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.

Wait…What Happened? : Offsetting Dead Ball Fouls

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We did a bunch of these posts last season, and I’m bringing them back again this season because I found them really helpful! I hope you do, too!

Each week, something weird happens in an NFL game. So each Tuesday, we’ll review what happened and break it down in Normal Girl terms. This time around the bend we’ll be talking about the snafu with the refs and the Packers over the weekend.

And it’s not even 2012!

Somehow, someway, the Packers always seem to be on the bad end of a bad call by an officiating crew – regular, replacement, the guy next door – doesn’t matter! These calls have a way of finding the Packers. It’s a hoot.

In this edition, the Packers had a hand in their own demise. Let’s recap the situation:

Packers linebacker Clay Matthews body slammed Niners QB Colin Kaepernick to the ground…out of bounds. That’s clearly going to draw a flag for unnecessary roughness. The unfortunate move by Matthews ignited the fury of Niners offensive lineman Joe Staley, who had a few choice words for Matthews on the sidelines (who, honestly, had it coming, and probably should have been flagged again rather than Staley). That was enough for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for the 49ers. Having two penalties of certain kinds (but not all kinds) can be like multiplying two negative numbers: they negate each other. It’s called having “offsetting penalties,” and that’s what happened on Sunday: Unnecessary Roughness (15 yards) x Unsportsmanlike Conduct (15 yards) = offsetting penalties.

So the refs replayed the down – meaning that everything was reset as it was before the penalties – the Niners were back at Green Bay’s 10-yard line, 3rd and 6. And Kaepernick proceeded to throw a 10-yarder to Anquan Boldin. Touchdown Niners.


Mike Pereira, ruler of all things officiating, commented during the game that offsetting penalties on dead ball fouls (penalties that occur when the ball is not in play) should result in a loss of down, not replaying the down. So because Kaepernick gained 4-yards before getting WWF’d by Matthews, it should have been 4th and 2 from the Green Bay 6-yard line. Which likely would have meant a field goal try for the Niners, not a touchdown attempt.

Head official Bill Leavy acknowledged the mistake after the game, and another acknowledgement from the NFL a year too late could also be forthcoming.

But, as noted above, the Packers had a hand in creating this situation. For one, the hit by Matthews never should have happened. They deserved to be penalized for that – even if it was by a bad call. Also, football is like life: you do your best with the hand you are dealt, whether it’s “fair” or not. The Packers defense was to blame for allowing the proceeding TD to Boldin, not the bad call. The kicker is that the play that caused all the hoopla never would have happened if Packers head coach Mike McCarthy had declined the penalty from the previous play (a 5-yard illegal formation call on the Niners). If he had, it would have forced the Niners into a 4th and 1 (the next down) rather than the 3rd and 6 (5-yard penalty, replay down).

Coach McCarthy was none too pleased with the prospect of discussing the aforementioned decision making sequence:

“We went for third-and-6. Obviously, the play went into another sequence of plays where there were two fouls called. I don’t really think that even factored in the game. So if that’s your criticism, then that’s fine.”

And really, the man’s got a point. Again: football is like life. The what-if’s will drive you crazy if you let them.

But really…what does a team have to do to get a good call around here?!

Preseason Lowdown : Green Bay Packers (!)

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What’s the story? 

Welcome to the post I’ve been waiting to write all offseason long. You are all well-aware by now where my allegiance lies, and that I’m completely and unashamedly biased, so let’s dive into this Packers post with an over-the-top level of enthusiasm from this side of the computer screen.

The Packers have established themselves as the team to beat in the NFC North, but their prominence as the team to beat in the NFC period is dwindling. With the emergence of the 49ers, the Seahawks, and the Redskins, and the consistent trouble presented by perennial favorites like the Giants, the Packers aren’t the threat they once were to dominate the conference. The story this season? Can the Packers keep the best player in the NFL on his feet with consistent offensive line play; can they establish an effective running game; can the defense return to it’s dominant days of old? Basically: can the Packers be the team that won the Super Bowl in 2010 and return to being the best team in the NFC?

