed as questionable, which could mean we're starting someone named C.J. Wilson on the defensive line.  And Mark Tauscher will miss another game.  Kinda makes you miss the durability of Favre.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Finley Likely Done for Season

Greg Bedard from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is reporting that Jermichael Finley is out at least 8-10 weeks, and is most likely lost for the season.  The dilemma, of course, is do you leave a roster spot open for Finley on the possibility he could come back in time to help with the last game and possibly playoffs, or do you fill the spot with someone who can help now.  As much as I'd like to enable Finley to return, there are so many holes on the team now, that I expect the Packers to put him on IR and try to sign some other warm bodies.

With Donald Lee out at least "a couple weeks" according to McCarthy with a chest sprain, I'd say we can officially go to threat level orange on my injury warning system.  The tight end is just so fundamental to how the Packers play offense, that this is going to force a big change in the play calling.  Quarless and Crabtree just can't fill that gap.  You could see how uncomfortable Rodgers was with his 3rd and 4th string TEs in the game Sunday.

Nick Barnett also is getting surgery and will most likely be placed on IR as well, though that decision hasn't been made yet either.  And Derrick Martin has already made it to the IR list.  Clay Matthews did not participate in practice due to his hamstring injury, but the hope is he can go next week.  The big question, of course, is whether Aaron Rodgers will be able to clear the NFL's battery of tests and get cleared to play.  He is a Cal guy, so, hopefully, his IQ is high enough even post injury that he can clear the brain teaser hurdles.

Right now, this is what Ted Thompson's desk looks like.

Ted Thompson's Desk
In addition to the chicken wire and duct tape, you can see some cables, some glue, a few scraps of tin foil, and some paper mache.  Maybe a stapler.  Half the team is on the injury report.  I don't know about you, but I'm not feeling particularly optimistic about how we cobble this thing together.  The Packers' goal in one article I read was to field a "competitive" team against Miami on Sunday.  Yikes.  At least it sounds like we could get Brandon Chillar and Sam Shields back this week.  I hope so -- we'll need everyone we can get.

Ted, in his usual form, seems to have no pokers in the fire at all on the trade front, despite the impending deadline less than a week away.  In response to the rash of injuries, the Packers announced the following underwhelming roster moves today:
  • Promoted linebacker Robert Francois from the practice squad to the active roster
  • Signed safety Michael Greco to the practice squad
  • Signed linebacker Mike Rivera to the practice squad
Those are about as exciting as the Dimitri Nance signing was in response to Ryan Grant's injury.  I have zero hope or expectation that Thompson will make a move to help salvage this season.  I'm normally very optimistic, but I haven't been this discouraged since the loss to Tampa Bay last year.  The Packers are in their toughest stretch of the season without several of their best players.  The next six games are Miami, Minnesota, @NY Jets, Dallas, @Minnesota, @Atlanta.  Those are all very losable games, especially with our 4th string players on the field.  This thing could get ugly quickly.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fourth Phase of a Sports Sex Scandal

Mercifully, the Vikings-Jets game is behind us, so we won't have to listen to Mike Tirico (who apparently has his own little sexual harassment imbroglio) try to soft-peddle the Favre news.  I'm sure both the broadcasters and Favre were thrilled to have a rain delay last night, forcing the dilemma of whether to discuss a breaking sex scandal and subsequent investigation or... the weather.  There was definitely a moose in the room all night, and I'm not talking about Ron Jaworski.

Just like ESPN, TriggPack is above seedy sex scandals like this (although, I have to admit, it's more fun to talk about than the Packers' injury report).  As we saw in the arc of Tiger's implosion, I'm sure there will be more lurid details.  More allegations.  Hopefully, no more picture texts.  But we'll leave it to the tabloids to mire into that muck.  I did realize, however, in my breakdown yesterday of how these scandals tend to play out, that there is a fourth phase I neglected to include: individuals in the blogosphere create satirical videos mocking the scandal.  Here's my favorite:

Monday, October 11, 2010


The allegations that Brett Favre had inappropriate interactions with then-Jets employee Jenn Sterger are blowing up just in time for his Monday Night Football appearance against, ironically, the Jets.

