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Tundra Vision: A Dash of Humility Makes Football Fun Again

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Tundra Vision: A Dash of Humility Makes Football Fun Again

The year was 1999. At some point during a Sunday, I was flipping through the late games following a noon Packer game, and settled on watching the San Francisco 49ers.  After all, it was they who had knocked the Packers out of the playoffs the previous January, leading to the tumultuous departure of Mike Holmgren and Co. to another team out on the West Coast. I settled in to ruefully root against the team in red.

I didn't have to do much to root against them, though. The 1999 version of the 49ers was a mere shell of that team that won on a controversial catch several months earlier. I noticed the stadium was barely half-full at kickoff, then slowly watched people file in through the first and second quarter. The commentators joked about  how the fans were on "West Coast Time". I thought it was pretentious.

At halftime, the listless 49ers were losing. Not by a lot, but a touchdown or two...certainly enough for a solid team to attempt a comeback in the second half after a rousing locker-room speech. I mean, these were the San Francisco 49ers, right? Have a little faith. But the team was roundly booed as they exited the field by the same fans who had just decided they'd show up a few minutes earlier. The commentators talked about the high expectations in San Francisco. I thought it was arrogant.

And, when the halftime pep talk apparently fell on deaf ears, I watched Candlestick Park start clearing out at the end of the third quarter. The commentators tried to explain to me that they were likely off to a wine-tasting party. But I was astounded at the thought of leaving a game early, particularly when your team had just gone deeper into the playoffs last year than the one I was rooting for. The commentators explained that was the culture of a West Coast team. I was glad I didn't live on the West Coast and have to sit shoulder to shoulder with such rude and unappreciative fans.

Of course, the 49ers were venturing into new territory. New words were introduced to the NFL  vernacular, such as "Salary Cap Hell" and "Dead Space". The same system that had launched Ron Wolf's ability to build a Super Bowl team in the league's smallest market had dropped its ugly other shoe right on top of the team that had played for the short-term, kicking the can down the road with signing bonuses and long-term contracts to its superstars.

The 49ers were on their way to a 4-12 season; and even worse, they were handcuffed in their ability to rebuild until the dead salary cap space slowly worked its way out of the equation. For a team that had dominated the NFL since the early 1980's, this appeared to be a source of severe consternation for fans that had gotten used to winning, for whom making the playoffs simply wasn't enough anymore. For these fans, anything less than a Lombardi Trophy was a disappointment.

And smugly, I patted myself on the back, proud of my Green Bay Packers and the fans, knowing even in the middle of the very short Ray Rhodes Era, we would never forget how bad it could be, and would always appreciate our team.

Fast-forward fourteen years from that fateful date in front of the television, however, and my holier-than-thou attitude might have been a bit premature. The Green Bay Packers are now the team that has enjoyed unprecedented success since the early 1990's, with two Super Bowl rings, more playoff appearances than I have fingers, and the minimal expectation of winning  the division year in and year out.

No, Lambeau Time will never be West Coast Time. No matter the record, the entrance gates are always clogged an hour before game time. And the exit gates are always clogged after the game is over.

But we can't say the same of the arrogance and entitlement we've developed over the years, and I'm just as guilty as anyone else.

What other franchise would look at the Packers, who since 1991 have FIRED the head coach and/or defensive coordinator ANY TIME the team didn't finish with a winning record? The exception, of course, is 2006, Mike McCarthy's first season (8-8), but he did finish with a four-game win streak to quell any torches and pitchforks for the time being.

As Packer fans, we've grown to expect more and more, and many of us feel entitled to not only expect a win and deep playoff runs every season, we find it necessary to nitpick even those wins and deep playoff runs.

In 2011, the Packers went on a 15-1 run in the regular season, following up a surprise Super Bowl win. Yet, week in and week out, criticism was leveled at the team for not winning "good enough" on all fronts. Heck, a certain defensive coordinator was being called out to be fired mid-season. Fired. In the middle of a 15-1 campaign.