Leader and commander:

Mike McCarthy, whose blue collar mentality fits Green Bay like a glove. My love for this man knows no bounds, so we’re not even going to tread into anything that looks like a critical analysis. (Really.)

New kid on the block:

The kids in the backfield! The Packers have running backs!!! It was enough to have DuJuan Harris break out in an unexpected season last year, but drafting stand-out running backs Eddie Lacy (!!!) and Johnathan Franklin (!!!) sweetens the deal that much more. The Packers may actually have an equal division of labor on offense this year. As much as we all love to see Aaron throw the ball, knowing that the Packers can potentially get it done on the ground as well as through the air will do a lot for their game when the colder weather comes (which, in Green Bay, is anytime after September).

Last year was…

…eye-opening. The Packers defense could not stop the Niners offense, and that flaw bookended the Packers 2012 season with gut-wrenching losses. As fate would have it, 2013 will present an opportunity for redemption right from the get-go: the Packers will open the season against the 49ers in San Francisco…again. (Thanks for that, NFL.)

Survey says:

In my opinion, the Packers 2013 potential hangs on three factors: 1. The effectiveness of the offensive line. (Having the best player in the league and a new crop of talent at running back doesn’t carry nearly as much of an impact if the offensive line is weak. This is my biggest concern for 2013.) 2. The ability of the defense to adapt to new offensive schemes. (I’ll let the Niners tape speak for itself on this one.) 3. If anyone on the Packers roster can make a field goal from further than 30 yards. (The kicking situation is looking a little bleak, to put it nicely.) And yet, the biggest factor, the one that overrides all the rest, is Aaron Rodgers. He makes the all the difference, and is the biggest reason why the Packers are currently ranked 5th overall.

Wait…What Just Happened? : The Packers Total Meltdown

football, advanced, games, packers, meltdownThis week’s What Just Happened comes with the free inclusion of weeping and gnashing of teeth, since today we’re going to be talking about what went wrong in the Packers loss to the 49ers on Saturday night. In 16 years of Packers fandom, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a more thorough beating in the playoffs. It was 18 kinds of ugly.

For my sanity’s sake, we’re only going to talk about 5 of them.

1. What Just Happened to the Packers Defense?

Game Changer: The Packers defense played an exceptionally terrible game.

When you allow an opponent to gain nearly 600 yards on offense…you’re going to lose the game. You just are.

The Packers defense, and defensive coordinator Dom Capers, were rolling at the end of the 2010 Super Bowl season. They could do no wrong. Then 2011 came…and all they could do was wrong. This season has been much better by comparison, but as noted in the weekend preview post, the Packers defense hasn’t seen a whole lot of the type of offense the Niners run. And the Niners ran that offense all over the Packers.

It’d be somewhat like speaking Spanish and being expected to proofread a book written in Italian. It’s similar, sure; but you’re going to have a hard time being proficient, let alone excellent, when it comes time to turn in the assignment.

Aside from being unfamiliar with the offensive system (which shouldn’t be an excuse for any NFL team), the Packers dug their own grave by playing terrible fundamental football. Missed tackles, blown coverage, and puzzling play calls were the name of the game.

This video basically sums up the Packers night on defense:

2. What Just Happened to Being Bold (Or…Normal) With Play Calls?

Game Changer: The Packers didn’t trust their offense to do what they do best…or at least try.

This is a team that makes unconventional calls like they’re going out of style. Fake punts, onside kicks, the whole shebang. So when the Packer punted on 4th and 4, down by 14 points with 11 minutes to go in the 4th quarter…it felt a little like a white flag. To not go for it with your MVP QB at the 50 yard line that late in a playoff game? Mind-boggling. Plus, it’s not like the defense was inspiring confidence all night, either. The punt call wasn’t so much staying conservative as it was admitting defeat.

3. What Just Happened to Running the Ball?

Game Changer: The Packers reverted back to a pass-only offense and missed out on a potential running game.

The 2010 Packers were pass-happy for most of the year, but they got a good running game going at the end of the season. The 2011 Packers forgot what rushing was. These Packers have had a productive running game ever since early December and the addition of DuJuan Harris. But Harris was hardly seen on Saturday night, as the Packers struggled to get into rhythm on rushing downs. Consequently, they went primarily with the pass…and that wasn’t working for them, either.