This thing is unraveling as fast as the Tiger Woods debacle did.  It is an amazingly predictable pattern that modern sports celebrity sex scandals seem to follow:

  1. The story is broken by TMZ, Perez Hilton, Deadspin (in this case) or similar trashy online gossip blog and is instantly propagated via Twitter, Digg and other online echo chambers.
  2. Quasi-legitimate traditional media tabloids, such as the New York Post in this case, start reporting it, citing the original blog post as cover so they don't need to corroborate the story.
  3. The mainstream media begins, with trepidation at first then with growing assertiveness, to report the story when rumors aren't emphatically or convincingly denied, evidence begins to mount, and investigations are initiated.  Here's the ESPN story:

Now people are coming out of the woodwork claiming Favre hit on them too.  It's all too familiar, and really unfortunate.  Now he's not only tarnished his professional reputation, but his personal one as well.  I'm sure the MNF crew is discussing right now how they're going to handle it during Monday's broadcast.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Packers Practice Squad Falls to Redskins in Overtime

The Packers injury situation had already reached a startling level prior to this week’s game.  Now it’s just ridiculous.  Although today's loss to the Redskins was disappointing, particularly the fashion in which it happened, there is now clearly a bigger question at hand: is the Packers’ season in jeopardy given the injuries they have sustained?

To assess that risk, the editors at TriggPack, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, have developed the Packers Injury Threat Level program.  This system is designed to help Packers fans assess the threat of all the various injuries and their potential impact on the Packers' season in a handy, color-coded, five-level format.

Here’s where we stand by position.


Position: Quarterback
Injury: Aaron Rodgers – concussion on his final play in overtime.
Analysis: A concussion isn’t (usually) season-ending, but passing the NFL’s ultra-sensitive battery of tests before returning to the field usually costs players at least a week.  See Jay Cutler.  Also see Kevin Kolb.  No insight into how severe Rodgers’ injury is yet, but I’m going to go out on a limb and predict he will at least miss one week.  Thanks a lot, Malcolm Gladwell.
Threat Level: Orange.  The only thing keeping this from a Code Red is that we don’t know the severity or duration yet.  Rodgers could be back next week, or he could be out several weeks.  I like Matt Flynn, but he's not ready to carry this team yet.

Position: Running Back
Ryan Grant, RB – gone for season.
James Starks – on PUP.
Analysis: I’m on record multiple times saying the Packers needed to trade to get a quality RB.  Given injuries elsewhere, I’m now kinda glad we didn’t trade away a LB or TE to acquire a RB (although I still might have traded a future draft pick).  Brandon Jackson showed some signs of life today, busting out for over 100 yards for the first time this season and running with some punch.  But he only got 10 carries today.  Hard to get in a flow with 10 carries.  Still feel the lack of a running game is going to be our biggest liability going forward.
Threat Level: Orange.  This will rapidly advance to a full-blazing Code Red if Jackson goes down.

Position: Tight End
Jermichael Finley – left game with what is being described as a “hamstring ligament”, though nobody seems to know what the hell that is.  He will get more tests Monday.
Donald Lee – left game with “shoulder stinger”, another term no actual doctor has ever heard of, but could return next week.
Analysis: Nobody wants to say it, but we’re all worried about it: could Finley’s injury be season-ending?  I assumed it was a blown ACL when he went out.  Now, Finley's self-diagnosis is giving me some hope.  But he's not a doctor.  If he is done for the season, the Packers will have lost a potent weapon, and, with Lee potentially out as well, would literally have to adjust their offensive play-calling accordingly.  Andrew Quarless has shown flashes of potential, but also significant miscues, including a dropped touchdown pass today.  Of our other back-up at TE, Tom Crabtree, McCarthy commented, “I thought we cut that guy.”  Oh, no – that was Spencer Havner.
Threat Level: Orange.  If Finley is done and Lee can’t go, we’re going to be in trouble.

Position: Right Tackle
Injury: Mark Tauscher – didn’t go today due to a shoulder injury.
Analysis: Rookie Bryan Bulaga held up pretty well in Tauscher’s place, particularly considering he was on the right side of the line rather than his more customary left side.  Bulaga is getting more confident the more snaps he gets, and it’s only a matter of time before he beats out someone and becomes a starter.  Tauscher should be back soon anyway.
Threat Level: Blue.  If Tauscher doesn't clean up the pre-snap penalties, I'll be tempted to go Green on this one.


