Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Packers Are Spoiling My Kids

A mere portion of the Packers gear that arrived at our house this week.
With the latest air-drop of Packers Super Bowl merchandise arriving this week, I was forced to contemplate how spoiled my kids have become with regards to sports.  This has been a once-in-a-generation year for the Trigg family.  Obviously, we are die-hard Packers fans, but we’ve also, I’m somewhat ashamed to admit, become pretty big Los Angeles Lakers and San Francisco Giants fans as well – which has resulted in the exceedingly rare championship trifecta: baseball, basketball, and football all in the same year.  This is the sports equivalent of a 10.0 magnitude earthquake, volcanic eruption, and total eclipse of the sun all happening within a 12-month span – yet, my children assume this is just how it is.  The expectation has been set that their favorite team simply wins the championship every year.  Ungrateful shits.

Of course, I was originally a Milwaukee Brewers fan, and, to a lesser degree, a Milwaukee Bucks fan.  But growing up in Wisconsin during the 70s and 80s was pretty rough when it came to sports.  Born in 1969, I was the generation that just missed the Packers’ January 14, 1968 Super Bowl II victory over the Oakland Raiders.  I would be 28 before the Packers would return to and win another Super Bowl in 1997.

In baseball, who (from Wisconsin at least) can forget Harvey's Wallbangers?  I can still name most of that 1982 Brewers’ roster: Robin Yount, Jim Gantner, “Stormin' Gorman” Thomas, Rollie Fingers, Ben Oglivie, Cecil Cooper – loved them all.  But the ’82 series ended in disappointment with a loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, and it’s been some pretty darn dry years since (and before, for that matter).

The Bucks are a largely forgotten NBA franchise.  Apart from their 1971 NBA championship over the Baltimore Bullets (a little early for me I must say) they have done nothing of note.  Like the Toronto Raptors, Charlotte Bobcats, and New Orleans Hornets, the Bucks have wallowed in mediocrity for generations.

It’s no wonder my baseball and basketball loyalties were vulnerable as I’ve lived in Chicago, Washington DC and San Francisco as an adult.  Baseball is really more of a pastime than a sport anyway, and I’ve always been a fan of proximity – the Cubs in Chicago, the Orioles in DC, and now the Giants.  It was great to see the Giants finally deliver the goods for long-suffering Bay Area baseball fans this year.  But for my kids, they'd expect nothing less than a World Series victory parade.

How my children became Lakers fans is harder to explain.  We’ve gone to Golden State Warriors games, but a constantly changing roster coupled with a mostly non-existent post-season has made it hard to board that bandwagon.  Whereas consecutive NBA Championships for the Lakers, coupled with relative geographic proximity, have sparked their loyalty to Kobe and company.  Who, of course, have further solidified their expectation that any team they root for wins championships on a regular basis.

As I watch my boys decked out in their Packers, Lakers and Giants gear, it’s hard for me not to interject with a “when I was a kid, I had to wait 28 years for a championship!!!”  Or a "we would be glad just to make the playoffs in any sport!!!"  Or a “you kids with your hip hop and your gang bangin’ don’t even appreciate what it means for your team to be champions!!!”  But I somehow manage to keep my generational reprimands in check.

In fact, I’ve decided to roll with it.  There’s an indisputable joy to watching sports with kids – especially your own kids.  You let your guard down.  You allow yourself to enjoy the game again.  You watch your heroes with awe.  You revel in the spectacle that is modern sports.  When your team scores, you cheer with the reckless abandon of a child – savoring every moment.  Bounding around the room with a vigor and enthusiasm equaled only by the players themselves.  It’s a shared experience, a shared passion, that brings us together as father and sons.  Each championship we’ve celebrated this year has brought us closer together, and the Packers' 2011 Super Bowl will be a memory we will always cherish.  Even if they are spoiled.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Five Most Impressive Things about Packers Super Bowl Win

In an effort to quell my NFL withdrawal symptoms, I re-watched the entire Super Bowl last night.  I intended to just watch the first quarter, but I couldn’t stop.  What an epic game it was.  As I reflected on the entire journey again this morning, there were several things that are just remarkably impressive about the Packers’ 2010 campaign.

Here are the five things that are most impressive about the Packers ride to Super Bowl glory:

1) Overcoming injuries – It’s hard to start a conversation about the 2010 Packers without talking about the rash of injuries that hit the club.  The injury-plagued season has been talked about a lot, but it really is stunning when you lay it out:

  • 6 opening-day starters gone – Nick Barnett, Morgan Burnett, Jermichael Finley, Ryan Grant, Brad Jones and Mark Tauscher.
  • Absolute decimation of our linebacking corps – in addition to Barnett and Jones, we lost Brandon Chillar and Brady Poppinga.
  • Massive loss of depth on defense – including DEs Justin Harrell and Mike Neal, safeties Anthony Smith and Derrick Martin, and corner Josh Bell (would have lost Woodson to IR as well if the season was still going).

Hard to believe we overcame all that and still had one of the top-ranked defenses.

