What it means to love a team

Most of you know that I’m a huge Packers fan. You might also know that the Packers lost in the wildcard round yesterday, putting an end to their all-too-brief playoff run. So as part of fulfilling the five stages of playoff loss grief, I’m posting something I wrote last season after the Packers lost to the 49ers in the playoffs. (Yes, again.) Apparently it was foreshadowing – it more ways than one (broken collarbone?!).

If you love a team, you might be able to relate to these sentiments. If you are on the fence about whether or not to become a football fan, hopefully this can sway you to go all-in. If you think loving a team is straight up crazy but someone you know is in the depths of postseason loss despair, maybe this will persuade you to be a little nicer to them today.

Because we really are crazy. There’s nothing quite like being a fan and loving your team.

(If you are looking for the lowdown on all of the weekends games, check out MMQB this morning. They always have great coverage of all things NFL. At The Water Cooler will return next week!)


Loving a team, when you really love a team, isn’t like having a favorite clothing store or a worn out take out menu. Loving a team is like being in love. When times are good, there is no joy that is paralleled. When times are bad, the lows will completely wreck you. You loathe those who betray you – the refs who make bad calls, the celebrating players on the other sideline, in your end zone. You couldn’t love those who help you more if they were members of your own family.

And really, the players and the staff do become like family. Because, like family, in the same second you can’t believe how much you love them and also can’t believe how they could make such mind-numbingly painful errors in judgment. You can point out their mistakes and inadequacies, but woe to the person who dares to speak ill of your team.

Loving football, in particular, is it’s own variety of passion. It sees your loyalty chips and raises you a lifetime of servitude. I’d say that it steals your time and sanity but it doesn’t – you willingly hand them over.

Football will take your hopes and crush them. Your #1 seed headed into the Divisional Round? Lost by 14. Season over. Your 10-point 4th quarter lead? Pick six. Then, touchdown. Lead lost. Your promising roster of feared veterans and dangerous rookie talent? Torn ACL’s. Broken collarbones. Inability to work cohesively as a unit. Not so promising after all.

But it will also take your hopes and elevate them. You are the underdog who beat the #1 Seed in the Divisional Round! You are the team that wouldn’t take no for an answer in the 4th quarter! You are watching the evolution of a unit that was all it was projected to be and so much more!

Every year, 31 teams go home disappointed. It’s a gnawing, desperate, unfulfilling feeling to know that it’s over. It makes you wear your pajamas for 48 hours and ignore the light of day. It makes you wallow in a gallon of ice cream and ask repeatedly, “What happened, you guys?” It’s all part of the mourning process, because you just lost something special. You won’t see your team take another snap for at least another 6 months. You may never see that same team take the field again. Players leave. Players come in. It’ll never be the same as it was this season.

But every year, one team goes home victorious. And it’s the sweetest, most elated, vindicating feeling. Your team defied the odds. Your team gets to bring the Lombardi trophy home. Your team gets to be feared and respected by all the rest for the next 6 months.

I’d say that it makes all of the hardship worthwhile, but it’s already worth it. What football gives you can’t be measured in wins and losses – even Super Bowl wins and losses. What it really gives you is a reason to hope for a few hours every weekend. To believe that this game could be your game. This year could be your year.

There’s nothing quite like it. And there are few things better.

What To Know : Wildcard Weekend

We know how the playoffs work and who the teams are, which is a great start. Here’s the next step: a short preview of this weekend’s wildcard games.

Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts (Saturday at 4:35 pm EST, NBC)

If you knew this was going to be the matchup back in the midpoint of the season when the Chiefs were still undefeated and the Colts were starting to struggle, you’d call it an easy win for Kansas City. But that’s the magic of the NFL: things change. It’s not that the Chiefs aren’t good anymore (they are) or the Colts don’t still have their struggles (they do), it’s that this match has all of the makings of a barn burner – a match in which the Luck-led Colts are favored.