Position: Safety
Morgan Burnett – gone for season with torn ACL last weekend.
Derrick Martin – sprained knee today.
Atari Bigby – hopes to return from PUP.
Analysis: Really feel bad for Burnett as he was just starting to come into his own as a rookie.  But think we can weather this loss.  For the most part, Charlie Peprah held up in Burnett’s place, although he did give up the long TD pass that got the Redskins back in the game.  Hopefully, Peprah can stay healthy a few more weeks (he was already suffering from a quadriceps injury) because our other back-up safety, Derrick Martin, sprained a knee Sunday.  Nick Collins also got up gimpy, appearing to have tweaked his already-injured knee.  If Atari Bigby can get healthy and back from the PUP after week 6, we should be OK.
Threat Level: Yellow.  Could recede to Blue if Bigby returns and Collins stays healthy.

Position: Cornerback
Sam Shields – missed today with a calf injury, not clear when he’ll return.
Al Harris – still on PUP from last year’s torn ACL.
Analysis: Continues to feel like we’re stop-gapping things in our nickel and dime packages, with the underwhelming trio of Brandon Underwood, Pat Lee, and Jarrett Bush.  Given Harris’s age and the severity of the injury he’s returning from, it’s a complete unknown what impact he’ll make if he’s able to return after week 6, but my fingers are crossed.  At least Tramon Williams has held up relatively well in Harris’s absence.
Threat Level: Yellow.  Could recede to Blue if Harris returns and can either start or play the nickel back.

Position: Inside Linebacker
Nick Barnett, LB – likely gone for season with a wrist injury.
Brandon Chillar, LB – missed his second game today with a shoulder injury, but hopeful he will get back.
Analysis: Inside linebacker suddenly went from one of our deepest areas to one of our weakest.  I've never been a huge Barnett fan, but he's reliable and makes few blatant mistakes.  Chillar's pass-coverage ability against tight ends (Pettigrew last week and Cooley this week) has been missed.  The good news is Desmond Bishop played quite well in place of these guys – logging 6 tackles, 7 assists and a sack today.  My guess is that Barnett will be done for the season, so a lot will hinge on whether Chillar can get healthy.  In the meantime, A.J. Hawk needs to step up.
Threat Level: Yellow.  Advances to Orange if Barnett and Chillar are both done for season.

Position: Outside Linebacker
Clay Matthews – left the game with a “slight pull” to his hamstring.
Frank Zombo – had physicians look at his knee during the game.
Analysis: The Packers were a different defense without Matthews on the field.  This is the same injury to the same leg that caused Matthews to miss most of the pre-season.  Best guess would be he is out at least one, possibly as many as 3-4 games – and could be less effective when he returns.  No visibility on Zombo’s injury, but this is a banged up group, with Brad Jones also struggling with injuries.  At least Brady Poppinga had a decent day with 3 tackles and a sack.
Threat Level: Orange.  This may be a premature Orange, but Matthews is just such an impact player that his absence will force Capers to change his schemes and the defense to be less effective as a result.

Position: Defensive Line
Ryan Pickett – left game today with an ankle injury, appears to be a sprain (x-rays for a break were negative) but could miss some time.
Cullen Jenkins – has been playing with a cast on his injured hand.
Justin Harrell – on IR.
Analysis: Mike Neal is another Packer back-up who stepped up when a starter went down today.  He had another solid performance, logging a sack on top of the forced fumble he had last week.  Unclear how long Pickett will be out, but even if Neal is a capable back-up the Packers are still really thin on the defensive line.
Threat Level: Yellow.  Could rise to Orange if it turns out Pickett will miss extended time.

Right now, it’s looking like the Packers could go into next week’s game against the Dolphins with 4 of their 11 offensive starters at the beginning of the season out, including their starting QB, RB and TE, and 5 of 11 season starters out on defense, as well as their starting nickel back.  Ugh… That really will be a test of whether our practice squad can beat another NFL team.  This rash of injuries is probably the biggest threat this generation of players will have to overcome.  We’ll see if they can do it.  Overall threat level: Orange.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Moss to Be a Viking Again!? is reporting that Randy Moss is going back to the Vikings.  Couple thoughts immediately spring to mind, including:
  1. How come the Vikings can engineer a major trade and we can't?
  2. You don't suppose #4 had anything to do with this, do you?
  3. The Vikings sure didn't give up much to get him -- looks like a third-round draft pick in 2011, same round but a year later if the Patriots had just released Moss after his contract ends next year).
  4. The Vikings just became a significantly bigger challenger for the NFC North, particularly if/when Sidney Rice returns after his injury.  Our secondary can't stand up to a Moss/Rice combination.
  5. Moss remains one of my most hated players in the NFL after his "butt wipe on the goal post" celebration at Lambeau in the playoffs.
I'm interested to hear what you think of this trade.  Does it mean the Vikings will dominate us?  Or Moss such a prima donna that it will spell the beginning of the end for the Vikings?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Has the Cheesehead Finally Curdled?

