Friday, January 7, 2011

McCarthy’s March through the Playoffs

General McCarthy preparing for his march to Atlanta.

I found myself this week wishing that Mike Sherman was still the coach of the Packers.  Not because I thought he was very good, but because his name would have worked perfectly for my headline: “Sherman’s March through the Playoffs.”  But the name McCarthy sounds pretty general-like as well – close enough to MacArthur.  So I’m going to run with this analogy anyway.

By way of two muffed games, the early-season loss to the Bears and late-season loss to the Lions, the Packers have a difficult road to Super Bowl glory in front of them.  Getting to the Super Bowl, let alone winning it, would be an unprecedented feat performed by no other NFC team (though the Steelers did it in the AFC, but lots of crazy shit happens in the AFC like phone sexting and foot-fetish videos so I'm just going to ignore what goes on over there).

The first step of this thousand-mile journey will be a tough one.  Beating Vick and company in Philadelphia won’t be easy – even if B.J. Raji fuels up on 8 cheesesteaks before the game.  But thinking ahead for a second at the full playoff path, we know, mostly, what lies in front of us.  And if McCarthy and the Packers do manage to get to the big show, it will not only be unprecedented in the NFC but an unprecedented vanquishing of past Packer playoff demons.

Like most Packer fans of the modern era, there are really three playoff losses that stand out in my mind like they were yesterday:

  1. The Michael Vick-led Atlanta Falcons dealing the Packers their first ever home playoff loss in the NFC Wild Card game on January 4, 2003.  The Packers were 12-5 that year and had gone undefeated at home, only to have the 22-year old Vick dismember them in a shocking 27-7 upset.  It broke the seal on the Lambeau Field intimidation factor.
  2. The infamous “4th and 26” game against the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Divisional playoff game on January 11, 2004.  Leading 17-14, the Packers had the Eagles pinned on their own 25-yard line after a 16-yard sack facing 4th and 26 with 1:12 left in the 4th quarter.  Donovan McNabb fired a bullet caught by Freddie Mitchell to convert the first down.  The Eagles went on the tie the game with a last-second field goal and then win it in overtime following a Brett Favre interception.  That one was painful.
  3. The aforementioned January 20, 2008 loss in the NFC Championship game at Lambeau Field against the New York Giants – losing in overtime on another Brett Favre interception.

Freddie Mitchell dashing the hopes of Packer fans in 2004.
Besides an honorable mention to Randy Moss for his goal post ass wipe move in the NFC Wild Card loss to the Minnesota Vikings on January 9, 2005, those three playoff losses still pain me to this day.  What’s interesting about this year’s path through the playoffs is it could also be a road to redemption for these playoff ghosts.

We’ve already sent the Giants packing.  Still not sufficient pay-back for 2008, but it felt good nonetheless.  If we can get the win at Lincoln Financial Field this Sunday it will be a “two-fer” – paying back the Eagles for 2004 and Vick for 2003.  And if the Packers win that game, they will be headed to Atlanta, just like General Sherman, to sully the Falcons’ home field mystique just as they did to the Packers.

It’s a long, hard road.  But if they can do it, it would be one of the sweetest, most satisfying playoff runs ever.

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