Friday, June 28, 2013

Drama at the Atrium

It’s 8 a.m. on a Friday but the Atrium is already occupied with a healthy contingent of Packer fans from all over the world, who are about to embark on one of the daily tours of Lambeau Field. The extremely popular one-hour tours are not only filled with rich stories of players and championships past but they also offer a small glimpse into the behind-the-scenes activity of one of the greatest professional sports organization in the world.

In what can only be described as divine coincidence, Head Coach Mike McCarthy and General Manager Ted Thompson walk by the awestruck fans on their way to a meeting. They are clearly in the midst of an important conversation, but Mike and Ted are more than happy to offer these good fans pleasantries.

“Good morning,” Mike says as he shakes a young girl’s hand.
“Hi Coach McCarthy!” she eagerly replies.
“So you’re taking the tour today?” Ted asks the crowd.
“Well, have a great time. We’re sure glad you could stop by,” Ted tells them.

Mike and Ted wave their goodbyes and head to an area reserved for personnel. There's an outside chance they visit Bovada sportsbook for the latest odds. But just as they are almost out of view, someone from the crowd yells out, “Thanks for cutting Bishop, Thompson!”

Ted stops.

“Forget about it,” Mike tells him quietly.
“No, it’s fine, Mike,” Ted assures him.

Sarcastic comments like these are a daily occurrence for the GM, even from – sometimes especially from – Packer fans. While he would never admit how truly annoying they can be, it’s clear Ted would prefer to get to work instead of having to explain himself to another so-called diehard fan. But being a Packers’ figurehead carries with it the inherent duties of acting an organizational steward and answering these types of concerns. Simply put, as a GM, you don’t lose your cool and up to this point in his career, Ted Thompson has been about the coolest cucumber in the bunch. And true to form, Ted politely turns around and engages the crowd with professional courtesy.

A middle-aged man, Darryl Wischnewski of Sheboygan, wearing a Desmond Bishop jersey and a pair Velcro-strapped Reeboks steps forward. Although he tries his best to conceal his disgust for the GM, Darryl’s clenched fists and tightened brow clearly tell the story.

“He was the best linebacker we had!” Darryl exclaims.
“Desmond is a great player and a real professional, and we were sad to see him go,” Ted tells him.
“You are the worst GM in the world! You let go of all our best players only to see them have career years at other places! The Vikings are probably going to win the Super Bowl this year! What is wrong with you!? Why do you hate Packer fans so much!?” Darryl screams.

Ted waits for him to calm down, but it only gets worse. Tears begin to form and the man soon breaks down, right there in the middle of the Atrium among thirty Packer fans and the team’s coach and GM. All football decisions aside, this is a sad situation. Ted walks over to comfort the emotional wreck of a man, putting his hand on his shoulder. Darryl looks up at Ted’s eyes. He wants to cry; instead he erupts.

“I HATE YOU!!!” Darryl screams out. Like everyone else, Ted is taken aback. He takes a deep breath and a moment to compose before launching into the man with a rejuvenated, fierce conviction.

Ted: Have you ever played professional sports, son?
Darryl: No sir.
Ted: Ever asked a teammate to trust you and put your trust in them?
Darryl: No sir.
Ted: Ever ran a football organization?
Darryl: No sir.
Ted: We make decisions, son. We make decisions or the franchise fails. It’s that simple.
Darryl: But you said “Desmond was a great player.”
Ted: Yes, I recall what –
Darryl: You said “He is a real professional, and we were sad to let him go.”
Ted: I know what I said. I don’t have to have it repeated back to me like a damn –
Darryl: Then why did you release Bishop!? It wasn’t because of his hamstring. It wasn’t it because of his contract. You released Desmond Bishop because you hate the Packers, don’t you!? DON’T YOU!?
Ted: You want answers?
Darryl: I think I’m entitled to them.
Ted: You want answers?
Darryl: I want the truth!
Ted: You can’t handle the truth!!