New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles (Saturday at 8:10 pm EST, NBC)

The same exact thing can be said about this game. Midseason, no one would have dared to pick the Eagles to top the Saints. And yet here they find themselves in the first round of the playoffs with a home game and a huge opportunity. The Saints are undefeated at home this season; they won a mere three games on the road. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the Eagles have looked especially sharp in their big wins against Chicago and Dallas in the past two weeks. While it’s never wise to count Drew Brees out, this one has the potential to send the Saints home earlier than originally expected.

San Diego Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals (Sunday at 1:05 pm EST, CBS)

For the first time in three years the Bengals will not face the Texans in the first round of the playoffs. And for the first time in three years, they’ll be hoping for a win in the first round of the playoffs. That the Chargers are even in the playoffs is a testament to the unpredictable world of the NFL (they can thank the Bengals for doing their part in defeating the Ravens during pregame warmups). But how they got in doesn’t matter. What does matter is the fact that they may have scored the best matchup of Wildcard Weekend, and they look ready to take advantage.

San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers (Sunday at 4:40 pm EST, FOX)

It might be a new year, but not when it comes to this game. The obvious answer would be that it’s still 2013 – the year when this same game was played on different turf – but it actually feels more like 2010 to me. That was the year the Packers limped into the playoffs and made a highly unlikely run all the way to winning Super Bowl 45. Now, there are some differences, the greatest of which is that the Packers defense is significantly (significantly) worse, but it has the look and feel of another potential Super Bowl bid. Of course, the 49ers are no doubt thinking that they are going to party like it’s 2013 all over again – the year when they slaughtered beat the Packers and ultimately advanced to the Super Bowl. Which explains why I’ve had traumatic visions of Colin Kaepernick dancing in my head all week.

What To Know : After Wildcard Weekend

football, games, wildcardI hate to say it, but this Wildcard Weekend was kind of lame. In our preview post I mentioned that I don’t remember ever being so excited for a Wildcard Weekend…but now I can pretty confidently say that I don’t remember ever being so disappointed in a Wildcard Weekend. However, the games got better and better as the weekend progressed, and we can garner helpful information from each of them. Let’s review:


Game 1: Bengals at Texans (Bengals 13, Texans 19)

What We Learned: Sometimes history repeats itself because change is hard to come by…and that seems to be the case with the Bengals and the Texans in the playoffs. Last year the Texans had no problem sending the Bengals home on Wildcard Weekend, and some may argue that they had an even easier go of things this time around even though the score was closer. Both teams looked stunningly un-playoff-like, but it somehow felt like the Bengals were going to lose the game from the get-go.

What’s Next?: The Texans will travel to New England to face the Patriots in a rematch of a regular season game that was not unlike the Huns attacking Chinese peasants (sorry, Texans…but it’s true). The first game was billed as a potential AFC Championship game and was assumed to be intensely competitive, but in reality the Patriots had it in the bag from the moment Tom Brady stepped on the field. Final score: 42-14, Patriots. There are well-documented occurrences of regular season beat-downs transforming into playoff victories. The 2007 Giants and the 2010 Packers come to mind. However…I don’t think that’s going to happen this time around. The Patriots are too good and the Texans are too shaky.

Game 2: Vikings at Packers (Vikings 10, Packers 24)

What We Learned: Two things, really: 1. A decent starting quarterback, no matter how maligned, is the key to the engine. Joe Webb, try as he might, couldn’t make the magic happen in place of Christian Ponder on Saturday night. 2. If there is any team in which the starting quarterback is less essential, it’s the Vikings. Adrian Peterson is basically their entire offense. But less than a week after letting him run all over the place for nearly 200 yards (and over 200 a few weeks prior), the Packers figured out how to slow AP down and held him to barely 100 yards. It’s encouraging to see a team be able to correct a significant area of insufficiency so quickly, which bodes well for the Packers next week…

What’s Next?: The Packers will play the 49ers in San Francisco. The game is dripping with storylines. Historically, the Packers and 49ers have played some whoppers in the post-season (and history favors the Packers, but who’s counting?), and this game promises to be no different. Also, Packers MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers was notoriously passed up by his hometown team in the draft for Alex Smith, the QB they benched this season for Colin Kaepernick. This will be Rodgers’ first game in San Francisco. Final storyline: if the Seahawks win next week, the Packers road to the Super Bowl will go through the only 3 NFC teams they lost to this season: Minnesota, San Francisco, and Seattle. (And let me tell you, after the Fail Mary in Week 3, I am desperate for a rematch in the NFC Championship game.)

