Really does not seem that long ago since the Green Bay Packers were perennial preseason favorites to win the NFC and for good reason. Since the 1993 season, (Brett Favre’s 2nd year in Green Bay) the Packers have made the playoffs 19 times. Compare that to the 20 years prior to the Favre/Aaron Rodgers era beginning where there was but one appearance (the 1982 strike shortened season), and it is likely you would conclude that the cheese cupboard is far from bare.
Excellence can be a subjective experience when your chosen team resides in a place known as “Titletown”. Every single game played in Green Bay has been sold out since 1960 and the waiting list for season tickets has 100,000 + names on it. The Packers are also the only community-owned franchise in US professional sports. These two facts are largely responsible for the team staying in Green Bay, which is the smallest city with a pro franchise (population of 105,116). The chances are great that an individual owner would have had a difficult time resisting the temptation to move the team to a larger market if economic conditions (i.e. a new stadium) warranted such a relocation. That fact alone makes Green Bay the most stable franchise in US professional sports.
Lambeau Field, the Sistine Chapel of the National Football League. When one steps into this enchanting (often frozen) bowl on 1265 Lombardi Way, they’re instantly aware that this is not the normal NFL fan experience. The Packers home since the 1957 season, it now has a capacity of over 80,000 (mostly wooden bench seating) and boasts one of the highest win/loss percentages over the last 25 years. The public wisely resisted the urge to build a domed stadium in the early 1980s when two of the Packers’ divisional rivals (Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings) had both taken the indoor plunge. In staying outdoors they preserved one of the essential fan elements that can’t be replicated in an indoor venue, bone-chilling cold. Some fans simply prefer a comfortable living room experience to cheer on their team. Packer fans prefer their tundra to be frozen.
All these wonderful draft picks! The Packers have 10 for the upcoming NFL Draft including two first rounders (having acquired New Orleans pick by switching positions in last year’s draft). Adding to that excitement, general manager Brian Gutekunst said, “I think we have to be active to get where we want to go” when asked about the upcoming free agency market. With a projected $40 million in cap space, Antonio Brown is considered an attractive option to supplement rising star Davante Adams. The Steelers are currently exploring options for their unhappy star receiver. The running game is thought to be set with Aaron Jones finally given the opportunity to show his playmaker skills, making the offense less predictable. Left tackle David Bakhtiari just completed another All Pro season and cornerback Jaire Alexander made the All-Rookie team. And then there’s #12. When your quarterback’s name is Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, your problems get minimized. That sizable advantage was somewhat eliminated in Week 1 when Rodgers was carted off the field during the Chicago Bears game. We all remember the amazing Willis Reed-like return and victory. We also know in hindsight that he never quite regained his mobility and form. Do not think for a minute that the chip on Rodgers’ shoulder has not doubled in size. I would not be at all surprised to see Rodgers taking home another MVP trophy next season.
X-Factor. The new head coach was just announced and it is Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur. The 39-year-old LaFleur has worked under mostly West Coast-oriented offensive coaches in his 10 years in the league, including Gary Kubiak, Kyle Shanahan, Mike Shanahan, and Sean McVay. Many insiders felt if the Packers did not choose Josh McDaniels that they would opt for a bright, young offensive mind. In LaFleur they chose just that, and make no mistake about it, Aaron Rodgers was not missing from the selection discussions. Rodgers will have more of a say in how things are run on offense and that makes the hiring of such an inexperienced coach make more sense. The rest of the staff, including defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and interim head coach Joe Philbin, are expected to return, increasing the chances that there will be greater continuity entering next season. The bottom line is this; a 35 year old, future Hall of Fame QB has just been given the keys to the Packer bus, and LaFleur will be quite content in reaping the rewards that just might follow if he can work in harmony with #12. The Pack is back and all is well, so all you fans: R–E–L–A–X.