At TriggPack, we keep you on top of the latest Packer news from every angle -- not only what's happening on the field, but everything else from food to fashion.  And I identified a major trend on the fashion front this weekend.  While visiting the Packer Pro Shop, I suddenly noticed a stack of the iconic yellow foam cheeseheads – not proudly stacked in a ceiling-high pyramid display as I’d remembered seeing them years ago, but instead tucked away under a table gathering dust like some shameful discount item.  This observation sparked my curiosity – was the cheesehead past its expiration date?

I reflected on the fact that my own cheesehead has been tucked away on a shelf in my garage for some time, and it's taken on a bit of a gray-ish hue.  Wondering if other cheeseheads had met a similar fate, I decided to do some impromptu field research during my visit to Lambeau over the weekend.  Sure enough, the cheesehead seems to have lost its once firm grip on the heads of Packer fans.  I barely noticed any outside at the tailgates on game day, except for a classy cheese bra and panties set (on a guy).  I only saw a few in the stands.  And I didn’t see anyone actually purchasing one in our three visits to the Packer Pro Shop.

Packer fan fashion seems to have finally evolved, with team jerseys more prevalent than ever before (though, of course, it was a nice enough day that you could actually wear a jersey instead of a parka).  The new hot item seems to be the retro Acme Packers blue jerseys with the yellow circle and number on the chest.  That jersey has the unfortunate consequence, particularly in a game against the Lions, of injected blue into the stands, but at least we never had purple as a color.  I learned that, at one point, Curly Lambeau tried to give the team the nickname the “Blues.”  That was the second-worst idea Lambeau ever had (the worst was his failed attempt to re-purchase the Packers with the intent of moving the franchise to Los Angeles).

But I digress.  The cheesehead seems to be going the way of the leather helmet.  I’m sure the Packers' marketing department isn’t sad to see it go -- no NFL logo royalties on a faux wedge of cheddar (with the fromagically incorrect Swiss-cheese holes).  Maybe the meathead will be the next fad.

Thompson Misses His Chance to Trade for Lynch

The Packers' hope for a rejuvenated running game via a trade just got more remote. is reporting that Marshawn Lynch has been traded to the Seattle Seahawks in exchange for a 4th-round pick in next year's draft!  Not only did we miss out on a player who, in my opinion, was one of the only viable trades that could have made a positive impact on our running game this year, but he apparently went for a bargain-basement price.

As I've commented on several times on this blog, the Packers desperately need a running back.  Sunday was another case study in what is missing from our entire offense by not being able to run the ball effectively.  With the October 19th trade deadline looming and our best trade option now off the table, it looks like Thompson and McCarthy are content to roll the dice with our Jackson-Kuhn two-headed threat -- "threat," that is, that we'll break 40 yards of total rushing on about 15 carries.  Very threatening.

Now with Morgan Burnett done for the season with a blown ACL, we have another position that I hope the Packers' front office is looking to free agency or a trade to add depth.  I noticed Derrick Martin come into the Lions game, and he looked OK.  Peprah is their other option.  But with Bigby still out a few weeks, they could use some depth.  The 49ers just released safety Michael Lewis.  Maybe we can pick him up.

Packer Pilgrimage Day 4

There wasn’t supposed to be a day 4.  But a canceled flight from Green Bay to Chicago resulted in our pilgrimage lasting one more day than we’d planned – even if we’d run out of clean underwear.  The steady football diet continued through the remainder of the weekend, both on the television and in the street in our Packers jerseys.