4. What Just Happened to Fielding a Punt for the Love of all that’s Holy?!?!

Game Changer: When special teams is bad, everyone is bad.

The Jeremy Ross muffed punt was bad enough. But the inability to field a punt without bobbling it after that was just shy of incomprehensible. It was the embodiment of the complete collapse that was Saturday night.

5. What Just Happened to the Preseason NFC Super Bowl Pick?

Game Changer: There’s a new favorite in town. 

At the end of the day, the Packers got schooled by a superior team and coaching staff. As per Survivor, the Niners outplayed, outwitted, and outlasted the Packers. The Niners were the better team in every aspect of the game. They deserved to win.

I’ll be crying into an empty gallon of ice cream until further notice.

Controversy and Integrity in the NFL

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If you are here, reading this post, it might be because you are a fan of the NFL and read blogs about football. But more likely than not, you are here either because you are a) a friend who came over from the main site (thanks, guys!) or b) someone who is trying to learn more about football to make life bearable for the next 4 months.

To those of you in the latter group, let me assure you of something right from the get-go: What you have witnessed in the past 3 weeks IS NOT FOOTBALL. It’s a power struggle between the NFL owners and the NFL referees over a few million dollars – which is basically pocket change for a multi-billion dollar industry – being played out publicly and to the detriment of the players, the fans, and the game itself.

That being said, let’s try to learn something from this situation, both about the game and about life.

Before we begin, a disclaimer: I am not an objective voice to speak on this issue. The Packers are one of my greatest joys in life; I’m an unrelenting and irrational fan. As such, I am biased. I do not have a valid perspective on this issue.

But I do have eyes. And this is what my eyes saw last night:

1. M.D. Jennings, the Packers player who jumped highest, intercepted the ball in the endzone.

2. General pandemonium erupted on the field.

Let’s tackle the first issue first.

From a game-play perspective, let’s review what happened:

1. Golden Tate, 81, pushes off on Sam Shields, 37, before jumping up to try and catch the ball. That’s an Offensive Pass Interference penalty which should have rendered the play null and void. That penalty was not called. Mistake #1. (And let’s not even talk about the phantom Roughing the Passer penalty that put the Seahawks in position to take that shot at the endzone in the first place, or the also-phantom Defensive Pass Interference penalty on the other Packers interception a few plays prior.)

2. When M.D. Jennings, 43, and Golden Tate, 81, came down with the ball, one ref ruled it a touchdown and one ref made the call to stop the clock. The ref who ran to the endzone, looked at the pile, and ruled the “catch” a touchdown had the power to overrule the ref who ruled to stop the clock to review the play. Therefore, he should have taken the time to conference with the other officials before making his overarching decision. Mistake #2.

3. (This is important to know!) The play was reviewed by the replay official because all scoring plays inside the final 2 minutes of the game are reviewed. But, by rule, the ruling of a touchdown call can’t be overturned and ruled as an interception. As soon as the play was called a touchdown, the only “reviewable” action was whether or not the ball hit the ground/was controlled by the receiver. The replay official cannot determine possession. Because Golden Tate/M.D. Jennings did have control of the ball, the ruling on the field stood. The replacement ref making the touchdown call was the one who made the egregious error, not the official in the booth reviewing the play.

As we break this down from a football perspective, it’s an example of a bad call at the end of an entire game’s worth of bad calls. Clearly, I’m upset as a Packers fan. When you only play 16 games a season, every game counts. The Packers should be 2-1 right now.

However, bad calls are made in every game of every season by every referee – regular or replacement. It’s part of playing sports.

So let’s move on to the second aspect of the video: general pandemonium erupting on the field. And let’s take a life lesson from that: it’s never a good idea to make a decision in the midst of indecision.

The officials are clearly indecisive about which way the call should go. When you are in over your head, when you feel unprecedented scrutiny, when the fate of hardworking players and coaches and the sanity of diehard fans rests on your call…it’s not a good time to make a snap judgement. It would have been best to take a minute to back away from the action, talk to the other refs who had a better perspective on the play, and make a well-educated decision about the situation. That’s a lesson we can all apply to our own lives in one way or another.