But as mentioned above, the Packers are going to have to employ the same kind of quick adjustments this week as they did last week. They haven’t seen any read-option offenses this season (a run-heavy offense with lots of variables) like the one the 49ers run, and had a little trouble with it when the Vikings ran it on Saturday night. Even though the two teams played each other in Week 1 (the Niners won), they’re both vastly different teams at this point in the season so the games are barely comparable.

Game 3: Colts at Ravens (Colts 9, Ravens 24)

What We Learned: One story ends, another begins. I had tears in my eyes and running all over my face as I watched Ray Lewis come out of the tunnel for his last home game as a Raven. He makes the game fun to watch; he’s the ultimate defensive player. But what we saw throughout the game was the emergence of a kid who might end up being the ultimate offensive player: Andrew Luck. Man, I LOVED watching him play on Sunday. He’s all fight. It takes multiple players to bring him down, and even in the midst of getting tackled, he’ll still throw a laser right on target. For the shoes he had to fill, the adversity he had to overcome, and the sheer brilliance with which he’s played the position, he gets my Rookie of the Year vote, 100%.

At the end of the day, it wasn’t nearly enough to stop the freight train that was Ray Lewis’s last home playoff game, but the Colts have nothing to be ashamed of this season. They went from being ranked 32nd (aka: dead last) to earning a spot in the playoffs with an 11-5 record. What they did this season was truly special.

What’s Next?: The Ravens head to Denver to play Peyton and the Broncos. The two teams faced off a few weeks ago in a decisive Broncos victory, but that was without Ray Lewis. Also, Peyton Manning has plenty of playoff demons to face (he notoriously struggles in the post-season). We’ll see how he fares in the playoffs this year as a Bronco. Things could be markedly different, or history might prevail once again, but either way, this looks like a great game.

Game 4: Seahawks at Redskins (Seahawks 24, Redskins 14)

What We Learned: Oh, boy. We learned that RG3 is only going to come off the field on a stretcher, basically. He was visibly affected by the gruesome knee injury he suffered a few weeks ago, and by the second half I think all of America was hoping that he’d still be in one piece at the end of the game. Keeping him on the field for as long as they did (he left in the 4th quarter after hyperextending his knee in a nauseating way) is ushering in quite a bit of controversy for the Redskins, specifically head coach Mike Shanahan. There’s plenty of blame to pass around, and  it surely will be passed in large doses if it turns out that Griffin is seriously injured. But you have to wonder: would the result have been any different had the Redskins sent Kirk Cousins out in the second half instead of Griffin? Maybe, maybe not. The Seahawks played their way out of a 14 point hole and did so forcefully, so who’s to say.

What’s Next?: The Seahawks will face the Falcons for a battle of the birds. This is probably the only game in which the higher-seeded team (the Falcons) won’t be heavily favored. The Falcons haven’t been playing as well as their 13-3 record might indicate and have Matt Ryan’s 0-3 playoff record looming large. The Seahawks seem to be on the opposite trajectory.

Did you guys watch any of the Wildcard games? Questions or comments to share? Please do!

What to Know : Wildcard Weekend

football, games, wildcardWelcome to your Wildcard Weekend What to Know post! Honestly, I don’t remember the last time I was more excited for a playoff round. This is fixing to be one for the ages, so let’s jump right in!

Bengals at Texans

Saturday, January 5th, 4:30pm EST

What to Know: Sometimes, history repeats itself. Almost a year ago to the day, the Texans and Bengals played in the 2012 AFC Wildcard game at Reliant Stadium. On Saturday, they’ll do the exact same thing. Last year’s score? Texans 31, Bengals 10. History has a reasonable chance of repeating itself in the outcome as well, since their current coach, Marvin Lewis, has an 0-3 record in the playoffs. But weren’t rules made to be broken? The Texans haven’t been playing their best as of late, and while that’s never an excellent predictor of playoff potential, it’s certainly a factor to consider. Especially since the Bengals have won 7 of their last 8 games.