2) Never trailing by more than 7 points – this is an over-looked yet amazing fact of the Packers 2010 season.  Never, at any point in any game, did the Packers trail by more than 7 points.  That’s an astonishing feat that hasn’t been accomplished since the 1962 Detroit Lions.  Furthermore, none of the Packers’ losses were by more than 4 points.  Arguably, the Packers were 6 plays away from a perfect season:

  1. Jones’ fumble against the Bears in week 3
  2. Crosby’s missed field goal against the Redskins in week 5
  3. Robert Francois’s illegal formation penalty to give the Dolphins a first down in week 6
  4. Matt Wilhelm’s facemask penalty on the final kick return against the Falcons in week 12
  5. Jennings’ TD drop against the Lions in week 14
  6. Matt Flynn getting sacked in the final play against the Patriots in week 15

Although I’ll take all this regular season “bad luck” in exchange for the string of post-season good luck any day.

3) First #6 seed in NFC to win the Super Bowl – the only other team to do it, period, was, coincidentally, the Steelers in the AFC.  But the pure statistical odds of winning 3 road playoff games in a row is very low.  Not only did the Packers do that, but they won two must-win games before hand and sealed the deal with the Super Bowl victory.

4) One of the youngest teams in the NFL – Ted Thompson’s strategy has always been to build through the draft, and he’s done it better than anyone in the business.  Consequently, however, the Packers were the youngest team in the entire NFL the last four consecutive years.  This season, the Packers came in as the 5th youngest team, although as they lost several veteran players through the season and swapped in younger guys (e.g. Tauscher for Bulaga) they got younger.  The math involved in calculating this hurts my head, but I’ve heard some say the Packers finished the season as the second-youngest team.  Whatever it is, it’s impressive.  And what’s particularly impressive is that, with the exception of Woodson and Driver, almost all the key leaders of the team are in their young to mid-twenties.

Schein and Gannon stayed loyal to their Packer Super Bowl prediction all season.
5) So many experts predicted it – As I noted at the start of the season, it was a little scary how many people were predicting the Packers would win the Super Bowl.  Every morning in my car, I would listen to Adam Schein and Rich Gannon on Sirius NFL Radio talk about the Packers as their favorite team.  It all felt like a jinx at times.  And there was certainly a point, standing at 3-3 after a string of injuries, when plenty of pundits jumped off the bandwagon.  But this has to be one of the highest accuracy hit-rates at predicting the Super Bowl champion in NFL history.

The final thought, although “impressive” isn’t the right word for it which is why it didn’t make my top 5 list, is that Aaron Rodgers didn’t even make the Pro Bowl.  “Astonishing” or “bewildering” would be a better word for it.  The slow start to his season, plus the time missed with the concussion, hurt him.  But I doubt, after his Championship run, that Aaron will be left off that list for a long time.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Withdrawal Symptoms Kicking In

The first Sunday after the end of every NFL season is a hard one to handle.  The usual game day rituals of the entire fall and winter are disrupted.  I find myself twitching.  Instinctively reaching for the remote.  Harboring the anticipation of another week of football – only to realize… it’s over.

The withdrawal symptoms are even more severe after this year’s Championship run.  Today is the first time in 26 weeks that there isn’t a Packers game to look forward to, save the bye week and the week before the Super Bowl.  It was an exhibition loss to the Cleveland Browns on Saturday, August 14 that kicked things off for the 2010 NFL season.  At least during the regular season if the Packers weren’t playing on Sunday, I could control my symptoms by watching other NFL games (Lions vs. Bills, anyone!?), and take comfort in the fact that my regular fix of Packer football would soon return.

Now it’s all over.  Like so much confetti on the floor of Cowboys stadium.  The TV is silent this Sunday.  And I’m not sure I know what to do with myself except sit on the couch, fidgeting, and pining away for next season.

Perhaps the worst part about the first free Sunday in a half year is the household chores that I can now no longer avoid.  Here’s a sample of what I’ve got on tap today:

Clean out the garage – like most Americans, my garage is a mess.  Living in California, it’s fortunate that we don’t need to use our garage to actually park a car in.  We also, like most California homes, don’t have a basement or useable attic.  The consequence of all this is that our garage looks like an episode of Hoarders.    I think I’m going to start with a shovel.

Fix the phone – nobody knows how long the phone line at our house has been out of service.  We noticed it several weeks ago.  It could have been down for months, given how infrequently we use it.  And, being primarily users of cell phones, we haven’t bothered to try to fix it since then.  Our land line is really just a conduit for telemarketers.  We realized we didn’t even know who our land line phone provider was.  “Pacific Telesis?” I guessed.  “No, I think it’s SBC,” said my wife.  Finally, we discovered it’s back to AT&T.

The toy mound in our "playhouse" was declared unsafe by OSHA.
Purge the toy mound – we have a pile of toys in the kids’ playhouse – or, as I like to call it, the “toy graveyard” – that are no longer played with and must be taken to Goodwill.  We follow a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy with these toys.  If the kids haven’t played with them for over a year, out they go.  If you make the mistake of asking them, “Do you still play with this cymbal-clapping, wind-up monkey clown from the 1950s?” they will grab onto it like an orphaned puppy.  There are toys at the bottom of this heap that are going through a molecular fusion with each other and could emerge as a robot-train-dinosaur hybrid.  Best to just bulldoze it all.

About the only task I’m actually looking forward to this weekend is re-reading my favorite posts from this season’s TriggPack.  With no game to cover, here are my top 10 favorite posts from the glorious season that was:

10) McCarthy’s March through the Playoffs
9) Is James Starks as Good as Ted Thompson Thinks He Is? -- I should caveat that this post wasn't actually a particular favorite of mine, but it was the most popular among TriggPack readers -- setting the single article readership record with 1,689 page views.
8) Latest Packer Controversy: Nut Gate
7) Controversy Erupts Over Green Bay Street Renaming
6) Additional Reports of Anti-Packer Discrimination
5) Why Green Bay is the #1 NFL Market
4) Brat Coma
3) Can’t Trust Minnesotans
2) The Lucrative World of Sports Blogging
1) What’s a Packer?