But let’s go even further and step outside of this play in this game. Because even though it’s the worst error of the Replacement Ref Era of 2012, it’s far from the only error. This has been going on all season. And unfortunately, I think it speaks to the uglier side of the NFL, the side in which money and power are more important than the actual game of football.

I feel disheartened as a fan of the NFL. For an organization that has been so concerned with “player safety” and the “integrity of the game,” this screams hypocrisy. If you’ll allow untrained, inexperienced referees to officiate ineffectively – not for a game, not for a week – but for 3 whole weeks during which there have been constant and glaring deficiencies, none more glaring than last night, I don’t think you are actually concerned with player safety and integrity of the game.

To make matters worse, the NFL just issued a statement concerning last night’s outcome…supporting the outcome. They are effectively telling a bold-faced lie in an effort to save any remaining credibility. I can’t talk about it rationally right now because it makes my blood boil. It makes me feel like I’m living under a dictatorship in which I’m being fed falsehoods and expected to blindly support them for the good of the country.

But here’s the thing: you can’t establish credibility by promoting dishonesty and a lack of responsibility. To restore any semblance of validity to the organization, the NFL needed to man up and admit fault. What they did, instead, was further prove their lack of respect for the game and for the intelligence of those who participate – whether as a team member or a fan.

SI’s Peter King called last night, “one of the great disgraces in NFL history.” Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel rightly observed, “The game is a sideshow. The brilliant performances are an afterthought. The credibility is in question.” And Grantland’s Bill Barnwell hit the nail right on the head:

I recently read an argument suggesting that the replacement refs don’t really matter in the big picture. The evidence is that NFL ratings are still sky-high, which suggests that the fans who complain that poor refereeing is “ruining” the game are still watching. And it’s true, maybe they are still watching. But as the season goes along, if the games continue to produce terrifyingly false endings like Packers-Seahawks, I’m pretty sure that’s going to change. The easiest way to get people to stop watching is to make them think that the games they’re watching are illegitimate and irrelevant. With the continued employment of replacement referees, that is the exact path the NFL’s games are on. 

Sadly, that’s where we are right now. It’s hard to endorse a corrupt product. The outcomes of the games feel meaningless. The “just” nature of pure competition feels violated. It’s a tough pill to swallow for anyone who devotes time, money, energy, or enthusiasm to professional football.  And you’d be hard-pressed to find many people in this country who don’t devote some measure of time, money, energy or enthusiasm to professional football.

To close: much-needed perspective from Coach Lombardi:

After all the cheers have died down and the stadium is empty, after the headlines have been written, and after you are back in the quiet of your room and the championship ring has been placed on the dresser and after all the pomp and fanfare have faded, the enduring thing that is left is the dedication to doing with our lives the very best we can to make the world a better place in which to live.

Let’s remember what’s truly important. Let’s not allow ourselves to become cynical, but instead use this as a catalyst to lead by example and do with our lives the very best that we can. And please, let’s choose to encourage those within the organization who are exemplifying strength of character and true class rather than harshly demean those who are caught up in corruption.

There are good people who play football, even if the business behind the sport is not currently good.

Divisional Breakdown : NFC North Teams

We’ve arrived at my favorite divisional breakdown: the NFC North breakdown. Featuring the best team in any division, named by a completely unbiased source who has not been a fan since age 10: the Green Bay Packers.

I’m so excited.

The Chicago Bears

History: Founded in 1919 and becoming a charter member of the NFL in 1920, the Chicago Bears have one of the longest histories in the NFL. They are often identified with longtime leader and football pioneer George Halas (“Papa Bear”) and iconic player and coach Mike Ditka. The Bears are known for their defense (especially in the ’85 “Super Bowl Shuffle” season) and their historic rivalry with the Green Bay Packers.

Current Players to Know: Jay Cutler, the oft criticized quarterback, doesn’t always have the demeanor associated with the position, but has the arm for it. Brandon Marshall is a wide receiver who just relocated back to Chicago after a brief stint with the Broncos. Brian Urlacher is the leader of the defense – and really, the whole team – as an 8-time Pro Bowler at the linebacker position.