The Sunday night game was a great one for any Packer fan.  If you’re feeling discouraged by our narrow victory over the Lions, just imagine being a Bears fan.  One week, your team is 3-0 having just beaten the Packers on Monday night for the lead in the NFC North.  The next week, the Bears give up 10 sacks, log 110 total yards of offense, and lose their starting quarterback to a concussion in a display of offensive ineptitude on par with the 1989 Northwestern Wildcats.  As awful as Cutler can be at times, he’s their only chance to win.  Good luck with back-up Todd Collins executing the Mike Martz offense.  The guy can’t execute a 10-yard out route.  If Cutler misses extensive playing time, the Bears will drop to the bottom of the NFC North faster than the temperature in the Windy City.

Lunch today was at Cheyenne Sports Bar & Grill in downtown Appleton.  More cheese curds, more burgers, more fries, followed by a visit to Baskin-Robbins.  I need an angioplasty.  I’d like to think that if I lived here, I could exercise more restraint than I have in the last 72 hours.

Speaking of a lack of restraint, our excessive purchases of Packer merchandise can only be described as a “binge.”  Maybe a “bender.”  Actually, maybe a “problem” is the best description.  I’m going to enroll myself and my kids in a 12-step recovery program for NFL apparel addicts before my wife stages an intervention.  I looked on the site, and signs you may have a problem include: multiple visits to NFL team pro shop in a 24-hour period (we went three times), cannot leave store without a three-digit purchase (which we did each time), buying multiple versions of items you didn’t need in the first place (2X for each boy), and being on a first-name basis with the sales clerks (hey, Sandy and Pat!).

Here’s a partial accounting of what we bought:
An Aaron Rodgers home game jersey
A Jermichael Finley home game jersey
A Charles Woodson home game jersey
A Packers sideline fleece
2 sets of mini pennants for all 32 teams
2 sets of mini helmets for all 32 teams
A 12-pack of mini Packer helmets
2 sets of Packers Fat Head player posters
A Clay Matthews pennant
2 Packers lunch boxes (which came with the kids’ meals at Curly’s)
Packers receivers’ gloves
An Acme Packers blue ball cap
A green Packers knit ski hat
A Packers flat-brimmed players’ cap
A Packers sideline cap with pink trim to support Breast Cancer Awareness Month
A bag of M&Ms in green, yellow and white with Packer logos on them
And a Packers Gameday Program

In addition to the purchased items, we received several other free items upon entry, including Packers temporary tattoos (thank God they weren't offering real tattoos or I really would have had some explaining to do!), pink Packers player cards, pink Packer rally towels and a green bead necklace with a blinking Captain Morgan’s medalion.  It was ridiculous.  Total indulgence.  I was contemplating a Packers BBQ cover during our third visit when I finally came to my senses.  Visa put my card on a fraud hold, convinced someone was reselling merchandise in the parking lot.  Team president Mark Murphy came by our seats at halftime and thanked us for visiting Lambeau.

We packed up all that Packer gear in an extra large bag from the Pro Shop and made our way to the airport (Outagamie this time).  Swearing we didn’t have a problem, Packer merchandise lured us once more into the gift shop at the airport resulting in the purchase of a Packers matchbox car, more playing cards, and a bag of real Wisconsin cheese curds, which the clerk was kind enough to inform us were so fresh they “still squeaked.”  Good thing I grew up here or I wouldn’t know what the hell she was talking about.  I’d hate to have those defective non-squeaky curds.  It won’t matter once I deep fry these suckers.  Nothing squeaks after 3 minutes submerged in boiling oil.

Packer Road Warriors
On our flight home, through Denver this time, several fellow passengers remarked on the boys’ Packer jerseys, hats and lunch boxes, asking if they’d gone to the game.  This sort of innocent question was typically met with a detailed account of the game, including an analysis of various players’ performances.  My 4-year old was explaining how “Charles Woodson’s pick six was really the turning point in the game” to a grandmotherly lady from Montana on our Appleton-Denver leg, while my 7-year old son broke down the deficiencies in A.J. Hawk’s Cover-2 technique with a middle-aged man from Hortonville and how having Brandon Chillar out for the game really hurt us on the underneath routes to Pettigrew.  It went on like this for most of the trip.  I could see the “holy crap” look in peoples’ faces after about their 10th minute of play-by-play analysis, which they indulged and feigned interest with “uh huhs” and “I sees” and “my, you sure know a lot about the Packers.”  I think I need to start diversifying their interests after this weekend.