If you're a regular reader, and your favorite post isn't included here, I invite you to add it in the Comments section.  Can't wait for next season!

One other thing to look forward to today is my 8-year-old son's playoff basketball tournament -- the only team for whom my loyalties run deeper than the Packers!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Why the Packers-Steelers Was the Most Watched Super Bowl Ever

One of my kids watching a Packers game.

A friend and frequent TriggPack reader told me before the Super Bowl that a work colleague of his thought the NFL was disappointed that the Jets and Bears didn’t make the Super Bowl because those were bigger markets.  With the Nielsen results coming out on Monday declaring this game not only the most watched Super Bowl, but the most watched television program ever, period.  I’d say it’s safe to say the NFL isn’t worried about small market teams making it to the big game.

The entire notion that “small market teams” like the Green Bay Packers can’t generate big revenues is antiquated and really a carry-over from the economics that plague the NBA and MLB.  With its record-breaking 162.9 million viewers, the Packers-Steelers Super Bowl was a bonanza for the NFL and for Fox.  There are three main reasons why:

First, the NFL shares television revenue equally among all the teams.  Pioneered by former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle in the sixties, the NFL revenue sharing system allows a small market team like the Packers to extract a portion of revenue equal to a big market team like the New York Giants.  This is why Los Angeles doesn’t have a team – because, apart from the stadium take (which constitutes about 1/3 of an owners’ total revenue) it’s no more lucrative to have a team in L.A. as it is Jacksonville.

Second, the Super Bowl is a single game, as opposed to a best-of-seven series.  Any sports fan can sustain their attention span for one three-hour game.  But tuning in, night after night, for a seven-game series can get tedious – even if you care about the outcome, which most basketball and baseball fans don’t.  And no other event, aside from perhaps presidential elections, captures the attention and imagination of America.  Even if you don't give a crap about the game, you can grab a beer and a bowl of chili and watch the commercials for God's sake.

Third, there are no two franchises, perhaps in all of sports, more compelling than the Packers and Steelers.  They are blue collar teams that exemplify everything that is great about sports.  Both teams have long, proud legacies.  Both are multi-time NFL champions.  And, for the Packers, they have an additional aspect of their team identity that makes them even more likeable.  In the modern sports era of big money, big contracts and big egos, the Green Bay Packers stand in solitary contrast to what most sports fans loath about modern sports.  As the only community-owned franchise in the smallest media market, there is something fundamentally compelling about the Green Bay Packers.  They are the real America’s team – evoking a nostalgia for what is good in sports, for what is good in America, that few other franchises in any sport can conjure up.  Even a "big market" newspaper like the New York Times agrees.

That is why Sunday was the most watched television show in American history.  God bless America, and God bless the Green Bay Packers.

Controversy Erupts Over Green Bay Street Renaming

The intersection of Holmgren Way and Brett Favre Pass in Green Bay.

When Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt announced during the Return to Titletown celebration at Lambeau Field on Tuesday that he intended to name a city street after coach Mike McCarthy, he sparked a controversy over the un-funded program.  The proposal continues a local tradition of naming streets after Packers Super Bowl Champion coaches and players.  But Alderman Chris Wery, who will be running against Schmitt for mayor this April, initially opposed the name change on the basis of cost and characterized the move as a political ploy to win voters.

All that changed yesterday after local law firm Metzler, Timm, Treleven, Pahl, Beck, S.C. generously offered to donate $5,000 to underwrite the costs of new signs and labor to rename the street Mayor Schmitt happens to live on as McCarthy’s Way.  Wery, recognizing he was running against the sentiment of his die-hard Packer fan constituents, quickly announced a street renaming initiative of his own.

“I’m proud to announce that the stretch of Highway 41 between Oneida and Lombardi will now be known as Ted Thompson Turnpike,” announced Wery at a press conference yesterday morning in the parking lot of Copp’s on Lombardi Avenue in -9 degree weather.  “Furthermore, Brookwood Drive will now be known as Rodgers’ Road in honor of the best quarterback ever!”

Mayor Schmitt’s office was quick to respond with a press conference of their own yesterday afternoon announcing an expanded plan to re-name streets after the entire 53-man Packer roster, as well as 15 players on injured reserve.  Mayor Schmitt provided local media with directions to his house, where tomorrow’s unveiling of McCarthy’s Way will be held, using the new street naming scheme.

“Alls you do is take Woodson Way till it turns into Williams Way.  You’ll pass Starks Street and then take a left on Barnett Boulevard.  Take that down past Collins Court and Lee Lane and then merge onto Hawk Highway.  Take the exit for Bulaga Byway and then take your second right on Driver Drive.  Veer left at the split between Peprah Parkway and Pickett Place and you’ll see McCarthy’s Way on the right.  If ya hit Tauscher Terrace, ya gone too far.”

Not to be outdone, Alderman Wery’s office issued a press release this morning announcing his proposal to the Green Bay City Council to paint Lombardi Avenue green and yellow with permanent Green Bay Packer bunting adorning every street lamp.