Head Coach: Lovie Smith

2011 Regular Season Record: 8-8

What to Watch For in 2012: As a Packers fan, the Bears make me nervous this year. The Cutler-Marshall connection was strong over the first weekend of NFL action…to the tune of 41 points in a 41-21 win over the Colts. Primarily known as a defensive team, this offensive explosion is really a revelation for the Bears.

The Detroit Lions

History: The Lions, originally the Spartans, were formed in 1929. Despite their long history, the Lions have never played in a Super Bowl (though they did win four NFL championships prior to the Super Bowl era), and also lay claim to the unfortunate statistic of being the only team in the NFL to go 0-16: a completely winless season. Barry Sanders, one of the best running backs of all time, played for the Lions from 1989 – 1998.

Current Players to Know: Matthew Stafford is the Lions young but experienced quarterback. If you hear the name “Megatron” on a Sunday afternoon you haven’t accidentally been switched to a showing of Transformers – that’s the nickname of the Lions incomparable wide receiver Calvin Johnson. And holding down the fort with big plays and big penalities on offense is Ndamukong Suh, who plays defensive tackle.

Head Coach: Jim Schwartz

2011 Regular Season Record: 10-6

What to Watch For in 2012: The Lions are kind of known as the punks of the league…and I’m not just saying that because I’m a Packers fan. Examples include last season’s head coach handshake debacle and Ndamukong Suh “unintentionally” stomping on a defenseless (Packers) player at the end of a play, resulting in a 2 game suspension. If they can get over themselves and be mature, they can increase the growth that has taken them from an 0-16 team to a playoff contender.

The Green Bay Packers

(Just so we’re clear, I’m going to be unapologetically biased while writing this review. I love the Packers more than almost anything.)

History: The Packers were founded in 1919 by Curly Lambeau. They were originally known as the “ACME Packers” as they were sponsored by the ACME Meat Packing Company. With 13 titles, the Packers have won more championships (not Super Bowls…yet) than any other team in NFL history, which is how Green Bay was issued the name “Titletown USA.” Eight of those titles came at the hands of legendary coach Vince Lombardi. Prolific players include Bart Starr, Jerry Kramer, Paul Hornung, Ray Nietschke, Reggie White, and Brett Favre. The Packers are the only remaining publicly owned franchise in American sports. Fans are renowned as “cheeseheads” and are often referred to as the best fans in sports (an accolade with which I wholeheartedly agree.)

Current Players to Know: Aaron Rodgers is the Packers quarterback and current league MVP. The blond beast at linebacker is Clay Matthews, who is already off to a great start with 2.5 sacks in Sunday’s game. Charles Woodson is the leader on defense; this season he’s transitioning from cornerback to safety.

Head Coach: Mike McCarthy

2011 Regular Season Record: 15-1

What to Watch For in 2012: The Packers had an unbelievable regular season last year – 15-1!!! – despite having the 32nd ranked defense in the league. Unfortunately…they’ve already matched that loss total in Week 1 and the defense doesn’t appear to have improved much. The Packers were a popular preseason pick to make it all the way to the Super Bowl but with the NFC North as good as it is they’ll have a hard time making the playoffs if the defense doesn’t improve ASAP.

The Minnesota Vikings

History: The Vikings are the only team in the NFC North that wasn’t founded with the original NFL. Their franchise was awarded in 1960 and they’ve enjoyed moderate success ever since. You may remember the Vikings from the Metrodome collapse of 2010.

Current Players to Know: Adrian Peterson is the offensive name to know on this team. He’s been one of the league’s leading running backs ever since his rookie season. Jared Allen, famous for his post-sack celebrations, is the leader of the defense at linebacker. Christian Ponder is the quarterback.

Head Coach: Leslie Frazier

2011 Regular Season Record: 3-13

What to Watch For in 2012: The Vikings were less than impressive last year…and that’s being generous. This season, AP is back with a fully rehabbed knee (torn ACL and MCL) and looks to be back in winning form. Their quarterback situation is far from rock solid, but Christian Ponder has been decent so far.