It was a fantastic trip, and I managed to get everything home without losing any Packer items… or either of the boys.  Might have to make this the first inaugural annual Packer Pilgrimage.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Packer Pilgrimage Day 3

First Ones There

The kids were up first thing this morning.  They slept in their Packers’ gear, so we were ready to go right away.  We pulled up to Lambeau at about 10AM.  It was an absolutely gorgeous day – perfect for football.  Crisp and sunny with the smell of BBQ in the air.  We had contemplated a tailgate, but knew the boys would be anxious to get inside so opted to do the Tundra Tailgate Zone (which we never actually got to) instead.

It’s been three years since my last game at Lambeau (a 34-0 drubbing of the Vikings on November 7, 2007), and every time I go I’m blown away by the energy and atmosphere.  Most professional sporting events have become a somewhat cynical experience – dominated by mildly indifferent fans who are there more for the booze than the event.  A Packer game is more akin to a college football atmosphere.  Everyone, everyone is in their Packer regalia.  The area outside the stadium isn’t dominated by miles of concrete and has a relatively modest parking lot, so most people park in the front yards of nearby houses or outside small businesses.  The result is a convivial, community feel, like a 4th of July parade.

Front Row for Warm Ups
The boys were anxious to get inside, so we made our way to our seats.  The stadium was relatively empty (still an hour to game time), so we were able to go down to the first row and watch player warm-ups.  The highlight was watching Clay Mathews doing ball drills.  We ate brats while the seats started to fill in.  Another endearing attribute of Lambeau, for those who’ve never been, is its old-school aluminum bleachers – a mere 18” per person.  You definitely get close with your neighbors.  But our seats were awesome: 45-yard line, 20 rows back, behind the Packers' sideline.  Perfect.  By game time, the place was packed and rocking, as usual.  And the Star Spangled banner was capped with a fly-over by four F-16s.
Clay Matthews Sighting

And then… the game.  At the start, it looked like the Packers' attack would be just as high-powered and destructive as the F-16s – a big opening kick-off return (aided by a Lions penalty), then Kuhn, Jackson, Jackson, and Rodgers to Driver for a touchdown.  Four plays and 2:14 into the game and we’re up by 7.  But that was the last efficient execution we’d see by the offense the rest of the day, with the possible exception of the final drive which held the Lions at bay.

I’m not quite as alarmist as some of the other reactions I’ve heard/read from Packer nation.  First, the Lions are a better team than their record indicates.  They should have beaten the Bears (at Soldier Field), and played very solid games against the Eagles and Vikings.  Second, Sean Hill is a legitimate quarterback.  I saw him play in San Francisco and thought he was better than Alex Smith (though that might not be saying a lot).  Third, the Lions have several other solid play-makers, including Jahvid Best, Calvin Johnson, and Brandon Pettigrew (their TE who had a huge day against us).   As Packer fans, we’ve grown so accustomed to the Lions being our doormat that we get all panicky if we don’t annihilate them.  If we’d beaten the Bears or Vikings by 2 points, we’d all be fine with it.

That said, there was a lot to be critical of in that performance on both sides of the ball:
72 total yards of rushing offense on only 18 attempts by our RBs
Two uncharacteristically bad interceptions by Rodgers
181 passing yards against one of the worst defensive secondaries in football
261 total net yards on offense
22:23 time of possession – nearly half Detroit’s
431 total net yards allowed to a second-string QB
10/17 (58%) third-down conversions allowed

Fortunately, Charles Woodson, who had an otherwise off day, saved our butts and we were able to get the win this week.  I’ll take it because losing to the Lions at home would have sucked.  The only bummer of the day was the airline canceling our flight tonight, but the silver lining is it gives us one more day in Wisconsin.  Maybe we’ll hit the Packer Pro Shop again tomorrow.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Packer Pilgrimage Day 2

Driving to Lambeau Field up Lombardi Ave.

Today was total immersion in Packer culture.  We arrived at Lambeau Field at about 9:30 AM.  Our day began with a visit to the Packer Pro Shop where we stocked up on the few remaining player jerseys my kids don’t already own.  I ended up getting a jersey myself – a Rodgers jersey, which is the first I’ve owned since the Favre jersey that’s been moth-balled in the bottom of my dresser drawer for 2+ years.