But Mayor Schmitt seems ready to push the political power struggle even further, with a press conference planned for tomorrow in which he is expected to unveil a series of bronze busts for every current Packer player that will line Lombardi Avenue like a Roman coliseum.  The plan is expected to cost taxpayers $250 million.  “It’s a small price to pay to show we’ve got the best fans in the NFL,” said the mayor.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Five One-on-One Match-ups that Won Us the Super Bowl

Mike McCarthy, Joe Philbin and Dom Capers have been masterful this season, particularly during this Championship playoff run, at identifying and exploiting one-on-one match-ups that play to the Packers' favor.  Sunday’s Super Bowl was no exception.  Here were the top 5 key individual performances, in my opinion, that won us the game:

  1. Aaron Rodgers vs. Troy Polamalu – this is the best known and most talked about chess match that took place within Sunday’s game, and Rodgers won it decisively.  Rodgers was able to consistently spread the offense to get Polamalu out of the box.  And once he did, he was able to draw the league’s (I think undeserved) defensive MVP out of position – as he did in the second touchdown pass to Jennings in the corner of the end zone – or fit the ball in past him – as he did in the first touchdown pass to Jennings that was threaded between Polamalu and diving safety Ryan Clark.  Rodgers and Jennings also hooked up for the play that may have sealed the game – a huge 33-yard, 3rd-down conversion with 5:55 left in the 4th quarter, right in front of Polamalu.  Rodgers completely neutralized Polamalu all day.
  2. Jordy Nelson vs. William Gay – the Steelers’ corners were a known weakness and the Packers wasted no time exploiting them, particularly nickel back William Gay who got burned by Nelson for the first TD of the game.  You could practically see Rodgers licking his chops when he got that match-up on the outside.  Gay just couldn’t keep up with Nelson throughout the day as he amassed 140 yards, and would have had more but for a few drops.  Nelson exploited other corners as well, including starting LCB Bryant McFadden for a big gain.  He and Jones were just faster and bigger than any of the Steelers defensive backs.
  3. Bryan Bulaga vs. LaMarr Woodley – I mentioned Bulaga’s match-up against Pro Bowl left outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley in my pre-game analysis as a key match-up, and Bulaga was up to the test.  Woodley got one sack (more of a coverage sack than getting beat one-on-one), but other than that Bulaga held up remarkably well – not only in pass protection, but in several nice running plays to the right side.  The Packers’ offensive line had an outstanding day as a unit – Chad Clifton did a great job handling James Harrison and Colledge, Wells and Sitton just shut down the middle of the Steelers line.  But Bulaga felt like he could be the weak link and he wasn’t.  His development this year has been awesome, and he could really become a star next year on an already stalwart unit.
  4. Howard Green vs. Chris Kemoeatu – The middle of the Steelers’ offensive line, with Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey out with an ankle injury, felt like a mis-match for the Packers.  And it was on only the third offensive series that Howard exploited it.  With a straight-up bull rush one-on-one against left guard Chris Kemoeatu, Green caught Roethlisberger’s arm and caused the errant pass that Nick Collins easily intercepted and returned for a touchdown.  This play may have gone for a big completion if Green doesn’t get draped on Big Ben’s throwing arm.  And it, probably more than anything, pushed the Steelers’ out of their rush-first comfort zone for the rest of the game.
  5. Charlie Peprah vs. Hines Ward – Charlie Peprah was one of the un-sung heroes of Sunday’s game.  As a safety, it's hard to isolate his match-up against one guy.  He led the Packers with 10 tackles – three of which were against Hines Ward and two against speedster Mike Wallace.  Heath Miller was also totally ineffective (but I think the Packers mixed up coverage on him more).  On Ward’s touchdown catch, Jarrett Bush actually had one-on-one coverage, and after the grab Peprah gave him a shrug as if he expected Bush to stay up top while Peprah appeared to be in a zone coverage underneath.  For Wallace’s touchdown, it was Shields who was beat (who was a little gimpy all day) and Nick Collins who took a bad angle.  Peprah was another guy that the Steelers might have thought they could exploit with Ward, Wallace and Miller, but he was up to the task all day.

There were many other one-on-one performances that deserve recognition.  Obviously Clay Matthews' match-up against right tackle Flozell Adams was pivotal – including a deflected (and nearly intercepted) pass, and the critical forced fumble.  Jarrett Bush also had an outstanding day with a key interception.  Tramon Williams barely got thrown against, and had the game-winning pass break-up in the end.  And James Starks went under-appreciated as well – though he only had 52 yards, he averaged 4.7 yards per carry with a long run of 14, which forced the Steelers to respect the run and bite on play-action.  But the individual performances above stood out to me as key to strapping the championship belt on for real.

What a great game.  What a great season.  I’m still basking in the glory, and I will for months to come.  As a little bonus, here’s a cool video on the site recapping the game.  Go Pack!!!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Super Bowl Win a Microcosm of Packers’ Season

In reviewing the press coverage, box score, highlights, post-game interviews and the rest of the deluge of information and analysis about last night’s game, there is one high-level observation I came away with: the Packers won this game their way.  In fact, the game itself was a microcosm of the Green Bay Packers’ 2010 season.  There were three areas in particular which stood out about Sunday's game that are also emblematic of how the Packers have played all season:

Outstanding Play from Rodgers – Sunday’s game epitomized the consistently outstanding results we’ve come to expect from Rodgers.  It was a virtuoso performance, with near-perfect execution save for a few would-be touchdowns that fell through his receivers’ hands.  As they’ve done all season, McCarthy put the ball in Aaron’s hands and relied heavily on the pass, with just enough efficacy in the running game to keep the defense honest.