And nobody moves.

Ted: Son, we operate an organization that wins championships. And those championships have to be orchestrated by men with BALLS. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, little girl? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Bishop and curse management. You have that luxury. You have that luxury of not knowing what I know: that Bishop’s release, while tragic, wins games. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you. Wins games.”

A moment passes while this sinks in.

“You don’t want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don’t talk about at tailgates, you want me running the Packers. You need me there.”

Now, proudly, Ted continues.

“We use words like franchise, salary cap, development. We use these words as the backbone to a career spent building something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who revels under the very blanket of success I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it. I’d prefer you just said ‘thank you’ and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a water bottle and hydrate my players. Either way, I don’t give a DAMN what you think you’re entitled to!”

Silence. From everyone. The crowd is frozen, as it Mike. Ted is strangely at peace. Darryl musters a final thought.

Darryl: I believe I wet myself. Yes, yes I did. Dang.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Ceremony We Deserve

The time has come.

We have reached the point in time when wounds have healed and the Green Bay Packers should welcome the Ol’ Gunslinger back to Titletown.

There have been baby steps taken to begin this process.  Rodgers and Favre appearing at the NFL awards show together. Rodgers indicating that he feels it’s time to welcome Brett back and retire the number 4. Favre recently admitting (for the first time) his culpability in the circus that was his attempt to force his way back to the Packers. Mark Murphy stating that he hoped Favre would one day go along on the Packers annual Tailgate Tour. And most recently, Brett’s glowing praise of Aaron Rodgers, and admitting that while his time in purple was great, it only made him appreciate how much better being a Packer was (okay, I paraphrased that, but I’m pretty sure that’s what Brett meant).

However, there seems to be some trepidation on both sides, Favre and the Packers, about the ceremony and about when would be the appropriate time to bring this all to a close. Some of this anxiousness stems from the worry that some fans may not be over the breakup and still harbor significant ill will toward Brett. The fear exists this ill will will (heh) lead fans who still have their long john’s in a bundle* to booing and other generally disrespectful behavior during the number retirement and recognition ceremony. 

I’ve spent some time thinking about how to address these concerns and, yet, still move on with the ceremony quickly. I will even go so far as to say that it should happen this season, and it should happen this season on the afternoon of Sunday, November 24th. That is when the Green Bay Packers host the Minnesota Vikings.

Picture this scene:

The air is brisk with a gentle breeze, but the sun is shining without a cloud in the sky. Both teams finish up warmups…and the terrible music playing fades out.  The players jog to their respective sidelines. This is the moment. This is when the legendary Brett Favre will be welcomed back to Green Bay and have his number retired along with Tony Canadeo, Don Hutson, Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke, and Reggie White. This is when the circus that started in 2008 will be concluded. The Big Top taken down. Wounds will be healed, and hands will be shaken. Backs will be slapped, and stories will be told. 

The PA announcer lists some of the legendary quarterback's notable accomplishments and concludes his introduction: “…ladies and gentlemen, number 4, Brett Lorenzo Favre.” The Lambeau crowd roars, only a tiny smattering of boos from the grudge holders, but they are drowned out by the cheers and adulation. The man walks out from the tunnel…and the cheers quickly die. They are replaced with stunned silence. Jaws drop. Brett Favre has just walked onto Lambeau Field and is wearing a suit…and a Vikings’ cap. This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. How could he do this again?

A small woman, gray haired and frail, wearing a green and gold scarf and matching mittens and hat, screams, in a voice that seems much louder than she should be able to muster, “BOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” The crowd joins and there is nothing to be heard but the boos of thousands of angry, and hurt, Packer fans.  Favre continues walking and heads in the direction of the Vikings’ bench. When he is about halfway there, Jared Allen, Adrian Peterson, and, of course, Greg Jennings walk towards Favre to greet him, and presumably welcome him to eternal purple mediocrity. The camera zooms in on Favre, and the fans stare at the huge screens. A small girl sobs. Her dad says, "Jesus, he’s going to hug them and stay a Viking."