Just not good enough.

Yet, the Packers were good enough that many Packer fans decided they'd save their money for the NFC Championship game they were fated to host.  So they thought they'd skip the Divisional Playoff game against the Giants, sending ticket prices well below face value.  When the Packers were roundly defeated (if not embarrassed) at home by New York, the tide of criticism and firings filled the airwaves and blogospheres. How dare the Packers not follow through on another Super Bowl? Fire everyone!!!

The Packers had been 21-1 in their previous 22 games, including a Super Bowl. But it still just wasn't good enough.

There's been some voices out there, as the Packers have suffered through an anguishing season fraught with injuries.

"You all should just be glad this isn't the 70s and 80's. Then you'd know real suffering."

And, even though I've lived through those Dark Days, I joined the masses in rolling my eyes and rationalizing the criticism.

"This team has earned high expectations from the fans. It's the price of success."

"You don't get better by tolerating mediocrity."

And, my favorite,

"In today's high-stakes money games, the Packers can't afford to have bad seasons."

And, in that moment, I looked back at the 49ers game in 1999, and realized that I, just as so many other Packer fans, have fallen prey to the arrogance than I once mocked as simpering self-indulgence.

And it is why you get this undercurrent of anger and frustration following games, win or lose. Having such a high sense of entitlement doesn't make for sitting down and enjoying a game purely for the hope of winning and not losing.  It's why we're angry when the Packers don't win, and why, even when they win, we have to talk people down from "not winning good enough".

But these past few weeks have been a welcome shot of humility. Following a five-game losing streak mid-season, the Packers have rebounded with scrappy games that harken back to that 1989 season, when expectations were at their very lowest.

That year, Don Majkowski and Co. fought their way to a 10-6 record, and didn't even make the playoffs. But the games were razor-tight. The "Cardiac Pack" didn't win all of them, and if you measured them against the expectations of today, didn't win nearly enough of them. But that season still stands as perhaps the most enjoyable season I have ever watched as a Packer fan, because they exceeded anything I expected them to accomplish.

When was the last time you felt that way about the Packers?

If you weren't a fan before 1996, you missed out on perhaps the greatest journey a Packer fan could ever ride. The stadium atmosphere was pure electricity every week under Holmgren, as the team set out to prove itself against the "big boys" of the NFL. It was a slow process, measured no better than the annual humility checks against the Dallas Cowboys, who regularly defeated the Packers all the way through those formative years, including a regular-season crushing in 1996.

That feeling of doubt is what kept the games live-or-die, each and every down. When the Packers finally won the Super Bowl, it wasn't a surprise out of nowhere, or golf-clap acknowledgement of what we had always expected. It was truly a journey where you didn't know how it was going to end, or when it was going to end.

Matt Flynn will never be Aaron Rodgers, but he sure could be Don Majkowski. He's made just enough great plays to pull out narrow wins or ties, and just enough bonehead plays to pull out narrow losses. But in each and every one of his games, we're on the edge of our seats.

And we're on the edge of our seats because we truly don't know what to expect. The hard-fought, one-point wins have been surprises: cardiac-arresting performances that cut past the anger and frustration we've had for the past few seasons and simply targeting the simplest of emotions: pure, dizzying joy or heartbreaking disappointment.

Playing even with and losing to mediocre teams would normally instigate anger, and yet the past few weeks have been out-of-my-seat, scaring-the-neighbors-by-yelling, running-to-the-bathroom-or-kitchen-so-I-don't-miss-a-second emotional roller coasters.

And I've loved it. Because I love watching football again. It's more fun to watch when you don't expect to win and win by a lot every week. Even after last week's loss, I was devastated, not angry. It was a great game to watch, and could have gone either way.

As the Packers approach this game this afternoon against the Bears, a winner-take-all affair on their home turf, the announcements of Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb returning has been perfect timing to churn Packer Nation into a emotional powderkeg. I don't know the last time I've been so excited for a game between two teams with near-.500 records.