This game, this season, is pointed to by many as finally getting the Favre monkey off Rodgers’s back.  Rodgers is the first to admit that his career will be inextricably linked to Favre’s.  But with this Super Bowl win, it’s becoming apparent that Rodgers is simply a better quarterback.  With three seasons as the starter under his belt, Rodgers has outperformed Favre in virtually every relevant passing statistic:

  • Rodgers is both more prolific and more efficient in his passing, leading Favre in yards per game (263.7 to 237.9), average yards per pass attempt (8.0 to 7.1) and completion percentage (64.6% to 62.0%).
  • Rodgers is considerably better at protecting the ball, averaging nearly half the interceptions per game (0.66 to Favre’s 1.11) while nearly doubling Favre in touchdown to interception ratio (2.8 for Rodgers to only 1.5 for Favre).
  • Rodgers is also more accurate and better at completing the long ball, generating pass plays of 20+ yards on 10.1% of attempts (to 8.6% for Favre) and 40+ yards on 2.8% of attempts (to 1.6% for Favre).

About the only statistic in which Favre is better than Rodgers is in sacks.  Rodgers has given up an average of 2.45 sacks per game, compared to Favre’s 1.74 sacks per game.  However, it’s hard to measure how many of those sacks were avoided interceptions.   Plus, Rodgers makes up for the lost sack yardage with better ability to gain yardage with his feet.  Rodgers has averaged 18.7 rushing yards per game, more than 3X Favre’s 6.1 rushing yards per game.  It's hard to contemplate our good fortune as fans to have one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time be followed by another of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Opportunistic Defense – Dom Capers is an undisputed defensive mastermind.  In each game, particularly through these playoffs, he’s had a new scheme that has frazzled opposing quarterbacks, consistently taken away the other team’s best offensive weapons, and created turn-overs.  In the Packers playoff run, it was the defense, not the offense, that consistently had to step up – securing the victory in the final drive against Chicago, Philadelphia, Chicago (again) and Pittsburgh.

Sunday’s game again was a microcosm of the bend-but-don’t-break style of play that has become a Packer signature.  They were one of the toughest defenses to score against all year, and forced opposing offenses to react to them.  The Packers also have an incredible number of playmakers on defense, and all were on display Sunday.  The stars all played lights-out – Woodson, Collins, Matthews, and Williams.  But Zombo, Bishop, Bush, Peprah, Raji, Pickett and Hawk all also had outstanding games.  With the return of their injured players next season, this will truly be one of the best and deepest defensive units in the NFL.

Overcoming Injury – Injuries were an early and often reality in the Packers’ 2010 season, and to have two game-ending injuries to two of the emotional, veteran leaders of the team in Woodson and Driver is just incredible.  But what more fitting end to an injury-riddled season than to have the rest of the team step up in their absence.  In the receiving corps, we’ve come to expect that they can still stretch teams out even with one of their star players sidelined.  But to lose Woodson was an even greater challenge to overcome – in many ways the defensive equivalent of losing Rodgers on offense.  He’s calling audibles, directing players, running his own stunts and schemes, and constantly coming up with big plays.

With Sam Shields out for several plays with injury as well, Jarrett Bush and Pat Lee needed to step up, and they did – just as second-, third- and fourth-string players have stepped up at every position this entire season.  Packers starters missed 91 games due to injuries this season.  Seventeen players were on IR.  There is almost no team that could have weathered that storm, and, yet, the Packers did.  It is testament to Ted Thompson and his team’s ability to scout talent, build depth, and identify players with both the skillset and mindset to fit into the Packers’ system.  Truly remarkable.

What I enjoyed hearing most in the post-game celebration – at the very moment when Thompson, McCarthy and Rodgers all would have been well-justified in a feeling of “I told you so” vindication – was all of them already thinking about and talking about repeating.  This victory didn’t have the cathartic feeling of a long-awaited one-time ending.  It had the feeling of a beginning.  The feeling of “holy crap, think how good they could be with their full complement of players.”  The feeling of the start of an era.

The next achievement is to repeat.  This crew, particularly Rodgers, knows that longevity is the only remaining thing left to prove.  And they seem determined to prove it.  They still seem, despite winning it all, to have just that little bit of chip left on their collective shoulders.  That burning, perfectionist desire to prove something more – not just that they are the greatest for one season, but to etch their names among the greatest of all time.  I already can’t wait for next season.

Brett Keisel’s Beard Reveals it’s a Packers Fan

Brett Keisel's beard during its post-game press conference.

Grizzly Adams phoned, and he wants his beard back.  In the aftermath of the Packers 4th Super Bowl championship Sunday, Brett Keisel’s Beard revealed it was actually rooting for the Packers all along.  The Steelers defensive end was outraged when his beard admitted the news during its own post-game press conference.

“I’ve been living a lie,” said Keisel’s Beard.  “My true loyalties have always been to the Packers, and I don’t care what the consequences are.”  The last statement a thinly veiled challenge to Keisel’s threat to the Beard, “don’t make me get out my razor!”