Vikings at Packers

Saturday, January 5th, 8:00pm EST

What to Know: A) I’ll be a hott mess all day long. (Who am I kidding? I’m a hott mess right now just writing this post.) B) This is what Wildcard Weekend is all about. Two divisional rivals going at it for the third time in a season, split victories, one dominant throughout (the Packers), one a complete surprise (the Vikings). Consider this: the Packers were ranked 3rd in the ESPN Preseason Power Rankings. The Vikings? 31st. (And the only team ranked below them? The Colts. Who are also in the playoffs. THAT’S how crazy this league is.) Not to slight the rest of the team, but Adrian Peterson is the entire reason the Vikings are relevant right now, and he’s also their greatest chance for success. He’s run all over the Packers in their last two meetings (to the tune of 210 yards and 199 yards)…even with a fully loaded box. At times last Sunday the Packers brought NINE players down (leaving two lonely players upfield!). That’s nearly double the number of men on the offensive line. And they still couldn’t stop AP. I’m not necessarily blaming the Packers; I’m crediting Peterson. He’s a force that can’t be reckoned with and I think it will be a huge mistake if he doesn’t win league MVP this year.

Colts at Ravens

Sunday, January 6th, 1:o0pm EST

What to Know: The name of this game is emotion. The Colts have had a true dream season this year, defying all odds and playing in honor of head coach Chuck Pagano, who missed most of the season while going through cancer treatments. Coach Pagano, also defying all odds, is back on the sidelines again and will be coaching his team in their playoff appearance in Baltimore on Sunday. The Ravens, however, also have something to play for. Veteran middle linebacker Ray Lewis announced earlier this week that he will be retiring at the conclusion of this season. (If you don’t know who Ray Lewis is, you need to. He’s good for your soul. If you have 5 minutes, watch this. If you have 15 minutes, watch this. If you have 45 minutes, watch this. If you have an hour, watch them all! You won’t be sorry.) Lewis is the unquestioned leader of the team. He is the ultimate teammate (and one of the best, if not the best, middle linebackers to ever play the game). What he means to this team on and off the field can’t be overstated, so there’s no doubt the players will unite to try to win another Super Bowl for Ray.


This brings me to one of the unfortunate facts of football: for there to be a winner, there has to be a loser. And honestly, who wants to see either of these teams lose? They’re both so inspiring in their own ways, both deserve a victory for what they represent on and off the field. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Rick Telander’s book Like a Rose: “Football is the oddest, meanest, sweetest game. It is a conflict at its root and at its surface. It pulls a sane person in two directions – anger and joy.”


Seahawks at Redskins

Sunday, January 6th, 4:30pm EST

What to Know: This is only the second time in NFL history that two rookie quarterbacks are facing off against each other in the playoffs. The first time was last year when Texans rookie T.J. Yates and Bengals rookie Andy Dalton played in the aforementioned Wildcard game – but that was slightly different because Yates was not the starter; he was backing up for injured QB Matt Schaub. So that means this is the first time that two rookie QB’s who were the original starters have met in the playoffs – and what a pair to set the precedent! Seahawks QB Russell Wilson and Redskins QB Robert Griffin III (RG3) are both in contention for Rookie of the Year (along with Colts QB Andrew Luck, who will also be playing on Sunday). Both teams are coming into this game with a disadvantage: RG3 took a brutal hit a few weeks ago and is still recovering from the Gumby-esque contortion his leg suffered. The Seahawks are undefeated at home, but they’ve struggled at times as a road team and will have to travel cross-country for this game. It’s set to be a historic showdown, no matter what the final score is.

One Final Note:

Don’t be lulled into thinking that just because this is the first round of the playoffs it doesn’t really matter – that they’re just Wildcard games. Seriously, nothing could be further from the truth. Aside from the Super Bowl, this is my favorite weekend of football all season long. Eight powerhouse teams match up in a FULL WEEKEND of games. And recent history says that one of the underdogs from Wildcard Weekend will be the eventual Super Bowl winner (Packers in ’10, Giants in ’11).

So, basically: clear your schedules. It’s going to be a great weekend.