But, again, that's what makes it exciting. I don't know if the Packers are going to win. There's reasons to be afraid, but there's reasons to be so, so hopeful. No matter what happens, the emotions should be as engaging as those days back in 1989 or the mid-1990's.

And these are the reasons we fell in love with this game to begin with. So, as you sit down to watch this game today, leave your expectations behind, put down your "Fire Capers" signs, and enjoy football as it is meant to be enjoyed.

Don't be afraid of the roller coaster. Get in the front seat.

——————————-

C.D. Angeli is a lifelong Packer fan and feature writer at CheeseheadTV.  He is the co-host of the weekly Packers podcast Cheesehead Radio and is the good cop running PackersTalk.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TundraVision.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (29) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Dan's picture

Great article. Couldn't agree more with the sentiment. One note for you - McCarthy's first season was an 8-8 finish with Favre under center. His first with Rodgers ('08) was the 6-10 season you mentioned.

Go Pack.

-Dan

tundravision's picture

Good catch. Fixed it. Thanks much, Dan!

D B H's picture

Thanks for the perspective before the game. I'm trying not to get my hopes up, but I know that I'll wind up spitting angry if we don't wind up pulling this off.

Go Pack Go!!

Stroh's picture

Very good article. Having grown up in GB in the 70's and 80's I lived thru and experienced first hand the darkest years of Packer football. I do think that has led me to watch for the enjoyment and excitement of each game. I do have higher expectations of the Packers now but its still tempered. A legion of Packer fans have never know what truly bad football from the Packers looks like. They have gotten a small taste this year, mostly due IMO to the absence of Rodgers. Hopefully they have gained a little humility/perspective of how hard it can be to win in the NFL. Sadly, I doubt they have.

BTW I do think its time for Capers to be fired. However that is from his track record which has followed him everywhere he's been and to GB also. Seems he just isn't able to sustain his early success and keep his players playing w/ urgency each week. His time has run its course IMO.

4thand1's picture

Yes on all counts. 70's and 80's, been there done that. If the D loses this game today, Capers has to go. You can hear it in MM's voice in press con when he talks about the D. I'm sure its come up behind closed doors between TT & MM. The elephant in the room is the defense again this year.

RC Packer Fan's picture

I love Capers defense. I just don't like Capers calling the defense if that makes sense.
The problem I have with Capers is he gets way to conservative and is very reluctant to change when its not working.

For example, when he gets gashed by the run game playing the nickel defense (2-4) he doesn't do anything to change the nickel. He could keep the 3-4 and replace a safety with a CB, or he could remove a LB and go to a 3-3 look.

I do understand that some of the players has limited his ability to call the defense, such as losing a Pro Bowl player like Nick Collins. But there are still things he could do differently.

The other thing I don't like is he doesn't always put his players in the best positions to succeed. The best player on the Packers defense is Clay Mathews. He has the unique ability to play anywhere. So why limit him to only playing on the right side. Nick Perry has shown he is better rushing off the right side so why not rush him from there more and move Mathews around to try and confuse offenses...

Things like that frustrate me.

I wonder how good Perry or Moss would be calling the defense.
I want to see the Packers stay with the 3-4, I just am not sure I want Capers to be the one calling it.

Stroh's picture

Agreed. On all accounts. We've discussed this before, so we're on the same page here. Keep the 34 D and find a younger DC who will relate to the players better and provide new leadership and urgency by the players.

Looking forward to seeing how Perry plays today. He should be lined up almost exclusively at ROLB, so if he provide a couple sacks and consistent pressure it should provide a glimpse of the future. He appears to need to be on the right side when rushing. Moving Matthews around also can be a way to get Matthews, Perry and Neal on the field at the same time. That might take Matthews out of pass rush occasionally but its still something that needs to be explored.