Public support of the Beard has been outpouring since admitting its true loyalties, with popularity on its Facebook fan page skyrocketing.  Other NFL beards also came to the defense.  “It took a lot of courage to do what Keisel’s Beard did today,” said Packers guard Josh Sitton’s Beard.  “I think his Beard felt taken for granted at times this season.”

Keisel was quoted during Super Bowl media day as saying, “The beard — the beard is why we’re here.  It’s unleashed Super Bowl powers on our whole team and hopefully it can win us one more.”  Keisel even allowed reporters to touch the Beard during his Q&A session.

Foamation founder Ralph Bruno says he may develop a Cheesebeard.
If it’s shaved off, Keisel’s Beard may be attending the Packers victory parade in Green Bay.  “There’s always room on the Packers’ championship float for one more beard,” said Packers GM Ted Thompson.  Ralph Bruno, the founder of Foamation and creator of the iconic foam Cheesehead, said he is in negotiation with Keisel’s Beard to develop a Cheesebeard.  Fear the Beard, indeed.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Lombardi Trophy Returns to Titletown

Strapping on the championship belt for real.

What a win.  What a season.  Many of us hoped for a Super Bowl victory when this season started.  Many experts predicted it.  But no one predicted it would happen this way.  After a season like that, I think I’m going to have to officially change my name to in honor of the Black Eyed Peas.

In a weird way, you couldn’t write a more fitting ending to an unbelievable season.  With 16 players on IR, the Packers needed to overcome unbelievable odds just to get to the Super Bowl, let alone win it.  But to have two veteran leaders on both sides of the ball leave the game with injuries – Donald Driver on offense and Charles Woodson on defense – the victory was all the more sweeter.  How incredible to win the game for those two guys.

There could also be no greater vindication for Aaron Rodgers, or Mike McCarthy, or Ted Thompson.  With an emphatic win, with a Super Bowl championship, these three have officially put an end to the Wolf-Holmgren-Favre era.  They have equaled the accomplishments of the previous administration, and seem poised to do more damage in the years to come.

There are many critiques that could be leveled about this game.  The receivers dropped several passes, at least 2 of which could have gone for touchdowns.  Nelson, in particular, missed a few key catches, despite leading the team with 140 receiving yards.  But three turn-overs on the defensive side, which were converted to 21 points, proved insurmountable for the Steelers.

Rodgers, as he’s done all season, was golden.  Equaling his predecessor with a Lombardi trophy, he also did something Favre never did: win a Super Bowl MVP.  He is everything Packers fans hoped he would be and more.  And tonight, Rodgers gets to strap on the championship belt for real.  Go Pack Go!!!!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Final Match-Up Analysis for Super Bowl XLV

Tomorrow’s game should be one of the best Super Bowls in many years.  Many NFL experts are predicting an over-time game.  The two teams are remarkably similar.

On the defensive side, these teams exemplify the best of the 3-4 scheme.  Their similarity is no surprise, since it evolved from the same set of people.  Dom Capers was defensive coordinator for the Steelers from 1992-94 and developed the fire-zone defense both teams run so effectively today with Dick LeBeau (then defensive backs coach and today defensive coordinator).  The intermixed DNA of these defenses couldn’t be greater, and the results speak for themselves.  Green Bay and Pittsburgh are two of the best defenses in the league, with the Steelers holding just a slight edge in most categories:

  • The Steelers were #1 in the NFL for scoring defense, allowing just 14.5 points per game.  The Packers were #2 at 15 per game.
  • In overall defense, Pittsburgh finished the season #2, while Green Bay was #5.
  • In run defense, Pittsburgh was #1 allowing just 62.8 yards per game, while Green Bay was #18 during the regular season but has been much more stalwart in the playoffs – allowing just 69.7 yards per game.
  • Pittsburgh led the league in sacks with 48.  The Packers were #2 with 47.
  • The Packers had 24 interceptions to 21 for the Steelers.

Offensively, the teams are different in perception but more similar statistically than most people realize.  Just as the Steelers have the edge in most defensive categories, the Packers hold a slight edge in most offensive categories:

  • In the regular season, the Packers ranked #10 in the NFL in points per game at 24.2, while the Steelers were #12 at 23.4.
  • In total yard per game, the Packers were #9 in the NFL at 358.1, while the Steelers were #14 at 345.3 yards per game.
  • The Packers passing game came in #5 in the league in the regular season at 257.8 yards per game, compared to the Steelers #14 ranking of 225.1 yards per game.
  • As we know, the Packers struggled in the running game, coming in #24 in the NFL in the regular season at 100.4 yard per game  (including Rodgers).  The Steelers were #11 in rushing at 120.2 yards per game.  But the Packers have improved in this category in the postseason, averaging 118.0 yards per game, just a half yard behind the Steelers 118.5.

