The angst has begun to subside, the obsessive anger finally beginning to wane. Yes, the “Fail Mary” we saw a few weeks ago in Seattle enraged us to the point of irrationality, flooding the NFL Commissioner’s office with emails and voice mails, and threatening to never watch our Packers ever again without the real officials.
Two weeks after the bomb was dropped, we’re seeing the real impact of that botched call; and as I predicted, its something far better for the Packers than it is for the Seahawks.
You see, its not about the play itself–a rather clear interception that was wrestled away on the ground and called a touchdown, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. It’s not even about the game or the addition of a tally mark in the “L” column. One regular season game, especially early in the season, doesn’t control your fate in December and January. Just ask the New York Giants, who suffered regular season losses to the Packers in both 2007 and 2011, only to return to Lambeau Field in the playoffs and slit the Packers’ throats on their way to Super Bowls.
As the bad calls were mounting in the game, I tweeted that if the game was to be overshadowed by the refs, I’d rather be on the losing side. And, while I sat awake until the wee hours of the morning, watching replay after replay on ESPN and the NFL Network (feeling just as enraged and indignant as every other Packer fan on the planet) I reassured myself with these words:
It’s not about how you start. It’s how you finish.
And more importantly, its about how you handle adversity, something Mike McCarthy’s Packers have had plenty of experience with over the course of his tenure. The Packers could have easily imploded after that game, and other then a few obscenity-laden tweets from TJ Lang and a biting interview on ESPN Wisconsin from quarterback Aaron Rodgers, they kept their frustration in-house.
Meanwhile, Golden Tate, the wide receiver that “caught” the touchdown, went on the air immediately following the game bragging about how he was sure it was a touchdown, and how there was certainly no pass interference. It was a cocky exchange that I’m sure Pete Carroll wishes he could have prevented, because Tate would spend the next week making excuses and walking those statements back. And, so would the Seahawks, now trapped in the web of claiming a victory on paper that evidence and public opinion strongly dissents with.
The Packers, however, received praise for handling the situation with class, from the barely-contained fury of the post-game press conferences to the next game. John Bergstrom, a Packer Board of Director member, publicly praised Mark Murphy, Ted Thompson, and Mike McCarthy for establishing a professional atmosphere immediately, so that the long plane ride home was free of the immature rage one might expect from fifty-three young, ultra-competitive men who had just been robbed.
Charles Woodson also addressed the team at the first practice on Wednesday, establishing a tone of focus and strengthening each other. When the elder statesman of the team speaks, the young men listen. Even TJ Lang expressed regret for the impulsive tweets that made him a sudden rock star in the Packer Twitterverse.
But there are two more examples that came out last week. First, we found out Mike McCarthy called the house of Texas high school referee Wayne Elliott. When I heard that headline, I cringed. McCarthy was publicly taking the high road, but took time out of his schedule to call and berate the replacement official that made the shoddy call? Oh, boy.
But, after reading further, you found out that he called to encourage the beleaguered official, who McCarthy had heard was under extreme duress. Criticism had followed him home, with television crews following him and mocking his demotion back to high school sidelines. McCarthy called to tell him that, even if he didn’t agree with the call, he handled it with class.
The second example comes from the source of this information: Wayne Elliott. Perhaps I am just jaded living in an election campaign cycle, but I was pleasantly surprised that McCarthy’s act of sympathy wasn’t touted and promoted by some political machine designed to make McCarthy’s approval factor rise a couple of percentage points.
No, McCarthy did what he did in private, with no intention of promoting it. The only way we, the casual fan, found out was through the appreciative words of Elliott himself, whom I wouldn’t trade places with for the world right now. And in today’s NFL, no one would have thought less of McCarthy for either going off on a tirade, then walking it back with such an act with the ref.
In fact, it’s what we’ve grown to expect in today’s world.
McCarthy didn’t do it for those reasons: he did it because it was right, and doing the right thing when others aren’t looking is the very definition of class.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I like to think of the Packers handling the furor as they did played a role in their win against a desperate Saints team last Sunday. They persevered through more bad calls and, in the face of that frustration, made some of the most incredible goal-line stands we’ve seen in some time. The end result was a mere one-point win, but that’s a far better way to finish than Seattle did against the Rams. They suffered an embarrassing loss in which Russell Wilson, the wunderkind quarterback who was canonized last week for his last-second “touchdown throw”, was picked off three times and murmurs of replacing him with Matt Flynn suddenly replaced the praise.
I may be completely wrong in believing that there’s just a little bit of karma coming around to bite the Seahawks and give the Packers just a little push to pull out a win last week. But I do not think I am far off at all in giving credit for class where it is due, and believing that the professionalism you conduct yourself with off the field plays a role on how you do your job on it.
The Packers took their controversy and refused to let it taint their team, no matter how much we kept asking how angry they were. They were angry, but they channeled it in a productive way. The Seahawks spent a week playing defense from all that critics that felt they had been handed a victory. No wonder their actual defense seemed a little gassed the next week against the Rams.
The Packers could take this controversy and use it to ride a wave of focus all the way to the playoffs. Or, it is possible that the playoffs just aren’t meant to be for this 2-2 team in 2012. Either way, I am proud of the leadership on this team and the integrity they have shown.
I’d take that over a cheap win in one regular season game any day.