The group of Vikings are about 5 yards from Brett, and Greg Jennings extends his hand. Favre stops, and that ol’ “he’s just havin’ fun out there” smile creeps across his grizzled and gray face. The smile on Jennings’ face wavers. Favre slowly raises his right arm his pointer finger extended. The crowd once again goes silent. Favre begins laughing. He starts shaking his head and wagging his finger in the direction of the Vikings. He steps back, turns, and slowly takes in the entirety of Lambeau Field. He brings his hands up to his chest….

Lambeau Field erupts as Favre sprints around the field. His green number 4 jersey back where it belongs. A fitting way to end the circus.

He’s come back.

*If he still bothers you, you need to let it go. Really. It's done.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Dodge, Duck, Dip, Dive and Dodge! Packers Take to the Dodgeball Court

By Ross Uglem

As has been tradition with the Mike McCarthy-led Packers, the last day of mini-camp was used for a “team-building activity” instead of another practice. Last year, the team went out skeet shooting. After alleged shrapnel-related complications suffered by one of the equipment managers, McCarthy opted for a less-dangerous team activity this off-season: that of dodgeball at the Packers’ training center.

Captains were randomly selected and teams were drafted. The QBs came off the board early with receivers to follow. A surprising run of offensive linemen were then taken. While certainly not the most agile, their frames proved useful for hiding opposing skill position players. Speed players were taken next, with the rest of the picks withering down into the specialists.

The squad led by Aaron Rodgers was immediately considered the prohibitive favorite due to the former MVP’s rocket-ship arm and his general leadership qualities. Among Rodgers’ teammates were his good friend Brett Goode and Mason Crosby. As it turns out, Goode was surprisingly effective. Utilizing his long-snapping form, he was able to fire strikes from betwixt his legs, picking off opponents seemingly at will.

“Look, one thing that people don’t understand is that I really don’t need to look at my target. Do people really think that I have any idea where that red-headed guy is that I snap it to on specials? I find that to be a little bit of a ridiculous expectation. I just snap the ball and hope for the best. It got me this far, didn’t it?” said Goode.

Goode’s special teams’ counterpart, Crosby, was not as enthused about the competition.

“I’m a little upset they stopped letting me kick the ball. It’s way faster that way. I let one get away from me that finds its way off the wall and onto Coach Capers’ nose, and all of the sudden everyone’s upset.”

The final match pitted Rodgers’ squad against a receiving-heavy team that included Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Jermichael Finley – well-suited for catching opponent’s throws. As you know, Section A., Rule 4 of the Competitive Dodgeball Association states “When a player catches an opposing throw, that opponent is out. The teammate on the receiver’s squad shall immediate reinstate the player who has been out the longest to active game participation.”

The championship ended in dramatic fashion. Finley was left in a one-on-two situation against Rodgers and recently reinstated Johnny Jolly. For most of the day, Rodgers had been making hay using the wide-framed Jolly as a screen. But while Finley was able to pelt #97 in the jugular, eliminating Rodgers’ protection, he immediately lost focus. He broke in to his “YOTTO” TD celebration and was subsequently and unceremoniously drilled in the midsection by the Super Bowl XLV MVP, ending the competition.

As we’re accustomed to seeing, Rodgers was extremely appreciative of his teammates and attributed the credit for the victory to them.

“Defense wins championships. I’m glad we were able to go out there and take care of the dodgeball and play our game. At the end of the day, I'm just wanted to give it 110%, like Cary Elwes did in ‘The Princess Bride.’ You ever see that one? Great, great movie. I met Cary once, actually. Nice guy.”

The next public practice for the Packers will be outside at Clark Hinkle field on Tuesday, June 11.

You can follow Ross Uglem, aka “D3 Hack” on Twitter as @Rug_pHd12
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