In the last Packers-Steelers match-up on December 20, 2009, the Steelers beat the Packers 37-36 in a last-second completion from Roethlisberger to Mike Wallace.  I expect a similar close game this time, though slightly lower scoring.  However, the Packers are considerably improved from a year ago, and I think most of the key match-ups favor them:

  • Packers Defensive Line vs. Steelers Offensive Line – Advantage: Packers.  As everyone except Maurkice Pauncy expected, Maurkice Pauncy is not going to be playing on Sunday.  The Steelers were already missing their two starting tackles, Max Starks and Willie Colon, both of whom are on injured reserve.  This is a depleted group, and the Packers should be able to take advantage of this match-up in shutting down the run and getting pressure on Roethlisberger.
  • Packers Offensive Line vs. Steelers Defensive Line – Advantage: Steelers.  The Steelers led the league in sacks and stuffing the run.  This ESPN article expertly breaks down the biggest vulnerability for the Packers: Bryan Bulaga vs. LaMarr Woodley.  Bulaga has been improving, but he gave up 6 of the Packers' 12 one-on-one sacks this season.  He needs to have a good game for the Packers to be successful on offense.
  • Packers Receivers vs. Steelers Secondary – Advantage: Packers.  This promises to be one of the areas the Packers can exploit on Sunday.  With rushing yards expected to be hard to come by, the Packers will likely spread out the Steelers in 3, 4, and 5-receiver sets with Rodgers in the shotgun.   This will push Troy Polamalu out of the box, where he usually likes to lurk.  And force corners Bryant McFadden, Ike Taylor, and William Gay to run with our receivers.  This has been a mismatch for every team we’ve faced this season, and it will be for the Steelers on Sunday as well.
  • Packers Secondary vs. Steelers Receivers – Advantage: Packers.  Mike Wallace makes me nervous with his speed, but Tramon Williams and Sam Shields can both run with him.  Woodson will likely spy on Roethlisberger and cover tight end Heath Miller.  If the Steelers go spread, Woodson may be able to get some surprise blitzes from the slot.  If this game becomes a shoot-out, I think the Packers can stop them – Roethlisberger’s historic 500+ yard performance last year not withstanding.

Overall, I believe, while the Steelers are a great team, the match-ups favor the Packers.  As long as they can avoid a big hit on Rodgers and can stay relatively balanced between passing and running, the Packers should have advantages that they can exploit.  We’ll know soon enough.  Go Pack Go!!!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Dumbest Ads of the 2010 NFL Season

One of the many side-shows of the Super Bowl is the commercials.  As big a tradition as the game itself is the analysis of what runs in the world’s most expensive advertising time.  During the regular season, I typically watch Packers games with about a 20-minute buffer on my DVR, which enables me to fast forward over commercials.  A typical football broadcast includes over an hour of commercials (and only 11 minutes of actual action, according to the Wall Street Journal), and those ads can get pretty damn painful – particularly the campaigns that run so often that you can practically recite them.

There were three advertising campaigns during the 2010 NFL season that deserve special recognition for their idiocy, annoyance, and ubiquity.  In spite of my fast-forwarding, these campaigns were virtually inescapable.  Here are my top picks for the worst NFL ad campaigns of 2010:

1) Tie between Viagara and Cialis – It’s always a reach-for-the-remote moment when these ads come on, so as to avoid questions from my young children like, “Daddy, what’s an erection?”  Viagra and Cialis ads are so pervasive that you’d think every man in America suffers from ED.  It’s always the side-effect warnings that crack me up.  If anyone needs to be told to seek immediate medical help for “an erection lasting more than 4 hours” or a “sudden dramatic loss of hearing or vision” then maybe he ought to think twice before procreating in the first place.  I picture a guy, blind and deaf due to self-medication with blue hands and feet due to low circulation, declaring, “Don't call 9-1-1 yet, honey, I’ve only had an erection for 3 hours.”  If I had an erection lasting more than 4 hours I think I’d need a blood transfusion.  And a cigarette.  Let’s keep ads for male performance drugs where they’re supposed to be – clogging up your inbox with spam – not on the Super Bowl.

2) Miller Lite Vortex Bottle – You’ve all seen this commercial where the guy orders a light beer and the waitress condescendingly asks “Don’t you want a Miller Lite Vortex Bottle?”  When the guy protests asking what the big deal is about the Vortex bottle, she replies “It has grooves…” with a “you dumb ass” look on her face.  Maybe I’m too old, but what the hell are they talking about?  What… am I supposed to screw this thing to a garden hose and make a beer bong?   Word of warning to prospective buyers wooed by the pitch “the Vortex grooves let that great pilsner taste flow right out,” if you’re buying your beer on the basis of the velocity with which it flows from the bottle to your mouth, you may want to get a second opinion on your drinking habits.  Why didn’t they just include a pull-tab on the bottom so you can shotgun it properly?  They should just call this what it is: the “Miller Lite Shitface Bottle” and add the 800 number for AA next to their “Please Drink Responsibly” footnote.

Thank God I have this cold-activated can!
3) Coors Light Cold-Activated Can – Another brain-dead “innovation” from our friends at MillerCoors.  Like the Vortex Bottle, the Cold-Activated Can is a solution to a problem nobody has.  Evidently designed for the hard of touch, this can is supposed to tell me by way of the mountains turning blue that it’s cold.  Now, presumably, I’ve picked up the can to inspect the aforementioned mountains, at which point one would think I could ascertain whether the can I was holding was A) Cold, or B) Not Cold.  Maybe the Coors folks thought this would be a useful back-up sensory system for the drinker who is so inebriated that he’s lost his sense of feeling and most of his motor skills.  As he lays with his cheek pressed to the floor and eyes at half mast, he need only to glance at those blue mountains and rest assured that the next beer will not only trigger vomiting but is darn cold.

Hopefully, Madison Avenue has something more creative up their sleeve for the Super Bowl, because if any of these ads run for the 300th time on Sunday I may hurl my remote control into the TV.  And I don’t want to miss the game.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Three Things the Packers Must Do to Win the Super Bowl

Ardent Packer fan and Black Eyed Peas front-woman, Fergie.