Future Packer at Pro Shop
Kickin' It in the Luxury Sky Box
Walking Up the Players' Tunnel

Next stop was the Lambeau Field stadium tour.  That began with a history of the Packers in the Atrium, near the statues of Lambeau and Lombardi.  We then ascended to the 6th level to get a tour of the luxury sky boxes.  We sat in the tiered, indoor seats while our guide recited various impressive statistics.  Among them:
  • Lambeau Field, originally named “New City Stadium”, was the first stadium built exclusively for NFL football.
  • Built in 1957, the stadium cost a whopping $960,000 to construct.
  • The Packers paid $250 (that’s 250 dollars, not $250 thousand) to join the NFL in 1921.
  • There are 83,831 people on the waiting list for Packers season tickets  -- last year 126 people came off the list (more than the 60-80 who  come off most years).
  • Last year’s new season ticket holders had been on the waiting list since the early 1970’s.
Lambeau Leap
From the top deck, we descended down to field level.  They led us past the locker room (though we didn’t get to go in) and then through the players’ tunnel and onto the field itself.  Simulated crowd noise as we entered the field amplified the experience.  They didn’t let us simulate a Lambeau Leap, but we could at least reach up the wall.  We also discovered that the Kentucky blue grass field is woven with a simulated turf and actually warmed with radiant heat.  They considered changing the nickname from the “Frozen Tundra” to the “Radiant Heated Tundra” but ultimately decided it didn’t have the same ring.

The Four of Us on the Frozen Tundra
Upon completing the stadium tour, we made our way to the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame.  Various gear, photos and other artifacts under glass weren’t quite as interesting for the boys.  But the highlights included a set of statues simulating the Ice Bowl, a replica of Vince Lombardi’s office, a video montage on the history of the Lambeau Leap (including a horrifying Robert Brooks rap on the subject), and, of course, the trophy case featuring our three Super Bowl trophies.

First Cheese Curd
We continued the Packer experience with lunch at Curly’s Pub on the second floor of the Atrium.  The boys had their first cheese curds – my oldest balked, but the little one loved them.  We had a great view of the Don Hutson Center, Tundra Tailgate Zone, and player parking lot from our table.  We wrapped up the day with a final quick visit to the Pro Shop to get a few more items.  It was an absolute avalanche of Packer glory, past and present, and a must-do for any Packer fan.  Tomorrow is the main event.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Packer Pilgrimage Day 1

Today was the big day – the start of our Packer Pilgrimage.  We almost didn’t make it.  Our journey began with an hour delay on our Delta flight from SFO to Minneapolis.  When we arrived, the departures board informed us that our flight to Appleton had been cancelled.  Problem.  Serves us right for flying through Viking territory.

The fact I was flying solo with two young kids wasn’t getting us much sympathy – particularly since they were dressed head to toe in Packer garb.  I think the gate agent in our first attempt to get re-booked bumped us to the bottom of the standby list.  We didn't make the flight.  Delta’s answer was to give us a stack of vouchers – including meal tickets ($6 for dinner – woo hoo!!), a hotel reservation (hello, Ramada Inn!) and a confirmation on the 10:10 flight (that would be 10:10 AM the next day!)

Stranded at a TGI Fridays in the heart of Viking territory
Fortunately, having lived in California the last 14 years, I’m conditioned not to take “no” for an answer.  So we redeemed our meal vouchers at a TGI Fridays, endured some heckling from a drunk, jackass Vikings fan, and waited until the already over-booked last flight of the day to the Fox River Valley: a 9:30 into Green Bay.  The boys tossed our Packer pigskin while I nervously watched passengers board.  Finally, with the waiting area completely empty, the gate agent called us up.  After 15 minutes of typing, she got us on the flight – the last passengers on the last flight of the day.  Through the miracle of cell phones, grandpa was re-routed from Outagamie Airport to Austin Straubel and picked us up.  The boys were thrilled to see grandpa and impressed by the Packers banners adorning the airport hallways.

We hadn’t been in Wisconsin for 7 minutes when the boys procured a stash of firearms in the form of two Nerf guns.  They took to them like first-generation Wisconsinites – quite the little marksmen.  After I threatened confiscation if anyone else got shot, they went in the back yard and set up the Nerf Deer Blind they found with it.  So far only a few squirrels have been seriously injured.  We’re thinking of taking these with us when the Lions disembark at the Paper Valley Hotel tomorrow.  Maybe pop a Nerf cap in Ndamukong Suh's ass.  That'll slow down his pass rush.  If you see him limping Sunday with a suction-cup-shaped bruise on his butt cheek, you'll know one of my guys got to him.