Monday, January 24, 2011

Packers Win in All 3 Phases

I have a dusty VHS tape in a shoe box in my garage that says, “Packers v. Panthers, NFC Championship Game, January 12, 1997.”  It’s been a while since I’ve watched it – I don’t even own a functioning VCR any more.  But damn if I’m getting rid of that tape.  That season, culminating in the Packers first Super Bowl win since Super Bowl II, was sheer joy for every Packer fan.

Bears fans burning a Cutler jersey.  Long live drunk meatheads!!!
Amazingly, that last Super Bowl victory was already 14 years ago.  Fourteen years is a long time.  Not as long as the 29 years a previous generation of Packers fans had to wait between Super Bowl II and Super Bowl XXXI, but it’s a long time.  Aaron Rodgers was 13 years old the last time the Packers won a Super Bowl.  My son will be 22 years old (and, no doubt, a first round NFL draft pick) 14 years from now.  The sheer glory and magnitude of this victory is still sinking in.

For Bears fans, this one has to sting a bit.  Let’s break down the pain:

  • First, they had to endure the “North Coast bias” (North Coast of Lake Michigan, that is) in the national media, who almost universally picked the Packers to beat the can’t-get-no-respect Bears – in spite of the fact they won the NFC North, were the #2 seed and were playing at Soldier Field.
  • Then they had to be subjected to stories like this one about a Packer fan and bar owner who decided to roast an entire bear.
  • Finally, the game arrives only to watch the Packers march down and easily score on the opening drive, followed by an Aaron Rodgers "mini belt" move.
  • Then, half way through the game, Jay Cutler goes down with a “no comment” injury to his knee, prompting mobs of Bears fans to burn their Cutler jerseys.  The sheer meatheadedness of that act aside, if a guy is not only walking on the sidelines but has no noticeable limp in the NFC Championship game, he probably should be playing.  And he had just been so impressive by beating the “Shittiest Team Ever to Make the Playoffs.
  • Some guy named Todd Collins, who sounds like he was named after an old-fashioned cocktail and had the jersey to match, comes in and nearly throws 3 interceptions in 3 attempts.
  • A glimmer of hope is provided by someone named Caleb Hanie, who exactly 3 Bears fans had ever heard of before today.  Against all odds, he somehow manages to lead the Bears back into the game.
  • Hanie the 15-minute hero turns goat by throwing the final interception to Sam Shields – an undrafted rookie free agent who had a spectacular day, including a forced fumble and 2 fantastic interceptions.
  • The game results in a loss to their arch rival, on their home field, costing them a Super Bowl appearance.

Ugh.  That one could leave scar tissue.  Could require therapy.  I am giving my friends who are Bears fans plenty of space this week.  No gloating.  Just quiet, respectful sympathy for an abused sports psyche.

So here are some quick grades on my 3 keys to the game:

  1. Force Cutler into mistakes – CHECK.  The defense was utterly relentless today.  The Bears could do nothing.  Cutler never got in a rhythm, threw an interception, and lost a fumble.  Forte was held to 70 yards.  Third game in the last four that the defense iced the win with an interception.
  2. Get Rodgers to play like Rodgers – CHECK.  Although Rodgers had an uncharacteristic 2 interceptions, his play and decision-making was solid, racking up 244 yards through the air and another 39 on the ground, including his touchdown to cap the opening drive.  It’s nice to see Rodgers can have “mere mortal” numbers and they still win.
  3. Don’t let Hester beat you – CHECK.  Tim Masthay had another masterful game against the Bears, placing several beautiful punts inside the 20 and blasting a long punt of 65.  Hester never even threatened to get a big return, which would have been a huge momentum swing.

Truly a victory in all three phases of the game.  And truly one of the most incredible Super Bowl runs ever.  Beating the Giants and Bears to get in, then beating the Eagles, Falcons and Bears (again) all on the road to be the first #6 seed ever from the NFC to make the Super Bowl.  It's unbelievable.  Something I hope my kids will remember and treasure as long as I have that VHS tape from 1997.  Can’t wait for the big show in two weeks!

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