In the flurry of asinine media coverage spewing from North Texas this week, one has to remind oneself that there is, at the end of this arduous journey of journalistic one-upsmanship, a football game to be played.  After the shrill circus on media row finishes blabbing about Cutler’s injury, egotistical owners, and Packer player tweets, there will actually be two teams who take the field – one of whom, if I remember correctly from what seems like months ago, is the Packers.

That means that, like all sports media covering this over-hyped affair, I need to eventually provide some modicum of value in the form of a pre-game analysis, and not just speculate what outfit Fergie will come out in for the Black Eyed Peas' half-time show (though, by all accounts, she’s a die-hard Packers fan, so I expect something green and gold).  So enough of the escapade, it’s time for the serious-ish football breakdown you’ve come to expect from TriggPack.

As any good Super Bowl coach can tell you, you need to ride the horse that got you there.  And for me, the good luck formula that has worked in both the Atlanta and Chicago games is my three keys to the a victory on Sunday.  So here goes:

  1. Exploit Maurkice Pouncey’s absence – although the Steelers still refuse to declare him out, the injury to Pro Bowl rookie center Maurkice Pouncey could prove pivotal.  Initially reported as a “high ankle sprain,” it turns out the guy has a broken bone.  Although he is talking tough, claiming he’s 75% likely to start Sunday, anyone with a medical degree has to be skeptical.  Behind him is the not-often-heralded veteran Doug Legursky.  Regardless of who starts, the Steelers will be vulnerable at this critical position.  B.J. Raji should be able to exploit Legursky or Pouncy and his hard cast and command a double team, which will mean fewer blockers for Jenkins, Pickett and Matthews, and a tougher time picking up the Packers’ blitzes.  The Steelers offensive line wasn’t particularly good to start with, but Green Bay needs to exploit this situation fully to stuff the run and get pressure on Roethlisberger. 
  2. Return to the short passing game – the Steelers had the #1 run defense in the regular season, allowing just 62.8 rushing yards per game (the Packers were #18 at 114.9 yard/game, by the way).  So even though James Starks has come on of late, it is going to be hard to run the ball against the Steelers’ front seven.  It will also be hard to connect on the 20+ yard passing game that was such a key part of the win against the Bears.  The Steelers’ blitz schemes and complex coverages will make those long plays difficult to complete.  I think the Packers will need to dig out the West Coast offense playbook that McCarthy hopefully has stashed someplace and run more screens, slants and other quick release formations to slow down the pass rush and open up the running game.  The receivers will have to be sharp.  Finley would be so nice to have on the active roster right now.  Quarless and Crabtree will need to step up – as will Starks and Jackson out of the backfield.
  3. Don’t get intimidated by the stage – If there’s one area the Steelers have a decided advantage, it’s that they’ve been here before.  Even with Roger Goodell stirring up the Roethlisberger sexual harassment controversy again, the Steelers know what to expect this week – the hard questions, the scrutiny, the parties, the fans, the half-time festivities, all the go-to-your-head pomp and circumstance that is the Super Bowl.  Rodgers and Roethlisberger were interviewed during halftime of the Pro Bowl, and I thought Rodgers seemed a little more tense and reserved than usual.  The Packers have done a good job playing through hype and drama this year, particularly during this playoff run.  And who they are as individuals as well as their chemistry as a team suggest they will remain focused on the task at-hand and not get overly distracted.  But they need to play calm, play within themselves, do what they do well, and not make mental mistakes if they’re going to win this game.  If you see any Packers players getting autographs from before the game, you'll know we're in trouble.

Overall, this is a great match-up on paper – two very similar teams, two storied franchises, two organizations trying to make history.  Even though the media mayhem is getting tiresome, I will continue to lap up every bit of news leading up to the big game.  Can’t wait.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Jerry Jones Insists Cowboys in Super Bowl

Dallas owner Jerry Jones made an unexpected appearance at media day today insisting that the Cowboys would be playing in Sunday’s Super Bowl.  After an uncomfortable pause, members of the press hoped that Cowboys’ PR manager Brett Daniels would inform Mr. Jones of his mistake, but, unwilling to face the wrath of his boss, he stayed on the podium for over an hour answering his own questions.

“Do I think the Cowboys are really America’s team?  Absolutely!” said a confident Mr. Jones in his endearing Southern drawl.  “What other team, what other city, exemplifies the American way of life better than Dallas?  How ‘bout them Cowboys!?”

When Sports Illustrated football columnist Peter King finally had the courage to break the awkward silence by pointing out that the Cowboys not only weren’t in the Super Bowl but hadn’t even made the playoffs, Jones went on a tirade.

Jerry's World: Cowboys in the Super Bowl and everyone drinking Pepsi Max.
“Of course we’re in the playoffs!  Of course we’re in the Super Bowl!  You think I’d go and spend $1.15 billion on a stadium, ask the good citizens of Arlington to jack up their sales tax by 0.5 percent, impose a hotel occupancy tax of 2 percent, and tax car rentals by 5 percent just so we can sit back on the barcaloungers in my luxury sky box and watch some small market team like the Packers play for a championship on our home turf!?”

Cricket chirping...

After nearly 90 minutes of berating the press corps, Mr. Jones finally stepped down from the podium with the parting comment, “Remember, I’m Jerry Jones, and I’m a winner, and I always drink Pepsi Max!”