I would lean toward Whitt or Greene at DC and calling plays right now before Perry, but wouldn't be opposed to him either. Probably hire outside the current staff tho.

RunAndHyde's picture

I love my team. Go...pack...go.

Joanna Meilleur's picture

Loved your article. I've felt emotionally spent after each game this season but can't remember being more excited about a game than I am today. I plan on celebrating our season regardless of the outcome today, but Go Pack Go!

bogfan's picture

Fantastic Piece!

I remember the 80's. I remember the day the Pack signed Reggie White....
I remember how it changed everything for not just a fan base but whole communities in Northeastern WI.
This season is truly one of those special ones, because only the real fans are paying attention.
I hope they win today because it will make the entire season feel like a success.

Go Pack!

RC Packer Fan's picture

Honestly. It really doesn't get much better then going into the final week of the season, and have to face your most historic rival to get into the playoffs.

It makes the season a little more fun when you have to fight to get into the playoffs then blow everyone out and get in easy. Although that is fun too...

Bearmeat's picture

This is a great article that certainly applies to Packer fans.

However, IMO it applies to Patriot fans even more. THEY are the smuggest fans today. Between going 13/14 in the AFCE and winning 12+ most years....

I have no good reason to hate them. But I do. Because they are smug buttholes from the GM on down.

Ron from ct's picture

I look at this game as a win win if we win we're in the playoffs and anything can happen if we lose then will have a good draft pick for a run next year

Colleen's picture

Bravo, CD!!

The TKstinator's picture

Good article.
Good perspective. I started following this team in the mid 70's. My dad and I suffered through many crappy Sundays.
Makes me appreciate the good times a lot more, having seen the other side close up for so long.
Go Pack!

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

Beat. Duh. Bares.

Nice piece, CD.

BrewCityBacker's picture

Great article! Good read, puts the last few years into perspective.

4thand1's picture

A win today will get rid of the trolls. A loss and the bastards will be intolerable.

eire5199's picture

Well done, CD. Gonna be a fun game.

Nerd's picture

I'll take domination, thanks. This team goes into enough lulls even when they win. They almost NEVER show up for a full 60.

“Winning is not a sometime thing, it is an all the time thing. You don't do things right once in a while…you do them right all the time.”

The TKstinator's picture

You're not going to get a lot of that in today's NFL. Parity.

packsmack25's picture

Nice story CD. I'd like to point out that McCarthy also survived a 6-10 record in 2008 in the former QB aftermath.

Nerd's picture

That was a defensive meltdown, primarily due to injuries.

tundravision's picture

He sure did. But Bob Sanders didn't.

Ruppert's picture

I'm old enough to remember this team's last 8-7-1 year, and the '89 Pack is my favorite non-SB winning Packers team out of all those years.

Great article. Weren't there a ton of no-shows for the ATL game this year, too?

A_Lerxst_in_Packerland's picture

The front seat of the roller coaster was about as thrilling as you can get today! What a back-and-forth, slug-it-out, classic NFC North game for the ages!

On that final drive I turned to my wife and said "The suspense is terrible; I hope it will last!" My heart was pounding as the Pack converted not 1, not 2, but 3 (three!) fourth downs to go ahead late in the 4th quarter. Rodgers to Cobb, no less (as it should be). Wow.

And then for Da Bears to have a couple last gasp shots, only to be (oh thank you Green Bay D!) batted away and then intercepted to end it, really capped the whole thing off. Wow.

Just, wow. Hell of a game, and amazing to watch. And great article. It really has been fun to enjoy watching football this season.

cLowNEY42's picture

If the Pack doesn't get another SB ring while they still have Rodgers, it will be a travesty.

Spunt's picture

Why do we watch professional sports? Week 17's fast, accurate throws and diving catches were great to watch. The Pack's previous work? Not so much.

What a disappointing season.

Randy Percy's picture

Well written. Emotional. Measured and tightly written.

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